If Bangkok is a whore then Chiang Mai is the religious sister who ran away to follow her faith, with 300 temples in the city limits it’s impossible to walk anywhere without Buddhism crossing your path. Every street has several temples, every other building has it’s own personal shrine to Buddha that they provide with fresh food and drink on the daily and at certain times of the day you can see monks in orange robes walking the streets doing errands, whether this is for groceries or just hiking from temple to temple I don’t know, but the monks have to travel, often I would see them sat next to the driver in the peculiar taxi-buses driving around town. From what I could gather the taxi-busses were like democracy buses or communal taxis where the driver would pick people on the way to somewhere else, a little like sharing an Uber with a stranger but a bit more random. Either way, no matter who was in the back, the monk would always sit in the front, nobody else was allowed, seat reserved.
Chiang Mai seemed a lot more down to earth than Bangkok, less of a party atmosphere and a lot less ladyboys. During the day we would visit the Chinese markets, full of colour, life and terrible smells. Once the sun goes down the night markets pop up which are full of colour, life and wonderful smells, all of the local food vendors bring out their specific delicacies to the food markets providing more choice than you know what to do with.
I wasn’t particularly interested in the temples, once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, like beaches or beautiful sunsets, they’re nice to look at but even natural beauty can get stale with over-exposure, the interesting part to Chiang Mai is the people living and visiting there, people seemed a little more quirky than your average place, whether that was the influence of the area on the settlers or whether the quirky seeked to settle there, I don’t know but it had an artistic vibe about it.
One of the few things we did outside of stuffing our faces and the faces of elephants was watch some Thai boxing. The arena was in the red light district just outside of the old moated city, a street filled with bars and massage parlours with beautiful young Thai ladies coaxing drunken male travellers into their finely scented nests.
After passing several massage parlours and novelty theme bars (the cowboy saloon is particularly tacky) the entrance to the boxing stadium comes into view, to get into it you have to pass dozens upon dozens of open bars, all the same size and shape, all with attractive Thai women playing pool. It’s pretty surreal but for me made perfect sense knowing a story that a friend of mine had told me last year whilst he was in Bangkok. He told me how he walked into a bar, played pool with some Thai women and bought a few beers, as he was trying to leave he was stopped, a man threatened him to pay up for talking to the girls and playing pool with them, nothing comes for free, the boxing match was a front for getting the tourists into the green felted honey trap.
The boxing itself was pretty entertaining, playing traditional high pitched music whilst the boxers fought, starting with young and experienced fighter up to “title fights”, the entertainment in between bouts included three fighters being blindfolded with a ref guiding them into each other only to be beaten himself.
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