Map-matically challenged in Chiang Mai: Everything and the kitchen sink

My college roommate and bff Kari headed off from Bangkok today for a much deserved holiday. I just finished my M.Ed. in Bangkok, with the best possible group of people imaginable, and now wanted to enjoy a week of holiday before I started my crazy new life in Hong Kong.

Chiang Mai was our destination of choice for the first leg. Nestled up in some peaky mountains, Chiang Mai was a cool, albeit rainy, safe haven from Bangkok. The streets pulled up early in the old city section – most places were asleep by 10 PM, and the phrenetic energy of the earlier hours dissipated like the sunset. Small street stalls were still operational, with the fragrance of frying oil and Thai basil taking flight on the pleasant evening breeze. It’s a lovely town, spotted with wats which elevated the mundane architecture of the street buildings to something golden, something gleaming.

Massage parlours were double and triple booked in the evenings, but the small shops were pretty empty, which meant that one could peruse them without knocking people out of the way. Most restaurants were also not very busy, which meant that the Writer’s Club and Wine Bar was a good place to stop and rest. Good local dishes (plus Western ones too, if for some reason you’re in Thailand and don’t like Thai food?) and smooth, refreshing chardonnay to cap it off.

The rain had stopped, thankfully, as we’d chased in a mega-downpour as we landed at the airport, but the puddles were monstrous. I was ankle high in water half the time we walked on the sidewalk/street/gutter/turf, what have you. If you know anything about Thai cities, it’s that sidewalks are just as arduous and uneven as mountain trails. It’s a great workout when you go for walk – just beware the motorbikes.

We wanted to have dinner at the Writer’s Club and Wine Bar. From our hotel, it shouldn’t have been too hard to find – probably a 15 minute or so walk. Well, the “or so” part turned about to be two hours and 15 minutes because, again, I can’t find my way out of a one way maze with a map. I don’t think people in my courses this summer believed me when I said that, but it’s certainly true. We had the bloody map open, and we were walking in the right (wrong) direction.

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Street art – a pleasant find

It doesn’t help that not all streets are either labeled on the map or on the actual street. Navigating side streets is like playing pool in the dark with a 100 people crowded around you; it’s hit one person, miss another. Of course, I always, without fail, choose the incorrect direction in which to walk. I need to marry a man who has a keen sense of direction and an internal compass, or we’re both out of luck on holidays.

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If I’m not careful, I’d end up in Beijing. And…nope.

After stomping through numerous puddles, slipping on countless pats of mud and grease, and being run down by zippy motorbikes, we finally figured out the correct direction to walk and got our bearings. I mean, we had a map. A very good map. A Lonely Planet map of the old city, which, by all accounts, wasn’t very big or difficult to navigate. I’m just special that way – I’m map-matically challenged, and I own that. One day, I’ll begin a support group for other international travelers who are also map-matically challenged. We just won’t ever be able to find each other.

The moral of the story is, we did actually find the restaurant, but at least we’d gotten a good workout in the meantime.

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Oh, and here’s the kitchen sink. So…everything.

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