I arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand, around 8:00 am. I was curtly ushered towards customs. “Wrong. Walk around.” I was a little intimidated to be in a country where I did not speak the language, and I tried hard to effectively navigate the airport.
I arrived at the baggage carousel and found my bag with the two clear plastic bags draped loosely around it. The attendants in Osaka, Japan, did their best to keep my items inside after the luggage handlers had ripped both zippers and the lock off of my bag. Unfortunately, my items were starting to spill out. I ended up losing my sunglasses in that debacle.
After getting my luggage and getting through customs, I headed to a booth that sold local SIM cards. Everything is on my phone and my AT&T plan costs an extra $10 a day for international use (in addition to my $85/month bill). I would be in Thailand for 30 days, so that wouldn’t be cost-effective. Instead, I opted to get a local Thai SIM card.
The two young women at the booth were busy as they swapped out SIM cards for other travelers. When it was my turn, one girl grabbed my phone and quickly went through the prompts, which were all in Thai. The SIM card was cheap – around $10 USD for 15 GB of data. They only took cash, so I quickly walked over to the ATM.
I needed to get to my hotel, and there was a booth offering shuttle and taxi rides. I paid $11 USD and got into a taxi. I didn’t realize they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. I talked with the taxi driver until he said his English was “just ok, but you talk very fast.”
I arrived at the hotel around 9:30 am and hoped to check in since I had gotten less than three hours of sleep in the last 32 hours of travel. Chiang Mai is 14 hours ahead of Los Angeles, which makes the jet lag pretty rough. I only got about four hours of sleep the night before leaving Los Angeles, so I felt incredibly sleep-deprived. Since it was the Chinese New Year, all of their rooms were fully booked. The front desk informed me that I wouldn’t be able to check in until the afternoon.
I walked to the outdoor restroom by the pool, put in my contacts, left my luggage at the front, and started walking. I decided I should get my nails done because they were in bad shape, and I thought it would be much cheaper to have them done in Thailand than in the U.S.
I wandered through the narrow streets that didn’t have sidewalks. Cars and motorbikes zipped by me at rapid speeds. Following Apple Maps, I wandered through narrow alleyways, checking out the back of houses, their fences, and clothes drying on lines.
It was a cool 68℉ with a real feel of 71℉. I finally found the nail salon, but it was closed due to the holiday. I continued to wander around and ended up at a river. The beautiful trees and flowers shimmered in the bright sunlight. I walked along the path and crossed a bridge to the city center.
I found a coffee shop on the other side. The air was getting warmer by the minute and I was starting to regret wearing my mid-length jeans. I stopped inside, bought a cold coffee drink, and relaxed on a couch under the air conditioner. I was starting to feel tired, so I got up and continued to walk around. I found an outdoor market selling belts, souvenirs, scarves, elephant pants, etc.
I ended up walking to an inside part of the market. It was huge and had fresh food. On the upper level, I found a merchant selling luggage. It was the perfect time to buy a new bag since mine was completely ruined. I debated whether or not I should continue with a duffle bag or get a suitcase. The duffle bags were small, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be sturdy enough for my long-term travels. I didn’t want to lug around a suitcase, but it would be sturdier (or so I thought-spoiler alert). The suitcase was priced at $1,300 Baht, but I talked the saleswoman down to $1,100 Baht ($35 USD).
I rolled my empty suitcase behind me as I headed back outside. It was now lunchtime, and food vendors started to put small tables and chairs in the middle of the walkway. I picked out four pieces of sushi at one vendor and some noodles at another. Each one only cost me $0.60 USD.
I was annoyed by my suitcase as I continued walking around the market. It was getting hot outside (it was now 84℉ with a real feel of 92℉), and I wondered where all the tourists were.
I found another nail salon on Apple Maps that was on the way to my hotel. I walked for another 20 minutes, dragging my suitcase along with me on the sides of narrow streets, hoping a car wouldn’t hit me. I made it to the small nail salon that was attached to a hotel. I walked inside, and the woman across the hall at the hotel front desk came running over. She said she could give me a Mani/Pedi for $14 USD, but she didn’t have gel, so it would just be regular polish.
Exhausted, I agreed. She turned on the air conditioning unit when she saw how hot I was. The woman started with a pedicure and put my feet into a small shallow glass bowl. My feet are large (I wear size 12), so they didn’t quite fit. I didn’t care. I was extremely exhausted. The heat, lack of sleep, and jet lag made me fall asleep in the chair. I would occasionally wake up – startled and wondering where I was. I would look at the woman who smiled and slightly laughed. Then I’d fall right back asleep. She must have thought I was so strange, but I was exhausted enough not to care.
After my Mani/Pedi, I walked back to my hotel. I could now check-in, and I desperately wanted to curl up in bed. I got my bags, and the front desk staff looked at me funny as I carried my new suitcase upstairs. The room was huge! I thought about sitting at the enticing pool, but I feared I would burn as I snoozed. Instead, I passed out on the bed for two hours.
When I woke up, it was time for dinner. I was still exhausted and could have easily continued to sleep, but I forced myself to get up in an attempt to get acclimated to the new time zone. I found a dinner restaurant online that was just a short 10-minute walk from my hotel on the riverfront. When I arrived, they seated me outside by a pool surrounded by beanbags and tables. Beautiful string lights were hanging above, making it a perfect romantic spot for dinner.
The server didn’t speak much English, so we communicated through pointing. She put a bottle of bug spray on the table, but it was such a nice night I didn’t even need it. I ordered Pad Thai, one of my favorite foods, and enjoyed the evening.
On my walk back to the hotel, I searched for convenient stores so I could buy some water. After a few attempts, I gave up and walked back to my hotel. I had taken off my belt during my nap and my jeans were now falling down. I took a shower and crashed hard that night.
The following morning, I ate breakfast at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel. The waiter seemed surprised to see I was alone, and since I had two vouchers for food, he kept trying to give me two meals. Great. It’s not embarrassing at all to be alone, with two meals at your table.
As I sat at my table waiting for my multiple plates of food, Facebook reminded me of a video I had shared in 2014. It was a video they had created of a montage of pictures over the years. Almost every picture involved Aaron from a life that no longer exists.
I hate wasting food, so I almost ate two full breakfasts. I went back to my room to pack my bags. I needed to get a taxi to another hotel where I’d start my REI Adventures trip. This would involve hiking and biking across northern Thailand, and I couldn’t wait! There were 15 people signed up for the tour, and I was excited to see who I would be spending the next nine days with.
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