Some woman shouted "Good morning, wake up time!" The bus was standing still, the lights were on, people started moving, stretching, making noises. The air was bad, I felt dried out and run over, couldn't wait to get downstairs and out into the freshness. We were at a gas station just outside the city, I looked out the window and saw grumpy-looking people falling out of the bus, one by one, onto the street. And I, too, almost fell, unbalanced by the weight of my bags.
Waiting for the connecting vehicle that would get us to our destination, into the center of Chiang Mai, I put down my bags, tried to stand straight and take a deep breath. Clean suburbian oxygen replaced the old, used air inside my lungs, I could feel it making room for the fresh. It felt like taking a big gulp of cool water after a long day in the sun, running down your inside like a river, running along your throat, past your heart, reaching every single part of your body.
I asked a girl traveller who sat across the aisle in the bus if she happened to know a good place to stay in Chiang Mai. She said yes, she was going to a pension called Thana Hotel. Her name was Aline, she was from Sweden, and due to work she came to Thailand regularly. Every once in a while she'd visit Chiang Mai and everytime she'd stay in the same Hotel, it was clean and cheap, she said. Alright, I said, and tagged along, chatting about the day.
The Thana Hotel is near the Thai Pae Gate in the west of the city. I checked in a room in the third floor. First thing I did was almost get a heart attack. When I closed the door behind me, a small green creature jumped out and ran along the wall. It was a lizard, I think a mediterranean house gecko, maybe ten centimeters in length, actually quite friendly-looking, but it scared the shit out of me. I shoed it out and made sure there was no other in the room.
After the lizard-faced shock in the morning I went out to get some coffee. I passed the gate, walked through the walls of the city and found a Black Canyon Coffee shop. I got a hot cappuccino and a good seat. Sitting there in the quiet, watching the city wake up, the streets getting busier with every minute, was like a recovery for the mind. I took my time finishing my coffee before I went back to the hotel. I got a map and some rest and decided to rent a scooter.
Wat Phraithap Doi Suthep is the most famous temple of Chiang Mai and my first stop to check out. Doi Suthep is a hill about sixteen kilometers north-east of the city center. The road is well paved and driving was fun, because everything happens on the wrong side of the street. After a while it goes uphill and I was worried about the engine of my ride, so I made a stop here and there. Fortunately they have little rest points every couple kilometers from where you get a nice view over the city.
Along the road in front of the Temple they have little shops selling wooden elephants and t-shirts that say I heart Chiang Mai. I got a Thai Coffee from a funky looking grandpa, which turned out to be a Nestlé instant coffee with Mocha flavour. It wasn't expensive, thirty Baht, but I was definintely disappointed. On my way back I turned off the ignition and rolled silently downhill. It's funny, what a difference the sound of the engine makes. My eco friendly descent certainly made me happy and at the bottom of the hill my teeth were cold.
Another thing that attracts over five million visitors to Chiang Mai each year is the night market that opens every evening. It's in the heart of the city, mainly in the western part of the center, and offers all kinds of stuff. I grabbed a decent meal for dinner and worked my digestion while walking from stand to stand to check out clothes, electronical gadgets, traditional woodcrafts and a guy who bedazzled foreign people with a few magic tricks. I tried to figure out the knack, but at the end I gave up. It was a long day.