Getting Around Chiang Mai

14 Jun

The conversation often starts something like this… as I approach the red truck, window rolling down and driver, still surprisingly to me, sitting on the right side of the truck… I offer my destination. “Dara” I say. I get a look of uncertainty. I try again, this time adjusting my pronunciation. “Da-RA?” Still a blank look. One more time, this time the “r” I say more like an “l”. “Dala” I offer. Hmmm… getting closer. The driver then says with a local accent the name of my destination… which to me doesn’t sound much different from what I attempted to say. With a still a hint of confusion but some confirmation I hop in the back of the truck to (hopefully) make my way home.

Dara is the name of the school where I teach, named after a Chiang Mai princess. When I leave the red gates of the Dara campus, I typically turn to the red trucks called songtao’s for my transportation. I am not yet ready to get on a scooter, the transportation of choice in Chiang Mai. So for now for me to get around town I rely on songtao’s and tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is essentially a motorbike with an open-air carriage for passengers and functions more like a taxi.  A songtao is less expensive than a tuk-tuk and may shuttle a handful of people typically taking you to your general destination if he is going your way.

Riding in a songtao is not your typical taxi ride. The journey often begins with a negotiation… how much? I am developing a sense of the ins and outs of the price of a songtao ride which in part seems to be determined by: How hot it is outside? Is it raining? Do you have groceries in your hand? Is it nighttime? And also quite simply does the driver feel like taking you?  All of which can increase the cost of the ride. But more often then not it is a simple 20 baht from my school to the center of town, less than a US dollar. After successful communication and negotiation, you hop in the covered back of the truck, typically with a bench on each side for seating, and relax and enjoy the diesel fumes. The other day I hopped in the back of the truck and met a friendly Thai woman transporting among other things her bird in a cage. And so is the colorful world of Chiang Mai.

scooterboyChiang Mai isn’t much of a walking town. Where I live just a few kilometers outside of the heart of the city, sidewalks are typically lined with food stands and goods for sale edging out any hope for pedestrians. I am frequently the lone walker navigating the wrinkled sidewalks. Other teachers tell me that people don’t like to walk in Chiang Mai and that they would take their scooters to go literally to the place next door. I have learned in the current heat of the day, on the edge of the hot season coming into the wet season, it is just a ridiculous idea to walk someplace. I mean it is just crazy hot. I have learned this from experience. Ugh.

Not long ago I was out and about on the opposite side of town on a weekday evening. It wasn’t too late, but after a busy day of teaching it was time to head home. Then it started to rain. We caught a tuk-tuk for an easy ride home. After a bit of negotiation, we hopped in and our tuk-tuk driver put it into high gear and headed for the superhighway. I was in a bit of a shock to be thrust into high speed riding in the rain on this main thorough-way home. After I got over my initial shock and felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall out of the vehicle, I have to admit, it was a bit of a thrill.

chiangmaiToday I joined a “meet-up” group in a walking tour of the old town of Chiang Mai.  It was great to connect with new faces and get more familiar with the city. Afterwards, we had a little lunch at a local Thai eatery called Cooking Love.  Known for their healthy, clean food and recipes, it was a true delight when I mentioned I couldn’t have sugar and what could I eat on the menu his response was “anything.”  They would just leave it out.  Ah, happy Thai food eating for me!!

It is Sunday evening here and I am in the downstairs common area swatting away mosquitos and trying to suck up a little wifi that does not yet make it to my room. The daytime heat is fading away and it seems some rain is blowing in. The evening assortment of cackling insects and creatures have started their nightly serenade. I am here, still getting to know but enjoying the hot mess of Chiang Mai and her world of crazy contradictions.

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