BarclAysia Day 13: NYE

(posted by Emily) 

31 December 2014 
Chiang Mai, Thailand

On the morning of New Year's Eve, we slept in a bit and decided to get a "western style" breakfast. While I am becoming more and more of a fan of the savory breakfasts enjoyed in other countries (noodles, fermented food, veggies, yum!), there's really nothing like the comfort of foods you are used to from home! The Blue Diamond Breakfast Club is known for their extensive menu of veggie friendly food, breakfast included. We had tried to get there the night before, but my navigational skills kept us from getting there. With a little research from Rick, we knew where we were headed. 

We enjoyed a spot in the garden (with free wifi) and ordered some food. A latte for Rick, coffee for me, ginger kombucha to share, muesli with soy yogurt and fruit, khao soi, and hash browns--all a part of a balanced breakfast, right?

After breakfast, we decided to wander our way through the old city square a bit. Without any concrete plans, we didn't really have much keeping us in one place or another. Rick stumbled upon Thai Farm Cooking School's office down one of the streets. 

We wandered our way back to the Le Meridien, and decided to pack. We were checking out of the hotel that night because if you were staying at the hotel on NYE, you were required to attend a gala hosted by the hotel, which was a little too expensive for our tastes! Originally we were planning to stay at another hotel, but ended up canceling the reservation in favor of saving money and catching a few hours sleep at the airport instead. 

One of the common attractions you will come across in Thailand and other SE Asian countries is the custom tailor. There are tons of shops that will create custom clothing for you in the fabrics and style of your choice, with about a 48 hour turn around time. Rick had had his eye on a jacket in one of the shops, but we hadn't stopped back in to see if it could be made. We walked over to the shop on the way to exchange more currency, but it was closed. 

Once our backpacks were packed and checked at the hotel for pick up later, we decided to head over to one of Chiang Mai's most popular attractions--Tiger Kingdom.

in the taxi to Tiger Kingdom

Let me first say--Rick and I were both really conflicted about going to Tiger Kingdom. On one hand, how cool is it that you can pet a tiger?! And on the other hand, my personal jury is out about zoos and animals in cages. Can the tigers really be happy? Are they drugged? Do they have enough space? Are they overworked? We decided to just enjoy the interactions and wait to pass judgement. 

When you buy a ticket, you can choose which size tiger you would like to see. We opted for big, small, and smallest. It was sort of confusing to figure out the queuing system, but we headed in to the park and went over to the "small" tiger cage first.  

We never had to wait very long to enter the pens. A trainer comes to meet you at the door, and walks you over to the animals. There are all sorts of reminders about not touching the tigers' heads, approaching from behind, and rubbing their bellies. The big boys (and girls) are very docile--after thinking about it, these animals have been around people and domesticated their whole lives. It makes sense that they are calm and apathetic most of the time. 

Our favorite pen had the little, little babies--tigers that were 2 and 4 months old. The babies were the most playful, chasing and wrestling each other and climbing right in to the trainers' laps. It was clear that they are just like any other cat--they just want to be pet! Clearly, the rules about no ear scratches are just for liability reasons. The babies loooved Rick, because he gives such great belly rubs. Even at 4 months old, their paws were as big as my hand! 

"I just wanna snuggle!"

"Get that camera outta my face!" 
We wandered the park a bit more, checking out the newborn tigers, the big Siberian tigers, and a lion. All the while I had this feeling that we were at a sort of Sea World for big cats, and I still felt conflicted. Mostly, that didn't ever get resolved. Yes, the tigers get to take breaks and don't have to "work" all day. Yes, there is more space for them in other parts of the park. I still don't know how I feel about it. 

When leaving Tiger Kingdom, there are a variety of options. Some people will ask their taxi drivers to stay and wait for them, or hire a car for the day. Others will find groups of people heading back to Chiang Mai and go in on a ride together. We opted to find a group--there was a very friendly American woman waiting near a tuk tuk, and I approached her and asked if she was heading back into Chiang Mai. She and her boyfriend were stopping by a Karen village first, but were happy to have us along. 

Susanne and Scott are from Seattle, and we hopped into the tuk tuk with them to head to the Karen village. The Karen tribes are the nomadic groups from the north of Thailand and parts of Laos, similar to the Hmong. The women in these tribes are the ones you've seen in National Geographic with all sorts of rings around their necks. The long neck tradition isn't actively practiced with the new generations, though we did see older women who have clearly stretched their necks for years. 

Going to the village was sort of a scam--we knew it would be, but basically, you pay an entrance fee (1000 baht or $30 for two people) to shop at the stalls run by the Karen families. We're viewing it as a donation :) 

Scott making friends with the local kids, who were playing soccer. 
The school in the Karen village--classes are 6 days a week, from 5:30 to 7:30pm, where kids learn English and math.
hand weaving a scarf
this little girl was playing with a Barbie. Clearly, her influence knows no bounds!
After the village, we got back in the tuk tuk to head into Chiang Mai. There was a fair amount of construction on the road, but because we were in a vehicle smaller than a car, we were able to bypass a lot of the traffic. The time saving measure made up for the lack of safety in our vehicle! 

tuk tuk selfie--the driver was the only one paying attention. I was sitting on a little seat right next to him
We arrived in Chiang Mai around 4, and Susanne and Scott refused to let us pay for our portion of the ride. We enjoyed meeting them, and realizing how much we had in common. I hope their travels are treating them well!

We wandered back into the old city, and after walking around trying to get massages (no go--too many people off celebrating NYE already), we ended up back at Blue Diamond for dinner. 

Thai iced tea with soy milk
fried rice
After dinner, we decided to walk around a bit more, to use up some of the time before midnight. We headed back to BarLi for a beer and people watching. 

On a whim, and because we had time to waste, we decided to head back over to the tailor shop to see if it was open--we were in luck! New Moda was open for business, so we went inside to talk with the owner about getting a jacket made for Rick.

Luckily, and inexpensively, New Moda ships to the US. The jacket that had caught Rick's eye is their best selling piece, and the tailor was willing to make it for us even though we were leaving in the morning. Rick got measured and fitted, and photos taken. 

We were really happy with the experience. John was very accommodating and the best part is that the shop donates a portion of their profits to charity, to help underserved kids in Thailand. Can't wait for the jacket to come! 

After New Moda, we walked back toward the city center, where the big NYE concert and festival was being held. Already, tons and tons of lanterns were filling the sky. 

We stopped at the food market we had found on Sunday night, near the eastern city gate and the concert stage. A quick stop for Indian food, which was amazingly delicious. 

We found a spot right on the water (old Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat) and sat near one of the bridges where people were setting off their lanterns. It was exactly what I wanted to do--we watched the lanterns being released and kept a running commentary while watching some fly into trees, fall to the ground, or just not get hot enough. We chatted a bit with a couple from Oregon, and watched as they set off their lantern. I was grateful we had done ours the night before, with the help of the monks. We had used free markers at the temples, and now enterprising street vendors were even selling those to make a buck. 

Rick walked over to a nearby cafe and picked up some beers and we enjoyed good company until the countdown began. At midnight, there were fireworks all around us, and many, many lanterns set off into the sky. 

We enjoyed the scenes for a while, watching spent lanterns drop back to earth and the shenanigans of all the drunk people in the streets. We did notice that no one was super intoxicated--much different than you'd see at home! We walked back to the hotel to pick up our backpacks, passing by a street fireworks display (that knocked over a row of motorbikes) and happened upon the crazy gong band from the night before, just walking down the street!

We headed off to Chiang Mai airport after changing clothes at the hotel. Our flight to Krabi was leaving very early the next morning!

Massage Count: 7

Happy New Year!


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