The Air Asia flight to Chiang Mai was smooth enough, and from the airport, Vero and I took a taxi to town through the rain-specked streets, and, as always when arriving in a place at night, things didn’t look too promising – a little frightening perhaps – but I know never to let that cloud my initial impressions, and to reserve my judgement on a place until I can at least see it in daylight for a few days. Manathai hotel was down a lovely, quiet side-street where nobody seemed to be spare the archetypal skinny light-brown Thai street dog sniffing around, leaving a trail of quickly disappearing paw prints on the dull wet streets as it went on its way.
We were greeted rather frostily – it was around 9pm -late in this place I presumed. Though we’d booked the place a few days before, we were made to use the computer at reception, log onto our emails, and print out the hotel reservation confirmation to prove we weren’t lying. No welcome drink on arrival – instantly worse, then, than it’s elegantly beautiful and friendly twin I’d put my parents up in when we went to Phuket some months before. For a tenth of the price I could have chosen a cheap and clean little hotel with a guaranteed friendliness. Damn. We were given the worst room in the hotel too, stuck past the lovely tranquil garden in a corner with the carpark behind. The paper thin wall made it clear sleep would be fitful at best. We decided, then, to head out into the dark night, get stuck into some Thai beer and food, and see if we could turn this bad start around, and perhaps drink enough to ensure a decent sleep.
We headed out of the hotel and walked towards the main street, taking a left and hoping to get towards the town. It was dark, quiet. Chiang Mai resembled a ghost town. We walked around in the drizzle desperately seeking life. We found the town ‘centre’, a miserable little strip with a few dingy mass-tourist hotels either side, and the customary 7-11 stores, and, of course, the smell of Thailand in the air, a smell which is almost impossible to describe. It’s not necessarily a bad thing – reassuringly familiar, in fact. We found a little tourist restaurant with a pleasing to the eye picture menu next to the night market which had already finished. We sat down and ordered spring rolls, sweet and sour pork and chicken with cashew nuts, and, of course, a couple of bottles of my favourite Thai beer – Chang. As soon as the icy cold beer hit my parched throat, the whole street seemed to light up, and everything that was bad was now good.
We weren’t alone. Two couples of girls and a couple of Burmese chaps were here too, sitting at tables not too far apart. The Burmese had that confident playboy demeaner and tacky fashion sense of the (newly?) rich. A lone, fat sex tourist, ruddy-faced, scruffily-dressed, sat alone, like they all do. One of the Burmese spoke to one of the girls opposite him in one of those fake American DJ twangs that is probably cool in come places and to some people. “Hey, where is there to go around here? Seems pretty quiet?” He asked confidently, echoing my thoughts. He was doing well, and the girls seemed clearly interested. Confidence and fake American DJ accents get you far. This must have irked the lonely American sexpat (that is, an expat living in a foreign country just for the easy and constant supply of women, and, therefore, sex), and he took his chance to rudely butt in, just when the girls had asked the Burmese where they were from and they’d replied “Burma.” Then the American piped up. “Burma?! You guys are from Burma?! That’s a god-damn dictatorship right there, run by the military.” The sexpat was 4 tables away so was shouting, or rather, wheezing. What followed was an incredibly amusing conversation I feel I have to transcribe:
Burmese man: “No, Burma’s liberated now. People are free. It’s free”
American sexpat: “You’re kidding! They banged up San Suu Kyi for 20 years on house arrest. They goddam hang Americans who go there…
Burmese man: “Really? Have you been to Burma?”
American sexpat: “No, why would I? Crazy government.”
Burmese man: “So, what are you here for anyway?”
American sexpat: “Well, I go to Pattaya and Bangkok a lot, but I like it here in Chiang Mai. Kinda mellow. All the pretty girls you meet in Pattaya and Bangkok seem to come from Chiang Mai.”
Burmese man: “Nice for you. Well, maybe one day you can visit Burma…”
American sexpat: “Hell no! Really?!”
Burmese man: “Maybe you need to experience it before you comment on it.”
American sexpat: “I’ve travelled the world, I seen plenty of experience. You live in Burma then?”
Burmese man: “Italy now.”
American sexpat: “Oh yeah?”
Burmese man: “Yeah, good place to make money.”
American sexpat: “I got money. Plenty of money.”
Burmese man: “Good for you.”
American sexpat: “I’m staying at LeMeridian. Got a goddam chauffeur to drive me around.”
Burmese man: “Yeah, nice. Good for you man. Have a good night.”
American sexpat: “You need to mellow out man”
All the while the American was turning around to try and get some support from me and Vero, but I refused to meet his gaze, and remained transfixed on my food. The girls who had been talking to the Burmese guys made their excuses (like they needed any) and left. Then the American left. He didn’t leave a tip, and he counted his change very carefully. He didn’t leave his bottled water to waste, and took it with him away into the night, a wheezy, slobbering, lonely wreck of a man who may have once passed for a decent human being. Thailand attracts this kind of man a lot.
Vero and I went to a place called Foxy Lady, where girls were performing in underwear half-heartedly to some naff pop songs. An incredibly drunk Frenchman staggered in shouting “pussy fuck!” at us. Charming scenes to welcome us to Chiang Mai.
We went to a small gay bar area around the back of Foxy Lady. One of the barmen, Neil, was a flirtatious fun-loving fox, and we warmed to him immediately. We had a few more changs, some of them on the house, then got a tuk-tuk back to Manathai for 80B. It was still raining.