We decided to venture out of the old city. Joanna had a tip from the lady at the Coffee Bar that the Warorot Road day market is the place to shop for bargains.
We had breakfast in the garden at the U.N. Joanna’s stomach is still giving her a bit of discomfort, so she had toast. Definitely nothing deep fried. I took advantage of the Irish cultural influence and had baked beans and grilled tomato, along with an egg and toast made from the U.N.’s bakery.
We strolled down the soi toward the moat, and of course, passed yet another stunning temple. I think the name is Wat Dok Eung. Across the street was an empty lot and an old teak house that may be under restoration.
I learned a little about teak houses when we stopped at the Lanna Architecture Center on Rachadamnone Road the other day. The center is an old (maybe 19th century) teak house built on a masonry foundation, so the bottom story is white and the upper is dark brown.
The last private owner was a wealthy merchant family who donated it to Chiang Mai University.
I gather that the king of Chiang Mai lived there at one time. There is a photo on the wall that I believe shows one of the later kings wearing no shirt and Yul Brynner pants, sitting cross-legged on a chair with a sword across his lap. There’s a guy kneeling next to him with an even bigger sword.
According to one of the signs in English, there was a separate king of Chiang Mai until sometime in the 1930s, when the government in Bangkok relieved the royal family here of its civil duties.
They’re apparently still around and keep the family names, but just have no official function anymore.
The house is airy and full of light. There is one bedroom made up in an early 20th century style. The bed has a canopy with mosquito netting, and so reminded me of the bed in Gregory’s villa on Bali.
We sat on the balcony under an awning in the heat of the day, and the breeze evaporated the sweat off my arm.
The teak house in the otherwise empty lot on Moon Muang Soi 5, probably has some history too, but there is nothing we could see to explain it.
Given our attempt last week to cross the street by the moat, we took a tuk-tuk to the market. I just don’t like being bullied by assholes on wheels.
We hailed one car driven by a lady. Next to her sat another holding a baby doll. Until they pulled over, we thought it was a real child. Why she was sitting next to the driver with her feet hanging out of the car, we never did find out.
Not knowing how to pronounce “Warorot,” we showed the driver our map and pointed to the place. OK, that worked. How much? 80 baht. That’s less than $2.50. You can’t close the door of a New York taxi for that.
The ride took only a few minutes before we pulled up at the curb next to a sidewalk crowded with vendor stalls. This is a collision of sensations I’ve never seen outside of Asia.
The locals go here to buy just about anything.
They go there for their groceries–fruits and vegetables, live eels and frogs, toasted bamboo worms, and so forth. Also for clothes, knick-knacks, gold jewelry–lots of gold jewelry so yellow and bright that it looks fake.
Joanna passes. People come up and speak to her in Thai. But I’m a Farang. I wasn’t the only one there, by far, but the mix of local to foreign had shifted significantly from inside the old city, which is a tourist haven. I suddenly felt exotic.
Joanna was looking for silk scarves to give to her sisters and to the lady next door who is collecting the mail. Apparently Thais don’t go to this market to get silk scarves. We saw some on our way out of the market area, but they were overpriced, maybe close to what we’d pay back home.
We wandered through clothing stalls and food markets, and came to the River Ping, the principal river of Chiang Mai City. It was closer than I remembered from the map. At first, we thought we had walked back to the moat, but this is wider, longer, and it bends.
We were standing on a pedestrian overpass, because the roads are so crowded with frenetic traffic that there is little likelihood of crossing at street level. The river carried debris, mostly plastic, on the water, the inevitable sign of heavy population, but otherwise looked almost rural: Green banks, with small boat landings and individual houses with yards. There was a man getting ready to set out in a long, narrow fishing boat.
Behind us, every inch of space was packed with structures, people, and machinery.
We walked around soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells. And there were plenty of them all.
There were colorful umbrellas, Thai flags, live fish churning the water in a pail, a bucketful of turtles, dazzling arrays of colorful fruit and vegetables, both fresh and dried.
I heard all kinds of languages, mostly Thai, I’d expect, but there’s no way to be sure. Tuk-tuks and motor bikes were a constant background soundtrack. Once in a while somebody would have music on a radio. People were haggling. Others were singing out their prices. You learn something every day. This day, I learned “30 baht” is a song lyric.
The smells are the critical thing. You can see moving pictures or stills of a place, but it’s not real till you’ve smelled it. Think engine exhaust, charcoal, curry, fresh fruit, and pungent dried fish. Sometimes in sequence, sometimes all at once. You’ll get an idea of how much fun this was.
We got lost coming back from the river and walked down a wholesale street. We could tell. We had the whole street almost to ourselves.
We came out of there, and I knew I had lost my bearings. We walked to an intersection, but it wasn’t the one I had hoped it would be. There was an arch there, covered in red lanterns and inscribed with golden Han characters.
We walked a little way, and Joanna saw a temple with Chinese writing on it. There was a 7-Eleven between us and it, so I was game to go. We ducked into the store and bought a bottle of water. I also got an ice cream bar because I needed the sugar. We both needed the air conditioning, and although I’m reluctant to admit it, I needed water as much as Joanna did.
The temple disappointed Joanna. She was upset by its condition. She said that the Chinatowns in Bangkok and Chiang Mai lack civic pride. This was the only Chinese temple she has seen in Chiang Mai and they treat it like a dump, she said.
We walked back from the temple and crossed the street. Damn, but that was the very spot where the tuk-tuk had dropped us off. We walked half a block, got another ride, and headed back for a nap.
At dinnertime, we decided to go to the U.N. But first we took a short walk, with Joanna leading. She wanted to test her sense of direction and her understanding of the neighborhood.
Feeling adventurous, she led me out the soi to Moon Muang, turned right and took me to the Tha Pae Gate. She led me past our Soi 1, and remarked how we could get to the bar that way. She led me to the next light, and turned right to the light at the end of that block. Across the street and right again to the U.N. Irish Pub.
I wanted a hamburger, mainly to try the bakery’s bread. The roll was terrific, but the burger seemed to be factory made. So were the onion rings. It wasn’t bad. Indeed, it was OK. But from my experience here, OK food is not going to cut it.
Next time we go there, I may try the quiche or the Irish stew. We’re going to be here for another week, so maybe I’ll get to eat both.
Joanna had a soup with chicken, vegetables, and coconut milk, which one of the waiters recommended as soothing. She ate the chicken, some of the broth, and much of her rice, but she is still not feeling right. She went back to the hotel, while I went to 7-Eleven for a few supplies.
Speaking of supplies, my beer stock is running low, gang.
So I’m going to have do one of the things Santa Claus does:
either harness my reindeer and head over to Clement Moore’s house;
or say Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.
I think the doll you saw may have been one of the "Luk Thep" dolls that have been covered with some curiosity in Western media over the past month or so: