Friday, February 3, 2012

Road Babe Dispatch From Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was the first place I went in Thailand. The friendliness of the people and the ease with which they smiled while offering me whatever assistance they could really impressed me. Aside from the strange local fascination with skin bleaching, I felt at home right away. After kicking some mean jet-lag, I spent my first day bumming around downtown, stumbling into ornate temples, and sitting silently before different sized, shaped and colored icons of the Buddha.

My next day was packed. I kicked it off with a visit to the Maetang Elephant Park where spotted Asian elephants bathe alongside rafters and paint pictures of each other. Being an animal advocate, I was concerned that this show wouldn't be something I'd enjoy contributing to but found myself quite surprised.

The painting was amazing. The elephant Suri chose green for grass and black for the bodies of her friends without any guidance. Another interesting part was the dancing cued by a specific song rather than a physical prod. I also rode one through the lush northern Thai landscape.

Later, I peeked into the Aka village where heavy bronze rings are used to lengthen necks, calves and ankles. The shy women wove exquisite fabrics. Even the children had begun the process of extending their limbs. Roosters darted around the dirt paths that lined nearby staircase waterfalls.

 The place was overrun by in-and-out tourists. So, I felt sad for the locals. While their work provides income for the village, they've been converted into an attraction that belittles their way of life as strange. I wondered whether it was worth it to them or whether they wished they could shoo the tourists out with dried-grass fly swatters.

Next, I dipped into an orchid farm, which was a glorious swell of color and texture. Though I've never been much of a flower person, I couldn't deny the rich, even sexy, beauty of the hanging plants with their vibrant colors, insect-mimicking design and visable roots.

That night, I wandered under the lights of the market. Stall after stall of multi-colored lamps, spices, textiles, masks and statues filled the sidewalk. The fabrics were especially eye-catching with their detailed hand embroidery, bright hues and a myriad of styles and textures.

The Thai are particularly famous for their silk, so the market was peppered with elegant silk stores, which custom make suits and dress shirts for men. Their attendants call out in the street at every handy passerby to come in for a measurement.

Metal and wood workers tooled away, while sitting guard at their stalls. Elaborate hand-made pieces are more common than rare, plus the quality is exceptional. Sculptures, masks, puppets and wall hangings of many forms and materials abounded.

Local street food is delicious and undervalued, with a full meal including drink at around 2 US dollars. My personal favorite was Pad See Ew, which many foreigners aren't hip to, having been bombarded by its also-fantastic cousin Pad Thai. After a few Chang beers and eating myself into a coma, I was ready to hit the hay and work off a little more of the impressively-ass-kicking jetlag.

Mittie Babette Roger is from Louisiana but lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University and authored the book It's Better to Visit the Shaman Without Questions to Ask. She travels the world volunteering to help disadvantaged children and promoting Blue Iguana Tequila to empower serious drinkers.


  1. If you think Mittie's elephant ride stinks of exploitation, I totally agree with you. That lucky elephant should've at least offered to pay for the experience. I damn sure would have. Please contact me if you have an elephant costume realistic enough to fool Mittie on one of her tequila benders.

  2. I'll have to ask... I think my sister-in-law has been there.