The frequency at which every expat must escape Vientiane varies, as does the frequency at which we need a break from Laos. It could just be that I needed a break from work, but as August was nearing its end it became rather obvious that it was time for a break for me. Luckily I found a friend in a similar situation and together we headed for a long weekend to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Oh, what a wonderful place it is!
Four days of cycling on well-maintained roads in traffic that’s much faster than Vientiane and also on the other side of the road from Laos felt at a minimum ten times safer at any given time. It was a pleasure to notice that in Chiang Mai Thai drivers adhere to simple traffic rules that one takes for granted at home, such as stopping at a red light, respecting the right of way or keeping to a lane. On the way back to Vientiane we immediately noticed though that areas near the Lao border are simply too close to Laos if one judges by the traffic – in Udon Thani and increasingly in Nong Khai the roads are almost as wild a west as they are in Vientiane.
I was also happy to find so many great vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai, even if our quest for authentic Thai food failed a few times too many for various reasons. We even found a few places that understand what ‘no sugar’ or ‘only a little sugar’ actually means when it comes to making drinks such as coffee, ice tea or fruit shakes (but also came across those that use double the sugar compared to most places in Laos when we forgot to specify the amount!). Another source of joy was the abundance of reasonably priced if not downright cheap cotton clothes which are great for the heat. Chiang Mai was also able to deliver something I thought totally impossible – new lenses for my specs in less than 24 hours at half the price one gets them at home.
Even if our choice of guesthouse wasn’t the best one we’ve ever stayed at, it had the benefit of being a stone’s throw away from a superb small jazz club (actually more like a pub) that had live music every night, the North Gate Jazz Co-op. The tunes and reasonably priced beer more than made up for the bamboo walls that passed through them all that our fellow ‘modern day missionary’ patrons discussed amongst themselves, and all the mosquitoes and red ants that decided to eat my legs alive as we had breakfast on the first morning there. Another highlight of the trip was a day adventure to the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai, where 37 elephants are recovering from various injuries, including stepping into a land mine or getting into a car accident in a city where they are still being used for begging in Thailand. A truly inspirational setting. Those of you who also read Finnish can read more about the trip here. More pictures of the trip are available on flickr.