I set out walking and stumbled upon a vegan cafe called “Free Bird.” After taking my shoes off and entering, I realized that it was a charitable cafe where all the proceeds went to sheltering Burmese refugee children. The school was upstairs where they taught them English, Healthy Cooking, Trades for better chance of future work, Art, Music, as well as languages and cultural aspects native to their home culture (for them to use when and IF they ever returned to Burma). The waitresses here were all English teachers in the school upstairs and they were volunteering their time in the classroom and the restaurant. The back of the restaurant contained a little “thrift-store” where people could donate their gently used clothing to sell and make money for the school. I got a superfood salad packed with nuts, ginger, garlic and Pennywort.
I made my way to a fruit market that my hostel hosts recommended I skip because it was “not a souvenir market,” but I went anyways. I love seeing the rawness of markets and what people really buy, sell, cook, eat outside of the touristic economy. Huge truckfulls of Chinese cabbage were unloaded by small boys, women sprayed fresh water into their fish tanks, old ladies fanned piles of meats to keep the flies away, girls braided lines of garlic and onions, and some people pounded fresh curry paste in large stone bowls and then smacked the paste onto a large mound of pre-made paste nearby. Young boys smiled and tried to talk to me in Thai as I walked by, then laughed nervously at our inability to communicate back and forth.
From this market, I stumbled into another market which was kind of a “Chinatown” sort of place with huge warehouses of fabric, sewing machines, dried foods, and plastic play toys on sale. There were multiple gold and silver shops that glistened in the sun as you passed by their epic displays over red-velvet walls. Huge woven reed bins held stinky dried fish, spices, and fruits like durian (sooooo smelly) right in front of clothing stores. I was surprised to see people still going in and buying clothes when the smell of old dead fish had undoubtedly defiled the clean clothing. My favorite section was the needle-work section of the Thai “Hilltribes” people. Here, women carried babies in slings on their backs as they poked colorful cross-stitches onto traditional blue and white resist-stained fabric. I’m getting SO good at “just looking.”
I walked on to see “the silver church” or Wat Sri Suphan as was recommended by an English-speaking temple groundskeeper. It’s an entire temple carved from REAL silver, but women aren’t allowed to enter. Signs said “women entering may cause harm to the sacred temple or to themselves,” whatever that’s supposed to mean! I stopped along the way after seeing a bunch of tuk tuk drivers huddled around a woman with an enormous silver teapot, pouring a brown liquid into their outstretched teacups. One tuk tuk driver said, “you must try!” The sign said, “Herbal tea, 5 baht. Helps with sickness, neck pain, back pain and appetite.” Couldn’t hurt! One tuk tuk driver told me he drinks her tea every day and said he will continue drinking it every day for the rest of his life. It had a strong burnt ginger flavor, and the bottom sips were thick and fibrous to swallow, but I’ll admit I did feel pretty energized after finishing!
We planned to see Doi Suthep for sunset, but there was a huge traffic jam, so our little red safari-van didn’t get us there in time. It was totally dark, but the air was perfectly temperate as we walked the balustrade overlooking the city lights of Chiang Mai below. Our truck driver decided to join us on the walk up the 300 steps guarded by two green glazed-tile dragons. He told us many insights of Buddhism and about the lifestyles and dedications of monks. He wanted us to know that, “All suffering comes from your mind. There will always be bad. Bad will be around you every day, but you must try to see good. Try to see good and you will be happy!” He concluded that really, “All religions are the same, I think… we all want heaven and we all wish for good… we just all have different ways, different paths of getting there.”
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato