I awake as we pull into a small station about a half hour from Chiang Mai. Dogs, cats, chicken and geese roam along the tracks and platform. Tropical plantlife surrounds the station. It’s peaceful and quaint.
Chiang Mai station is possibly the loveliest station I’ve ever disembarked at with its spotless platform and it’s lovely thai garden. Outside the station, bright red songteows line the parking lot and touts parade around hassling new arrivals for a ride. Pamphlets are being handed out for tonight’s Muoy Thai match.
We jump into our minibus and head to town. Our hotel is the People’s Place 2. It has simple rooms and is situated behind the Anusan markets, which become alive in the evenings with people drinking, dining, shopping or enjoying the biggest drawcard of the market – the ladyboy shows.
After settling in we jump in a minibus bound for Mount Doi Suthep where the shimmering gold temples of Wat Phra That sit against the bright blue sky. Wat Phra That was built in 1383 and is still a working monastery today. To get to the monastery, you can climb the 300 steps of the Nagan Serpent Staircase or you can take the lift. At the top, birds are chirping and bells are ringing gently through the air. There are a number of shrines and temples you can explore and you can choose to have your fortune told by Joss stick. Note, take your shoes off before you go to return your bad fortune or you’ll risk being chased by a monk.
From Doi Suthep, you get a magnificent view of the city below. It’s peaceful here. Outside, however the streets are lined with stalls and hawkers and songteows waiting to ferry tourists back to their hotels.
Driving back to town, we weave through the streets of Chiang Mai, giving us our first glimpse of the streets. An explosion of colour with fruits, vegetables, flowers and signs. It’s buzzing, but in a more laid back kind of way than Bangkok.
Unloading from the minibus, we go on the hunt for snacks and beers. Sar guides us down the end of the which our hotel is on, and through a gap in the fence into the back of Anusan Markets. We wind through the markets to the food hall. The whole group stands in front of the same stall, umming and ahhing over the choices and then moves en masse to the next stall. Feeling kind of awkward about this, Erin and I head decide to eat here and we are rewarded with the most amazing dish. Khao Soi Chicken is the specialty of Chiang Mai – chicken, or pork, in coconut milk with tumeric, tamarind and coriander flavours intermingling and a stack of crispy noodles in the middle for good measure. Our tastebuds are tingling with joy at the discovery of this delight and I know I will go to bed dreaming about this meal.
There is a staggering amount of dishes to try at Anusan and I’ll bet there’s a hundred dishes that will get your tastebuds smiling, so it can be a big decision. Most menus are in English and there are pictures on the signboards, so you shouldn’t end up with something you don’t want.
After dinner, everyone separates to do their own thing for the night. A small group of us decide to head to the muoy thai. Arriving at the venue, we discover a ring set in the middle of a pavillion, with bars set up around the outside and plastic seating in between. There are about five bouts, both men and women and the showstopper is a bout between three blindfolded contestants. Their poor guide constantly dodges misguided swings while trying to help the fighters find each other instead.
The real contenders are tough. I can only imagine the bruises and aches they will go home with tonight. At one point you can see the UK contender’s heart actually being in his chest. The crowd laps up this event and I have to admit that although I don’t like seeing people beat the crap out of each other, I’ve really enjoyed it too.