It is so cold in this bus! I am freezing! We were not told that we needed to have warm clothing with us. It is 5:00 AM, or otherwise, too early!
With that, my adventure to the third city on the itinerary (Chiang Mai) began. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, located in the north near the borders of Burma, Laos and Cambodia. During the bus ride, our tour guide Pot, otherwise known as our wise Thai father, introduced us to the city’s history and cultural development. The Lanna Kingdom (Kingdom of a Million Grains of Rice) ruled Chiang Mai, the northern part of Thailand, and all of Burma and Laos. As a result, its culture and people are quite different from the rest of Thailand and more like those found in Burma and Laos. Its climate is cooler than in southern Thailand and its geography is more mountainous. It is home to many hill tribes.
An hour before we arrived in the center of the city, we stopped at a bus station. Must bus stops don't arouse my interest, but in Thailand, even our unplanned stops can be filled with adventure and excitement. To our amazement, we found hot springs and fish spas. We soaked our feet in the hot spring and grabbed breakfast and hot tea and coffee. This stop made us very happy. Not only was it fun, but it was great to get a glimpse of everyday life in Thailand without tourists all around us.
Once in Chiang Mai, our first day's itinerary was to spend six hours at the Thai Massage School and learn the traditional Thai table massage and foot massage. We were greeted at the gate and then assembled for a group picture; however, we were told that we were not allowed to take pictures. The school staff were the ones taking the pictures of us. It was nice not to have to feel responsible for taking pictures for once. After six hours of intense learning, we ventured to the small market to purchase lunch. In Thailand, take-out foods and drinks come in plastic bags instead of plastic containers like in the States. It is more cost efficient that way.
That evening, we spent time at Chiang Mai's Walking Market. Much to my delight, it was filled with handicrafts! The atmosphere was also very relaxing, which made the experience all the more pleasurable. We walked through, admiring each vendor’s unique hand-made products such as wood works, beautifully painted bowls, cups and bracelets. The vendors wore traditional dresses, and some of them were making their products right at the market. As we cruised the market street, we grabbed fresh fruits and admired live northern folkloric music bands. The best part of the experience was when the King’s anthem was sung. The whole market came to a standstill and everyone stood and listened intently while it was playing.
Written by Nazgulya Kutmanalieva