Aimless luxury in Chiang Mai

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I’ve reached an odd but, I suppose, inevitable state. When I got to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, I asked around about what I should see and do there – locals, other tourists, hotel staff – anyone who might have an opinion about what wonders Chiang Mai had to offer. Well it turns out that what Chiang Mai can boast a reasonable list of interesting things that I have already done. There are Buddhist temples in abundance – done that. There’s a highly recommended zip-ling day trip – obviously that was out. There’s a well-regarded elephant sanctuary – remember Nepal? How about white water rafting? Uganda. Cooking class? Jungle trek? Night Market? Check (x2), check, check. Stifling heat? Friendly people? Spicy food? I could go on and on. I realize this sounds sort of ungrateful and jaded, but it’s honestly what happened.

Errr… another temple (Actually, Wat Chedi Luang. I think.)

So what did I do? Well, I finally decided to use the money given to me by the Winnipeg Hashers when I left town lo these many months ago and splash out on a really nice hotel. I know it was intended to be used in an extreme circumstance, when I really needed to retreat and regroup in total luxury, but I think I may have waited too long. Also, the trouble is that most of those moments of despair came when there really wasn’t an upgrade possible – like, for instance, that rainy Christmas morning in Africa. If I’d had the chance I certainly would have strolled down to the Serengeti Hilton, but it turns out there were all booked up (the holidays, you know). So instead I decided I’d treat myself after the sweatiness and rusticity of Tree House 7. Also, I stretched the rules of the game a bit. Rather than one night in the best place in town, I opted for a 3-night package deal at a really nice boutique hotel in the old city. I figured the most relaxing thing would be if I didn’t have to up sticks and move to a new place just as I was getting used to the good life.

And that’s how I ended up at the Tamarind Village in the old city of Chiang Mai, on their 3-night “Simply Lanna” Package. It included:

  • three nights of boutique accommodations
  • breakfast buffet every morning (with omelet bar!)
  • a dinner of traditional Thai food
  • two 90-minute massages (Well, it was actually a package intended for two people, so I just booked one person twice!)
  • a private temple tour
The view of the pool, from breakfast

It wasn’t cheap, but the Hash money added to the amount I would have spent on food and accommodations anyways meant that it was still in the budget, so off I went.

Ha! Did you see how I said, “off I went” as if it was a simple thing? Nothing is simple in Southeast Asia. In reality, this is what happened:

Woke up in Tree House 7 and made the sweaty one and a half hour trek to get to the village. Waited in the village. Got into the back of a tuk tuk for a trip that seemed eleven times longer than it was on the way in. Arrived in the bustling metropolis of Huay Xai and checked at the old guest house to make sure my pre-booked, pre-paid minibus to Chiang Mai was all still fine. Found out that only one other person had booked the minibus, so the minibus was about to be cancelled. Had small freak out. Asked how many people were needed to ensure the departure of the minibus. Press-ganged Todd, Kat, Christina and Cecelia into taking the trip with me on the promise of an half-empty minibus with air-con (they were going to Chiang Mai anyways, honest). Checked email. Raced over to Narlene and Marcus’s hotel room (other gibbon buddies) and used their generously-offered shower to become human. Started sweating again before I’ve even walked out of the bathroom. Ran around gathering some food for the trip. Waited with the gang for the 4:00 pm minibus. Checked with the weird old guesthouse lady the confirm the bus was really coming. Was told that we were supposed to meet the bus on the other side of the river in Thailand, but don’t worry, it bus wasn’t leaving until 5:00pm. (We were supposed to know this…?) Race to Laos customs to get stamped out of the country. Pay ridiculous “overtime fee” for arriving and expecting service between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm (Ok, it was only $1 USD, but still). Get into a small canoe-like boat and cross over into Thailand. Pass through Thai customs. Try to find the minibus. Get found by a tuk tuk driver who says we are to get in the tuk tuk and it will take us to where the minibus is. Obey. Arrive at a guesthouse that is, apparently, the jumping-off point for the minibus. Check at reception only to be told the bus actually leaves at 6:30 pm. Speak strongly to the guy behind the counter to no avail. Resign self to 6:30pm departure, and also discover our half-empty minibus that had been in danger of not going at all for lack of passengers now has eleven people booked on it. Wait more, sweat more, fret more, feel bad about getting my TH7 buddies into all this, wait a bit more. Pile onto minibus at 6:30 pm, which miraculously turns out to be as advertised – comfortable, clean, modern and blissfully air conditioned. Ride for four hours through the dark and arrive in Chiang Mai at about 11:00 pm. Take yet another tuk tuk to Tamarind Village Hotel. Check in. On the way to the room, notice a six inch long scorpion scuttling across the floor of the open air reception area. Get to room. Drink beer. Reflect on the interesting and fluid nature of travel and life in Southeast Asia. Collapse.

So like I said, off I went.

Tamarind Village was great. You saw the pool. Here’s my room:

Many pillows! A choice of bathrobes!

It wasn’t over-the-top opulent, but there were the bathrobes, a well-stocked minibar, a basket fruit fruit, very nice toiletries and big fluffy towels. And of course there were the massages… On Friday afternoon I booked a Thai massage, on Sunday morning I had an aromatherapy oil massage. Each was done in the hotel’s spa (of course), and started with a cup of cold tea and a cold towel. The cold towel is a fantastic thing that I ran into a few times in Chiang Mai – a damp, tightly rolled and very chilled towel is presented on a tray and you unroll it and use it to wipe your face and hands. It feels AMAZING.

The cold towel. Genius.

Each massage started with a ritual where the massage therapist washed my feet. There was a brass-lined tub of warm water, and into that she crushed slices of orange and chunks of lemongrass and salt. Then she scrubbed my feet with a mixture of oil and salt and rinsed them and dried them off. Needless to say, it was very nice, though it was a bit weird having my feet washed by someone else – too much symbolism there for my tastes. (Naturally, more pictures of my feet are at Flickr. I should start a Flickr set of pictures of Pam’s feet.)

My aromatherapy massage lady, with the tub and accoutrements for foot washing.

The massage rooms were really nice – dim, cool, and nicely decorated in subdued colours and rattan and such. They had full bathrooms and showers, and closets for your clothes. The Thai massage was done dry – I wore a loose top and pants that were provided. The aromatherapy massage was oily, so they actually gave you a throw-away set of underwear! Friday’s Thai massage was sort of like therapeutic massages I’ve had in the west, except that I could tell the therapist wasn’t just using her hands – she used her elbows and her knees and her feet. And she’d grab an arm or a leg and move it around and stretch the muscles and well as massaging them. And I’m pretty sure she was using power tools when she got to my neck and shoulders because: Ouch! At the end she strongly recommended I come back for a long session just to concentrate on my neck, back and shoulders. Yeah, right. Sunday’s oil massage was much more gentle, and very thorough. Front and back, arms, legs, feet, hands, neck, shoulders, head. I was pretty well-noodled by the time it was over.

Other than the massage, I had a really excellent dinner on Friday evening. There was a brief problem with them having taken my reservation for dinner without realizing it conflicted with a wine-tasting event that had booked the whole dining room, but eventually they made up a table for me in the corner, and were excellently fawning about the whole mix-up, so that was kind of cool. And the food was worth the wait.

The final part of the luxury package was the included temple tour. I did this on Saturday morning in the hotel’s minivan with a driver who took me up the big hill outside of town to see Wat Suthep, one of Thailand’s most famous temples. On the way up we stopped at a scenic overlook, though the skies were so hazy you couldn’t see much. And of course the driver offered to take my picture, because he was worried about what Rob H might say if I didn’t get one.

Me with hazy Chiang Mai in the background.

Once we got to the top I got the luxury treatment again. When the driver dropped me at the bottom of the steps up to the temple he opened up the back of the van and gave me a cold bottle of water from a cooler full of ice (I could also have had pop or beer). And he told me to give him the receipt from my entrance fee so the hotel could reimburse it. And he waited for me while I toured around the temple at a nice leisurely pace. Nice.

The temple was pleasant enough, but my favourite part was the staircase leading up to the main entrance. Each side was decorated with glazed tiles that looked like scales and the railings undulated up and down like a dragon all the way up.

Dragon stairs!

The neatest part was how the colour of the dragon changed to yellow when you looked at it from the top down. Because of how the tiles were glazed it all looked predominantly green from the bottom and predominantly yellow from the top. Very clever.

See how clever?

Of course I also did enjoy having a look around the temple area. It’s a very popular tourist destination, especially for Thais, so there were quite a few people around, but it didn’t feel crowded or anything. What did seem crowded was the space around the outside of the temple – a sort of covered walkway that was completely crammed with lots of Buddha statues and zillions of donation boxes of every shape and size soliciting money for anything from temple upkeep to education for monks to support for the aged to sports complexes for hill tribe villages. There were so many I decided to do a complete circuit and count every one. One hundred and eighteen.

Well if they don’t need a donation, I don’t know who does.

The main stupa of the temple was being renovated (obviously, the donation boxes work) so I did get good photos of it. Though I was pleased to see that the shrouding they used to cover the scaffolding and work area was all bright, shiny gold cloth, so it blended in quite nicely.

The golden top of this stupa is quite famous, but not really shown to best advantage here.

The temple tour was nice, but perhaps the nicest part about it was that I got back to the hotel in time to have a beer, a quick dip in the pool, a longish laze reading on a poolside lounger, and a short nap before I ventured out to meet up with the Chiang Mai Saturday Hash House Harriers. But the Hash and my other adventures in Chiang Mai don’t really have anything to do with my three days of luxury living. For now let’s just remember me with my feet up poolside, muttering quiet but profound thank yous to the Winnipeg Hash House Harriers. I’ve said it before, but you guys are the best. Thanks.


Lisa said...

Awesome choice of hash cash! We were chatting about you last night at hash as the 450th is coming up on May 15th...Erotic Bingo at the Nob...We'll miss you!!!

Unknown said...

Love that Dragon Stairway.

Happy trails...


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