Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chiang Mai City Limits

I am not sparing with superlatives and have been frequently heard exclaiming about how someone is my favorite person or how 5 Roses is by far the best tea. That said, the day my friend and I spent riding motorbikes in Chiang Mai really was one of the happiest days I've had in a long time and has earned a spot in my admittedly long list of "bests."

Keen to get out into the countryside we hired motorbikes and set off, the plan being to visit Bo Sang Handicraft Centre and then go in search of waterfalls. My yellow 125cc felt like a step up from the 50cc I drive in Phnom Penh and the surge of power as I took off gave me a thrill every time. The city is much bigger than I'd thought and we wove among busy traffic along roads lined with shop fronts for about an hour before the buildings gave way to an expanse of tree dotted hills. 

"Bo Sang is known as the 'Umbrella Village'... And is famed for handmade parasols made from bamboo and rice paper. The village has made umbrellas for generations and the art has been handed down through a small number of families that live here and is said to have originated from a Thai Buddhist monk who learned the practice on a pilgrimage to Burma." (

Umbrellas of every size and colour were on display, some painted a single colour, some displaying intricate hand drawn patterns or pictures and some made from recycled paper inlaid with rose petals. Umbrella seems too clunky a term. They are more like parasols, delicate and beautiful. For taking a turn about the garden or displaying as a focal point.  

The artisans making the umbrellas were all in different stages of the process-some were splitting bamboo for the spokes, some were assembling the frame, some were dyeing the paper and others were painting birds, flowers or a vignette of rural life onto the umbrella.

After some cheesy photos, an ice cream(too much berry, not enough chocolate in case you were wondering) and finally deciding on purchases (white umbrella with black floral patterns) we set off in search of natural beauty.

Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden was an awesome find and I was giddy with excitement at the beauty of our natural surroundings. I hadn't known what to expect and was blown away by a mountain wonderland. It was another reminder to me that if you approach things with a grateful heart you will almost always be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

The mountain air was chilly, a welcome respite from the heat down in the town and as we drove home we looked out for a coffee shop to stop for some hot chocolate.  We came across a place called Proud Phu Fah, whose mugs proudly bear the logo "Smooch Angel" and I don't know what either of those means but it's awesome.  We sat on their verandah drinking hot chocolate, eating complimentary biscuits and reading our books and I couldn't have been happier.

Monday, August 12, 2013

In Which I Take Steps To Become A Better Writer

Hackneyed phrases, overused tropes, dull or confusing metaphors. These all come to mind immediately when I am writing, naturally near the top due to frequent use.  With the advent of social media the rate at which things go from new and fresh to cliched is faster than ever and it's a great challenge to bring originality to something that has been said many times before.

But where there's dross there must be gold right? Perhaps, with enough digging and clearing away it can be mined.

What trips me up in my pursuit of becoming the kind of writer who gets published is that I am acutely aware of the great gap between the current quality of my writing and the standard to which I aspire. Ira Glass perfectly captures my feelings on this:

And so begins my experiment in free writing.  
30 minutes of continuous writing every day, non stop and without censure.  My hope is that this exercise will unclog the stoppages in my mind and get my creative juices flowing, eventually leading to a point when my taste and what ability to produce will be closer together.  

The reason I am putting this on my blog is an attempt to keep myself accountable as well as use this space to write about things other than travel.

And away we go.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Within the Walled City {Chiang Mai}

Whereas Bangkok is huge, noisy, chaotic and modern, Chiang Mai is a small city with narrow streets and an old world charm (the center of town was once a walled city surrounded by a moat)!

We stayed in the walled city, in a dorm, at a place called 60 Blue House. The only other guest was a Korean girl who didn't say a word and wore compression socks and an over sized yellow shirt and slept in the room next door to us, so thankfully there was none of the unavoidable awkwardness of sharing a bedroom with a stranger. The owner had a lovely open face and a ready smile who further sealed my approval of her by bringing us home baked biscuits and taking a photo for her wall holding photos of everyone who's ever stayed there.
Breakfast for 10 baht (less than R10/$1) at a hole in the wall was great start to the first full day there, and we got the added bonus of eating in the owner's living room, next to her TV and an elderly woman.

If Bangkok is the city that never sleeps, Chiang Mai is the the city that sleeps in. On my first morning there I set off on an exploratory walk along still quiet streets and passed a Hello Kitty themed tuk-tuk, a Pirates Cove and a restaurant manned by Tintin and Snowy.

After breakfast we walked on; past waiting tuk-tuks and cyclos, shuttered windows depicting various scenes (I wrote this in my journal at the time but I don't know what I meant), street art, beautiful teak houses, an English looking red phone booth, Chinese signs and temples, a flower market selling things from dyed carnations to orchids and into a market overflowing with dried goods, a plethora of teas, clothes and cheap looking toys.

To be continued...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Music to Travel South East Asia by..

I'm a great fan of overland travel, for the views it provides of a country that are completely missed from a plane and also for other reasons that I can't think of right now.  That said, it can be exhausting and there were times during my recent trip through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam when I longed for the comfort of a 1 hour plane road as opposed to a 15 hour overnight bus ride.  A few key elements helped make these long trips sometimes enjoyable and always bearable:
~good company, beautiful scenery, books that were so good I didnt mind getting carsick while reading them, solitaire (game of champions) and lots of awesome music.

So, here is a sampling of the songs I played on repeat while curled into the foetal position in an attempt to stay warm under a blasting air con, or gazing out the window at undulating (isnt that a funny word?) rice terraces or averting my face from the creepy creeperson who stared unflinchingly..