After a tranquil morning ride on the train through the Northern Mountains, we arrived around 1pm in Chiang Mai, found a place to stay at The Little Bird Guest House, showered up and was ready to explore. After lunch, we wandered around investigating various jungle trips, finally settling for the two-day hike. We went to a Night Bazaar on the other side of town to buy some supplies for the following two days.
I was surprised at how many English teams were represented on the stalls selling football shirts. Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea were as inevitable as finding a bogie in the middle pages of a book from your local library, but it was the lower league teams that weren’t as common as the average rate of nasal crustaceans in public literature that surprised me. I would later go onto update my Facebook status as “you know the world is heading in the wrong direction when developing countries not only produce fake Tottenham shirts, but also fake Tottenham training kits and pencil cases. I can understand the original ‘Top 4’ (and Everton and Man City after their extensive marketing campaigns in Asia i.e Chang beer etc), but Spurs? Nah, I can’t have that!” They didn’t really do pencil cases that was for effect, but they did have shirts, shorts and even Spurs TV.
Before you judge, this was to be one of only a handful of status updates over the next four months and hand on heart I am not one of those who force my whereabouts and daily activities on the world via social media. It was more to let friends and family back home know I had arrived safely. It garnered quite a few “likes” and Tom commented “could you grab me a Peter Crouch pregnancy kit” to which Sean replied “is that the one where you pee on a lanky stick?” Big G asked “what about basketballs?” in reference to a Man Utd basketball I received for my 9th birthday.
Talking of which I had brought a pair of Charlotte Hornets basketball shorts before coming out. That must be the equivalent of an American bloke coming out wearing Wimbledon FC ones, as they too are no more since relocating and becoming the New Orleans Pelicans. I like to think somewhere a Hank Miller from New Jersey had simultaneously posted; “You know it’s bad when you see an English Guy wearing Charlotte Hornets shorts. I understand Chicago Bulls and the Lakers, and maybe the Celtics (given the House of Pain connection). But the Hornets? Nah, I can’t have that”.
Ben also bought a Thai style British Military red coat, and we joked about this being the attire worn by the Thai Libertines tribute band. I instantly liked Chiang Mai and as Ben put it “It’s Bangkok in a glass, and purified”, with it’s very friendly population and clean streets, protected by a city wall and moat which housed several fountains. After seeing the obligatory “I love (with a heart symbol) Bangkok” T-shirts, I wondered who in fact could possibly love Bangkok. I mean, an “I’m indifferent to Bangkok” T-shirt would be perhaps more applicable to me. We discussed this as we strolled though the market, looking for supplies for tomorrow’s jungle trek, which perhaps was too soon for somebody who had not had a proper night sleep in the last 72 hours. Anyways we were stuck on what symbol could you use for the word ‘indifferent’? i.e love= red heart, hate= number 8. But Chiang Mai was instantly a hit and we had not even been here a full day.
After exploring an enigmatic lantern lit settlement on the other side of the river, we went to the Thai Boxing which was fun, although there was certainly a large fraction of Westerners that were getting restless after the first 3 matches. These were fought by kids. During these fights, the loudest reaction came when 2 kids almost fell out of the ring through the ropes. This generated the same crowd reaction that you’d find at a football match when the ball accidentally hits the referee. Our subtle and inherent sexism was exhibited when during the Lady’s fight we instantly lost interest, opting for the bar or the our own lookalike game instead. Without doubt the “Special Fight” was the best, which involved 5-6 Thai fighters blindfolded and thrown into a ring for a free for all. Often the Ref, a small Thai man about 5ft, would get caught and mistaken for a fighter by one of the 6ft plus fighters and receive a hefty beating. On one occasion the young ref fought back, kicking one of the blinded prize fighters down to the floor, much to the audiences delight. With the cheers ringing in his ears he went onto to deal further blows to the fighter. By far the star of the night and despite calls for “more refs” from the audience it was clear this section of the night was simply designed for the easily bored and entertainment-spoilt Westerners. By the time the headlining international fighters came out, you couldn’t help but sense that the fun had peaked with the fighting back Ref. It’s hard to imagine David Ellery or any other Premier League refs returning to his feet after having his head caved in.