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Last days in Chiang Mai

Our time in Chiang Mai is nearing an end, and with the end my lonely adventure to Burma is coming closer. Having had three days left in the city when I last wrote and deciding that a two day trek would just be too stressful, and the chance of it not meeting our expectations too high, we chose to stay put and get the most out of the city.

We hired a motorcycle Monday night and rode around the town for a while, finally ending at an Italian restaurant for dinner. Aline is half Italian, and not quite as promiscuous as myself when it comes to Thai food, and had I known how much joy even my willingness to eat Italian in Asia would have caused in her, I may well have gone easier before on my motto not to eat anything but the local food. Dinner was quite good, although the wine (they only had one open white, red wine was not an option for me in the heat) again met confirmed my dislike of Chardonnay: it's oily and sour, or at least I have not yet had a taste of a different one.

With the motorcycle waiting for us downstairs, I was unable to stay in bed for long, and we got up early the next morning to head to the Mae Sa waterfalls in a national park just 30 kilometres north of Chiang Mai. After a bit of zig-zag navigation, trying to get out of the city which has just a little too many one-way streets for foreigners, we didn't have any more problems reaching the site, disembarked and hiked around a bit until after about 30 minutes we got to one of the falls with a lot of Thai (no tourists whatsoever) bathing and trolling about in the water. We joined, of course. With the plan to drive further north to visit the "Hmong Lodge" and another waterfall, we walked back and I could not believe it when my pocket did not contain the motorcycle keys anymore. Damn. Once again I felt foolish that I just cannot seem to keep my stuff together, and I punished myself running back to the falls while Aline was already making arrangements for our rescue. Fortunately, I eventually did find the keys just in time to call off the arrangements, and -- soaked in sweat -- we were on the road again. I really should exercise more.

About 30 minutes of a beautiful ride down into the park, we reached the "Hmong Lodge", only to find it to be nothing more than an overpriced lodge, offering its guests "local culture" in the form of shows and displays of Hmong handicraft work. We enjoyed the most expensive beer of our trip up there, then turned around and stopped at another waterfall, where a bunch of Thai youth had assembled. With a subtle intention to crash their party, we joined, but the heavy rain that started after a few minutes drove those intentions away. After spending 15 minutes-or-so sheltered in a hut with some of the Thai and making almost no contact, we took off and rode the bike back to Chiang Mai, stopping by one of the cinemas and deciding to spend the evening watching "Ice Age 2".

We got back to the hotel just in time to meet our tailor to fit the shirts, trousers, skirt, and jacket we had ordered, sending her back with quite a few changes to be made. Then, with an hour left to kill, we opted for a massage before the movie and headed into the shop we thought the hotel owner had recommended. Turns out that we took the wrong door, and while Aline was getting a good knead, I found myself under the incapable hands (and feet) of an overweight Thai woman, who apparently seemed to think that litres worth of massaging oil would somehow obscure her inability to massage muscles and instead apply moderate pressure to my bones only. I told her a bunch of times but really only made it worse -- in the end I must have upset her to a point where she started bouncing up and down on me with the clear intention to torture and eventually murder me... but fortunately the 60 minutes were over just in time.

The movie theatre itself wasn't spectacular (and I didn't think the movie was either), and if it hadn't been for the national anthem and some low-budget film flashing pictures of the King, while everyone stood and paid due respect to him, I'd have said it was just another cinema night I'll quickly forget. At 70 Baht entrance fee (about 1,40 EUR) it didn't hurt either.

The evening ended as we met some folks from a bar back in Ayutthaya and chatted for a while, learning that the Thai elections are on today (Wednesday), and as a result, no alcohol is served in the city throughout that day, as well as after 18:00 o'clock the night before. Tough luck for them, especially after we succeeded in getting another can each while they did not. The trick is simply to take the beer out of the fridge and hand over the money without asking questions.

So today, our last day in the city, was supposed to be museum day, with the tribal museum, the national museum, and possibly even the insect museum on our list. Negotiating with a tuk tuk driver for the right price, it then occured to us that it's cheaper anyway to hire a motorcycle at 200 Baht/day (4 EUR) --and way more fun -- so we again hired a bike and drove off to find the museums closed due to the elections. Not that this upset us in any way; we rode back to the hotel, spent the hottest hours of the day reading by the pool, and went for another cruise in the afternoon, returning again just in time to meet the tailor a second time; while my shirts and trousers are fine (and beautiful), Aline's skirt needed yet another modification, so we are expecting her again tomorrow.

By the way: yesterday we rode a Yamaha Mio 125cc automatic bike, and today I settled for the Honda Dream 125cc manual, which I had ridden before in Laos and which seemed like a good bike. If I ever have the choice again, I would certainly go with the Yamaha, which was a joy to ride, especially since this has been only my third time on a bike.

Now, the last night in Chiang Mai will probably see us dining somewhere, packing, running the last errands, and sleeping in, so we can actually make it to the airport tomorrow in time and rested. I hope I'll be able to continue writing from Burma. Apparently, network access is restricted, so I fear I may have some difficulty logging into my servers. However, I bought a USB stick today, and with that, and maybe A Little Help From My Friends back in Zurich, I can publish entries nevertheless. Stay tuned.