Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

Settling in/moving on

You know you’ve been away for a long time when you begin to feel nostalgic for earlier days of a trip that is not yet over. Throughout these past few weeks there have been moments when I’ve caught myself looking back over the past six months, missing and reminiscing. The cosy stone villa high up in the Umbrian hills, with its view out over endless olive groves and and villages below. Morning coffee on my brother’s London rooftop, the white terrace houses of Finsbury Park that reminded me so much of home. Staying up late through the endless twilight of Scandinavian summer; settling in to bed early with a pot of sweet Ceylon tea and a book in my cottage in the Sri Lankan hill country.

In these moments, I think a part of me wished I was back in Europe. But then I came to Chiang Mai.

I’ve been here almost two weeks – longer than I’ve spent in any single place since I left Melbourne over six months ago. And, were it not for work starting on Thursday, I think it’s the kind of place I could get stuck.

Today passed like most days. I woke up late, and had a scratch breakfast in my guesthouse room- rye bread, hunted down in a supermarket outside town, and tiny, sweet bananas, bought in a giant bunch from a roadside stall for less than 50c. I caught up on some emails and IFSA work in the bustling common area downstairs, then headed out for a morning coffee at Bird’s Nest Cafe – freshly ground and spiced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

I stumbled across this beautiful little cafe on one of my afternoon wanders, and it has become a favourite. On Saturday morning I treated myself to one of their epic vegetarian breakfasts, and passed the rest of the day curled up with a book, chatting to fellow travellers who passed through. Today I took my coffee upstairs to the mezzanine of low wooden tables, cushions on the ground, and a sole hammock, which I took over for the next few hours, finishing Breath by Tim Winton, which I had picked up second hand only yesterday afternoon.

Alexis, an American girl I met in my hostel in Granada, had just arrived in Chiang Mai to begin work as an English teacher. She came and met me for lunch and we swapped travel stories, marvelling at how two people can meet and make a connection while travelling, then, due to the wonders of Facebook, cross paths again months later on the other side of the world.

If it seems like my time in Chiang Mai has revolved around food, that’s not far from the truth. Of all the many countries I’ve travelled through, Thailand has the best food of any by far (particularly for vegetarians), and of everywhere I’ve been in Thailand, Chiang Mai tops the lot. From $1 plates of pad thai or fiery papaya salad, served on plastic plates and eaten while perched on plastic stools by a tiny street stall, to feasts of curries, brown rice, or tofu salads from one of the many organic vegetarian cafes.

To balance all that food, I’ve been relishing in the ability to walk here – being able to wander the relatively quiet streets without fear of being mown down by a bus or tuk tuk hurtling past. I’ve been doing yoga – hatha flow, with a wonderful French instructor called Pierre, in the peaceful Namo Studio in the north east of the Old Town. And, apart from a night or two out with fellow backpackers, I’ve been having early nights, trying to get into a regular sleep pattern in preparation for work on Thursday.


I started this post yesterday – Thursday is now tomorrow, my time in Chiang Mai is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow I drive up to Chiang Rai province with my boss, to take over the last few days of a project. So today is a rush of tying up loose ends, familiarising myself with student names and project details, hunting down a stationary shop for discussion materials, and sorting out my visa run flights. Ticking off my to do list!

Still, when I can do half of this while curled up with a coffee on a cushion in a little cafe, it’s not too bad.


Halfway across the world, and back again

I logged onto my wordpress account recently, and saw the date of my last post glaring back at me: October 26th, almost than a month ago.

The last time I let such a time pass between posts was during IFSS, when my three weeks in Spain marked the gap between London and Berlin.

This time, looking at my photos and words from my last post, it feels like an age has passed since that time, like my three weeks in Sri Lanka were a whole ‘nother world, another trip apart from my cosy guesthouse in Chiang Mai where I am writing this now.

From quiet Mirissa to the tourist beat of Unawatuna, where Clare and I passed three nights and four days in a blur of finding (and fighting for) a beautiful blue shack above a bar on the beach, falling in with a group of English guys who worked anti-pirate security on high risk shipping runs, drinking beer and going for midnight swims in the warm tropical sea, and seeing more sunrises than I had in the past month.

From Sri Lanka, and my farewell to Clare, I caught a plane to Singapore, where the clean streets, quiet hostel, and perfectly functioning public transport were a stark but welcome contrast to the relentless noise, chaos, and stares that follow and surround you in Sri Lanka. Then from Singapore, the leg of my trip that, when outlined to fellow travellers, had never failed to produce a confused stare and a series of questions: New Zealand, and the Asia Pacific Forestry Commission in Rotorua. This trip deserves (and hopefully will be, when I get around to it!) a post of its own – as does the sneaky stop-over in Melbourne on my way back to Singapore, and the subsequent week in Java, Indonesia.

But for now I’ll jump forward, to Thailand – the beginning of the final stage of my nine month adventure. I’m here to lead a series of student volunteer projects, with a company I worked a season for in Australia last year. My first project was supposed to start tomorrow, and I was supposed to have spent the last week in Chiang Mai for training. Instead, my first project was cancelled, and I found myself with a week to kill in Bangkok.

I have a sort of love hate relationship with that city. Like most Asian cities, it can come as a shock; the noise, pollution, traffic and general chaos can be overwhelming. That was my experience the first time I went to Bangkok, back in 2009, and it was less than 24 hours before I was headed north on a bus to Chiang Mai.

And yet there are things I love about Bangkok too: the cheap and delicious food, the wonderful shopping,the easiness of it all, as a city used to hordes of tourists.

After six days in the city, my love hate relationship had been even more (ill)defined.

Arriving at Don Mueang airport, I realised it was not the main airport I was familiar with, and that I had no idea how to get into town and my hostel. Then felt a sense of relief and gratitude when I was directed by a friendly security guard to the bus stand up the road, and approached by a series of concerned locals eager to help me find my way.

On my second morning, running late for a workshop on the other side of town, I reached a peak of frustration when almost no taxis would pick me up due to traffic, and those that would – along with the tuk tuk drivers I approached – wanted to charge a small fortune to do so. Then I found a bus that travelled my exact route, and one that was free (that’s right, free!) at that.

After three nights in Khao San area, I realised I couldn’t take the crowds of drunk tourists and heckling touts anymore. So I found a beautiful boutique hostel near Victory Monument, an area full of cheap street food and bustling, local night markets.

Still, after six days, I was more than ready to leave the (big) city, and to jump on a plane heading north.

I’m in Chiang Mai for the next two weeks, being put up by the volunteer company in exchange for a few days a week helping out in the office. I’m currently staying in a beautiful, bustling guesthouse – the same guesthouse I stayed in all those years ago. Tomorrow I’m moving further west to be closer to the office, and then I’ll settle in for my stay. I can already feel the chaos of Bangkok slipping away, with the honking traffic jams replaced by the odd scooter rushing past, the drunken mess of Khao San replaced by a chilled backpacker vibe, and the high rises replaced by the low buildings and leafy streets of the old town.

Not a bad place to get stuck for two more weeks.