Nick, another Californian, joined us the next day at the hostel just as Tom and Josh were headed out for a 2-day jungle trek (a very popular activity around here). This is was Nick’s first time doing the backpacking thing and his first time in Asia, so we were quick to include him into the Sons of Chiang Mai. He and I split the cost of a bike and planned to go to the mountain to see some waterfalls, visit temples, and see if we could find a monk to bless Angie’s tattoo and give her another one.
On “the” mountain near Chiang Mai, there is a winding road that provides plenty of stop offs to see over the city and leave the road for short jungle treks. We took almost every opportunity to get out of the beaten track, and ended up hiking for a couple of hours and seeing a few waterfalls all in one go.
Aidan had come with me, Angie, and Nick, and it seemed four was the perfect number of people for what we were doing. Climbing over rocks and vines and streams– this was more nature than I’d seen in a very long time.
We saw kids jumping off rocks into muddy water below to cool off, and only ran into a couple of foreigners the whole day. At the top of one of the waterfalls we situated ourselves in the shade, taking in the coolness and perfect surroundings.
It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life, resting from hiking through every kind of plant imaginable and being covered I sweat by dipping my legs in a puddle of clear water and listening to it run over the rocks below.
On the way a bit farther up, I finally made it to a temple I thought was worth it, and it’s not even mentioned on the blogs I usually frequent for travel advice. It’s called Wat Palad and at first, it looks like there is simply a temple like all the rest sitting next to the road. But on its left, a small dirt road leads farther down to a gold mine.
They spoke simple English, enough to friend Angie on Facebook and talk about how long they’d been living at the temple (one of the had been there for six years already- another stil had another two months before he become an actual monk but had lived there for six months). We asked their permission to enter and took a tour of the grounds where they walk during the day and the various shrines that look untouched by people despite obvious signs of wearing from age.
I’m not a spiritual person, but I can appreciate feeling moved in the moment and being in awe of the amount of work and understanding of cultural motifs it takes to make a complex and beautiful santctuary. I made sure to walk to the bottom of the stairs where the Naga snakes began, and walked all the way up to a dark shrine where I paid my respects to the idea of enlightenment.
After some scary driving (I gave up control so Nick could do the driving and I’m a terrible passenger– I have little faith in others’ abilities to preserve my life) we made it to dinner in town at a restaurant called “Cooking Love” that Angie recommended. The curry was great but was expensive for the area and tasted like something I could get back home at any Thai restaurant, so Nick and I got a mango shake from the street restaurant next door. I started to feel a bit queasy for the first time in my trip to Asia…
We went out as a group to a rock bar with a cover band and things started to go a bit south. I spent a combined 20 minutes in the bathroom as the others had a great time and made plans to go elsewhere. After a few others had joined us including an extreeeeeeemely drunk Tara (that English girl I mentioned before), they dragged me (literally) into a covered taxi called a songtaew, sort of a larger version of Bangkok’s Tuk Tuks. We ended up in or corner of the city’s central district with various clubs where foreigners came to dance and locals came to play.
The whole way there, Tara and the others with her (whom I didn’t know) were screaming and cursing at everyone drunkenly, being dicks to the locals and to our driver, which immediately put me in an uncomfortable mood in addition to the fact that my stomach was crying again.
Thankfully I ran into Angie there, and we hung out in a rasta bar for a while before I finally went to the restroom and hit the final straw for the night.
Squat toilets are common in Asia and to be honest, I’m surprised I hadn’t run into this situation earlier. At the restrooms, women were charging 5 baht to enter (stupid, but whatever; not worth complaining over). An American tourist was screaming at them and barreled drunkenly past them, saying he’d pay after. I threw five baht on the pile and pointed to him.
“For him. Sorry,” I said. The women nodded at me and I put on another five for myself. My situation was growing more and more desperate by the second (I’m sure you know how that goes), and all there were were squat toilets with buckets full of water, little hand pails for pouring the water, hoses coming out of the walls, and… That was it. No paper anywhere to be found.
I locked myself in one of the stalls and immediately went to my business and literally had to look up how to properly use a squat toilet. It was still unusual there was no paper around. I don’t think I want to explain how I got clean, but that was enough for me for one night. Certain things I miss about the western world…
Nick, Angie, and Aidan ended up at the heavy metal bar, which I stood in for all of two minutes before I just had to leave. I waved goodbye and headed back, and then my night got worse.
Headed home, I saw too many terrible things. A very old, very fat white manwas hanging on an Asian woman half his size and maybe a quarter his age. She looked very displeased. At the next corner, a drunken Australian woman stumbled (not drunkenly, but I don’t know what she was on) across the street toward a local riding a motorcycle to ask a question using words that made no sense. Behind her came her (I presume) husband.
“Claire! CLAIRE! Get the fuck back here!”
“Nerrrrrr, I’m just gonna–”
“You have the room key. You’re really getting on my nerves and you need to get the fuck back to our room.”
I kept walking and stopped listening. A rustle on my right as I stepped toward the other side of the street startled me and I looked down to see an enormous rat jumping out of a bag of trash and scurrying away with something in its mouth.
Back at the hostel, Tara had somehow made it back and was bleeding out of her eye, puking into the sink. Her friend was holding her hair.
“Oh, fuck!” she kept repeating. I just passed by. “Don’t tell my boyfriend!” she cried.
I can understand getting drunk when you’re young and when you’re older. I can understand wanting to be high a lot and experiencing everything this world has to offer. But I feel like it’s not really worth it after a certain point– and why would you go halfway across the world just to spend all your money getting super drunk with order foreigners when there is so much more?
To each his own, I suppose. And I apologize for seeming unhappy about people doing these sorts of things; my bowels had put me in a pretty foul mood. Watch your stomach very carefully when you travel…