I opened my eyes on the pale morning after Loi Krathong to the sound of zippers- which signaled that backpackers were off to their next destination. Goosebumps traveled across my exposed skin as the fan swung side to side. The curtains on the bunk beds rippled slightly as the air swept past me. I slept for a little while longer before getting up to see my friends off to Pai. With the big festival over, Chiang Mai began to decompress and instead of following the tourist caravan out of the city I decided to stay one extra day.
Since my arrival in the airy mountainous town of Chiang Mai I've been busy. From feeding elephants at a sanctuary to going to a muay thai fight, making my own Krathong and going to a lantern release- I've had no time to relax. Cities and town reveal themselves in the slow moments when you lazily walk down a street, not when you rush around with a predetermined list to be checked off. As well I needed some alone time. In almost an instant I went from traveling solo to having a crew of 6 other people to eat and explore with. I wanted to journal about my first three weeks in Thailand and the connections I had made.
I started off my day by heading to Wat Pan Whaen one of the numerous temples around my hostel, Thailand Wow. Then I ate at a small restaurant next to it that is only open 4 hours a day 5 days a week. I had tried several times to eat at this place but it was always closed. When I sat down there was a mother and daughter who worked at the shop seated by the door. One other customer sat back in a far corner while Thai game shows played on the television. Someone came over to me and asked what I wanted and I said, Khao Soi, the only dish on the menu. Five minutes later the famed dish of the north was sitting in front of me. The mustard yellow soup with egg noodles and chicken leg topped with crispy egg noodles. My first bite was a combination of crunchy and soft, sour and spicy. Heaven was an IV with this broth dripping into my system. Invigorated I continued my quiet exploration. Taking random streets to see where they lead, window shopping all the stores-learning a city the only way feet know how. I walked into every small temple I found on my path admiring the attention to detail and the bright colors. Except for old Catholic cathedrals, religious houses in the USA take after Protestant values and can be a tad austere.
My lazy day was coming to an end when I stumbled across a huge stage and a street lined with stalls. At first, I thought this was a remnant of the Loi Krathong festival, but every Sunday they have a huge market in central Chiang Mai. A perfect place to pick up souvenirs or just eat local food. Days no longer matter when backpacking, they fold into one another so I had no clue it was Sunday. Instead, you mark the time by the nights before you have to move on to the next city and this was my last. The Sunday market was a fury of activity, vendors were selling everything from jewelry to socks, essential oils to sculptures. I was rifling through a pile of souvenirs when I noticed everything go eerily quiet. Looking up I noticed all the Thai people had stopped moving at the stall. Creeped out, I walked away to find the whole street frozen in time. People were stopped mid-order. The few foreigners looked around at each other in total confusion but I stood still hoping the situation would elucidate itself. Seconds later a sound came across the loudspeakers and I figured this must have been in response to the recent cremation of the king. Instead it was the Thai National anthem which plays twice a day in public spaces and the radio/tv et cetera. Aside from a national sports game I can't remember the last time I heard the USA national anthem in a public space.
When I made my way back to the hostel I sat in a nook and journaled some more. A mixture of fear and excitement flowed from my pen. Even though it was less than 24 hours I was already missing my travel companions and I couldn't wait to meet them in Pai the next day. Some new people had arrived by the time I had finished but I wasn't in the mood to talk to them. Navigating solo travel means stealing away any time you have by yourself because you are often not alone. Either you are surrounded by people in the hostel or the tourists and locals you meet while exploring. Through my headphones, I could hear some of the conversations they were having about where they were from and where they were headed. The backpacker cycle would continue with or without me.
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