It had been planned for months. Josh and I would meet in Khon Kaen, go to Chiang Mai and meet a friend for a week of good times. Here’s what went down.
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand. We’d be told it was full of used book stores and cool foreigners as opposed to the creepy kind in Bangkok. This is correct.
It’s a one hour van ride to Surin followed by a six-hour bus ride to Khon Kaen. I had a four or five-hour break before our 7:30 p.m. bus left for Chiang Mai. After the 12-hour ride, I’d been sitting on a bus for 19 of the last 24 hours. I was ready to walk. Josh, having the inability to sleep on a moving vehicle, was ready to sleep. After finding out hotel we had a quick breakfast and then napped for three hours. Our friend arrived.
We shopped book stores like Republicans hit the voting polls. Our hotel was centrally located, so almost everywhere we went was a walk away. By the end of the week, we didn’t want to spend more money on books but couldn’t resist a peak at a new store or an old one we happened to pass with the thought that maybe we’d missed something the last time or wanted to check out an author we hadn’t thought of on the last visit. By the end of the week when I thought I’d bought enough fantastic literature, I’d curse my friends when they found something they knew I couldn’t resist.
The week’s conversation was dominated by literature so much I was interested in authors I wasn’t interested in days earlier. We bought books on recommendations and put others away based on poor reviews. Based on the excellent selection of fine literature in a city consisting of very few Americans and mostly European travelers and citizens, I have come to the conclusion Europeans have better taste in novels than Americans. Every store had plenty of Philip Roth, Graham Greene and Saul Bellow as opposed to Sue Grafton and James Patterson.
Our friend managed to chip a prostitute’s tooth. The three of us were walking with beers on a street filled with bars/brothels. Most of the prostitutes (nicknamed ‘stutes or prosty’s) stand at the entrance and say things like, “Hello! Welcome!” and hope lonely men come to visit. The exceptions are when a ‘stute jumps in front of our friend and grabs his crotch. Our friend backed off and tried to talk to the impolite prostitute. She wasn’t listening. At the same moment the prosty made another grab for our friend’s crotch, he moved his hand holding the beer and the top of the bottle clanked loudly against the woman’s front teeth. With concern she retreated and held her mouth while we walked away and laughed.
We ate well. I think I might have gone 48 hours at one point without rice. Every morning we had a large breakfast with items like pancakes, waffles, French toast, biscuits and gravy, croissants, tea and coffee – all things we’re deprived of in rural Thailand. We also had good pizza, cheese burgers and burritos. Our friend spoke all week of a fantastic place to get salads. This sounded strange until we got there and I had an amazingly large and delicious salad and a banana-peanut butter smoothie to wash it down. I felt healthy.
After spending between 150-200 baht ($5-6.50) a meal, occasionally we’d say, “Do you want to just get some cheap Thai food?” It was easily found.
We also hit a temple. Don’t ask me the name of it, but it was quite beautiful. The general consensus among Thailand volunteers is that after a while all temples look the same. I agree. This is why we only hit one temple. Visiting a bunch of temples is like going from American city to city to see the different Wal-Marts.
The three of us wanted a vacation that felt like one. We didn’t want to spend the entire traveling or worrying about seeing as much as we could in a short time. We are three like-minded guys who only wanted to chill, see a few sites, do some book shopping, have a few beers and not let anything get in the way of bullshitting. As the week went on we stayed up later and later stuck in conversation. We watched movies on Josh’s computer when we needed a break.
There was a lot of good times and laughter. That was the mantra.
Click photos to enlarge.
Books bought in Chiang Mai
Berlin: The Downfall 1945 by Antony Beever
Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
The March by E.L. Doctorow
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
Something Happened by Joseph Heller
When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro