It started off as idyllic as expected, little did we know the nasty little surprise Chiang Mai had in store for us later.
The Hotel breakfast was certainly up to par. We could choose from platters of fruit, sushi, pastries, an English breakfast, 5 different kinds of toast, 4 different cereals, fresh waffles and a variety of juices and hot drinks. As much as we wanted... so I obviously went nuts and went back at least 4 times. If it is free I am having it!
As Poppy didn't have to register until later in the evening we decided to spend the day sightseeing around Chiang Mai so we braved our first Tuk Tuk ride to see the 'Three Kings' monument (standard) and then took a little walk around town to get our bearings.
Chiang Mai is made up of two parts - the old one and the new one (genius, I know). The old city is surrounded by a moat and some parts of the fort and old gate houses are also still standing. In here the streets are short and twisty and there seem to have been no thinking behind the town planning at all. Small wood and bamboo huts line the streets with the odd food cart, kids playing, dogs peeing and cats scratching. The street signs are nonexistent or in Thai (apart from the main streets alongside the moat - which to be honest I could have work out!) There are 'wats' (temples) EVERYWHERE and they are some of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. So ornate and shiny and I love the fact I had to take my shoes of and bow to go in. Standing there all you feel is the cold marble below you and all you see is the gold surrounding you. It is incredible. Outside the temples you can ring loud bells and hit HUGE gongs and run around as much as you want, which makes going inside them all the more special. I expected beauty but they really are something else.
We visited a couple of wats - Wat Chedi Luang and then Wat Chiang Man, all thanks to a very helpful and kind Thai teacher who saw us wandering about and in about 10minutes planned our whole day out for us and got a tuk tuk driver to drive us to various locations for 50baht (£1). At Wat Chiang Man we met another kind stranger who told us a good place in town to get dresses and Thai silk and so before we knew it our trusty tuk tuk driver had us speeding toward 'VienPing' to get Poppy measured for her very own Thai Silk Gown.
We were in fact already expected at the pier to get on a boat along Mae Ping to a farm but the day seemed to be slipping away from us and there was just too much to do. On arrival at the tailors they made a quick call, pushed the boat back and hour and before we knew it Poppy was having the distance between her nipples measured by a trusty tailor. It did make me snigger out loud but he seemed to know what he was doing and Poppy didn't have much of a choice in the matter so I just ended up looking like the tit (budum cha).
Within the hour, all measured and silk all chosen, we were back at the hotel (thanks to a free tuk tuk supplied by the tailor) waiting for our next lift to the pier. As we stood in the lobby waiting for the tour guide, a hoard of other people were crowding the lobby too. Now, I don't know exactly what an Ecologist looks like but they were all definitely ecologists waiting for the fun to start (the Conference, obviously). As Poppy tried to be as inconspicuous as possible so as not to highlight the fact she was going on a boat ride and not enrolling until later, we both heard a very clear 'Are you Poppy?' emanating from a young guy coming toward us. BUSTED!
However... it just so happened that this hairy youth was in fact Sacha, a fellow PhD student who knew Poppy through a mutual friend. Before he knew what was happening to him he found himself on a long boat making his way to a farm without so much as a backward glance at the sign in sheet which had neither of their names on it. What persuasive ladies we are.
The boat cruise was lovely and relaxing and we saw a very different side to Chiang Mai as the houses got bigger and the jungle got thicker. It was about an hour or so before we arrived at the farm, which from the boat looked like a little bamboo shack on the side of the river. However on closer inspection it was a beautiful herb farm. Lots of nice smelling trees, two HUGE pigs called Cindy and... something else (Cindy the pig stuck better) and a very agro cockerel. We sampled some herb juices - ginger (7/10), lemon grass (8/10)and tamarind (unbelievably gross and salty) before returning down the river to get Sasha and Poppy registered for their Conference.
While they signed their week away, so did I - I signed up for abseiling, zip lining, trekking, cookery school, elephant riding, white water rafting, bamboo rafting. I was going to pack that fun in.
Once we were all done and dusted we thought it was high time for a little street food and shopping so off we headed to the Saturday Market in town. It was the most beautiful market I had ever seen. The stalls were small but neat and inviting, no one hassled you to buy their stuff, the food smelt incredible and the prices were unbelievable. Poppy and I suddenly had panic attacks at the thought of the amount we wanted to buy and the amount we wanted to take home. Parcels back it would have to be.
Within about 30mins we managed to lose Sacha. Not a surprise really seeing as we were bending down to look at everything and drifting from one stall to the next just being guided by the pretty things.
I managed to forget how hungry I was for a little while but the food started to smell too good to resist so I bought a little tray of sushi - 8 pieces of exquisite tuna, salmon, caviar and squid for £1. Heaven. We then stumbled upon a 'Silver Temple' surrounded by musicians and people dancing. 'Monk Chat' was also open for business (where you get to ask them whatever you like) and it was generally a happy place to be. Pops and I wandered in and around for a little while before being drawn back to the stalls.
So far so good, we weren't spending a lot and we were having a great time until things got a little confusing. Up until that point the market was not crowded and in fact very comfortable to walk along. Suddenly things got manic and before we knew it Poppy and I were pressed up against a food stall and my bag felt a little lighter. I immediately checked my bag but I already knew what had happened. Wallet, passport, money, credit cards, driving licence - all gone.
I wasn't angry or upset. I was totally numb. You hear these stories but you never think it will happen to you. I thought I was careful and vigilant and I had made sure nothing was too visible, but I was also having so much fun and I had felt so safe and at ease in Thailand up until then that I had no reason to suspect that it would happen.
SO there we were standing in a busy market in total disbelief. We retraced our steps back to where I had eaten my sushi and the silver temple (which Poppy was not allowed in because she was a women - whoops - didn't see those signs the first time round - maybe my theft was Karma?) but by then we both knew full well it was gone.
We walked back to the food stall where it had happened and asked around to see if anyone had seen anything. Before we knew it a young guy was escorting us to a central cabin to find a lady with a microphone - as you do. As we sat on two rickety stools, he explained the situation to the lady who announced the theft to the whole market and made sure everyone was vigilant and then she made a quick call to the police. She kept bowing and apologising and looking very concerned for me, while Poppy looked more upset than I felt. I honestly didn't feel very much apart from helpless. The thing that probably upset me the most was the fact that that wallet was a gift from Jenny which I really treasured and that a silver South African keying was attached to it which also had a lot of sentimental value. But heyho! It was gone and there was not much else I could do but wait for the police to arrive and take my statement.
Within 20mins the CHIEF of police came and after a lot of bowing and apologising escorted us out, along with a few policemen, to the entrance to the market. He asked us if we needed dinner, he kept apologising profusely as he explained that Thai people are very good people and he managed to pull at least 3 more policemen from their spots on the way so by the time we got to the top of the road it felt as though we were in a police convoy - 6 policemen and us.
Next thing we know we are on the back of police motorbikes on the way to the station. It was almost worth having everything taken just for that ride! I was holding onto the back of the bike, with my bag tightly held in place and swaying at all the right times, while Poppy (bless her) followed behind laden with bags, with one hand on the policeman's shoulder and the other on the bike, asking me what the hell she should be holding onto. Comedy gold.
We arrived at the station and we were told the Tourist Police would meet us there to take our statement but I was soon being told I had a call waiting for me and that I had to go to the Tourist Police myself. Another ride to another police station. Once there I was a little more concerned than I had been previously. The station was next to a not too classy brothel and when we walked in all the guys (sorry, policemen...) were watching the football, playing on the internet and having their dinner half naked. Yup, obviously too busy to come to the police station to take a statement. Once they saw us coming they had a quick tidy and put some clothes on before handing me a pad and pen (which took 10minutes to locate) and asking me to complete the sheet to the best of my ability. The whole office was paper based - the computer was just there for porn and online gaming. So the process was a little longwinded but they then translated it as best they could into Thai and drove us back to our hotel (once the Arsenal-Sunderland match had finished)
A fairly painless and quite exciting turn of events really. One more task to do on our return - a very expensive long distance phone call to cancel all my cards. Helped along by the soothing taste of a cold G&T straight from the mini bar.
In all the excitement it had slipped my mind that poor Poppy had to do her presentation the next day, the one she had travelled all the way to Chiang Mai for. It was already 1am and whilst I tried to wash the day away I could hear her rehearsing in the bedroom. God knows what I would have done without her that night and at least if it had to happen it happened in a very helpful country and with my lovely Pops by my side.