The week has been all sorts of exhausting and eventful; I have been in three countries since. Kiat and I spent our last day in Manila wandering among the slums of San Juan with Riza and visited the San Juan cemetery and went out at night with Erika, Jane, Christian and one of their friend whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. We had an early flight to catch, and so we decided to go clubbing before catching my plane in the morning with Kiat. Kiat and Gelo were supposed to come with us, but they were not feeling well so they rested at home while I came back home with Erika and friends drunk. I hazily booked flights to India at four in the morning, and then Kiat and I left Manila.
We flew to Kuala Lumpur for a layover after some delay at the decrepit Manila airport. We were completely worn out upon arriving in Chiang Mai, so we decided to take our first evening in Thailand easy. We walked along Watrotrot Market, famished but unable to find a decent eatery within the midst of countless food stalls. We really wanted a huge meal instead of street snacks due to our state of starvation, but we couldn't find food so eventually gave up walking and hired a tuk-tuk to the Night Bazaar Market Place where we finally settled down after finding an empty restaurant with the cheapest food prices in the Market Place. It was an empty eatery, and our server is an immigrant who came from Pakistan and spoke four different languages, including English, Malay and Thai. We both agreed that the fried rice we had in that eatery was hands-down the best fried rice we had ever tasted in our lives, and it cost less than $2.
We spent the next day, our first official day in Chiang Mai exploring the city, visiting the temples, and being scammed by a tuk-tuk driver. He approached us outside a temple innocuously and offered to take us on a tour around the main city area to visit the sights and the temples. We were free to stop whenever we wanted and for as long as we wanted, all for 400 baht, which is about $11. We thought it was a a good deal and he seemed trustworthy and friendly, so we agreed. It was too hot and it seemed like a good alternative to spending the entire day walking around the city. However, we were conned as he decided to take us to tourist trap stores selling leather, jewelry, pottery, silk, cloth, gold, and silverware instead of seeing the temples and sights that we had agreed to. He brought us to a couple of temples, but he was grossly impatient with us and I was just feeling uncomfortable the entire time I sat in the back of his vehicle. It was difficult to be all right with a stranger taking you to places I didn't know of in a new city that I have never been to. I was trying my best not to panic in the backseat with Kitty by my side. Kitty's equanimity helped me maintain my composure.
Ted, a schoolmate of mine in SUA arrived in Chiang Mai later that night from Chiang Rai, Thailand. Ted is a Vietnamese student who, like me, is an international student in California, and he was spending part of his summer volunteering in Northern Thailand, so we had planned to spend the weekend together. We had initially planned to arrive on the same night, but things didn't work out as planned. I consoled myself by looking forward to spending the next day with Ted too, but once again, we failed to spend time together in Thailand although we were in Chiang Mai together at the same time and Ted had slept in the same room as Kiat and I in our travel lodge. But we promised to meet up in Vietnam in August, so that was my final consolation.
It was our third and final day in Chiang Mai. It seemed like such a short time to spend in the city, but Chiang Mai was tiny and I only wanted to travel in Northern Thailand as I have visited other major cities in Thailand like the capital, Bangkok, and its idyllic southern islands. Kiat has also been to Thailand, so he wasn't too excited about it. We began with our day to the National Park of Chiang Mai for an elephant ride. We bathed the elephants, fed them, and rode them. Riding an elephant was a thrilling and frightening experience, something we completely did not expect. I don't know what Kiat had expected, but I had imagine an elephant ride to be smooth, calm, and relaxing. But it was the complete opposite. Kiat and I, two grown ass men, were screaming constantly and holding each other in terror. I was cold-sweating the entire time and nearly cried. I even felt my heart about to jump out through my throat a couple of times. I definitely do not recommend elephant-riding for the weak-hearted.
I was really excited about elephant-riding and it was one of my main motivations for wanting to visit Northern Thailand. By the time we had completed our elephant-riding journey in the trail however, Kiat and I felt an almost overwhelming remorse over the elephants, who were whipped continuously throughout the journey. Our elephant, was whipped more frequently, as it was older and grumpier, and unwilling to co-operate with its trainer. We wondered how the elephants were treated when tourists like us weren't around, then I realized that these elephants were made to have these tourists like us sit on them, one ride after the other, probably everyday for the rest of their lives. And then I felt completely disgusted with myself for supporting this negative aspect of the tourist industry and decided to be more conscious, critical, and wary of the activities I engage and participate in when I travel, and how my actions, although seemingly unthreatening and innocent, could be deleterious in many ways that may not be exceedingly apparent.
We returned to the Old City of Chiang Mai for lunch, when I had finally tried the traditional Thai dish, mango sticky rice, for the first time in my life before heading up to the mountains to visit the highly renowned and revered Wat Doi Suthep Temple. We were supposed to meet Ted there, but we missed him due to rain, and had no way of contacting each other, so we spent the night having dinner with two Californian girls our age we met in our hostel - Hayley and Caitlin.
On our fourth day in Thailand we did a guided group tour to Chiang Rai. I typically do not do guided tour, but it seemed like a good deal, it was easy, and Kiat wanted to do it. So we thought, might as well try it. They took us to a hot springs location, the eminent and pristine but ominous and disturbing and also a little satirical White Temple in Chiang Rai, and some local village tribes. I found the entire tour an abominable tourist farce, especially the White Temple, but I shouldn't have expected something else from a cheap group tour. I spoke to a classmate who also visited Chiang Rai with her mother a couple of years ago, though, and she offered a different opinion on her experience and it allowed some cutback in my disparaging judgment about Chiang Rai. But we also visited the famous Golden Triangle, where Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand meet, which was nice. Thailand was so pleasant that it felt good to be in that country anyway.