Colours of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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I spent a month on a road trip up in Chaing Mai and Chaing Rai. Lampang, Lop, Pitsanalok, Dtak etc were just some of the towns I visited. The architecture of this region is very unique.  Not only roadside and garden gazeboes but also huge multistory houses here constructed entirely of teak, a heavy luxurious wood.

We spent the days visiting Kiaw and Claude’s upcountry friends for a periodic update of humanitarian activity, counseling, collection of aid (financial and material) etc.

Visiting a friend in small town Thailand is a drawn out affair generally you spend an hour or so chatting and drinking gafea or chai. “This young man is from Japan but he speaks Chinese” was how they would introduce me. “Ahhh..” then they would use their limited Chinese vocabulary on me. Almost everyone with a business in Thailand is ethnic Chinese the native Thais seem to prefer farming and fighting (in the ring and military) to paper pushing. After this we would talk about serious issues such as marital, business, health problems etc. This being an enigmatic (not up-front) SEA culture there is often plenty of intrigue in human relations, marital problems are especially Byzantine.

One big problem lies in the huge difference between rural life and values with those in the rapidly westernized urban areas. In the villages people are generally more promiscuous often women work in the urban sex trade and men have mistresses, so attitudes toward extra-marital affairs can be rather lazier-faire. Of course this puts stress on modern monogamy and makes the region have the highest HIV rate in the country. Since we are social/humanitarian workers we always got an earful of the most dreadful tales jealousy, betrayals, abuse, blackmail and so regularly feature. I don’t have a high enough comprehension of Thai so I usually just nod sympathetically and stare at the local soap opera playing on the telly. The scripts are strikingly similar stories and are easier to follow in their dramatic form.

As we leave they usually hand us a small contribution. Tambon or alms is integral parts of Thai culture, orange robed monks survive on the offering dropped into their iron pots. They take generosity very religiously in this country after all Bhuddism is all about compassion. Sometimes friends would invite us to a meal. The food was always superb. Their specialty, Chiang Mai curry, is a spicy yellow-brown curry on noodles with cracked dough crisps on top and limejuice.

Everything here is gushing with flavour, rioting with colour. The town houses are painted in soft pastel shades. The temples are glittering gold. The buses and tuk-tuks are garishly bright. The hill people come to market wrapped red, blue, green, and white checkered cloth, silver clinking on their brows. The local environment lends heavily to art.

One long street outside Chiang Mai is the art district. We wandered into a private showroom with huge canvasses of Siddartha “the enlightened one” hanging on the walls. In the back we found the goateed artist hard at work in his studio. He put down his brush and oils to offer us a cup of chai. “I sometimes do exhibitions abroad” he said modestly as he handed me a photo catalogue of events in Japan, Europe, South Africa, and North America, “they appreciate this style of art more abroad.” He struck me as an enterprising young man who had found where the demand and therefore value was higher. “So you own your own studio? Nice..” he definitely wasn’t a starving artist.

All the way down the road we found the same situation. The artists and craftsman that still catered to the local market were complaining loudly of economic woe while the younger ones using Internet and modern entrepreneurial skills were happy as ever. They had thought bigger, of wholesaling to foreign markets and were reaping good profits as a result.

 In one town we stopped in a gold shop to explain our work and make an appeal for support. A pretty young woman ran this shop. Turning from the portfolio she looked into my eyes “How do you like Thailand?” This one of the most common questions all locals ask so I have a set answer. “I like it very much. The food is delicious, the country is amazing, and the women are beautiful” I really meant it this time. She could sense my sincerity “and how long will you stay?” “As long as the people like me” we smiled at each other for a moment. There was a openness about her, feminine but not shy, that was very attractive.

I think the women here are the loveliest in the country. Just walking down the street I would be met with the most demure looks and coy smiles. Sure the birds in Bangkok are fashionable but the delicate lighter features and the graceful charms of Chiang Mai women are mighty alluring.

In the Chiang Rai night market I was stunned by the elegance of the dancing local women as they slowly turned their wrists and pivoted on a single foot. Their bodies decked in golden Siamese finery curved and undulated to the melodic sounds of Thai cellos. There was not a single forced movement not a trace of stress. All was tranquil and flowing, the movement was hypnotic. The inviting warmth and subtle charm expressed by their fine smiles struck me to the heart. This was the most touching beauty I had seen in years something I will never forget. 

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Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes