Chiang Mai Day 5 – Beyond the Walls.

Having covered just about every street and laneway in the old city over the last 4 days I decided it was time to head towards the hills today. When I got horrible lost in the confusion of heat stroke on the first day, I discovered that if I headed towards the large hills to the west of the old city I’d be on the right track for home. This has helped me get orientated no end when appearing out from winding lanes and not knowing which direction I was facing.

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I’ve gone beyond the walls to the East for Warorot market, to the south for the Saturday night market so I plotted a 10km round walk to see some of the west and north. This led me over the moat on to wide busy roads up past the hospital and all the associated medical faculties along that path. It was pleasant walking, although being a public holiday the same as back in Oz for Labour Day, I expect the traffic was a little thinner than usual for a Monday. The street sweepers don’t seem to get a day off though – battling the never-ending task of fallen leaves and blossoms with nothing more than a straw broom and a garbage bag.

I played dodgem with the trees on the footpath which seemed to be an afterthought to the grove of saplings and electric poles that popped out of the concrete at regular intervals. An enticing smell of frying garlic wafted from a hole in the wall and as I peered in through the narrow grill to see where it was coming from I came face to face with two women slaving over hot woks – possibly cooking for the medical staff. It looked like a back kitchen and the hole was a vent at eye level to let some heat out. I refrained from inviting myself for lunch as we laughed at my unexpected intrusion!

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Every 5 minutes or so I gave a sudden “whoa” as planes flew directly overhead. Suthep Road is right under the flight path and only a few kms to the airport and you can just about see the passengers peering out the windows of incoming flights.

I turned right to head north up past the University Art Museum on one side of the road and Convention Centre on the other. Plenty of wide open space and good walkways made this a quick trip. Once past the University the road narrows to a dusty and smoggy suburb with bad footpaths and fast food chain restaurants. Not such a pleasant part of town, but worth a look to see different parts of the city. I’m constantly amazed at the wiring in Thailand. It’s constantly spoiling my photos of pretty trees and intricate balcony decorations and this area was no different.

Probably the most interesting part of that stretch was watching two large trees being transported and planted into a hole in the footpath. Not something you see every day. On this Labour Day holiday, three women were digging the hole by hand while half a dozen men watched and police directed traffic around the truck and crane. 

At the next major intersection loomed the large modern Maya Shopping Centre – the first I’d seen since being in Chiang Mai. Never one to pass up a loo stop I thought I’d investigate, casually sauntering around until I saw the signs to the facilities. Oh my – what facilities they were. And free! I would have paid big Baht to use them. They came with a control panel that I was so fascinated by that I whipped out my camera while seated and took a few snaps. Soon realizing the photos contained half my backside I deleted those, finished my business then closed the lid for a better view of the panel. My flash was going off and shutter clicking trying to get the best angle in the gloom. It was then I heard a cough from two cubicles down – and I thought I was alone in there! Whoops – that person must have thought me a bit strange taking photos in the public loo.

Heading back towards the old city on Huay Keaw Rd I could see many of the big chains had hotels along here. It’s not a particularly nice area but it must be handy for business, university, medical staff etc. Maybe it’s livelier outside of a long weekend.

Up ahead, several policemen were channelling every motor bike rider along the busy road, over to the side for licence checks. I wanted to get a photo but didn’t want to annoy the constabulary and as luck would have it, they’d set up right outside a quite spectacular old temple. That made it easy to spin around while pretending to get just the right angle on a plaster elephant to get a group photo of the police and bike riders. And of course, some shots of the temple itself to make my task look more realistic.

My next destination was on the north bound Chang Phueak Rd towards the bus station. A weird destination I know, but I have a fascination with transport hubs and the way they cater for their passengers. i.e. I thought there might be some good food there, when nothing much else was open!

I dropped into the small Chang Phueak market but it was in a very sleepy mood – obviously, the wrong time or day to be visiting here. One stall holder, a rather large woman, was fast asleep on a bench using a 5kg bag of cucumbers as a pillow – that couldn’t be comfortable. Others were lying about chatting, or washing down containers and sweeping out aisles. The only real activity was an older lady peeling the rind off a large bag of kaffir limes and what an amazing overwhelming smell that was.

A little further up, crossing the road to the bus station, many transport operators propositioned me as to where I wanted to go. How do I explain I’ve just come for the tucker? But I was bitterly disappointed. Chiang Mai does not do transport hub catering well, unlike Bangkok. Oh well – time to head home and eat the left overs in my fridge and document the mornings walk. And after 3 hours and 10kms my left leg joints (hip, knee, and ankle) were starting to complain. Must get that seen to one of these days.

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During some research with Mr Google I discovered my favourite local market Chiang Mai Gate (also known as Bumrung Buri market) that closes at lunchtime, comes alive again outdoors for dinner with cooked foods rather than fresh produce. Sounds like the place to go for my final evening meal after an afternoon rest during the heat.

Around 4pm I headed out for a slow stroll through the tiny laneways near my flat that I hadn’t really explored yet. I took note of other guest houses and hotels in the area in case I come back again but reached the conclusion I couldn’t do much better than the place I’m in now. My land lady Fon is lovely and helpful and easy to talk to. The location is perfect for exploring the markets and very close to the airport. Just perfect.

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Two ladies were picking leaves from a tree in their front yard so I stopped to ask what they were doing. Good with fish the younger one said. Just pick the young tips and it’s a little bit sour. I tasted some and we chatted for a while longer and took a photo. A lovely chance encounter. I had not particular direction to go so went one way then the other until I could see a main road up ahead. Pushing through a group of about ten locals enjoying a beer or several in the back street (they were getting pretty jovial) I came out near the market I was planning to go to for dinner.

All restraint went out the window. First stop was the first stall on the corner – some little rice flour pancakes with coconut custard and sweet corn inside, hot of the grill. They didn’t last long! I was thinking of going home and coming back later when all the stalls were set up properly and the lights were on, but I’m not one for crowds and late nights so stocked up on take-away to have with beer later.

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First some more sweets for breakfast, even though the fridge is still stocked well with sticky rice. Then a bag of vegetable fritters with a spicy dipping sauce; a bag of stir fried vegetables and fungus with rice and some green papaya salad that comes with extra greens for serving. It is my final proper meal after all so may as well splash out and enjoy it. There’s enough food here for several people if anyone wants to come join me for dinner!

I couldn’t bring myself to leave this wonderful market but the food in my backpack needed eating and this blog doesn’t write itself. Last stop was the mini-mart downstairs from my flat to buy one beer and have a chat to Fon about what an interesting time I’d had. She runs a narrow four-storey building with the mini-mart on the ground floor, she lives on one floor, then two floors of two little flats like mine. It’s perfect if a few people are travelling together but want to spread out a bit and have some privacy. She’ll be getting a great review from me on Airbnb in the coming days!

There will be one more short post tomorrow to wrap up what’s been a great trip, probably written in the Qantas lounge in Bangkok airport if all goes according to plan with flight schedules.  And now to load up my plate, rack open my last Singha and turn on Channel News Asia.

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