April 1. When I awoke this morning, I was surprised to see Chatchai and Bay sleeping on the floor in the one roomed base house. They had nothing but pillows for comfort and I felt guilty for having taken the only bed. After I had changed into shorts and a t-shirt, they both woke up. Bay asked if I wanted to experience my first Thai meal and I responded with a curt nod, still too groggy to speak aloud. Bay and Chatchai had slept in their clothes so they walked outside at once.
Around the corner was a small market, where we ate, with half of its shelves empty or scarcely containing anything. We sat down near the kitchen stove and Bay called out for 3 orders of paka poa. I had never had paka poa so I was slightly nervous to see what I would find on my plate. In the meantime, I talked with Bay about his past and how he came to be with Rustic. He explained that he was of the Aka tribe, but most of the orphans were of Karen decent. He told me of how he had never finished 9th grade and worked as a bus boy before he was picked up by Rustic Pathways at the age of 19. They put him through English classes and gave him a job as a trip manager. When he had finished his story, our food had arrived.
Paka poa is made up of spicy basil, chilies, pork, an egg, and rice. It is also one of the most delicious dishes I have had in a while. Although it felt as if my mouth were on fire, I still ate every last scrap of the 2t orders I requested. I had never been so thirsty in my life afterwards and must have drunk at least 4 liters of water before we set out from the restaurant. Then Bay asked me if I wanted to into town and tour a traditional Buddhist temple. When I asked him about going to the orphanage, he told me that since the Rustic driver won’t be here until tomorrow, we need to stay in Chiang Mai for another day. I was all for going to the temple, so Bay called the driver from the day before and we were there in 30 minutes.
The temple was situated on the top of a mountain that overlooked the entirety of Chiang Mai and is one of the last temples in this area. We walked up several steps until we came to the statue of a renowned monk. Chatchai and Bay bowed in prayer to the statue and I followed suit. 400 stairs later, we had arrived at the top. My jaw dropped when I saw the beautiful mountain of the gold plated temple that was set at the mountain’s peak. Surrounding it, were several tourists and worshipping areas. Taking off our shoes, we strode into the area, but Chatchai told me I needed to walk around the temple 3 times before I could walk around freely.
After the walk, Bay led me to the area of luck. We bowed 3 times to a large Buddha and then took a container full of sticks from the floor. Bay instructed me to shake the container hard until a few sticks fell out, then I was to pick a stick from the floor and take a piece of paper that matched the number on the stick. I received the number 26 and took the piece of paper that would describe my luck. Apparently I’m very lucky and good things will come my way. Bay, on the other hand, had dreadful luck, according to his paper, and Chatchai had neutral luck, with everything staying as it was. Bay moaned as he read his aloud and Chatchai when read his aloud, he just walked away looking supremely unconcerned.
Afterwards, we walked to the largest of the Buddhas and bowed 3 times. Then we crawled over to a monk surrounded by several hundred, white bands of yarn. When I looked closer, I realized they were simple bracelets. We bowed 3 times to him as well and bowed our heads in prayer as he sprinkled water on us. Bay held out his right arm, which I did as well, and the monk placed a bracelet on each of our wrists. We crawled back, bowed 3 times to the statue, and exited the area. “Don’t take it off for 3 days or you will have bad luck.” Bay said. I grinned at him and said “Doesn’t matter for you. You’re already doomed.” He punched me playfully on the arm and we walked back down to the van.
Before we piled into the van, I grabbed a quick bite to eat from the street vendors. Eating street food has become part of my daily life and it didn’t faze me as it would have during my first week in China. I picked up some pineapple and green mango, but what surprised me was that the vendors handed me small packets of red and white powder as well. “It’s sugar and chili.” Bay explained. When I tried some with the pineapple I was hit by a sensation of overly sweet and overly spicy fruity flavor. Never before had I tasted anything this pungent and I stopped eating it after that one try, content with regular, plain fruit.
We came back to the base house and relaxed for a while until nightfall, during which Bay napped and Chatchai showed me his Dreamweaver software while he played some Thai rap. At around 5pm, Bay awoke and asked if I wanted to go to the night market. Again, I was all for it. This time, however, we couldn’t take the van because the driver was out to dinner. So we walked out of our safe district and onto the highway trying to flag down a taxi.
The taxies in Chiang Mai are inconvenient for several reasons. For one, there are too few of them to go around. For another, they are red trucks with closed backs containing very uncomfortable seats for you to sit on. But the most inconvenient aspect of them is the drivers, who insist on taking the bumpiest and windiest roads possible in order take the speediest route. We walked down the high way for an hour until we finally caught sight of, and then waved down one of the few taxies. Then we sat on their metal barred seats for 45 minutes, frequently swerving and bumping into one another.
Walking around Chiang Mai is a lot like walking around any American city. There are plenty of people, it’s loud and can sometimes be unpleasant, and there are plenty of designer stores waiting to sell you pointless merchandise. The only difference is that the sidewalks are filled with shops. They are mainly there for tourists, of course, but there are plenty of cheap clothing stores and food vendors for locals to enjoy.
We stopped at one such vendor who tried her best to make it feel like a restaurant, taking a table and chairs and parking them literally on the sidewalk. We ate some real, unforgettable Thai curry that night. It was better than anything I had ever had while back in the U.S. I ate until I started to hate myself for eating so much, but it was too good to pass up. Afterwards, we roamed the streets, stopping here and there to look at an item or buy a t-shirt or cologne for Bay and Chatchai. I didn’t buy anything that night. There will be plenty of time later on to worry about souvenirs. For now, I’m just trying to soak up as much of Thailand as I can.