After nine adventurous days of hiking and biking through the Chiang Mai Province, I was happy to sleep in. My studio apartment was comfortable and quiet. I watched Master of None on Netflix until I realized I needed food other than my protein shake.
I didn’t feel like getting dressed and going out. I just wanted to veg out and relax. I couldn’t find many food options on Apple Maps, so I decided to walk around and find something. I put some clothes on but didn’t bother with any makeup.
The neighborhood was mostly residential and business, so I walked and walked without finding any restaurants. Finally, I found a small cafe in a hotel with good reviews, so I popped inside to take a break.
The pink and red heart decorations reminded me that it was Valentine’s Day. The place was empty. I ordered a dessert and a blended coffee drink and sat at the counter facing out to the street. I was glad that I started the trip with a group of people and a guide who taught me about Thailand. It made me feel comfortable to venture out on my own.
I continued walking down a main street and suddenly arrived at an outdoor market. I perused the stalls and passed restaurants, unable to decide what to eat. Across the street was a huge modern mall called Maya. It was clearly the spot to be.
I walked into the main entrance and was amazed. A glass elevator welcomed guests and displayed several floors of shopping. I browsed the mall and noticed stores referencing the U.S. called “New York-LA” and “Portland.”
Eventually, I found a restaurant that looked appetizing. It was large and modern with English menus. I ordered a pizza and savored the taste. It had been almost two weeks since I had American food and I missed it.
I took my leftover pizza and continued browsing through the mall. I was feeling a little self-conscious because I wasn’t wearing any makeup. It’s strange. When I’m in workout clothes, I don’t mind not having makeup on, and I’ll go out in public all sweaty. But if I’m in regular clothes, I feel like I should have some makeup on. I continued anyway because I needed to find a new piece of luggage.
The cheap $35 suitcase that I purchased from the market when I first arrived in Chiang Mai was horrible. It wasn’t properly designed, so it would immediately tip forward and fall over when it was full. The black plastic feet on the bottom were also coming off, making it even more ridiculous. This was a replacement suitcase after the airplane ruined my duffle bag.
After looking at several luggage stores, I decided on a hard plastic suitcase with a one-year warranty made by American Tourister. Ironically, I had never seen that brand in America. It cost $127 USD, which I thought was a lot for Thailand. I decided to buy it because I would be traveling for many months and needed something sturdy.
Once again, I was dragging an empty suitcase down a sidewalk. There was a college next to the mall, so college students were out and about at a nighttime market. Lights hung overhead and created a romantic atmosphere. I spent the rest of the evening researching how to spend my time in Chiang Mai.
The next day, I took a Grab to Art in Paradise. It’s a 3D art museum where you can insert yourself into the pictures. At the ticket counter, the woman told me, “It’s better to come with a friend.” Yeah, well, I didn’t have any friends with me, so my only option was to go alone.
I knew it was better to go with a friend so someone could take your picture. There weren’t many people there, so I just took pictures of the murals. After I took a couple of pictures, a Chinese couple took a picture for me. It was nice of them to offer, but I didn’t want them to think they had to stay with me the whole time. There is an app that you have to use to get the pictures to turn into a video. The couple showed me how to use it, communicating mostly through gestures since they didn’t speak much English.
As I was waiting for the app to download, the couple continued to explore. All of a sudden, a girl walked up to me and asked if we could take pictures of each other. Tsui was from Taiwan, was petite, and had straight black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She didn’t speak very much English, but it was enough for us to communicate the basics.
As the app finished downloading on my phone, Tsui told me that she was traveling alone and staying in a hostel. She pulled out a binder with typed travel plans in different clear folders. She excitedly explained how lucky she was to meet me because she had made a sign but was too shy to actually put it up. The typed sign read, “Wanted: Someone to take pictures with at Art in Paradise.”
The sign made me smile. It was perfect. We were both alone and needed someone to take pictures with. The app was working on my phone, but it wasn’t working on Tsui’s phone. We decided to use my phone, so we didn’t have to keep switching phones, and I’d give her the pictures at the end.
The art museum was really neat! Some murals came to life on the app, making it look like it was raining or like a dinosaur was eating you. The 3D paintings were optical illusions like being on a suspension bridge.
Tsui and I spent the next hour and a half going from painting to painting. She was very good at creating a dramatic scene for her pictures. I wasn’t as good. I was mostly awkward. We laughed our way through the museum.
Once we hit the end of the museum, we sat at the cafe so Tsui could pick the photos she wanted and transfer them to herself on Facebook Messenger. As we sat there going through the photos, Tsui showed me her binder full of her travel itinerary.
Tsui was going to be in Thailand for nine days and had only been there for two days. During her time, she was going to an elephant sanctuary and riding an ATV. I had been looking at those same tours but didn’t have anything booked yet. Tsui was impressive with her spreadsheets mapping out her entire trip. She had obviously done a lot of research.
Tsui asked me why I came to Thailand. I told her that I had some friends who had been and they all had wonderful things to say about it. I wanted to see the jungle, and it’s also inexpensive. Tsui agreed that the food was inexpensive, but the outdoor activities were not.
As the photos transferred over the WiFi, Tsui asked if I planned to go to the white temple in Chiang Rai. Because it was a few hours away, I decided not to go. She told me she would come back and go with her boyfriend. Surprised, I asked, “Why didn’t your boyfriend come with you now?” She told me she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but one day she will. Then she’ll go to the white temple with him. Otherwise, she’ll see all of the couples taking beautiful pictures of themselves, which will make her feel so sad. She made me laugh as she described herself taking selfies while couples took “couple pictures.”
The photos were transferred, so Tsui and I parted ways. I was so happy to have met her, and I loved that she was also a solo female traveler. A week later, we became Facebook friends. I was getting a pedicure at the time, and I saw what she had posted on her page that day. Facebook translated it to the following:
“Before I actually was a little worried about myself. Come here don’t know how to take pictures. Originally made a companion poster. I don’t dare to take it out without being shy.
Brace to this side. I found out there was a drop-alone girl too. I went to invite her to walk with me + take pictures with each other. She’s happy to promise.
Luck to meet her. Good get along, good chat, keep laughing. Also helped me take a bunch of pictures. After the walk, we’re next to the coffee shop. She’ll pass it to me when I finish the photo. How can there be such a lucky thing?”
When I read what Tsui posted, tears came to my eyes. It was such a perfect opportunity for us to meet. We did our best to communicate, and she was such a sweet and fun soul. I continued to follow her adventures, watching her zipline, ride an ATV, and go white water rafting. She has an adventurous spirit, and I love her zest for life.
After the Art in Paradise museum, I decided to walk two miles to a rooftop bar I found online. The walk would allow me to see more of the city. The sidewalks are narrow with lots of potholes, making it difficult to navigate. Sometimes fluorescent lights dangle above the alleyway. It also appeared that drinking in public was legal.
As the sun went down, I came across an outdoor sporting event. There were stands full of fans cheering on all-women teams. I don’t know what sport they were playing, but there was a net in between teams of three. The women would hit the ball with their feet or their head. It was impressive watching what they could do.
I continued to the rooftop bar, following Apple maps. It often took me through alleyways in the back of houses. Clothes were hung out to dry since they don’t have driers there. Motorbikes lined the sidewalks.
When I arrived at the Oasis bar, there was a dark, steep stairwell leading to the rooftop. At the top, there was a small bar, some couches, chairs with pillows, and string lights hanging above. There were a few people there that were all sitting alone. I sat down and ordered a snack and a drink.
I noticed the men and women sitting alone were all on their phones, but only inches from another person. It was so sad that nobody was talking. We were all solo; why not have a conversation?
There were a few couples there, and one couple arrived after me. They were around 30 years old and sat near me, so I could hear their conversation. He was American, and she was Canadian. They talked about life, goals, friends, and family. The guy did most of the talking, and then I heard him say, “This is the best first date I’ve ever had. I’ve studied psychology and want my own practice one day. I love that it’s not surface level. I love that you feel comfortable with me.”
The couple seemed cute and were entertaining. I ordered a Grab and went back to my Airbnb. I kept forgetting that the driver’s steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and they drive on the left.
I went to bed happy with how my time in Chiang Mai was turning out. Solo travel often brings new people into my life, making it more interesting. Even though I don’t speak Thai, I was able to get by. A lot of people knew some basic English. Other times, I used Google Translate. It was shaping up to be a great city to explore.
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