After the trekking adventure, I rented a motorbike from my hotel and spent a good portion of the next day riding around the Chiang Mai area. I'd ridden a dirtbike before, but it had been a long time and it took me a little while to get back into the swing of driving the thing. The streets of Chiang Mai are not the place to learn to drive. Once I got out of the city and on to the open country roads, I was fine, but within the city limits, there was just too much traffic. Luckily, there aren't really too many driving laws or rules in Thailand, so I don't think I could have broken too many. People generally drive on the left side of the road, and other than that, pretty much anything goes. When people stop at a stoplight (which not everyone does), the smaller vehicles and motorbikes weave in between the cars and get to make their way to the front of the line, which was nice. The most difficult part is remembering that everything is switched over here. Cars drive on the left side, and steering wheels are on the right side. When looking at oncoming traffic while crossing a crosswalk, I generally look at the left side of the car to make sure the driver is paying attention and sees me crossing the road (especially here, since not everyone stops at red lights). It's quite alarming to see the person sitting on the drivers side looking out the window, or sleeping, or being a little kid. It usually takes me a minute to realize that I'm actually looking at the passenger.
I think having to deal with crossing the streets in Manila helped me to get adjusted to driving on the roads here, which are considerably less crazy. I've found that the secret is that you just have to go.Don't think about it. Don't worry about anything happening behind you. Don't worry about oncoming traffic. Just go. This applies to crossing the street, or driving. No one really wants to get into an accident, so if you just go wherever you need to go without any crazy movements, everything seems to work out. It's actually kind of nice, because no one seems to have any problems with road rage. Everyone cuts everyone else off, and it's just expected that you'll do whatever you have to do to get where you're going as fast as possible. Since everyone expects this kind of behavior, no one seems to get annoyed at anyone else while driving. All I can say is that it works. I don't know how, but it works.
Anway, after spending the day riding through the countryside, I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get back into the city center, and made it back to my hotel in one piece. I'd decided earlier that I was going to explore the night bazaar, which is the big tourist attraction in Chiang Mai city.Vendors set up their carts along the sides of the road, and go on for almost a mile. The main items sold are fabrics, clothes, handicrafts, DVDs/CDs, and the occasional food stand. I wandered through, and bought a bit more junk than I had planned on, but I felt that I got pretty good deals on most of the stuff, so I guess it was worth it. I generally don't buy souvenirs and all that crap, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have a little something to remind me of Thailand.
The next day I signed up for a Thai cooking course with Permpoon's cooking school. There were three Canadians and an English girl in the group with me. The class started with a tour of the local market, where we bought most of the supplies we would need.Permpoon taught us how to pick out good fruits and vegetables and gave us a quick rundown of common ingredients that we would come across in Thai cooking. Useful stuff to know. The class was pretty nice. Definitely worth the $15 I paid. I learned to cook about 10 different dishes, and got a cookbook with other recipes as well as the ones I had made. We also got quick lesson in fruit and vegetable carving, and samples of various kinds of fruit.I got to try rambutan, mangosteen, dragonfruit, and a bunch of others that don't have English names. Thanks Permpoon.
I'm finally planning on leaving Chiang Mai. I feel bad for staying as long as I did. There's a whole big country out there that needs exploring, and to spend so much time in one place seems like a waste. There is a lot to do here, but I think it's finally time to move on. After talking to quite a few people, it sounds like the southern end of the country is not quite for me. Apparently, it's twice as expensive as up north, and is more of a party atmosphere, which is fine sometimes, but I've really been enjoying relaxing and getting to bed at a reasonable hour (usually). I've heard good things about the somewhat nearby town of Pai, so I think I'll head there and see where things go from there. Hope you're all doing well out there. Take care.