Chiang Mai first impressions
Well my hope that Chiang Mai would be any cooler then Bangkok were perhaps a little overzealous.. a couple of degrees less heat in the shade makes no difference, I'm still dying... and it seems even more humid here, but at least the polution is a little less (to be honest, it's non-existent on my scale, China really prepares you for dirty air... My throat seems to be better today as well, which is probably directly related, I've had a sore throat and phlegm since I got sick in China - which Ian, our resident doctor suspected might just be a bad reaction to Air pollution.
I got my train from Hualonpong station (I was a bit stressed about the whole affair.. as you're never too sure if your TAT office is reputable, even with a valid license, as they all have dodgy looking business cards with yahoo and hotmail addresses...
My ticket was a second class sleeper with air conditioning - lower bunk. It was very comfy and clean, you're oriented the other way to sleeper trains in China, as your head/feet are paralell with the train, and the top bunk folds down and the bottom two sets become the lower bunk. Really nice, though I couldn't see much out of my window (they cover them with a semi-transparent black mesh print to cut down the sun pouring in from outside) - took my sleep in 1 hour portions, and dont feel too bad today - like a couple of trips in China I've been on, it's quite hard to sleep when their pulling into stations every half hour to hour during the night.
After I got off the train, the guesthouse that I booked the Trek with picked me up... because It was early morning (about 10 by the time I got to the guesthouse) - my room wasn't empty, so I dumped my pack in a locker room and went for an "orientation" walk - first away from town, till the dogs looked like they would bit me, and then into town - at the same time I arranged for them to do my Laos 30 day visa - though it always makes me nervous when people need my passport... however it's a necessary evil, and better then pissing about at the border - Laos being my next planned port of call (I've heard of a slow boat you can take to Luang Prabang? sounds fun...)
Chiang Mai has a biggish river running down one side, and an inner square of city surrounded by walls and gates next to it, not to Chinas standard - more like something you'd see created in a medium sized New Zealand town to "beautify" a city... it even has fountains, no doubt it will be a focal point during Sohkran (sp?). All the buildings aren't particularly tall, from 1 to 3 or 4 stories. When you first arrive you hardly notice it, but when looking away from Town there's a great sodding green mountain range rearing up high above the city - I imagine that's where I'm off too tomorrow on my Trek - assuming they steer clear of the bandits (all the TAT licensed operators are pretty cautious) everything should be peachy keen, though It'll probably be a bit strenuous in places... I think I ride an elephant too, which will be a novelty... heh
At any rate thats all for now - my next 3 days will be fairly busy (and strenuous, I'll probably regret the beers I've had in bangkok - though I'm sure they just get sweated out ;o) - after that I plan to do not very much as I'll be around for the last 2/3 days of Sohkran.. which, from what I've been reading thismornin' has such grand hilights as the "beautiful girl on bicycle" competition... and of course water fights.
First impressions of Chiang Mai? Pretty nice.. but I still find the heat brutal, it really does slow you down - though I might tire of it before long, so I may try and only do a few days of cooking school before I'm off toward Laos.