This morning I woke up from a dream within a dream. The steady hammering of nearby construction—a familiar alarm from the past two weeks that I stayed here in Chiang Mai—lifts me from slumber at exactly 8:45am. What a lovely dream think I, wistfully reminiscing on the week-long lovefest that was Shambhala In Your Heart festival, a music and art gathering at the Doi Luang Youth Camp in Chiang Dao, Thailand. But Chiang Mai is still a dream, and one that will continue for the moment.
Prior to the festival I had been in Chiang Mai for two weeks, staying in a palatial apartment in the posh Nimmanhaemin neighborhood. After a week and a half of blitzed travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a taste of [temporary] home was much needed and much appreciated. I had ideal roommates, a regular sleep schedule (strictly enforced by the time-clocked start of morning construction, albeit), local friends and climbing partners, an exotically bohemian city to explore at leisure, and a dreamscape climbing crag within forty minutes motorbike ride.
I have put down soft roots here, right down to my routine:
- Wake up early, read a bit, then eat a breakfast of coffee and duck eggs fried with garlic and fire hot chilies.
- Engage in caffeinated waxing with Taylor about politics, culture, and whatever else comes to mind (women, mostly).
- Pick a few songs and jams on Alice, occasionally to cheers and clapping from the nearby construction workers.
- Read a bit more.
- Walk a few blocks to my favorite organic Thai restaurant, where a smiling Thai woman serves me a vibrant plate of pad kee mao gai.
- Walk a few more blocks to Play Cafe, where I write my blog on Miranda and converse with the Korean couple that owns the place.
- Take a Song Tao to No Gravity climbing gym, and project a few routes and shoot the shit with Simon (the Swiss owner), Marco (a Swiss friend of Simon’s), Muat (a Thai champion climber), and Duan (a Thai boy that works and sleeps at No Gravity and plays a mean game of street badminton)
- Eat dinner, and move on to the rest of the night’s activities.
On the note of writing, I have finished Bangkok Pt 1 here in Chiang Mai and am awaiting the precious moment when I will have time to compose Pt 2. My journals take me ages, even when I’m furiously typing for hours straight to the driving cocktail of espresso and German trance. I will perhaps need to shorten my future journal entries, and include more status updates such as this one. We’ll see.
Pure honesty: I am trying my absolute darndest not to bliss the hell out right now. Life in Chiang Mai has been nearly perfect in that commercially renowned 99.99% sort of way. But Chiang Mai doesn’t even compare to my beautiful dream within a dream at Shambhala. In the shadow of the Doi Luang Chiang Dao mountains, the youth camp sits in a broad meadow near a murmuring stream. At this blissful site, I passed seven days under the inflamed sun—dancing, singing, grooving, jamming, crafting, and connecting with wilderlings born of earth and fire from across the globe. I am working on a longer journal on Shambhala, but it will have to wait for now.
Though the festival dream is over, Chiang Mai is still quite blissful. I have climbed in otherworldly limestone caves, scaling moonscape toufas of melted rock. I have eaten a mountainous spread of halal Pakistani curries while watching a nearby group of tourists sit with their legs submerged in a tank of cleaner fish. I have ridden a bicycle through twisting traffic that knows no painted lines, and a motorbike down a pothole scarred highway through rice paddies and bamboo jungle. I have dined with Thai villagers, who gigglingly pass you fried unknowns and pop the tops off glass beer bottles with their teeth without blinking. I have rapped on the microphone with a Thai jam band (admittedly to a forgiving audience of three friends) at an art studio/bar, and played guitar with a gorgeous massage therapist in her bungalow studio. I have sustained several slaps and punches from a Thai biker gang who mistook me for a local Thai. I have seen that the world can be quite small, and that home can be anywhere you decide to lay down roots. My two short weeks in Chiang Mai have taught me a lot, in an experiential sense. I would live here, definitely, but I will continue my travels so I can be doubly sure.
I have met an incredible cast of characters in Chiang Mai. I will describe the major characters with unjust brevity, and hope to not insult the minor characters with their absence from the list (y’all are wonderful and you know it):
Taylor: an intellectual adventurer and fellow DePauw alumnus. He’s thoughtful and kind and has a comical tendency to laugh at pretty much everything, from my ribald stories to his whimsical purchase of a $6000 mountain bike. His mind cuts to the core, yet that critical gaze and ready retort that I recall from college has been tempered by a dream life working a dream job in the dreamy city of Chiang Mai (though he would still intimidate the typical bread-and-butter graduate student). Humble—will happily state that he hasn’t climbed much but then powers his way up a 6c+ grind—and talkative—will willingly discuss anything from the Paleo diet to American hip hop.
Barry: an expat Welshman and Crossfit coach. Regimented and driven (partly by his signature “bulletproof coffee:” an epileptic (by which I mean, it would render me inoperable) blend of coconut oil, raw butter, and jet black coffee. Barry has a smile and friendly demeanor that disarms your wary thoughts about whether the guy could crumple a steel barrel. Also thoughtful and smart as hell, though he never flaunts it. Definitely a dude I’d like to count among my friends..particularly at a dinner party and in a dive bar brawl.
Pui Pui: a dazzling Thai femme fatale, ex-climber goddess and current Olympic weightlifter. She is gorgeous, sweet, and fun–she got that diva style and none of the priss, you know? She’s the kind of beautiful woman that I’m genuinely glad is dating a rockstar like Barry; otherwise, I fear that I would be hopelessly fresh with her. In all seriousness, I find the pair incredible and their relationship inspirational [someday I'll be mature enough to stop there] and I think Pui Pui would nonchalantly send me to the hospital if she was single and I was acting a fool [end joke].
Karim: a world citizen climber with conversational language skills from his many past homes. A bit of a professional bullshitter—during the introductory exchange of asking where he was from, he replied “I’m from the moon” and I had to roll with it (“Ah! Heard it’s cold there. Light side or dark side?”). Easily one of the best climbing partners that I’ve had in a long while; the guy is damn charismatic and can persuade you to climb harder than you ever thought possible and without grievance. In all fairness, that charisma is a double-edged sword occasionally, particularly when paired with that damn bottle of Myanmar rum that he manages to produce in the decisive moment when you’re splitting the fence between reasonably going home to bed and joining him on his escapades.
Jennifer: a true Chicagoan and long-term traveler. She describes herself as Type A, but I think that does her a bit of injustice. She’s definitely driven, but in traveling with her I found her genuinely happy to wander and explore without definitive plans. Woman definitely knows her way around a schedule though, and was likely a hellofa school administrator back home. I enjoyed her company as a fellow US traveler—it was nice to remember a taste of my own culture and furthermore not be repulsed by it. I will fondly remember her company at our apartment’s Great Gatsby themed birthday party for Pui; Jennifer and I had a comically difficult time finding ingredients for Manhattans. The end product was pretty good and a colossal favorite, but really only resembled the true cocktail in the Kentucky bourbon and orange slice.
Stefan: an Austrian climber and yoga enthusiast from Vienna. His personality matches the circular Hari Krishna knot of hair on the back of his shaved head: calm, positive, and energy-aware. His activities represent the range of possible pursuits in bohemian Chiang Mai: acro yoga lessons, massage therapy school, and shamanic breathing sessions to name a few. I joined him and a dynamic band of merry backpackers when I moved back into the transient hub of Old City. Together, we floated to Chiang Dao for Shambhala, which I hope to describe in full detail when I have the time.
Jan: a[nother] South African with dynamic personality. He has been teaching English in Korea and Vietnam for the past few years, along with generally enjoying life in Asia. Jan has the same metabolic blitz as Julian, the other South African with whom I traveled with from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I met Jan whilst sampling the succulent array of food carts near Mun Mueang Soi 6, and indeed his exuberant attitude toward life can be best described in accordance with his signature exclamation about the food: “The food here is incredible! And so cheap! I f*cking love it! Is that pad Thai? It looks amazing, I must have some..no wait, better make it three! Here, you must try some, please you must!” Jan was also a merry participant at Shambhala, and I plan to see him again in Vietnam for continued adventures.
That is all for now. Bangkok Pt 2 will be coming along shortly, and many other thoughtful ramblings besides. Cheers and love!