Days 237-238: Art in Paradise

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 when it was full it would immediately tip forward and fall over. 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 video. The couple showed me how to use it, communicating mostly through gestures since they didn’t speak much English.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 will 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 give me an opportunity 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.

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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.

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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.

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I looked around and noticed the men and women who were 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?

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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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 227: Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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 navigate the airport effectively.

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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.

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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 cost 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 the $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 prior to leaving Los Angeles, so I was feeling 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.

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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.

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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.

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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, scarfs, elephant pants, etc.

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I ended up walking to an inside part of the market. It was huge and had fresh foods. 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).

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I rolled my empty suitcase behind me as I headed back outside. It was now lunchtime and food vendors were starting 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 was wondering where all the tourists were.

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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 in 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.

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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.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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