The Return of the Many Men from Chiang Mai!

Well, we woke up and we were still here, so the adventure had truly begun. Thanks to the joys of jet-lag we were up before 7am, something that I personally would only do if you really forced me to in normal circumstances. Consequently we were the very first out on the balcony for breakfast that morning.

I mentioned before that we had seen some mysterious underwater beasties swelling beneath the surface of the river at night, but now in the clear light we could see that these were in fact catfish. Not quite so monstrous after all… But then we saw another dark shape snaking through the water – a bloody monitor lizard! Not even a small one either, this creature could quite happily devour a cat or even a dog. The riverbanks were steep all along, but in places the bricks had crumbled away to provide a muddy landing for our reptilian friend to crawl out in full crocodilian manner.

And that was just for breakfast…

Being up so early we decided to make a full day of it and get out to the Grand Palace and its surrounding temples. While I embrace my pasty white complexion (owed to a misspent youth playing indoors on the Xbox) I can honestly say that it did not serve me well against the heat we encountered that morning. Back home I would happily walk most places, and think nothing of a mile here or there. But back home it isn’t 30 degrees with 100% humidity by 10am, thus the trek down to the palace was arduous to the say the least.

Soon enough though we saw the white walls encircling the Grand Palace, and knew that our troubles were nearly over. But fate had other plans for us that day, and minutes later we would find ourselves thrust into the the back of a vehicle and carried away!

Ok, so it wasn’t quite like that. As we got closer some people gestured at us and waved their fingers. A man approached and explained that my choice of shorts and (thoroughly sweat-embedded) t-shirt was not appropriate attire for visiting the royal grounds (this was actually true). Hence, I would need to purchase a pair of fetching elephant trousers from one of the street vendors. But the plot thickened as apparently the Palace was not open to foreigners until 13:30 (this was definitely not true). However, the man had a readily available solution for us: take a tuk-tuk, see some other sites, and then come back here in time to “beat the crowds” (also very untrue).

I didn’t know it then, but this was to be the second man from Chiang Mai.

Assuring us that he worked for the tourist information centre (questionably true) and that he wasn’t asking for money, the man enquired about our stay in Thailand. A week in Bangkok, we said, then off exploring. Upon hearing of our plans to go north, he delightedly told us that he was in fact from Chiang Mai! He then sorted us out with a tuk-tuk for only 200 baht, which seemed to be a pretty good deal considering all the places we got to see, including the Golden Mount Wat Saket, the Standing Buddha Wat Intrawihan, and finally back to the Grand Palace.

Needless to say, the crowds had not been beaten upon our return. But this did not disminish our enjoyment of the Palace in any way. The chance to see the Emerald Buddha, the Demon Guardians watching over the grounds, as well as the full gallery of the Ramakien epic was too great to miss.

After a bracing squeeze through very dense crowds exiting the palace, we quickly visited the Reclining Buddha – a hundred foot gold statue of the Buddha relaxing on his side in Wat Pho. Given the strikingly life-like facial features, you could be forgiven for feeling that you really were standing in the presence of a supreme being.

Having now been out for around six hours the old lag o’ the jet was catching up with us. On a backpacking budget, we needed to keep our costs down, and having walked that far before, we were confident we could get back to the hostel on foot. We could, but dear lord god almighty it was sweaty work. Concentrating hard on just getting back and not dying, few words were spoken at that time. The city seemed so much smaller in a tuk-tuk…

Back at the hostel we flumped on the balcony, debating whether to go out again. Being a foodie I needed something more than the local corner shop snacks, and being a good hunter-gatherer I nobly volunteered to go on an expedition for supplies.

Still new to the area, and not knowing any better, I went back in the direction of the Khaosarn road in search of pad thai. En route, a random passerby stopped and asked where had I got my trainers. I was confused: I had chosen these dirty blue duds for travelling because they were highly field-tested (dirty) and durable, not for their aesthetic charm, and so wondered how they’d charmed this stranger.

I explained they were not from here, but from the hallowed Primani back home. He asked me where I was from, and then shook my hand rather tenaciously while motioning toward a taxi rank. I found myself having the old familiar conversation about my travels, and then to my surprise, at the mention of Chiang Mai – he too was from there! This was starting to get spooky…

Assuring the man that I was good for transportation, hostels, or anything else that he could arrange, he smiled and we parted ways. I’m not proud to admit this, but I went straight back to the same place Lily and I had visited the night before (I was tired, ok!) This gave me a chance to try out a few of the Thai phrases I had learned (obviously they were convinced they were speaking to a fellow countryman) and take in the surroundings as I waited.

A tap on my shoulder made me turn around, and I was met by the smile of a man holding a laminated sheet depicting various tours across the country. Sensing what was coming, I waited for the polite moment to decline. A casual mention of Chiang Mai, and to my utter amazement this was yet another man who hailed from that famous northern city!

And then, it all became so clear…. Maybe all these men weren’t really from Chiang Mai, and in fact this was merely a cunning sales strategy to win the hearts of young travellers like us…. With a sigh and a weary smile, I explained again that I was sorted for transportation, accommodation, etc etc, and we too parted ways.

Don’t get me wrong, I know these guys are just working. I was just too naive to see the truth…

With dinner bagged up and ready to go, and night quickly falling on Bangkok, I headed back toward the hostel, a victorious hunter-gatherer of the modern age!

Or so I thought…. But that is a tale for another time, when we shall return in The Trials of David and Doggo!!

Photo : Lily Thomson

Words : David Hamilton

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