The time has come to leave Thailand and to make a record of the things that have struck me the most. For one the number of bridal shops, they seem to be everywhere…how loud Chiang Mai frogs are, how nobody bats an eyelid at boys wearing make-up and how maps are not to scale and will randomly omit streets.
It may be odd to come all this way and purposely avoid certain things that most would consider essential must-see activities. I have not been to visit any native villages and I have particularly avoided the Kayan people. The thought of visiting a native village makes me feel uncomfortable and I am instantly reminded of that episode Kurt Vonnegut wrote for The Twilight Zone where the protagonist ends up being the subject in a zoo. For that is exactly what it feels like to me. I am going to the zoo. And I appreciate that this is a source of income for the villages. At the same time I wonder how much of a choice those girls will have over their destiny, I suspect it is already decided.
The best experience was visiting the reserve for rescued elephants in Chiang Mai. It is a sanctuary and visitors do not get to ride any of the elephants as that may injury them in the long run. You just walk about, enjoy watching the elephants roaming free, feed them some bananas and help give them a bath in the river. The video of how small elephants are “tamed” into obedience was horrific and I would ask anyone riding on the back of one or watching one play tricks to wonder how that became possible. The sanctuary was beautiful and it was a very special day.
On the whole I found Thai people not very friendly. For the most part and like in any tourist destination, they are just going through the motions of dealing with visitors and it is not a particularly welcoming experience. There was an exception and that is in fact, my favourite memory. I have grown up having to fend off for myself so I am moved by random acts of kindness and like in this case, by a total stranger’s.
I had made an appointment near the bus station in Chiang Mai. From the map I calculated I would need half an hour to walk there so gave myself an hour. When that hour was nearly up, it was clear the map was not to scale and by now not only I was only half way but found myself in the middle of nowhere, no shops, no taxis, no tuk tuks, dual carriage looming. In total desperation I went inside a garage where I managed to explain to the owner that I needed help getting a taxi. “Don’t worry, I will get my son” she said. She called the teenager who was promptly ordered to take me to my destination on his motorbike. When we arrived at the bus station I tried to tip him. He refused. I insisted, he refused me again. And he bowed goodbye and left me there, utterly bewildered. These two people who didn’t know me had gone out of their way to help me expecting nothing in return. And they made me believe, that for a moment, everything was alright with the world…