First Impressions: Chiang Mai, Thailand

I skimmed and read through three different tour books – National Geographic, Culture Shock, and a much older one I received from a mentor 4 years ago called “Thailand”. I put off reading my Thai Phrase book until my 24+ hour travel over here because it was daunting and for some reason I can avoid doing those sorts of things (which actually stresses me out more but I’m still unraveling that habit….). I had consoled myself by listening to others say (and reading in the tour books) English is spoken often and a person doesn’t need to know a lot of Thai. But, like most places, they appreciate the effort to meet them where they’re at.

So here we are: Day 3 in Chiang Mai and I know how to say “hello”, “please” and “thank you”.

Sawadee, khorp, khorp khun respectively. Each three terms have polite endings: khrap if you are masculine presenting, kha for feminine. so, it would be Khorp Khun Khrap for me to say Thank You.

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What I noticed first when I arrived, was that I was nervous. This is the first time I am traveling internationally alone, to a country where I know no one – and have no language skills. I had waited several years to do so because it scared me. There’s that habit again… Plus, many people I know in the US tend to be rather judgmental of the rest of the world – that it’s not safe, clean etc. The second one is sort of true. The US does enjoy its sterility. FYI ice is safe in large cities here – at least, I haven’t gotten sick in the three days I’ve been here.

It took me 4 hours to feel at home in this country. (It helps?) that most of the music is American. The clubs are a throwback to 50-cent and the like from the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Chiang Mai is a very diverse place, thriving on reasonable tourism and people vacationing. Though, I’m here in the off season. I’m also within the old city (surrounded by a moat), so this has a lot to do with the feels. The picture below is of the Thae Pae Gate entrance. I looked at my handy tourist map that I nabbed at the taxi station at the airport where I paid (too much) for a taxi to Gap’s Guesthouse (featured image at the top of this page).

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Once I had some delicious curry (somewhere above), a few wonderful glasses of iced green tea at 90 Fahrenheit (at a thousand percent humidity) and grappled with my aloneness and I-have-no-idea-what-is-going-on foreigner feelings, it was time to make some decisions.

What was I going to see first in this amazing new-to-me land? The oldest temple in all of Lanna Kingdom of course.

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More about Wat Chiang Man (constructed in the 1200s A.D.) in this entry. Fun fact: Temple is “Wat” in Thai.

I am blown away by the playfulness, joy, kindness, and hospitality (not to mention the patience) of the people in this place so far. I wanted to immerse in Thailand many years ago when I first heard about their reputation because I craved to grow into that way of living.

I have gotten into some great fun – today I went zip lining with a place called Jungle Flight where I had a surreal experience zooming a kilometer suspended over a deep jungle canyon, and yesterday I played and cared for elephants, swam in a waterfall, rode on a bamboo raft down a river. I’ve been dancing with new friends from Colorado, shared meals, had two hand made suit measurements made, and it’s only day 3. Every moment is radically different, but all part of the adventure.

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Today, on an empty-stomach kind of nauseous, hungover van ride to the zip line, I was rather emotional, and tears would come between serious Pranayama 4x4x4x4 breathing (my anti-nausea medication-action).

I was the only white person in this bus, couldn’t read any signs, everyone seemed to be able to communicate with each other (but mostly it was a silent 75 minutes) and I had sudden spells of utter loneliness, all while trying to keep myself from being that farang who puked.

I have had moments in these first 3 days where I have the fleeting thought: why the fuck did I decide this for a month an a half? Alone! I can’t fully articulate why this angst. My guess is that it involves a breaching awareness of myself, a transformation of sorts, re: my first international solo trip.

And then I get to walk whimsically, map in hand, and experience a fullness of life that this trip has already blessed me with on multiple occasions. The sweetness and the isolation, tug and pull, is like a (way better) version of puberty, a coming of age.

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I have a feeling that this will be the first trip of many in my lifetime like this, all over the world. In fact, I just might live and work part of the year in Thailand. 

My experience of the zip line, with the tour being almost all in English (when I refer to English, it’s rather broken, like some of my sentences in this article), and something my new friend from China said, reminded me of two things: English is a united second language most of the world is mandated in school to learn – and today strangely, I’m deeply grateful for that. A very related reflection: there is no other “universal language” that I know of. Politically, it’s an interesting power dynamic with an eerie history of colonialism (which may be a redundant statement).

My new friend from inner Mongolia likes to read, write, and participate in neutral activities. She had never been on a zip line before today. She says she will never do it again. For her, she knows she can do it now, and that’s enough. Kind of like the adage,

“Do at least one thing each day that scares you”

We have similar values around experiencing life. I describe mine as ‘exposure therapy’ whereby I do little things that scare me or make me uncomfortable with the goal to transform my reaction into a relatively positive (or at least neutral) one.

She too, was traveling alone. She though, is 4’9″. Her bravery astounds and inspires me.

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In related news: I was informed by her that it’s by Gregorian calendar year, and not lunar year that the zodiac changes. I am indeed the year of the Snake, not Dragon. Which has completely rocked my world.

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3 thoughts on “First Impressions: Chiang Mai, Thailand

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