Our first impressions of Chiang Mai, food, locals and deadly roads

It’s really bloody hot, so far we have been experiencing temperatures of mid 30’s by midmorning. This coupled with very high percentages of humidity it only takes a short walk with a camera bag on for Tom to be reduced to looking like he was caught in a rain shower!

We haven’t seen any footpaths so far in Chiang Mai, meaning the priority is avoiding being hit by one of the many over-populated scooters, as well as avoiding many feral dogs where possible. However we are acclimatising and managing to navigate the bustling streets with ease, and everyone we have met so far has been welcoming and friendly. The experience is exactly what we were hoping for, nomads can often focus on the “luxury” elements of nomad life, but for us this is about experiencing and learning about a range of lifestyles around the world.

Whilst we have been struggling with jet lag we have opted to stay in close proximity of the apartment, however we have explored the majority of the streets and avenues in the surrounding area to get the lie of the land. We did admittedly have a trip to the Tesco along the road, yes TESCO, out of curiosity more than anything. We didn’t even know what the majority of the items were that were in there, however we did recognise the F&F clothing as well as the western Tesco Everyday budget items. Prices seemed higher than in other shops we have visited in the area so we doubt we will be shopping here at any length.

One element of the Thai Tesco which we wouldn’t be finding in the UK is the raw meat aisle, which if you can imagine piles and piles of different raw meats stacked up for people to rummage amongst then thats basically all you need to know. (And if you ever needed a reason to carry anti-bacterial hand gel with you, here it is!)

With our Tesco itch scratched our attention turned to food. For the past few days we have been getting brunch or lunch in the same place, Mai Bakery in Garden. And that is basically what it is, a quaint Thai bakery and cafe set back off the main highway. It’s shoes off at the door and get yourself a seat. The cafe offers a range of Thai foods as well as a couple more western style dishes. Price wise it is reasonably priced, ranging between 150 Baht (£3.50) to 200 Baht (£4.70) for two high quality meals. However this is still more than what we have budgeted for and so will become our ‘weekend lunch place’.

More to our expectations of price is the street food, which we experienced for the first time last night. Picking our way through the backstreets to a popular area for street food with the locals we decided it would be the best place to have our first Thai street experience, and it did not disappoint. We picked one of the stalls based on the fact the food is made to order, rather than having food that has sat for hours waiting for people to purchase it. We pointed out what we wanted, garlic pork with vegetables, eggs and rice and sat down whilst it was made up for us. We shared the same stall as a number of young Thai’s from the nearby University which gave us confidence in the food we’d be getting. We even went back to the same place this evening – this time for a Thai Yellow Curry, and it was delicious! 

Despite the confidence in the food, only a matter of metres away was a pile of rubbish from the stall which a number of rats were enjoying having a good rummage through. All part of the experience! The food was delicious with a great portion size, and for the price of 30 Baht (£0.70) each we can forgive the four legged company. (As an added bonus we are writing this the day after the food and no signs of illness).

On our way to the street food last night, we encountered a remarkable human being, a homeless gentleman sitting at the edge of a derelict building on one of the backstreets, watching as the world passed him by. He wasn’t begging or hassling anyone, he was rather just sitting. Catching a glimpse of his face we saw the suffering he has endured during his life. Although Tom is not someone who takes images of people often, in fact he doesn’t really like photographing people at all, once in a while an opportunity arises to document a person’s unique story. To get a picture which could tell a thousand words, and this was one of those opportunities.

We approached him timidly, he looked intimidated initially as if we posed a threat, Tom greeted him in Thai. He looked immediately at ease and returned the gesture, Tom sat down opposite to him and asked if he would mind being photographed, gesturing to his camera. Without hesitation he agreed and immediately began to tell us his story, as best he could anyway, not speaking a word of English. Although some things just don’t need a translation, he gestured with his hands he’d been shot in the head, then he stood up, pulled up his trouser leg to reveal to us a round which was still lodged in his thigh bone, protruding under his skin. Again, he gestured a gun. We aren’t sure what lead to him being shot, that is the mystery surrounding this brave soul.

After photographing him for just a couple minutes, Tom then returned opposite to him, got down on one knee and handed him 200 Baht (£4.70). Gesturing he should use it to get some food, he looked as if he had won the lottery, holding the money tight to his heart and giving us a bow with tears in his eye. We shook hands, and he watched us leave with a small smile. It was an experience which we were glad to have, the images Tom left with are a bonus, and we have them to look back on in future as a reminder of the way some people in the world have to live. 

We can’t wait to explore more of Chiang Mai, after experiencing so much in only a couple of days. Keep checking back for more posts. You can also follow us on our Instagram (@megan_and_tom) and/or view our photos page!

Megan & Tom

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