The next big adventure was getting ourselves and our luggage across the street to the central rail station during rush hour. Terrifying.
We boarded our train and soon we were creeping, crawling, and lurching along the tracks toward Chiang Mai. The train moved very slowly and stopped frequently, but that was all accounted for in the schedule, and we had plenty of time. The group passed the time reading, talking, etc. Karel broke out the guitar and we entertained everyone for a few songs.
Attendants came around 9 p.m. to set up our bunk beds. It had been a tiring day, so I didn’t mind going to bed early. Each bunk had a privacy curtain, but I was glad to have a sleeping mask to shut out the lights, earplugs to shut out the racket, and a sleeping pill to take care of the rest. I was able to sleep through the night in spite of the bright lights, noise, and uneven motion of the train. Aside from a brief 10 minute nap, Karel was awake the entire night.
Chiang Mai is a lot like what I’d expected Bangkok to be: busy and sprawling, but riddled with narrow, winding alleys with little traffic, temples, schools, canals, fountains, and friendly markets — in other words, manageable in scale, and not quite so intense. The first adventure of the day was a Thai cooking class; we arranged for a private lesson where we learned how to prepare several staple Thai dishes including Pad Thai, spring rolls, curry, and Tom Yum soup. We thought that our Tom Yum was the best we ever had 🙂
Later in the afternoon, we visited the Doi Suthep temple on the top of a nearby mountain. According to the legend, the ruler of Chiang Mai obtained a relic of the Buddha. He placed it on the back of a white elephant, and turned the animal loose. The elephant exited the west gate and went up the mountain. Near the top, it stopped, circled three times, trumpeting, then laid down and died. The temple was built on that site, with the relic housed in a stupa.
Instead of being jammed with tourists, this temple was simply busy with pilgrims and monks. It was also cooler than the lowland and beautifully landscaped. As the sun neared the horizon, the air was filled with a heavenly fragrance of night-blooming flowers. We got to observe the monks doing their sunset chant, before heading back down for dinner at the night market, and something completely different.
Just behind the market was a cabaret where, for the price of a drink, we were treated to a Lady Boy show: basically, transvestites dancing and lip-syncing to popular tunes. It was all done with a touch of good humor and fun, and the dancing and flamboyant costumes were really pretty good. We had a great time. Warning: the photos and videos contain some PG-13 material.