Thailand is easy to fall in love with. There is a different rhythm to life, which seems to our Western eyes to be made of pure chaos. Although there is less order, people seem bound to a larger pattern. In the spaces where excessive rules and regulations exist in Western cultures, people move in to fill the void, governed by common sense and purpose. And where, to the Western mind, the ensuing chaos would give the news networks endless topics of fear and loathing to boost their ratings, the Thais somehow survive, and moreover thrive.
We had experienced the depth of Thai culture through some of the street markets, and we had seen the Thai version of Western culture at the malls. We were fascinated by the former, and took comfort in the latter, and decided that we liked Thailand. It was our kind of place, a place worth living in for a while. Unlike Hawaii, which seems perfect until you get the bill, or Australia, which is nice, until you get the bill, Thailand balances affordability, style, culture and something more.
So it was that we decided to take the plunge and move beyond living in guest houses. No sooner had we decided this then we met someone in a café across the street from our guesthouse who happened to have not just one, but two places place to rent. How convenient! Maybe a little too convenient…
The fact that he was British made it easy to relate and feel comfortable, and the price seemed reasonable. He had one condo at the outskirts of the city for 20,000 Baht per month, and another closer to downtown for 30,000 Baht. At $670 or $1000 a month, they sounded reasonable, and were fully furnished and full of style, in a gated building with a pool. They seemed like the sort of places wealthy ex-pats would settle in while conducting business in Chiang Mai. We were down to the wire on moving in when we realized that we should probably explore our options first. As much as the rent seemed reasonable for what we were getting, we knew there must be better deals out there.
Thanks to Chiang Mai City Life classifieds, we found a house for 15,000 Baht, fully furnished, with three bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, within walking distance of the mall, next door to a condo with a semi-public pool. To top it off, the Thai landlords (who lived just down the street) had two children, a girl aged 6 and a boy aged 11. They all spoke excellent English, having lived for a while in Colorado.
We quickly learned that one of the problems with living in an all-Thai neighborhood was that everyone speaks Thai, and only Thai. We had gotten used to the fact that in most public places, everyone spoke at least a bit of English. Our first few experiences with trying to eat at local food stalls was comical, with Cyrus acting like a chicken to convey our choice of meat, and me pointing at the large bag of MSG and shaking my head. The food, however, transcended the language barrier, and was ridiculously good.
Being comfortably settled into our accommodations, I began a 2-week introductory course in Thai massage at Sunshine Massage school. To those unfamiliar with Thai massage, the recipient lays on a mat, while the practitioner mostly sits on or around the person while pulling and stretching their body into various postures. There are some traditional massage elements involved, focused on massaging the body’s energy lines, which are much the same as the acupuncture meridians of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Thai Yoga massage, as it is sometimes known, has its origins in the Ayruvedic traditions of India, dating back some 2500 years. It is probable that many Oriental forms of healing can trace their ancestry back to this as a common point of origin.
During the course, we were instructed on a given technique with one of the students as a demo, followed by us practicing on each other. This hands-on approach allowed us to learn the techniques by feel, and to learn what the massage felt like. I soon learned that I had sore spots I didn’t know about, and that I was nowhere near as flexible as I thought. Despite this, I was soon limber and gaining insight into the areas of my body that I needed to pay more attention to. I was also learning the techniques, although retention of the sequences was proving to be a challenge.
Two weeks was definitely not enough to learn all of the techniques to an exacting detail, and I felt that I had only scratched the surface of this amazing craft. It is for this reason they recommend taking the course twice to gain a deeper mastery of the subject. The depth of knowledge required to be a competent practitioner of the art would take far more time and practice, which led me to think that it might be smart to look into a more comprehensive course elsewhere.
Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and had made several new friends who hailed from all over the world. Our instructor, ‘Dot’ had a sweet grandmotherly appearance and demeanour, but knew how to inflict pain as though she worked for the Spanish Inquisition. For our ‘graduation’ celebration, she took us all to a local hot springs on our final day. She also invited Theresa and the Children, which made for a fun family outing.
San Kamphaeng Hot Springs are a government run park, with a main public hot pool, and private bungalows you can rent for the day or the night, with the hot spring water pumped into their bathtubs. There are massage facilities and two thermal geysers that have been shaped with concrete to generate a steady stream of water that is then channeled into a man-made river. Some of the water gets diverted to a large basin that is primarily used for hard boiling eggs.
Yes, you read that right. They sell eggs and wicker baskets that you immerse in the boiling water, with recommended cooking times. Dot had brought some eggs, and we found an empty basket. The kids were entertained by stuffing the eggs into the basket, and lowering them into the sulpher laden water. I myself find it kind of a turn off to eat eggs that are cooked in water that smells like rotten egg. Needless to say, I was not the only one who shared this sentiment, and none of us ate the eggs.
We all found the warm pool enjoyable, though after about an hour, we were all ready to get out. We passed the remaining time in the small restaurant up the hill from the pool, and discovered that the Thais can make a mean fried chicken, fit to give Colonel Sanders a run for his money. After a couple of baskets of greasy decadence, and Violet getting some quality time playing with the cute puppies that lived in the restaurant, it was time to go and brave the hour long drive through the hills back to the city. Rejuvenated, refreshed, and full of fried chicken, we wondered what was next for us.