Chiang Mai and the Two Month Mark.

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Thunder is clapping above us, the dusk brings dark ominous clouds dripping rain and pushing us inside. I sit and watch the sidewalk darken, feeling the ricochet of water droplets against my ankles. As I have time to slow down I realize, today marks the two month point. Not the longest I’ve been away, but certainly the longest I’ve been constantly on the move. It feels as if I’ve been away for forever, or perhaps not at all. It’s hard to imagine life stationary, and despite the constant movement I don’t feel the need to slow down or settle down in one place. The excitement of constant newness is addictive. Everyday is new and exciting, full of possible adventures and discoveries; it’s intoxicating really.

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Chiang Mai from above.
Now that I’ve been gone for a bit, and had time to adjust to life on the move I’ve thought about what I would have done differently, what I miss, and what I don’t.
Packing, I agonized over it and overall I’m happy, though there are a few things I could do without (linen trousers, yoga pants), and a few things I may add (a cute dress?)-mostly from wardrobe boredom more than necessity. Bangkok, with it’s impeccably dressed inhabitants in their silks made me feel quite underdressed, not that I’m rocking ugly tourist pants or anything (don’t even get me started…). But I wasn’t prepared for the high level of grooming I’ve encountered. I imagine though, that will lessen as I head further away from the modern metropolis. Other then that, totally happy with my preparations. So thanks, fellow travelers who felt the need to start forums that would satisfy my slightly obsessive planning nature, you helped heaps.
So, what do I miss? Aside from the way too obvious “family and friends” my answer really is, nothing. OK maybe Mexican food from L.A. But I miss that in San Francisco, so it doesn’t really count. And travel is so easy and comfortable (the vast majority of the time) that it’s really not stressful at all. I mean, the system is set up so well that even half conscious constantly inebriated, questionable decision making twenty something’s can manage just think of how easy it is for the slightly higher functioning rest of us. I really didn’t understand just how easy it is. It’s absurd. In less than half an hour at the desk in our guesthouse we booked cooking classes, figured out how to get to the hilltop temple cheaply, where to get street food, where to shop, get good espresso, and book a minivan to the border for our overland into Laos. Seriously, anyone can do this. And for the small irritations that naturally come with travel, the joy of the adventure greatly outweighs them so that you forget almost instantly that you were anything but totally happy. This could change, of course, especially when we hit countries where the people are reputed to be not as incredibly friendly as they have been so far (Vietnam…). But so far, so good. I don’t really see that changing much.

This hasn’t been a soul searching trip, and I never set out to make any grand discoveries. But as its impossible to come home the same after any prolonged trip there have been subtle changes. For one, that I can in fact not plan and just “go with it” and not have any anxiety about it. I am capable of giving up control. Not that I’m as easy going as I’d like necessarily, but I’m pretty happy with my current level of whatever happens, happens attitude. And, I am perfectly capable of making friends even when I’m not in a volunteering or in a forced social situation. Its a lot easier than I thought and I love how open other travelers are. I suppose I’m used to L.A. where striking up a conversation with a stranger would likely result in skeptical glares and a brush off. It certainly is refreshing, and I’ve met some seriously awesome people so far. Then again, if you’re the type to up and travel like this, you’re probably a pretty interesting person.
So overall, all positives, no illness, a few too many bug bites, and a supremely happy backpacker. Not bad. Except that a large chunk of this trip is over, that I’m less thrilled about.
But back to Chiang Mai. What did we do, our fellow cooking class mates ask us this afternoon. To which we reply, umm, we saw some temples. Mostly though, we ate. And really, that’s what we did. And it was fantastic.
Day one. We arrive, tired and in need of lunch. We go first to an espresso bar (Ponganes) which only opened ten months ago and was rumored to have espresso to rival the best (specific reference to Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle), so we had to check it out. Both Alex and I will willingly admit to our coffee snobbery. We’re those people you roll your eyes at when you overhear phrases like “I really like the robust chicory undertones” or “I generally gravitate towards a yirgacheffe.” We’re quite serious, and the coffee here is seriously good. It would compete well in the coffee meccas in the states. I could live in Chiang Mai with this sort of establishment.

20120518-190924.jpg A cappuccino done right.

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Iced coffee.
We then spent our days wandering markets, looking at, and getting a bit tired of copious amounts of Wats, and eating to capacity at the local street markets where our most expensive meal ran us $2/person. Including beer. I felt a bit of pressure to do more, or see more, but then I remembered this is my trip to do what I please, and I would be perfectly content eating my way through southeast Asia. And so, that’s what we did. It was delicious. Finishing off our Northern Thailand experience with an excellent cooking class. I can’t think of a better way to spend three days.
Some pictures from our adventures.

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Onto Laos and the slow boat down the Mekong!

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