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Wet in Chiang Mai

We got up early this morning to catch our flight to Chiang Mai from Sukhothai Airport, the most beautiful airport I have ever seen: it's not a cement brick with squared floors, but rather a group of traditional Thai hut houses, one for ticketing and checking, one for departure, and one for arrival, and all set in a beautiful surrounding -- no wonder this airport won the Thai environmental award every year since it was first given. If you ever consider visiting Sukhothai from Chiang Mai, fly there! I can imagine arriving at that airport to be a very special experience!

Following the touchdown few minutes after takeoff, we sought out a couple of guest houses and finally settled at the Awana Guesthouse, which also offered a pool, although on seeing it, it's more like a bath tub for 5 people. Whatever...

I used the morning hours, during which the Thai appeared to be still sleeping to run two most important errands: first, getting my ear unclogged, and second, picking up the bag with clothing from the train station. Our guesthouse referred me to the Chiang Mai Ram hospital, a privately run clinic, and once I got there (still dry), I didn't get to read as much as a single page in my new book (The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon) until I was lying flat and had an English-speaking doctor examine me. He told me that the Thai put some sort of stuff (I did not understand the name of the substance) into their pools, which causes European ears to clog up frequently, and after 15 minutes of routine, I was able to hear again on my left ear. I paid just short of 20 EUR for the cure and felt so good about it and the hospital that I talked my way up to the management to make a donation -- in the amount of the estimated difference between those 20 EUR and the amount I would have had to pay in Switzerland. They said that I was the first person to ever make a donation to the clinic, the other foreigners usually only complain about the high prices. Go figure about the kind of tourist who frequents Chiang Mai.

Speaking of tourists, unfortunately, this place is crowded with Europeans, and not just any of them, but the worst kind. For me, dress code means a lot, and when I see Europeans without shirts, or women in bikinis in a Bhuddist city, I sometimes wonder why these people don't simply stay home. Of course, tourism is the number one source of income for about 70% of the Thai, so it's just as well that they come, but then they should not be complaining about medical care for 20 EUR, or bargain to the minimum price for handicrafts, or annoy themselves that the tuk tuk driver just "ripped them off" by charging 60 instead of 40 Bhat (again, around 1 EUR).

Cured, I made my way for the station and almost made it there dry, if it hadn't been for that damned pickup van closing in from behind and hunting my taxi for several hundred metres, just to get a shot. At the station, I took some detours to find the cargo terminal, but was then surprised at how easy it was to claim the bag, even without the receipt (which, if you will remember, was in the wallet I had lost a couple of days ago). I am really relieved, once for the clothing, and second because the bag itself was lent to me by a friend (forgive me, HP). By the time I left the station it was about noon, and there was water everywhere, but I made it to the hotel almost dry. The Thai duly respect if you have a bag, smoke a cigarette, hold a cellphone, or simply wave your hand. It goes without saying that the two massive splashed I received nevertheless were from tourists, who must have reached some sort of overpowering state of joy and didn't care about what they sprayed. When I saw some tourists splash buckets onto a couple of old people (which is a no-do), I was really ashamed.

The New Year festival in Chiang Mai is said to be the biggest and most lively all over Thailand. I met Aline back at the hotel and we headed out into the centre city for yet another day of soaked clothing, and we can probably agree that the "festivities" here are second to none. This time, following the bad experience of the inferior position of a water gun on a motorcycle, we bought two puckets and got up on one of the pickups with some Thais and Burmese people speaking excellent English, and had excellent fun for an hour or two --gettting no further than 200 metres along one of the rivers or so -- there was no driving on the roads which were filled with people and vehicles, just not touching each other, and there was water everywhere with people getting fresh canisters from the rivers all the time.

We then remembered that we were wearing our last set of clothing, the other stuff being laundered and ready for pickup tomorrow, so we disembarked the truck and headed out of the city to the market in hope to find some trousers to wear, but short of a Sarong for Aline, there was nothing striking our fancy (which, mind you, isn't high. I just don't want to be wearing thick jeans in this weather). Anyway, the trousers we were wearing had dried in the mean time, and now the challenge was to make it back to the guesthouse without being splashed again -- and quite a difficult endeavour it was, but we almost succeeded, only soaking up another litre each, which, believe me, was peanuts by then.

Sorry for this somewhat unexciting entry. Starting tomorrow, we'll break with the festival as we've had enough of water for the time being. On our list are a day of cooking school, the zoo, a 1-2 day treck in the hills, a seminar with monks, and, of course, a bunch of the temples of the city. Thanks again for reading along.