Languages fascinate me. I love what they reveal about a place, its culture, and its people. Languages are also a source of endless frustration. When I was in Russia last summer, enrolled in a language-intensive course, I often dreamed I was drowning in the Cyrillic alphabet. Luckily, I haven’t woken up sweating after a nightmare about Thai. Chiang Mai has far more English speakers than my Russian town, but I have yet to masterfully haggle in the market or convey an address to a songthaew driver in Thai. I’m hoping to take a beginner Thai course at Chiang Mai University next month and learn to say more than hello! Until that time, I will remain firmly among the ranks of the tourists.
I decided to be adventurous yesterday. After lazing under the air conditioning unit with an icy water bottle for far too long, I threw my laptop in my bag and set off for the Old City. Google Maps told me it would be a cool 15 minute walk to the Thapae Gate from the guesthouse. What it didn’t account for was the ungodly humidity. I kid you not, the moment I stepped outside, my hair inflated like one of those airplane lifejackets. And the walk was more like 45 minutes. Curse you, Google.
I finally stumbled through the arches of Thapae Gate in typical Farang form: drenched and red-faced, with a massive Canon around my neck and an excessively strappy backpack. I even had cargo shorts and arch-support flip flops. I was undeniably Farang, the Thai word used to describe a Westerner (usually of the clueless tourist variety). However, I was redeemed by another Farang in Hopf Coffee Shop. My Hawaiian-shirted savior made me seem normal as he described his love of enemas to the Thai barista. That poor woman. Though she only seemed to understand bits and pieces of his soliloquy, she looked properly horrified.
Needless to say, I finished my Thai iced coffee and bolted. I flagged a tuk-tuk for the first time and was immensely proud of myself. If you don’t yet know how songthaews work (Thailand’s informal public transportation trucks), try a tuk-tuk. The drivers usually speak more English and will take you straight to your desired destination in the back of a three-wheeled rickshaw. There’s a nice breeze and it’s a good way to see the city. Also, you feel awesome. On my tuk-tuk ride, I saw the Iron Bridge, the Wat Buppharam, the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, and a plethora of alleyway markets I would have otherwise missed. But as much as I cherished my time on the tuk-tuk, I want the mobility of a motorcycle. I’m considering buying one while I’m here. Anyone who knows more about bikes than me (and I know nothing), thoughts?
I’m now camped out at the Peppermint Coffee House in the center of the city. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, check it out. I’m enjoying chicken mamasan curry, brown rice, and banana in coconut cream. My tastebuds are happy and thus, so I am.