This new year has been off to a great start with an amazing 10 day trip to Cambodia, new projects, a growing ATMA SEVA team, and a lease on a new apartment in Chiang Mai. After the first six months in Thailand of moving from hotel to Saraphi Technical College, to Wat Doi Saket to the Lawa Village, and lots of travel in between, it is nice to have a place of my own to call home for the next few months. The apartment is a cozy one-bedroom on the fourth floor corner of the apartment building off of HuayKaew Road just north of the old city, with beautiful views of Doi Suthep, surrounding mountain ranges and the Chiang Mai cityscape.
My favorite part of being back in the city so far has been exploring new neighborhoods around my apartment. The area is a mix of college students, young professionals and families, with lots of coffee shops, bars, city parks, noodle shops and late night food carts. The best way to explore the city is on foot and the best time is at night – to feel the true pulse of city life. Thailand is all about the street markets, and Chiang Mai is known for its famous weekend night bazaars. Within the first few days I stumbled across the Kat Rin Kham Night Bazaar, a lesser-known night market mostly for college students that is perfect for late night noodles and buying apartment goods on the cheap.
The night bazaar is an eccentric mix of food stands, chic clothing, plastic shops and home goods, beauty salons, tattoo studios and even an exotic pet stand. Almost anything you want by 1 am, the markets can offer. There is even a free movie screening and a ping-pong table in a small courtyard area if you want to relax and catch a flick or challenge friends to a tournament. The first night I came to the market there were at least 5 people lined up to play a guy who must have been the reigning ping-pong champion. I laughed a bit to myself and continued on through the maze of stalls in the cool open-air market.
Some of my favorite finds so far have been: spray painted sneakers, dart boards, action figures, walls of denim shirts, army uniforms, bins of lingerie, mini piano figurines, over-sized stuffed gorillas, headphones disguised in a coke can, everything “Angry Bird”, hair extensions, fake nails and vintage sports t-shirts. Not only are the items incredibly random but they are also cheap too. I have returned to the market a few times for some real items like utensils, cups, and bowls for $0.20 each, a fleece blanket for $6, noodles and juice for $1 and fried chicken sandwiches (the entire sandwich is fried, not just the chicken!) for 10 baht or approximately $.30. I am tempted to return for the $1 manicures but I think I will wait to buy a puppy for $10.
My second time at the market I came across an exotic pet store. I really don’t know how I missed this the first time but it was quite a sight! Ball pythons, tarantulas, lizards and fish were all for sale in plastic containers kept closed with a small piece of tape and no locks or permits or any real safety precautions in sight. The owner/dealer took a break from his card game to offer me a Python to hold and to take a picture. I had experience with snakes working at a science museum in the states and they seemed to get a kick out of the “falang”(foreigner) holding the snake.
Learning even a few key Thai phrases can help make friends all over the city. The women at the sandwich and juice stands remember the teacher from America and offer free samples and extras when I return. I stopped at a tattoo stand to watch a man getting a tattoo on his chest, smiled and asked if I could take a picture. Both the artist and the man getting the tattoo nodded, stopped and smiled for my picture. Even though the process was clearly intricate and painful the man getting the tattoo gave me a big smile and was happy just to help me out. Thailand really is the land of smiles!
The next few months will be very exciting and busy for ATMA SEVA with the start of new interns and volunteers, new projects and connections and a new office space. Subscribe to this blog for more ATMA SEVA news and adventures around Chiang Mai!