Leaving Elephant Nature Park was one of the most traumatic experiences in our whole trip. In the week we spent there, we made good friends and spent all our time surrounded by animals, a few of which had pretty much adopted us and responded to the names we gave them and came to our call. Just before leaving, one of the coordinators let us know his old English school teacher was trying to hire a foreigner to teach there, so we saw this as an opportunity to stay close and maybe replenish some of our savings. We still had a bit of time to see Chiang Mai (CM) and everything is had to offer.
We returned to CM on Sunday evening, checked into a cheaper hotel this time around and set out to explore the night market. We were a bit disappointed to find stalls selling 100% stuff for tourists, as we normally prefer the more authentic, local oriented markets that give you a better insight on the ‘real’ country. It was still cool to see all the colours and busy stalls. We took the long way back and explored some parts of the city we had missed. Doing that we discovered some quiet alleys with cool street art and a few other hidden gems.
On Monday morning we had agreed to visit Chiang Do, the place where the school that would potentially employ us was. Google maps failed to point the right place, so we got off the bus 5km away from where we should have. We stopped at another school that set us on the right track and decided to hitch hike the rest of the way. Most cars that passed by looked puzzled when I lifted my thumb towards them, and I got plenty ‘thumbs up’ back. The day was really hot and the sun was killing us, but we did not have to wait too long until a Ute picked us up and deposited us in front of the school.
It was a very big and impressive looking place, and the surrounding area looked very appealing to us. The town sits in a valley surrounded by mountains, caves and other natural beauties: An ideal place for people like us. The next two hours went passed in the most awkward job interview I have ever experienced. People came in to talk to us but not one of them introduced themselves, so we did not really know who was whom or what their positions were. Unfortunately, they were adamant they only needed one person, and we tried to explain that was ok as long as they could help the second one get the required visa to stay in the country.
The ideal scenario would have been for them to hire Tim, as I would have only needed to do one visa run (Argentinians get a 90-day tourist visa) but since he has never gone to Uni, they would not go for that. We were not sure what to do, so we let them take us to a few potential houses where we could live if we decided to stay, and then let them know we would make a decision that night. We bused back to CM and started doing some further research. In the end we decided it would be too much trouble for not much money at all and a lot of hassle, so we cut our losses and let them know we would not be taking the job…
The next day we explored CM a little bit further and found a beautiful temple with a bunch of Buddhist quotes all around the place. Later on we took a songthaew for about 30 minutes to the outskirts of CM, where a lovely Japanese couch surfer had accepted our request. We arrived with plenty of time to spare (as we did not know how long it would take us to find the right transport, find the right place, etc – google maps and Thailand don’t seem to get along too well.
She lived in a closed community that has a shuttle service for residents and visitors, so we climbed in for about 5 minutes to be taken to her place. Since we were early, we sat around wasting time. At around 7pm we went to knock on her door but the house was pretty dark. We were rescued by the front door neighbor, a German teacher sitting on her front porch building a floating lantern for the upcoming festival. She was happy to meet some travelers and exchange stories. Our cs made it an hour or so later and was very apologetic for being late, though there is not much to be done about crazy traffic when it decides to grab you, and we never have much trouble entertaining ourselves while waiting, so we were just glad to finally meet her and her beautiful daughter.
It turns out the little one had been born in my home country (Argentina) while her mum lived and worked there for a few years, so she was happy to have someone to practice her Spanish with. We also did some yoga together, while Tim entertained the kid (else, she would keep climbing her mum, making stretching quite challenging) and spent a long time chatting. The child’s dad was visiting from Japan and it was really cool to meet him as well and hear him play piano. Hopefully we will get to visit him soon in Kioto.
The day after our arrival, the famous lanterns festival was on. We had a choice to go join the throng of tourists for a massive release of lanterns at some university grounds, or go with our host and have the local experience. We opted for the latter, so we piled into her cute pink car and set off to a nearby river to release some lanterns. Many stalls were selling all sorts of different and amazing designs, so we chose our favourite (resembling a peacock) and released it into the water to join the other hundred lanterns already on their way downstream. It was a gorgeous spectacle and we hung around for a while just staring at the water and absorbing the peace and its beauty.
On the way back our host wanted to pick up some fruit at the local market, so we made our way to a very busy intersection with a bouncy castle were kids where screaming, running and having a blast. Traffic was crawling and parking would have taken us a long time, so I offered to keep the car moving at snail speed while she got out to find food. I had not driven since leaving NZ (without counting the tractor at ENP) so it was thrilling to still be able to get the car moving without complaints and slowly making my way around insane Asian traffic. When we went back home we released our own lantern together to join the ones already popping up everywhere in the sky, and then walked around the neighborhood looking at the sky and at all the candles lit up around the place. It was an outstanding night for sure!
Aside from that, we spent the rest of the time writing, reading, walking around, chilling and cooking. She had a full on kitchen so it was our pleasure to get in there and make some amazing food for her and the family. Once again, couch surfing provided us with a wonderful home away from home.
She was even kind enough to drop us at the bus station so we could catch the bus that would take us to the Thai – Laotian border…