I’m absolutely LOVING Chiang Mai! From the minute I got to my hostel a few days ago, I’ve just been constantly busy just exploring and getting to know the people in my hostel. I’ve made some wonderful new friends, all of which left for the town of Pai yesterday. I already miss them, but am thankful for a day of rest today. I was originally going to join them in Pai, but I forgot my debit card in an ATM and am stuck waiting in Chiang Mai for my replacement card to arrive. A very “Nina” thing to do, yes, but at least I’ve managed to hold on to my phone thus far!
I flew from Yangon to Chiang Mai on Monday (the 29th). It was a short one-hour flight, and flying into Chiang Mai was gorgeous. The city is surrounded by hills and mountains full of jungle. I’ve never seen anything like it – the rolling green hills are something out of a movie. I tried to get a good picture from the plane, but didn’t quite succeed. I checked into my hostel around 7:30pm and was put in a room full of lively, outgoing people who became fast friends. There were 8 beds in my room and aside from me, they were all occupied by men except for one other girl (coincidentally from Vancouver, Canada, where I flew out of).
There were 3 Swiss guys (Jordan, Mark, and Leo) who had met in the Swiss army and were traveling together. They explained that in Switzerland, all men are required to serve 300 days in the army and then are on reserve for the next several years. They had done their required 300 days and not a day more. There was also a guy named Ido, from Israel, who was traveling alone after leaving the Israeli army, but had met the Swiss guys in Bangkok and traveled up to Chiang Mai with them and a Dutch guy named Kenny. Alexis, the Canadian girl, had also been traveling with this group, but would be separating from them after their stay in Chiang Mai (as would Ido, who flew to India the day after I met him).
In Chiang Mai, there is a 7-11 convenience store on every block. The city itself is shaped as a perfect square, with a river running all the way around the square. They were planning to do a “7-11 crawl” – their cheaper version of a pub crawl. They planned to go to each 7-11 and buy a beer at each, making their way around the city, and invited me to join. They were a fun bunch and that was an invitation I couldn’t pass up, even if all I wanted to do was get some sleep. The first 7-11 was right across the street, so we drank our beers on the hostel’s patio where I met a few other people who were staying in a different room – two guys from England (Simon and Alex) who were traveling with a Swiss girl (Cecile) they had met in Phuket.
Our 7-11 crawl was successful, and I really enjoyed getting to know all of the people in my hostel. Alexis was so happy to have another girl in the group that we became really fast friends and spent a lot of time talking. By the end of the night, I had managed to befriend a street dog. He was the absolute sweetest thing, and followed me from 7-11 to 7-11 where I would feed him sausage and he would lay at my feet and let me scratch him. He even followed me back to the hostel and sat at the front door waiting after I went up to bed. My new friends wouldn’t let me give him a name, saying if I gave it a name I’d be helplessly attached to him. A fair point.
The next morning, I woke up early, before everyone else in my room, and went down to the patio to have some coffee. Simon had also woken up early so we sat and talked awhile. He told me he was planning to get a Sak Yant tattoo that day – something I’d scheduled for myself for the following day, and invited me to go with him so I could watch the process. Ido was leaving that afternoon for Bangkok, so I planned to go to an Israeli restaurant with him and the others in my room and then meet back up with Simon, Alex, and Cecile while they went to get the tattoo.
There were about 7 of us planning to go to this Israeli restaurant, and while waiting for a taxi Alexis and I both realized we’d forgotten to take our malaria tablets that morning and ran back up to the room to take them. By the time we got back down, the guys had left without us, so we just went to a street food market nearby and got lunch ourselves.
Watching Simon get his tattoo made me even more excited to get mine. He had his done at a tattoo shop that did it with bamboo, and the place that I would be going would be an actual traditional place where it’s done by a monk and is tailored to represent your “magical intentions.” His turned out REALLY nice, and he said it actually didn’t hurt at all. According to him, it hurt even less than a normal tattoo. After his tattoo, the 4 of us met up with an Irish guy they’d met in Bangkok who took us to a Mexican restaurant he loved nearby before we went to a pub with live jazz music and posted up there for the night. As usual, when I’m really enjoying myself I forget to take pictures.
Simon told me about a plan the he, Alex and Cecile had to buy a boat in northern Laos and spend a month sailing it down the Mekong river to Cambodia. A friend had done it alone and said it was really hard work, but with more people it would make the trip somewhat easier. They invited me to join them (split four ways, we could buy a boat for a little over $100 each and then just sell it once we reached Cambodia). They’re still unsure whether they’ll end up doing this – they’re waiting for more information from the friend – but I told them that if they do I’m 120% on board. It would mean changing my whole itinerary and spending the month on the boat in Laos rather than Vietnam, but it’s such a unique opportunity that I’m more than willing to eat the cost of the flights I’ve already booked in order to join them. Vietnam isn’t going anywhere and I can always visit on a different trip.
The following day (yesterday) Jordan, Mark, Leo, and Kenny all left for Pai, and tried their hardest to convince me to join them. I’d left my debit card in an ATM the previous day, though, and am unfortunately stuck waiting for my replacement card to arrive for at least a few more days. If they’re still in Pai when it arrives, I’ll more than likely join them. Simon, Alex, and Cecile would be heading to Pai the next morning as well.
I had my appointment for my tattoo at 11am yesterday. Alexis was really interested and decided to come along and watch before her bus to Bangkok left at 7pm. The whole process was unique and I’m happy I decided to go with the traditional place rather than the place Simon had gone. When I arrived at the temple, there were books of traditional Sak Yant designs, along with their meanings. I chose one of a three-headed elephant, Erawan, who represents strength and safety for those who travel a lot. My tattoo would be done by a retired monk (practicing monks are not allowed to tattoo women) after I gave my offerings to both him and the buddha shrine (for the buddha, some biscuits, some intricately folded leaves, a bouquet of flowers, and a lit candle; for the monk, a pack of menthol cigarettes hahaha). Even as a retired monk, he is not allowed to tattoo many areas of a woman’s body, so I had to get my tattoo on my back rather than on my leg where I’d originally wanted it.
He didn’t speak english, but I had a translator that walked me through everything and relayed my “magical intention,” or personal meaning, behind the tattoo I’d chosen. I told him that for me it is meant to represent achieving personal growth through following one’s own path – something that is the motivation behind my traveling. With this, the monk personalizes the tattoo and includes a blessing written along the bottom. Simon was wrong – the tattoo hurt A LOT. I have a high tolerance for pain, and I wanted to get up and leave halfway through and my body wouldn’t stop shaking from the pain while he was doing the tattoo.
Alexis actually decided to get a tattoo as well, and once both of ours were done, the monk did a blessing ceremony where he said a lot of things in Thai, sprayed us with a bunch of water, and tapped us with a tiny broom. I obviously have no idea what any of it meant, but it’s an experience I’m glad to have had. You can see more pictures of both of our tattoos and the process here.
After my tattoo, I spent the better part of my afternoon on the phone with my bank, coordinating the replacement of my debit card. They were actually extremely helpful and are expediting the process so that I should only be without a card for a few days. Until then, I’ll be living off the emergency cash I thankfully had hidden in my backpack [$100 USD]. For the evening, Simon wanted to go to a pub that his parents used to spend a lot of time at. He told me his family’s history and it’s fascinating. His parents are both South African and met and married during the Rhodesian Bush War. After they married, they moved to Chiang Mai where Simon was born and lived for the first 3 years of his life. His parents divorced when he was 3 and his mom moved him and his sister to England, where he’s lived since, and his dad moved to Argentina where he currently lives.
The place was literally called “The Pub,” and the owners actually remembered Simon’s parents when he asked about them. We had a few beers there before walking the 2 miles (!!) back to the hostel – Simon, Alex, and Cecile were wanting to go to bed early because their bus for Pai left at 8:30 this morning.
That’s all I’ve got for Chiang Mai so far (: I’m enjoying my relaxing day and just waiting for my debit card to arrive and trying not to spend money in the meantime.