Thursday, October 3, 2013

And We Lived to Tell the Tale

After a three day journey from the east coast of the United States, we have settled in at our school in Chiang Mai. While some people prefer a direct flight to arrive as quickly as possible, we (our wallets) decided to take a couple of extended layovers along the way. We spent a rainy morning in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as one day in Hong Kong (details and pictures to come in future posts!)

Our first night in Chiang Mai was interesting, to say the least. Let's begin with our rookie traveler's mistake - we failed to factor the time change correctly when booking our hotel in Hong Kong for our layover, and for our first night in Chiang Mai. Basic math fail - we lost an entire day and booked our rooms for one day prior to our actual arrival. We realized this upon landing in Hong Kong after a 13-hour flight.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai, we decided to head directly to the school (where accommodations are included) rather than re-book our homestay reservation that we had missed the night before. Our headmaster told us it would be only a short walk from the airport, but after waiting at least 45 minutes to get through immigration, the sun had begun to set, so we decided to take a taxi. Armed with a map of Chiang Mai and a couple of landmarks for the driver, we left the airport in the back of a Taxi Meter cab, expecting it to be the shortest, easiest cab ride, ever. We were wrong.

Apparently in Thailand, "opposite the Chiang Mai Cultural Center" means down the street and set about 100 meters from the road down a dimly lit alleyway, with a rather unnoticeable sign, mostly in Thai (which might as well be gibberish from outer space to us, at this point).

So, we couldn't locate the school, and neither could our cab driver. He thought it would be a good idea to turn down some other random alleyway, with no headlights, and not acknowledge a very nervous Sarah asking him to turn around. By 'very nervous', I mean homegirl literally opened the door of the moving car, ready to jump out, because we may have been about to live the script of "Taken 3".

Eventually we got dropped off at said Cultural Center, borrowed some WiFi, and drew ourselves a map to Baanlek Homestay (where we had planned to stay before the whole International Date Line debacle). We figured that they might be kind enough to honor our no-show booking a day later.

We set out on foot, in the dark... two young, white, clearly American, clearly lost girls on the streets of Old Chiang Mai. We were also weaponless - TSA 3, Yogi's Guide 0.

In case you were wondering, Google Maps: Thailand Edition is less than accurate, so as the streets got smaller and the streetlights ceased to exist we started to kind of freak the f*ck out. There were lots of people around, but with the general lack of walls and doors, it's hard to tell what's a business, someone's home, or just some people hanging out on the sidewalk.

Eventually, we came across a nice young Thai woman who spoke the first words of English we'd heard since leaving the airport. She knew of Baanlek Homestay, but it was about 400 meters and one street over from what our map was telling us.

This is where things got a little dicey.

Sarah asked if she would be kind enough to walk with us there, and she didn't seem willing... but the two nameless young Thai men in her company offered to give us a ride on the back of their motorbikes.

Imagine this situation... we're scared, lost, confused, and culture shocked. We've had our feet on the ground in Thailand for maybe 60 minutes. Being from America, we've been warned profusely about exactly this sort of danger. Sounds like a really bad idea, right?

It was our best option at the moment, however, so we just went with it. No helmets, each wielding 45 pounds of backpack, we were delivered to the doorstep of the homestay. If those men had names that we could spell, we would thank them here.

Baanlek Homestay is run by the fabulous Mr. and Mrs. Lek, who welcomed us with open arms, air conditioning, WiFi, a crash course in conversational Thai, and the best fish soup for breakfast this side of the Pacific. They didn't even mind that were 24 hours late for our reserved room. If you're looking for a cheap, modern, clean room in Chiang Mai with super friendly locals, Baanlek is the place for you! But beware, the actual location is not as advertised on Google Maps.

We've been in Chiang Mai for four days now, and are getting to know our way around little by little. Frequent trips to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital have helped orient us with this beautiful city, but that's a story for another day (#rabies #Dr.Kittipun)

We're off to go have dinner with our classmates, but we hope the government shutdown isn't cramping your style back home too much. (FYI, embassies and consulates abroad are still operating as usual). We have our first exam tomorrow, wish us luck!

Our teacher, Ya Ya


  1. Hi Hilary! I just want to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. Your humor is great. I am so glad to hear you made it there safe and sound and that you're having a good time. I'm looking forward to future posts. xo :)

  2. Thank you Christine! Great to hear from you. We are having such a great time :) hope all is well with you, say hi to Laura and the fam for me :)

    1. Rabies? Hospital? Hillary, your dad seeks enlightenment. Love you!