Chiang Mai Diary
By Martina Tyler
In late January 2014, I went to Chiang Mai (CM) for four days, which gave me the entire time to be a girl (whoopee!!) and to see my good friend Cathy. CM has come a long way since I started going there 15 years ago and is a vibrant city with plenty to see and do.
On January 24th, I flew from Bangkok, where I was living at the time, to CM with a suitcase weighing 18.1 kg: that was 18 kg of girl's things and 0.1 kg of boys stuff – just about a pair of socks, I think. For carry-on, I also had my camera and 5 lenses (bloody heavy) ready for some serious photography as opportunities arose. Arrived at CM airport on time and picked up a taxi for Baht 120 (about $4) to take me to my hotel, the Centara Duan Tawan, not far from the famous Night Market and the river. Twiggy (my wife) and I have stayed there many times before.
As soon as I was in the room, I started metamorphosing into Martina. Once fully booted and spurred in a nice, but plain, Diana Ferrari dress and my silver (low) heels, I headed to the 7-11 across the road to buy some breakfast for the next day, as my room (cheapest rate) did not include it. The 7-11 was full of men and I seemed to be getting a few looks—until I realised I was probably a bit overdressed for the time of day; still, that didn’t bother me. As it turned out, the shop had nothing worth buying, so I shelved that idea until later.
Cathy picked me up from the hotel about 6pm and took me to a Burmese restaurant next to the Moat. (CM was built as a walled city in 1296 with a moat all the way around; the moat and fragments of the walls are still there. Each side of the square is, from memory, 1 mile long. CM was originally the capital of the kingdom of Lanna (pronounced Laan Naa) until being absorbed into Siam in the 18th century.) The food was excellent and the house red was very acceptable indeed. We ate vegetarian, as Cathy is not a carnivore like me, but I did not mind because the food was so delicious. She is also teetotal, which was fine by me, as she was to be my driver during my stay.
After dinner, we went to a new and rather magnificent shopping mall called Central Festival, east of the city. We wandered around a few dress shops but didn't succumb to temptation. Marks and Spencers had some lovely miniskirts, but too expensive for me - have to wait for the sale! The weather in CM was decidedly cold at night, so we had hot chocolate at Starbucks, girl chatting constantly throughout, after which I picked up some muesli and milk from the supermarket before heading back to the hotel.
In the morning, I wanted to get dressed straight away, but did so slowly, taking the time to preen myself all over and touch up my nails: OPI Aphrodite's Pink Nightie (where do they get these names from!?). Cathy was picking me up at midday and I was happy to hang around in the room until then in my grey mini, blue top and silver heels. Just before going out, I changed into a longer, more “politically-correct”, skirt and another blue top with flat shoes as we intended to do some walking. I had wanted to borrow one of Twiggy's blue tops, but she cunningly left it in Australia!
Cathy took me to a small restaurant by the river called Regina. At the front there is a shop full of bric-a-brac and curios reminiscent of a Steptoe and Son second-hand emporium; the restaurant is out the back and we found a table overlooking the river. There used to be a footbridge nearby, but it had collapsed in the flooding and people were now fishing from the rubble. The restaurant is populated with several cats, two of whom smoodged up to us in the hope of a friendly pat and maybe a morsel of food, as I had a fried rice with ham. The light was very harsh, but I managed a few photos of Cathy with a pussy-cat that was very chummy, with the animal no doubt moving in on the next customer after we had left.
Cathy (who just happens to work in real estate) drove me past some places where she thought I might want to rent as we were planning to move to CM later that year. On the way, we stopped at a Doi Chang coffee shop for refreshments and then on to Rachapreuk Gardens, which is a huge park full of beautiful gardens, and where the famous Chiang Mai flower show is hosted. We hoped to find some good places to take photos.
The park is very large and there was a Tulip Festival being held, although we never made it that far, stuck as we were with other scenic backdrops. However, you can see from the photos that there were many photogenic places and we simply ran out of time, several hundred photos later! We left about 5 pm so I could return to the hotel and change into something presentable for dinner.
Me and Cathy at Rachapreuk Gardens
For dinner, I put on one of my favourite short dresses and we again went to a vegetarian restaurant. I didn't like the food much which seemed to be watered down and not very tasty, although I am sure it did us a lot of good. However, the real killer was that they had no booze (aarrggh!!!), although I should have taken some wine if had I known in advance. Below is a file photo of the dress I wore to dinner:
On the third day, Cathy took me to an apartment block which she thought might be of interest to us to rent, and then to a lovely little cafe in Nimmanhemin, where we had an excellent lunch with a lovely English lady called Dorothy. She greeted me as Martina without any hint that my being a T-girl was anything outside the usual; in fact, it became clear very quickly that she has an open mind and accepts people as they are. I really like that. She told me that she had married a man from Ghana, in Africa, in England in the 60s and had endured all the racial flack that goes with it, so she knows what it’s like to be a minority target for those who choose, usually for the worst of reasons, to be horrible to others. I thought she was a very interesting person and a delight to meet and have continued a friendship with her to this day.
About 3pm, Cathy and I journeyed up the mountain towards the famous tourist attraction of Doi Suthep, but stopped about 500m short to look at a lesser known temple called Wat Palad, hidden away in the jungle on the mountain slopes. There were not many people around, so it was an ideal place to take some photos of the temple and the nearby waterfall in the failing afternoon light.
After getting some great shots, Cathy took me back to the hotel. She is not much of a dinner eater, so we agreed I would go out separately to dine. However, the place I chose did not have wine, only beer, which I did not feel like drinking, so I was doomed to endure a second alcohol-free night!
I am sure my liver appreciated it though.
On my last day, we went to a nice little vegetarian restaurant near the centre of the old city and both had slightly different versions of fried rice and fruit juice for lunch. Delightful!
After that, our target for the day was Baan Tawai, a large village south of Chiang Mai famous for its arts and crafts - painting, wood-carving, lamps, clocks; you name it, they had it! The place was delightful and, best of all, there was hardly anyone there. We stopped at a coffee shop first and then plunged in. Here are some photos:
Again, Cathy preferred not to go out to dinner, but we agreed to meet at the restaurant after I had finished my main course to have dessert and coffee or tea. So I dressed up in a black top and cardigan, and put on the grey miniskirt, but somehow thought it might be a bit too short to inflict on CM just yet! I made it to the lift, but chickened out and went back to the room and put on a more modest skirt for the 10 or so minute walk to the restaurant, the River Market, which is a favourite of mine. It has a lovely atmosphere with good food and good service. I had a nice meal and three glasses of the house red which was fine, but not as good as I have had there before.
This is a file photo of what I wore (but with black lace cardigan and slightly different shoes):
Cathy came when I had finished my dinner and I had some ice cream and she had tea. We chatted for about an hour and then, outside the restaurant, hugged and went our separate ways vowing to meet up again in the not too distant future.
I walked the 300m back to the hotel passing a few bars in the way. Not many people about and, although I heard one wolf-whistle, but did not look to see where it was coming from. Still, I was relieved to make the relative safety of the night-market. However, when I got back to my room, a mischievous imp whispered in my ear: "Go on, put that miniskirt on and go for a walk through the night market. I dare you, ha ha!" I think the imp had had one too many wines but, before I knew it, there I was walking through the night-market in my grey mini – naughty Martina! And yes, I did get some looks. In fact, a lady street vendor yelled out: "Sek-see! Sek-see!" Oh, what fun! It really was the icing on the cake.
Sadly, I had to find some boy gear and go back to Bangkok the next day, but I did have a great time. Thanks Cathy; it was wonderful to be a girl for four whole days without ever having to change my nail varnish once!