Chiangmai is a very likable city. You'd know it even before you set foot in it; your flight drops you over the greenest, mountainous terrain you'd have seen since you arrived in Thailand.
I'm glad I'm outside of the Old City. It's so intense in there. After I unpacked my bags, I headed down the street and into the Old City, immediately becoming annoyed that I had pretty much no clue as to what I was doing. I didn't research any of the Wats - heck, I didn't even actually know what a Wat was besides a temple. And my feet were so so sore from wearing beautiful, and completely impractical sandals since I left NYC. So I decided ... I was going to rent a MOTORBIKE! Here she is!
I felt good when I finally reached the end of my 20-hour journey, and Rebeccah's smiling face in front of Starbucks at the airport was an extremely welcome sight. She's my AirBnB host, hailing all the way from exotic Washington, DC. She settled me into my apartment, located just outside the Old City.
The sweet lady who gave it to me, spoke maybe five words of English and gave me a six-second tutorial on how to ride it. 400 baht got me two days with this little hot rod. The last words she said to me as I struggled to balance myself on it were, "Madame? Slow." Pssshhhhh. Please, lady, I got this.
No, I didn't get it. The store was set smack in the intersection of one of the gates from the main road. I puttered into traffic - it was completely terrifying- and noticed the gas tank was almost empty. I tried to pull in to a 7/11 and ran smack into a car. Why the accelerator and brake are operated by the same hand makes absolutely NO sense to me, but whatever. The Thai's seemed to be entertained and asked if I was OK. This motorbike was the best part about the day. I would highly recommend staying outside the Old City and investing in a motorbike.
I drove around for a while and decided I was going to conquer the mountains that I'd just flew over. As I set out of town, I realized my swollen toes were now actually burning from overexposure to the tropical sun and headed back to the apartment for sunblock. Of course I missed my turn several times, this driving on the other side of the road and crazy loop and u-turn system was exhausting. I felt like I was in a biker posse. All the motorbikes weave in and out of the cars and sit at the very front of the traffic light line. I tried to keep up - but that pink helmet and electric yellow bike just screams tourist.
Back at the apartment, I decided enough was enough. An ex-pat told me that they're not supposed to serve alcohol between 1 - 5pm, but the Corner Bistro would have something for me. And Chang beers they had. Across the street was a massage parlor and, well, when in Thailand! I almost fell asleep. I finally retired upstairs and slept for two hours.
Lo and behold, my aunt has a dear friend who lives in Chiangmai, hailing from the exotic city of Baltimore, and he took me to an incredible Thai restaurant. The food was so spicy that I had maybe ten bites and was done. I took him out for a beer at a trendy spot on the main strip.
He talked to me about the "one key" lifestyle. You know your life is simple, when all you need to carry around is your car key. Chiangmai is so safe he doesn't lock his house door. He's an (very successful!) entrepreneur and doesn't hold keys to an office. Sounds like something we should all sign up for. He also taught me this:
I got home around 11pm and was planning on going back out for some nightlife, but my two beers and the jet lag hit me hard and I crashed.
...only to spring WIDE AWAKE at 4:30 in the morning. Fortunately, Doi Suthep opened at 5:30am, and hearing that the 45-minute, windy mountain road journey could be tricky, I decided I'd rather do it with less cars than more on the road.
Quite awkwardly, the only place I could find open at that hour for a spot of breakfast was a 24-hour Subway. That iced coffee and BMT were an interesting way to fuel up for the trip.
The ride was exhilarating. Whizzing along the steep, windy road, I passed a surprising number of sport bikers who clearly preferred the lighter trafficked and cooler weathered, wee hours like myself. The higher I got, the colder it became. I was shivering about an hour into the ride.
I pulled into the first overlook. It took my breath away.
All of the road signs were in Thai! I had no idea how far up to drive. When I finally reached what seemed to be the top of the mountain, I saw a sign for a campground. "Dangerous road, use horn, proceed with caution." I couldn't resist. I drove for another several miles, passing wild dogs, a strolling monk, and a family-stuffed pickup truck. The campground was closed for the season, but I took a moment to finish my iced coffee and stroll around.
I headed back down, stopped in a local village for more gasoline, provided in a glass jar by an old lady in a hut, and asked three different people how to get to Doi Suthep.
Oh, and I side-barred to listen to the roosters waking up the valley.
The road home was easier, faster. I side barred into this seemingly abandoned guy too, and had a really emotional chat with God. I mean, everyone needs to do this at some point in their lives.
And Googled a nice lunch spot on the river, and treated myself to some real Pad Thai. (What IS it about vacation that spawns so many "I deserve this" moments?)