I come from a long line of hunter/gatherers

So, after arriving in Chiang Mai, nibbling on pack food, and going to bed, I managed to sleep for about 7 hours. I woke up at around 4am, meditated for a bit, called it good enough, and started the day. It took a bit of online hunting to find a place open by the time I was ready to head out (at around 6am), but a map down by the office showed me a breakfast place that I could not pass up as my first meal in the exotic Thai city of Chiang Mai:

How could I possibly resist?

How could I possibly resist?

In fairness, there was a practical reason for this choice: the other nearby places didn’t open until 8:00, and I really had to eat something. But I can’t say I wouldn’t have stopped here anyway. The comedy inherent in starting my Thai cuisine experience here made any other choice inconceivable.

BTW, it took some work to get here. Google Maps reports this Starbucks as being somewhere completely different, 3 blocks away in an empty field. Weird. On the plus side, I did pass this place, which I’m going to politely assume is telling the truth about being a restaurant:

I may come back here later. For reasons.

I may come back here later. For reasons.

Anyway, Starbucks provided me with an egg, ham, and cheese sandwich, a small banana nut muffin, and filled my thermos mug with coffee, and charged be 270 baht to do so (about $9). This is probably about the same as in the states, but in a city where I can get a cheap but good meal for 50 baht, I will not be doing this often. (I’m surprised that they get so much business from the locals, but I understand Thailand to have a pretty broad income range, so perhaps the folks at the higher end have no problem.) Regardless, it’s nice to know it’s there, and that it looks like every Starbucks everywhere in the world.

Archetypal dining

Archetypal dining

Chain outlets are the nature’s way of reassuring the traveler that there are safe havens to retreat to when the weird becomes a bit overwhelming. I didn’t need that yet, but that time may well come.

I headed back to the hotel room, and the round trip was wonderful. I was really liking the tiny, tiny piece of Chiang Mai that I’d seen up to this point; I was rested and fed, and all was right with the world.

A street. Remarkable in its ordinariness. Ordinariality. Ordination. Whatever.

A street. Remarkable in its ordinariness. Ordinariality. Ordination. Whatever.

During this round trip, I passed a bunch of useful places, like a real estate / rental agency, and an Expat visa place.  I also passed a Ducati shop (high end Italian motorcycles), which is probably less useful for me but still interesting.  And I got to learn, while the day was still fairly quiet, that Thai road traffic was going to be a challenge, even to a pedestrian.  It’s challenging enough walking on streets with traffic and no sidewalks.  Now add the fact that the Thai are not really what you’d call diligent about road rules.  Now add that they drive on the other side of the road from what I’m used to.

That latter point is going to be a pain.  I thought, “No worries, I’ll just look the other direction and be more attentive.”  Yeah. Right.  Every time I get near a corner, my reflexes tell me to note certain things.  Things that are wrong.  And even if I do this properly, the moment I’m on the other side of the street, they’re wrong again but differently.  I’ve been doing this a couple of days now, and I’m really starting to think that I need to stop at each corner and remind myself which way I should be looking.  I’m doing Ok so far, but I’m way too aware of the possibility to screw this up to be truly comfortable walking these streets.  However much I may enjoy them otherwise.

[Note to self: get on that insurance thing.]

[BTW, this morning, on the way back from breakfast, I may have started to find a rhythm to this.  Will try to develop it further, and will keep you apprised.]

I got “home”, and played with e-mail, twitter, and other things, and then it was time to research lunch places.  My “first look” guide to such things is currently Cafes 4 Nomads, and that’s what I’ve been looking up breakfast places on.  I wish they offered an all-in-one-place columnar list that showed things like opening and closing times, area of the city, and the sort of food they served (e.g., full meals or just desserts), but it’s still been a useful resource and it lists a bunch of things in my area.

Oh, right: my area.  I should pause here and give a little bit of overview.  This is Chiang Mai, with my hotel pinned a bit left of center (which seems appropriate):

A river runs through it; but I haven't been to that yet

A river runs through it; but I haven’t been to that yet

You can see the airport sticking up in the lower left, and my hotel a little above it, on the other side of what seems to be an extended college campus. That square in the center is the Old City, which used to have a wall around it and still has a moat (mostly decorative, now).

I don’t know when the wall came down, but only certain gates and corners of it remain.  In its place is a far more effective strategic barrier, a double row of never ending traffic, sweeping non-stop around the Old City like the world’s biggest roundabout, only in two strips of about 3 lanes apiece.  I don’t know how effective it would be against tanks, but against the 13th century foot soldiers that the wall was meant to keep out, it’s a vast security upgrade.  When I tried to get into the Old City that first day, to attend the Sunday Market, I must have waited 15 minutes at least until I found an opening I could run across.  And even then, I had to do it in two phases — a fairly quick run across the outer round to the median/moat strip, and then a 10 minute wait to cross the inner strip which I only accomplished by moving to a place where part of the outer road fed into the inner road, crossing that narrower feeder lane to another median, and then crossing the inner loop before the feeder.  Sounds complicated?  Good.  I have perhaps conveyed this properly.  Thanks gods I can put aside my self-consciousness to perform useful tasks, and standing at the side of a road of frantic oncoming traffic looking like a timid, clueless farang (foreigner) to the hundreds (thousands?) of passing locals really only engages my “Meh, what are you gonna do?” reflex.

Nonetheless, there must be a better way to do that.

By the way, here’s the moat, and some of the traffic on each side, looking deceptively peaceful:

A moat also runs through it. And traffic runs around the moat. And I run through the traffic. Only the moat is calm, knowing its Buddha nature.  The fucker.

A moat also runs through it. And traffic runs around the moat. And I run through the traffic. Only the moat is calm, knowing its Buddha nature. The fucker.

Anyway, my food places have all been near my hotel so far, mostly towards the northwest of it.  I come from a long line of hunter/gatherers, and looking for places to eat is my primary way to explore a city.  At least, it’s the one that gets me out of the hotel room when it’s hot outside.  If you told me I’d have an unlimited supply of healthy snacks in my room, I’d still be wondering where all the temples were a year from now.

As we’re talking orientation — no, not that kind, I mean the lay of the land — no, not that kind, I mean, um, learning about the city — I can highly recommend the Chiang Mai entry on wikitravel.  (I have a link to it in the right hand column of this blog.)  It talks about the city in enormous but very well organized detail, and it’s going to be guiding my later explorations of the city.  (Particularly the “Eat” section.)

So on Sunday, knowing that I’d need lunch soon, I headed towards a place that Cafes 4 Nomads recommended, the Focus Gallery.  You can see it marked on the map, Northwest of my hotel almost at the tip of the panhandle of major roads around my area. (Google remembers that I searched for it, and has it marked.)  This involved a walk mostly along back lanes, just over 20 minutes long.  The buildings were a mix of apartments and homes and undeveloped spaces, most a little run down but still quite pretty.

In search of... lunch

In search of… lunch

Pretty much the definition of encroaching development.

Pretty much the definition of encroaching development.

When you walk along random routes to your destination, you find all sorts of interesting things:

Doesn't get much more awesome than this: a cafe where you can pet cats.  *So* coming back here.

Doesn’t get much more awesome than this: a cafe where you can pet cats. *So* coming back here.

Eventually I came out onto the major diagonal road that the gallery is on, and walked along that super busy street (the busy-ness less obvious because I waited for a lull in the traffic to take the picture) …

Scenic as all heck, especially when you can't hear or smell the traffic.

Scenic as all heck, especially when you can’t hear or smell the traffic.

Until I got to Focus Gallery (picture not included), whereupon I discovered that, while the place is open for coffee and snacks, the kitchen is closed on Sunday.  Sigh.

So I walked back along the major thoroughfare, and crossed it to a noodle place I’d seen:

Do all Thai buildings have a sacred guardian on the roof?  Must inquire.

Do all Thai buildings have a sacred guardian on the roof? Must inquire.

The ramen shop was part of some little mall which included a catwalk, statues of greek gods, and a video game arcade.  I’m not sure what the theme was, but given the presence of Spider-man I’m going with “Hollywood”.  The ramen was acceptable and cheap; the Thai iced tea was a gods send.

On the walk back I discovered my first Thai mall, the MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center.  I was a bit too tired and sweaty (mostly, sweaty) to want to go in, but I marked it in my mind for later.

This guy's picture shows up everywhere. It's either the King, or my next guru.  Possibly both.

This guy’s picture shows up everywhere. It’s either the King, or my next guru. Possibly both.

So, back to the hotel, passing more places to note for later (banks, currency exchange places, etc) and hoping that I remember them.  Then I cranked the AC, meditated for a bit, handled online stuff, and started to contemplate the Sunday Market.

Chiang Mai has several recurring markets.  The one I had been hearing about before I arrived in Chiang Mai was the Night Market, which I think is to the southeast of the Old City.  Here’s what wikitravel has to say about the Night Market:

A huge indoor/outdoor market stretching along both sides of the road with the Night Bazaar Building at the centre of the maelstrom. It can take a concerted effort to find something interesting among the near identical stalls selling tourist-oriented trinkets, tee shirts and pirated gear. You rarely will see Thai people shopping here.

Huh.  Ok, well, no need to rush to that, then.  However, here’s a page from another site that describes the Sunday Market, and it’s well worth the read.  An excerpt, by contrast to the Night Market description above:

At the Sunday Market you will find lots of tourists and Thai locals all gathered together having a good time looking for bargains. The Sunday Market is growing bigger every year and has now started to spread down many of the side streets off the main road, as well as the big open area around the Tha Phae Gate itself. […] Unlike the Night Bazaar which is filled with imitation designer labels, the Sunday Market is a showcase of the art and craftsmanship of the Northern Thai people. Many of the stall vendors make and sell their own products and the quality of craftsmanship is superb. The goods available are made from a wide variety of materials such as silk, paper, fabric, wood, metal, glass, ceramic etc.

There was no way not to go to this.  It’s called the Sunday Market! It would be embarrassing not to, what with me being a tourist and today being Sunday. There are obligations inherent in my current role, after all, and it would bode poorly for the future if I started faltering this early in the enterprise.

I had rather planned to go to a restaurant mentioned on wikitravel, the Funky Dog Cafe, but it’s on the other side of the Old City and I got out a little too late to make that trip.  In theory, I might have tried; the Sunday Market runs about 2/3 the length of the central east-west road in Old City (Ratchadamnoen Road), and would have led me almost to the cafe.  But I’d already escaped death once, crossing the Rollerball traffic that replaced the city walls.  I had no interest in tempting fate again (and then twice more on the way back).  It can wait.

So, at around 5:oo I headed out to the Sunday Market.  There was the usual traffic to dodge along the way, but this was my first chance to appreciate just how many 7-11s there are in this city, a topic I will try to address another time.  And then there was the Loop of Death — I’m going to keep trying names for it until I find one I like.  Maybe, given how long it took me to cross, The Wheel of Time.  (I’ll keep working on it.)  But, after the wheel, I arrived at the market.  Basically, imagine the Santa Monica Promenade, but 2/3 the width and with a row of street vendors sitting at low tables on both sides in front of the building shops, and then a strip down the middle of more street vendors (facing in one or both directions), selling mostly goods, much of it handcrafted, with zones of food and drink vendors along the route, and with a *lot* of people shopping — locals and farang both — and getting pretty packed by about 7:00 pm.  Then run that 2/3 of a mile, spilling out into side streets and sometime wrapping around blocks.  Drop in street performers and banks of armchairs where you can sit down and get foot massages.  It’s impressive as hell.

I’m going to include a few pictures of my own here, but to do it better justice, have a look at this Google Image search for “‘Chiang Mai’ ‘Sunday Market'”.

It's hard to get up high enough to show perspective and not just the mass of people around you

It’s hard to get up high enough to show perspective and not just the mass of people around you

I hope you weren't in a hurry....

I hope you weren’t in a hurry….

And then you turn a corner and you see things like these:

Chaos behind me, tranquility ahead, I stand between them.

Chaos behind me, tranquility ahead, I stand between them.

I'll be back for *you*, later.

I’ll be back for *you*, later.

By the time I was done, about 2 hours after I’d arrived, I was grateful that I’d (a) come, (b) found a wonderful puffy-banana-waffle saleslady, and (c) found a restroom (charged 5 baht, or 16 cents, and I’d have paid 50 baht gladly).  I worked my way out some darker side streets, rejoined the main street near where I’d entered it, and walked home, past a small market where I picked up some OJ (surely I needed the electrolytes by then?) and saltines (snacks to tide me over between meals).  Arriving home, I discovered some detail in the stairwell art that I hadn’t noticed before:

Pretty sure this is a PSA for the importance of bathing regularly.

Pretty sure this is a PSA for the importance of bathing regularly.

Inspired by the lady above, I showered.  Then I read for a bit, and went to sleep around 9pm.

Here endeth the day.

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9 Responses to I come from a long line of hunter/gatherers

  1. Wingwah says:

    Of course, you must have realize by now that in Asia, car always has the right of way unless Chiang Mai is an exception. So be careful, it is dangerous world 🙂

    • Charles says:

      Yeah, I definitely know the car has the right of way. I tend to assume that will be true in practical terms in the U.S., because you can never assume that the driver will be competent. In Asia, where I can’t even count on the laws being in my favor, and on top of that the drivers are pretty casual about obeying it, I’m extra paranoid.

  2. Jane Wolfe says:

    That was a very full day! Thanks for bringing us along. Are you going to try and drive there? Walking sounds scary enough. Beautiful temples though. Glad they have Starbucks.

    • Charles says:

      I may break down and get a moped at some point. I see tons of people on them, locals and foreigners both. Of course, they have their own dangers — Hey, the traffic scares you? How about getting out into the middle of it? — but at least I could cross the Loop of Death.

  3. Rob says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing the adventure with such expert descriptive detail‒it’s like we’re there with you (awesome pics too!). My only question…where does one go in Chiang Mai to get good sake? Also, pubs?

    • Charles says:

      Pubs and sake? Funny you should ask, Rob. Stay tuned for more details. 🙂

      (This is what they call “foreshadowing”.)

  4. markfilms says:

    Fascinating. Sounds like a cross between Bhutan and the Mall of America. Are the guys who run the 7/11’s American? Feels like they should be. And their kids should all get straight A’s.

    • Charles says:

      7/11s? Funny you should ask, Rob Mark. Stay tuned for more details. 🙂

      (This is what they call “foreshadowing”.)

      • markfilms says:

        Best friends for 30 years and I get a cut and paste? Hrmph. When are you moving back? Life is meaningless and empty without your hearty Hi-Ho Silver! Oh wait. That’s the Lone Ranger. Never mind.

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