Friday, November 23, 2012

International Living...........

The Truth Behind an English-Teacher's Life in Thailand
By Chris Clancy
Working as an English teacher in Thailand means I get a lot of vacation time. My host country is an incredible place so I'm spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding what to do and where to go. So, I decided to see if my students could help me out.
I asked them where they thought I should go for my next vacation. Without a second of hesitation, they shouted in unison, "Chiang Mai!"
So off I went.
The Thai people call the northern city of Chiang Mai "the Jewel of the North." When I got there, I was struck by what must be one of the key reasons why the Thais like it so much. Bangkok and the south islands are hot and steamy...but Chiang Mai is noticeably cooler. The people struck me as being a little more relaxed and laid back than the locals in pulsating, 24-7 Bangkok. I hopped into a taxi and headed for the downtown area.
The center of the city sits within a huge moat built by Chao Kawila who ruled the region at the end of 18th Century. Today, the territory protected by the moat is home to a seemingly endless supply of clean, cheap-and-cheerful guest houses.
I wasn't going to be spending too much time inside so I settled on the first guest house I spotted. My room was small but it was immaculately clean, a good distance from the noise of the main road and at about $4 per night, I couldn't complain.
One of the must-see places in Chiang Mai is Wat Doi Suthep, a temple named after the mountain it sits on. It's known all over Thailand for its beauty...and for the way it requires that you put in a little work if you want to see it. So after checking in, I hailed a taxi driver who agreed to take me there.
The taxi driver stopped in the car park at the bottom of the mountain and told me I now needed to walk up the 309 steps to get to the temple. I said to him in Thai, "Only 309?" The driver laughed and wished me luck as I took to the steps.
From the bottom, it looked a long way to the top...
It was a cool day so the walk turned out to be quite pleasant...and the commanding views across Chiang Mai were amazing. The stairway itself had nagas winding and snarling along on both sides. These fabled creatures have the body of a snake and the head of a dragon.
When I reached the top, I could see why some local Thais walk up and down the 309 steps to visit the temple every day. It was amazing. Golden stupas...intricately carved buildings and ornate was one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen.
My next stop: Bhubing Palace—the holiday home of the Thai Royal family when they're in town. I hadn't put much thought into my attire before I left my guesthouse, but when I arrived at the palace, I noticed a sign saying security guards will not allow you to enter the grounds if you're wearing shorts. I thought I was out of luck, until one of the security guards produced a brown sarong for me to wear.
The most impressive thing about the palace was its giant bamboo plants. They were huge and their thick, hollow stems made a drum-like sound when they banged together.
That evening I decided to go out and see what nightlife Chiang Mai had to offer. Beside the moat the locals set up a night market selling souvenirs, clothes and food. I sat down, had some traditional Thai food and slowly sipped a beer. The Thais are onto something here, I thought. This is life how it's supposed to be lived.