Sunday, November 16, 2008
THE DREAM has impeccable timing. I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, at the beginning of Loi Krathong, a major festival that brings foreigners and natives together in three days of revelries and merrymaking. Most of the big activities start in the early evening, continuing until midnight. Parades wind slowly through the streets, fireworks crackle, little boats with candles, flowers, and small offerings are let loose with prayers to float away in the river and into the night, and thousands upon thousands of huge paper bags rigged with burning candles are heated until they soar upward with good wishes, making the sky look like the milky way for as far as can be seen all evening long.
I am hooked on the Thai massage, so had a treatment and afterward, felt so good toward Noi, my masseuse that I asked her to dinner. She speaks only a few words of English, so her friend Nee came with us and we ate in a big hall with several hundred Thai people. Big woks, sitting atop hot coals are on the tables so you can prepare your own food and as much as you want exactly how you want it while a waiter serves you drinks. We roasted huge, fresh shrimp, and dipped them in spicy sauces, ate sushi, cooked meats and vegetables, made broths, ate fruit and had desert. The selection is extravagant, and the total price for all three of us was less than fifteen dollars. Since then, Noi and I have seen each other frequently, and despite the language difficulty enjoy an easy ambience together and have fun. I rented a motorbike for five dollars a day, and had my hair cut for the handsome price of two dollars.
Yesterday took me into the countryside and now I can say I have taken a ramble through a jungle on the back of an elephant. The same day included white-water rafting, trekking to a waterfall and swimming under cool, cascading water, and visiting a mountain tribe to walk through their village.
Thailand is beautiful, but it is the Thai people that make the country wonderful. They are warm, accepting and open, and the slightest smile brings a smile in return. I now have friends in northern Thailand who will be here for me when I return. Now I must go back to Bangkok and visit the embassy of Vietnam so that I can get a visa to my next destination country.