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.