Tuesday, 31 July 2012

San Kaempeng, Chiang Mai, Thailand

July 1st - July 4th, 2012

We arrived in Chiang Mai with a set of directions to the home of our Couch Surfing host 15km outside the city centre.  After a hike in the afternoon heat from the bus station to the train station, we were to board a mini bus to San Kaempeng.  We stood on the side of the road as minibuses of all colours wizzed past us down the street.  Confused, it took us a few moments before hailing one whom shook their heads no upon learning of our destination.  Some ignored us completely, some requested 150, 200 even 300 baht for the trip.  Had our hosts not informed us the cost should be 15 baht each we may have fallen for these higher prices however turned every one of them down until we finally had a discussion with a tuk tuk driver who spoke a modicum of English and boarded a red sawng thaew which passed for the local bus; more so a pick up truck with two rows of wooden benches facing each other. 

Ian stood out immediately; the only white face waving and smiling as he road towards us on his motorbike.  The Englishman had to make two trips to get us back to his house with all our luggage on the motorbike, taking me first.  He weaved his way through rush hour traffic turning left down a narrow side street.  A gate stood open at the far end and it felt like the suburbs melted away behind us as we pulled into his one acre garden covered in fruit trees; mango, papaya, and banana.  A gorgeous teak wood home on stilts stood before me; an open air kitchen and living room beneath the main floor at ground level.  He called to his Thai wife Suzie to put the kettle on before leaving to collect Julian.  I smiled, certain that we would be served tea English style. 

Suzie came out to greet me with a warm, welcoming smile and sat me at their dining table as she went about making tea.  Julian and Ian arrived shortly thereafter and the entirely of the evening was spent in their lounge over interesting conversation and a never ending pot of English breakfast tea. Upstairs was a very open plan concept, their bedroom being the main space, a bathroom with bamboo walls directly off it.  Our bedroom was the only room with a door; a double bed with a large mosquito net allowing for windows to remain open throughout the night.  The air here cooler that further south and the city traffic well beyond the front gate it was the most comfortably sleep we have had in a while. 

The morning at Ians were leisurely and comfortable with pots of tea flowed freely.  Being here was almost like a break from our travels, easily loosing track of the outside word as we rested in this quiet haven.  We borrowed a couple of push bikes and road to the next town over, a handy-craft centre where all the local villages under the Kings scheme of "one village; one product" come together to sell a variety of wares, be it bamboo furniture, umbrellas, pottery or hand stitched clothes, bags and purses.

Later that evening Ian dropped us off in the 'trendy' part of Chiang Mai while he went to participate in a hypnosis group nearby.  At his suggestion, we visited The Salad Concept for dinner.  We found a table in the crowded restaurant and I was instantly happy with the 'make your own salad' idea (pumpkin dressing, amazing!).  Julian wasn't so sure.  Jazz music created an atmosphere akin to the funky Parisian underground and the menu (like the music) required you to "concentrate on the notes that aren't played" rather than the ones that are. To Julians mind the whole place lacked substance, particularly in the food department and it was not long before he decided he was not at all fond of the place, choosing to eat later rather than be half satisfied with a plate of rabbit food and a glass of wheatgrass.

After Ians group session, he drove us to another part of the city, to a salsa club where he was to spend the remainder of the evening.  We used the time to explore the area around the east gate of this formally walled city;  a busy section cluttered with western food chains and tourists. We were well on the backpacking trail here seeing more white faces than we had since leaving Canada. Wandering back alleys we found a quiet area of guesthouses before emerging again on the main street where working girls continually called out to Julian, calling to him as 'Mr Handsome' and 'Mr Sexy (quite right too - smug ed).  We retreated to a small restaurant on the fourth floor where we enjoyed a Thai omelette (a folded, stuffed omelette of tomatoes and ground pork) before meeting a our exhausted and sweaty, British, salsa dancing host. 

Ian and Suzie insisted we stay an extra night so they might show us the San Kampaeng hot springs.  Walking through the park alongside a heated stream we followed it to the source; a boiling pool of thermal water reaching 104 degrees.  Suzie purchased chicken and quail eggs then hung the woven palm leaf baskets into the pool and before long we were sat at a picnic bench enjoying these eggs cooked by the heat of the earth. 

The spas themselves were amongst the oddest I have yet to see at a public hot spring.  Men and women were separated into areas resembling gym changing rooms with individual doors lining the hall.  Private cubicles houses wooden and ceramic tubs with faucets much like those at home except the water came straight from a thermal source.  Alone in my private chamber I chose the 'warm' faucet at first, slightly weary of the heat which may come from the one labeled 'hot'.  I sat in my tub playing with the temperature, drinking heaps of bottled water until finally I the heat made my head spin.  I quite liked these private tubs.  Certainly more than the common concrete pools typically found at most public hot springs.  Nothing has yet come to beat the natural hot spring at White Swan National Park or the thermal cave systems in the Kootenays, British Columbia.

Once again Couch Surfing has absolutely given us another experience we never would have found otherwise.  To spend time with Ian and Suzie in their gorgeous teak wood home on stilts, relaxing our tired selves and learning about the traditions and expectations of multi national relationships in Thailand. To be invited in to see the world through their perspective was was an intriguing deviation for a few days. Another level to this endlessly fascinating country.

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