Sunday, December 6, 2009

Come on baby, make it hurt so good

We're back. All vacationed up.

After loading some 1500 photographs onto the computer I have a blogging connundrum. If I went so crazy as to try and write only one entry for each of the richly filled days of our vacation, that would still be 20 entries. It'd be late February and you'd think we were still in Thailand. Insane. I think the only thing to do is to share the highlights of each city and the most dynamic and memorable of the experiences and call it good. Who's with me?

Yes, this fabulous plan will probably result in 30 entries. Criminey.

Let's jump in, shall we?

Our journey began with the fam and I flying from Dubai to Bahrain on one plane, (Bahrain's airport greeted us with Christmas trees, go figure!) then to Bangkok on a second plane, and finally, wearily, on a third to north Thailand, arriving in the city of Chiang Mai.

First impression: blue mountains, the distinctive shapes of pointed Thai roofs, everybody smiling. Ahhh .....

Here is the view from our hotel:

Now, for this vacation I spent a lot of time prepping, reading guide books and websites and blogs and everything else I could get my hands on. There were two themes concerning travel in SE Asia: # 1 You'll love it, the people are friendly and forgiving and welcoming, and # 2 There are plenty who will try their darndest to rip you off.

Knowing that the kids and I in particular will never pass as anything but palefaces, (Mike's big and can look pretty swarthy when he wants, though he's far too polite to escape completely) I read up on all the common ways to get ripped off and made sure we stayed in nice places. Compensating for my Jordan miscalculations I may have overdone that last bit, oh shucks.

Thus we walked imperviously past the touts without a second glance and negotiated our taxi fare before setting foot in it. Sawadee kha, I said to our driver, putting my hands together in the wa position (palms together, fingers pointed up) and bowing slightly.

I felt pretty cool at this point. That would be the geek factor.

This was the sort of thing I picked up from the books. Also tips like don't drink the water and a sentence in Lonely Planet that gave me pause: The risks of catching a piece of shrapnel are substantially lower if you keep several kilometres between yourself and the Thai-Myanmar border in this area.

Right. Fortunately we were going nowhere near there, by design, thank you very much.

While planning the vacation we also researched and then avoided the malarial mosquito areas, and sprayed ourselves, the kids, and the room down while we were in the north and in the jungle.

In the jungle? you ask.

Yes, yes, but I'll tell you about that later. About the same time we talk about the tigers ...

But you distract me. No tigers for you until it is time for the tigers.

Chiang Mai. A city redolent with life, smells, movement and colors. Some very poor people, some very hard-working people. Extravagant temples more plentiful than coffee shops in Seattle, three-wheeled tuk-tuks buzzing in their puttering way, innumerable small-engine motorcycles, stray dogs, streetside sellers, every manner of existance. Trees and greenery, clumps of elecrical wires strung higgledy-piggledy and constant movement. A city rich in history, steeped in spirituality.

I can hardly exaggerate the number of temples, known as Wats. There are more than 300, almost as many as in much, much larger Bangkok. The city seems to breathe in this life and exhale the next.

We loved Chiang Mai for the Night Market which is held every single night, rain or shine, a must-do, and haggled with gusto and in good spirit:

We loved it for the food (more on that later; suffice it to say that Mike and I love Thai food) and in Bethy's case, the chance to go to a 7-11 and get a Slurpee. This was an unlooked-for bonus:

But I think we loved Chiang Mai the most for the Thai massages we got there. Thais take massage very seriously as an essential componant of good health.

We found a little basic place that, for 140 Thai Baht, would massage us for an hour. In US dollars, that's $4.22. Yes, you read that correctly: four dollars and twenty-two cents an hour.

Now, the first time we went they started by bending our toes over the soles of our feet toward our ankles and proceeded from there to push, stretch, manipulate and otherwise mangle our bodies into beneficial, if painful, arrangements. More than once I wondered if anyone had actually been crippled by the process, and whether there were doctors standing by in case of an emergency.

I think I inadvertantly squeezed out tears once or twice. Please keep in mind this is coming from a woman who delivered two children without so much as a Tylenol to take the edge off, a woman who shaved her legs and jumped into the Dead Sea with no ill effects...the usual discomforts of life mean nothing to me. I laugh at them in my quest to experience life. Or so I claim. But I digress. Bethy got a gentler version of the massage, and in fact fell sound asleep after giggling fits over her feet being handled. I think Mike got the full meal deal*.

Ohh, but it hurt so good afterwards. Our muscles ached with the well-earned burning of a really, really hard weight training workout yet were fluid and relaxed. Every part of my body seemed to have realigned into the effortless being of a child, no creaks, no crannies. In Thailand for all of one day and already, nearly Nirvana. So this is how mucles were supposed to feel over bones. Suddenly I felt lighter, more competent, energised yet relaxed.

We went back every. single. day.

*edited to add: not THAT sort of massage full meal deal. Honestly, some people! I hear there was a bit of sniggering at Mike's work over that statement. Tsk tsk. Now you know the sorts of folks he works with.


Tanya said...

so so so so jealous I love Chiang Mai! Markets, street food, starbucks, happy people ( and yes Mac likes slurpys too)I would love to live there for a bit. It is by far and away the best of Thailand in my opinion plus its a hop skip and a jump from Chiang Rai and the jungle...bliss.

Jeni said...

Oh goodness I think the trip would be worth it for the massages alone!

*Paula* said...

LOL! It sounds wonderful Natalie! Now I want to go. Actually I want to go with you as my tour guide. It sounds like you really did your prep-work! Eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Mom2ABJ said...

Aside from being Thai, and from having massages, I have never experienced a Thai Massage ... JEALOUS!!