“Look at your legs!”
The impeccably dressed Thai woman looked up at me with sheer incredulity. She had her hand up my trousers, which were pretty damp around the cuffs. Cheers, rain.
Outside, the bedraggled tourists shuffled past in flip flops and oversized see-through plastic poncho macs, slowly getting soaked by the downpour. The Chiang Mai touts were doing in a roaring trade in umbrellas and waterproofs, and I’d decided that today was a perfect time to get my legs waxed. Except, apparently, I’d left it just that slight bit too long. Literally.
“They are so long! The hairs!”
There isn’t much to make a girl feel more unfeminine than having her unsightly elements pointed out by a total stranger. Even more mortifying is being told that the price of said element’s resolution will probably cost double because it’s so totally abhorrent.
“Five hundred, six hundred baht – because look! It will be hard for me!”
The prospect of this evident waxing difficulty that she would have to deal with was simply too much for my damp legs to deal with. I turned on my relatively hair-free heel and stalked off defiantly into the downpour, leaving the Thai woman crouched in her doorway.
Sometimes it’s better for your hair to get rained on than waxed off.
The reverence of Thais
My journey from Nong Weang village to the far more touristy city of Chiang Mai was a fairly lengthy one: a 6 hour bus from the farm to Bangkok and then a 10 hour overnight bus up north, separated by a 4 hour wait in Bangkok’s Mo Chit bus station. Luckily, i was kept entertained by my first proper Thai people-watching experience since arriving in Thailand – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The seat I chose to spend my transit time was in close proximity to a monk, who was hastily and completely revered by everyone who went past. They dipped their heads and crouched their bodies to appear lower, they bought and offered him food, and generally showed him infinite respect. I wish there was something that English people revered as much as Thai monks…
As it reached 6pm, everyone stood up suddenly. It took me a minute to realise that they were all listening to the national anthem, played loudly on widescreen tvs throughout the bus station.
At the end of the song they bowed their heads slightly, then carried on as if nothing had happened – leaving my incredulous, and again impressed at the level of Thai dedication to their religion and their king.
By that point I was getting pretty peckish, and a friendly guy sitting a few seats away – who kept standing up to watch me write my diary in English – agreed to watch my bag while I went to the ubiquitous 7 Eleven and made a cup of noodles (pork flavour with absolutely no appearance of any pork), which I slurped unceremoniously back at my bag.
As it turned out though, my attempt to have a noodle based dinner was totally unnecessary, as I eventually boarded some kind of magical VIP bus which simply wouldn’t stop offering me food.
One huge difference between India and Thailand is the level of English spoken by the local populace. While Indians normally know a useful amount of phrases, I often found them somewhat unwilling to help you out with directions and advice.
In comparison, Thai people are falling over themselves to offer assistance – except the language barrier immediately pops up, and prompts a lot of hand gestures and my energetic acting skills.
Happily, though, things often sort themselves out regardless, which is why my conversation with a Thai-only-speaking woman at the bus station ended up with me buying a ticket for probably the most luxurious bus from Bangkok to the north of the country.
A collection of boxes laden onto my lap by the very fancily-dressed bus attendant revealed rice and chicken curry, a ‘breakfast’ of a UHT milk carton, Thai brand Oreos and a strawberry creme sponge cake slice, a bottle of water (and obligatory straw), and a carton of vegetable juice.
It was a little overwhelming, but most amusing, and the adorable Chinese girl in the neighbouring seat and I dutifully took photos of the free food, discussed our Thai travel plans, and laughed disbelievingly over the ridiculous choice in the buses late night movie: a Russian mafia movie, in Russian, with no Thai subtitles. I know Thais love their transport entertainment, but this was a little ridiculous – particularly when it neared 10pm and the constant high volume gun shooting completely negated the bus attendant’s ‘lights out for sleeping time’.
But we made it to Chiang Mai by morning, and I found myself a lovely little guesthouse for 200 baht a night, with a sporadically-visiting tribe of busy little ants, and only one cockroach. Score!
The next three days were a haze of night markets, sleepy mornings, temple wanderings and random evening run ins. First with my bus buddy while I shopped for hippy trousers, then with a energetic German girl who walked at double my pace, and finally with two hilariously lewd and unabashed guys hailing from Israel and Los Angeles respectively – every night heralded a new group of people for my amusement.
The boys in particular, who taught me how to improve my pool playing skills, demanded that I share their pizza, told me I was part of their gang as the requisite girl, and then proceeded to barrage me with sexual innuendos for an entire evening.
I even found a woman who agreed to rid my legs of their unwanted hairy coating for a mere 300 baht. A bargain! And more importantly, no hair-ridden insults. So I lay down and subjected myself to boiling hot wax layered all over my legs while smooth Thai jazz played in the background.
And so my time in Chiang Mai passed by, with relative ease and relaxation. But here’s the thing. Thailand is, to quote a friend, bloody touristy. And while that’s great sometimes (in terms of company, ease of movement, and lots to keep you entertained), when you’re travelling by yourself there’s only so many massages and pedicures you can have before you start getting itchy feet – and I fulfilled that urge in India.
The boys I spent an evening with had been in the city for a month or two, and at first I simply couldn’t imagine how. Then we went to a cosy second floor cafe-slash-bar, with bare boards and hammocks, owned by an Irish girl who could’ve been my age and busy with Western visitors who greeted each other like old friends – and suddenly I understood. If you build that backpacker community in your first week or two, it’s surprisingly easy to while away your time somewhere like Chiang Mai.
The boys had a routine figured out; playing pool at this bar on Mondays, salsa sessions on Tuesdays, karaoke night on Wednesdays… Their time in Thailand was disappearing nicely, and they were happy with it. But I knew I didn’t have long left in the country, and though I liked the easy atmosphere of the backpackers, that thought made me anxious to keep moving.
So, after four days in Thailand’s second city, my hair-free legs and I boarded a minibus and headed for the town of Pai, where I hoped a smaller place with a more casual atmosphere would foster a more enjoyable environment – for me, anyway. I still enjoyed Chiang Mai, but it’s a place I’d probably get more out of if I was there with friends, at the beginning of a trip, with a lot more energy to exert.
Little did I know that Pai was going to surprise me in a variety of ways – and I was going to need all the energy I could get…