“Cheap Rooms. Near the night market area. Has to be cheap.”
I was sitting in the back a cab heading to the city from the airport, trying desperately to make the driver understand that I did not want to go to a fancy hotel where he would get the highest cut of commission. He was constantly smiling and kept repeating, “Good Hotel. Swimming Pool.”
“No swimming pool… No… Cheap hotel near night market.”
It was 10 am, I really wanted to find a nice hotel or hostel, a quick shower and change of clothes and then do some exploring. I had a sore back thanks to the super uncomfortable seats of Air Asia and that combined with the warm sun, was making me feel really uncomfortable and frustrated. Traveling ain’t easy at times.
“How much?” The driver asked as we drove along the smooth roads leading to the city, beautiful trees on both sides. He was asking me about my budget for the hotel.
“No swimming pool?”
“No… Just near the night market area.”
He shook his head, clearly judging me. I did not care.
Chiang Mai Travel Lodge was a cozy little property a few minutes walk from the night market area. The receptionist of the lodge was an extremely friendly and talkative girl and she gave me pamphlets about all the things, from elephant riding to trekking, I can indulge myself in during my stay in Chiang Mai.
Just outside the lodge was a small cafe from where I rented a bicycle and a guidebook of the city. I rode along the beautiful roads of Chiang Mai which was dotted with small cafes, bars, Wats, and shops. Every now and then, I would stop at a Wat that was listed in the guidebook, read about it and do a quick exploration. The Grand Palace was extremely pretty and peaceful. It also had a small rectangular building where guests can interact with the monks and gain wisdom. Wisdom is not imparted for free, however. It costs 100 Bahts an hour!
I spent the rest of the day cycling around the old city walls, stopping occasionally to grab a quick bite at the numerous cafes all of which seemed to have awesome staff and food, take pictures, or ask some local about directions to the nearest Wat. The people of Chiang Mai did not seem to be in a hurry to be somewhere. It was refreshing to escape the usual Southern Thailand vibe of cheap nightclubs, Go-Go Bars, touts and tourist scams. It was great to ride along the roads of the city peacefully, without being asked, in hushed tones, if I wanted “boom boom”, or a tuk-tuk or a questionable massage.
(I love Southern Thailand for its great food, nightlife and beaches and the occasional tout selling some overpriced tour does not bother me, if he leaves me alone once I decline his offer. However, when I am approached by five different people within a space of minutes asking me if I want have “sexy time”, its hard not to feel frustrated and angry.)
In the evening, I walked to the famous Chiang Mai night market. The streets were lit up and the shops all around brought about some much needed energy to the sleepy little city. There were shops selling all kinds of clothes and accessories, decorative s, paintings, jewellery etc. Yes, the market was huge, but mostly I could not find anything that was unique to the Chiang Mai Night Makret. They all sold the same old T-shirts, and bags that is on offer in almost any other night market in the country. The one thing that was unique to the market, however, was a small outdoor club which was run entirely by ladyboys. So, after a lot of exploration and a quick dinner at a small pancake stall run by an insanely old lady and her grandson (probably), I checked into the club, grabbed a seat in the back and ordered a Chang Beer.
The makeshift wooden stage, the cheap lights, the uncomfortable seats, the horrible performances on equally horrible songs like “It’s raining men”, the questionable crowd, combined with the fear of being robbed at the point of a knife by some weird lady boy, made me question my decision to enter the club. But as the horrible performances continued I started realizing that the combination of all the imperfections of the club, added to its charm. Too many negatives makes a big positive.
Soon I was ordering more drinks, chatting with the ladyboys, taking pictures with them, giving them tips and having a great time. The seats started filling up and the guests started singing along as the ladyboys continued to perform horribly. We did not mind the imperfections, anymore. The performances were supposed to be entertaining, and in some strange way, it was.
Every now and then the ladyboy serving my table, who was sporting a velvet strap that said Miss Universe, would ask me softly in her seductive voice, “Do you want something, honey?”, and I would find myself nodding, “Yes, one more Chang Beer please”. While serving, she would smile and say something like, “Here you go.. Let me know if you want anything else”.
Yes, it was super creepy but at the time, under the blissful influence of alcohol, I was sure that ladyboys knew the right way to run a night club. I was so impressed by their services that I tipped her a 20 Baht note. (Glad I continued to be cheap while tipping, even when I was drunk.)
It was around 1 am when I stumbled back into the lobby of the lodge, which had WiFi and decided to take a quick glance at my email before heading off to my room. As I was doing that, a few more people stumbled into the lobby. They were equally drunk, if not more. It was here that I met a Norwegian sailor named Jonathan and a photographer from Osaka who did not understand a word of English. Jonathan rambled on and on about his seafaring adventures as I checked out some of the pictures taken by the Japanese dude. We must have been there for more than an hour, listening to stories, seeing pictures, and talking. We were three solo travelers under the same roof in a beautiful city.
We ended the night with the promise that we will hangout more the next night, but we did not see each other again. Nor did we care enough to try.