A story of pain, strength, and bliss.
And one of a (seemingly endless) collection of stories entitled: Brenna’s continued, and everlasting obsession with Chiang Mai.
For those of you who are keeping track…This is trip number five!
Oh Chiang Mai! Let me count the ways I love thee!
So it is 6am on a cold (relatively) morning and Bri and I are hauling our things up the road to catch the Greenbus to get to Chiang Mai. You would have thought by this point we’d be experts.
This bus was unlike previous buses, due to the time, but also because it was an A-class bus, which is apparently different than a VIP bus…but I didn’t see many differences. Except that where there is usually a wall between the front row and the driver in a VIP bus…here there was nothing.
And for a girl who literally always choses to sit in the front row, and on a bus who’s driver kept the window open and blowing freezing Thai-winter air into the bus…it was less than ideal.
I just shivered under my blanket and tried to sleep while listening to the Ready Player One audiobook. For the thousandth time. (I just have that one audiobook so I just kind of keep listening to it over, and over, and over again. Someone people lend me some money to buy a new audiobook. I’m begging you)
Bri and I arrive in Chiang Mai and treat ourselves to the breakfast of champions…McDonalds egg McMuffins and hash brows. The later being the real reason I was attracted to McDs as we pulled in.
Bri and I separated after a quick song tao ride into the city because she was meeting up with a bunch of people from her Thailand orientation.
I had to haul all my shit across the old city to get to the hotel where my mom and I were staying. She wasn’t in Chiang Mai yet because she had instead opted to spend the night at an elephant sanctuary. One of the good ones.
Seriously people. Cut it out with the elephant riding. I’m still suffering under immense guilt for my own elephant excursion 2 years ago. I don’t care if you ‘opt out of the riding’, the training that they have to do to make sure those elephants can carry people is really awful.
Anyway. My mom had ensured me that the hotel was expecting me. And they were…but that didn’t mean my room was ready yet. So, I arrived, tired and sweaty, and had to shower in the pool bath room. And awkwardly carry my clothes and shampoo through the restaurant that filled the first floor area of the Guest House.
But regardless of this embarrassment. The hotel was amazing. It was called Good Morning Chiang Mai Guest House. And when I arrived a band was playing American classic rock songs while farangs ate breakfast. So I got to listen to music while I waiting for my hair to dry.
And for Annie to get there. She had spent the previous week off or school visiting Pai (my favorite Thai city) and Chiang Rai (haven’t made it yet). And so she left her friends to come meet me at my guest house.
Then I also got ahold of my friend Laura from orientation (who I had only seen for a brief, brief second since orientation months ago). And she was in Chiang Mai this weekend. So she came on over and I was so blissed out being happily reunited with two people I love.
Then I got into the room and the place was gorgeous. I mean, my standards are pretty low because I’m used to 200baht hostels, but seriously. Such a nice shower. And a view of all of Chiang Mai. (Kind of)
Then we set out to get lunch and Laura’s curiosity led us to what is now my favorite, favorite spot in Chiang Mai:
It is tucked away in this little alley, kind of on the south side of the city (the more mellow side). The cafe side where we went for lunch this lazy Saturday was filled with some hippies. It’s a small area where people sit on the floor or at little tables. And I patiently (sort of) waited to get what has maybe been my happiest meal in Thailand (up there for sure with the Lampang pizza): a hummus pita sandwich and soup.
It literally changed my world. Because I hadn’t quite realized until that moment how much shit I had been eating since I got to this county. I ate that one hummus and pita sandwich and I had energy for the whole rest of the day. I didn’t eat anything else!
Then we finished it up (after some advice from a fellow farang) with a slice of freaking mango cheesecake!
I was floating on air.
Laura left us at that point. I think she wanted to hang out alone. And I got a Thai massage from what I think is my new favorite Thai massage place in Chiang Mai. (Good pressure) And by then they were setting up a market all through the old city and so we did a little a shopping.
Annie and I quickly bailed from shopping to get some drinks. We found another place that was playing live music and sat around talking about what the hell we are going to do after Thailand.
At this point my mom had finally come back from her elephant place and came to meet us. Mom at this point had gotten her ground in Thailand and was in a much better mood. We said some hellos and then Brenna and Annie left to go get ready for the night. My mom had decided to opt out of shenanigans. Also she had made a friend on her elephant night so she was gonna go have some gal time.
We went back to Annie’s hostel, which was actually really cool. Though, I’m not sure if my idea of a cool hostel just has to do with whether or not it has a hammock…
Bri messaged me and let me know that she and her friends were going to this place called North Gate Jazz so I convinced Annie to drop by. Mostly because the name was so similar to my beloved ‘Edible Jazz’ in Pai.
This place actually had jazz though. Like a 4 piece band. Annie and I hung out for a bit, but they were lighting off lanterns at Tha Pae gate and Annie did not want to miss the lanterns.
So we quickly hitched our way there, Annie grabbed a lantern, and I grabbed Laura on the way. And then Brenna burned down Annie’s first lantern.
What does this say about the New Year?
Well, I’m taking it as an omen of the old burning away.
And luckily it was easy enough to get a new lantern. And the second try was much more successful. You can’t do everything perfect, right?
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to this place. And…without fail. I had a great time. They had opened up the roof so we could see the lanterns floating into the sky above us. They were beautiful.
And then, just to make the night better, my friend Eliza (one of my absolute favorite people from orientation) showed up right before midnight. Her boyfriend had come to Thailand as well to live and stay with her. It was a perfect moment as the year was ending.
Friends all around. Beautiful people that I hadn’t gotten to see enough. A bunch of happy farangs. Standing on the roof in one of the places I’ve had the best memories. Lanterns carrying so many people’s wishes just right up into the sky above us. And then this crazy, terrible, wonderful, jesus-christ-time-is-passing year just ended.
And a new one began right then.
And everything was right with the world.
I woke up on the first day of the New Year feeling good. Mom and I got some free breakfast, which also included a nice cup of coffee.
I didn’t get her back to amrita garden for lunch, but we did end up getting Khao Soy at this little boho cafe on this road I really love. We perched up by the window for a few hours and I was just on such a high. And it wasn’t the khao soy, because it was kind of weird khao soy (not as good at Big C lady).
We said a quick goodbye to Annie and also stopped by my tattoo place to check the status of my tattoo.
I think I had completely left Brenna’s tattoo story out thus far. But the previous weekend I had stopped into a tattoo place I had seen on the internet and asked about getting a tattoo done. Then during the week I had emailed photos and he said he would design something for me.
This Sunday I checked in and he said to come back tomorrow morning to get a look at the final design. And then we could do the tattoo tomorrow afternoon.
It was so quick!
Anyway, then we got massages by ex-criminals at this place that people had been raving about…and honestly? It was good not great. Plus the fact that we actually had to make an appointment was a bit ridiculous. This is Thai massage after all…
After that mom wanted to do some more market browsing so we did. Brenna got more Khao Soy (still not great) and then we headed out to see:
The Chiang Mai Ladyboy Show!
A spectacle I had such great memories of from 2 years ago and something that I hadn’t managed to bring any of my friends to. But this was mom, so I could be insistent. And it was a blast. I mean, it might have been more fun with a big group of young people, but they were awesome. And the show was so funny. And then we spent 100 baht on a photo op at the end (kind of a scam for sure)
The next day was equally as lazy. We got the last breakfast at our little Guest House. Then we checked in with my tattoo. It was all designed! They measured some stuff.
And then mom had to go to the airport.
It was sad sad day. But she was already talking about wanting to come back to Chiang Mai. Careful Mom…it’ll hook ya in.
I had forgot to mention previously the ridiculousness that is that Bri and I figured out Friday afternoon that we didn’t have school on Tuesday. So, we changed our bus tickets and booked this last Monday night at her friend’s hostel. I was headed there. It was a cool place…mostly because yes, it did have a hammock. Jesus, Brenna.
Then I went to get my tattoo!
This was one of the more terrifying things I’ve done. Walking, by myself, in a strange tattoo parlor. And I don’t think I had mentioned at this point what I was getting. It’s an underboob tattoo, which means it kind of fits right on my sternum. It’s actually beautiful.
And I had him design this beautiful piece with a mandala at the center and like beads hanging. And I specifically wanted him cause he does these beautiful dot work tattoos. But this was probably the most painful place to get a tattoo on your body (if google was to be believed). And I wasn’t going for something simple.
And that’s how Brenna went headfirst, alone, into what could arguably be the most painful 3 hours of my life.
I held it together for the first 2 hours. Then the last hour was really, really bad. He was doing all the detail in the mandala. And by the very, very end I was whimpering a little bit. He even messed with me going “it’s finished! Oh wait, one second”. I’m like “you bastard!”
But it turned out beautiful.
And honestly…it was kind of empowering just to walk in there, say “alright let’s do this” and hold my own hand for 3 hours. Makes me feel silly for holding Char Char’s hand the whole time I got my “I like Ranch” tattoo.
Okay, don’t fret Dad. It seems like I’m getting all tatted up now…but this experience was enough to make me feel like I can go a while without getting another tattoo. Though honestly, it couldn’t really get any worse.
As the pain came to a close, I chose to treat myself to yet another hummus and pita sandwich at Amrita Garden.
And this experience was equally as good as the first because I ended up in a conversation with a Dutch man named Noah who I think may be an angel. And he let me know about Yoga Tree…which is now another place I will have to return to Chiang Mai to visit. This place has Ecstatic dance-like classes. And he was taking a movement teacher training course.
And he also told me about doing this thing called “out of the box” which he did every week (though originally with friends every month) and he had tasks in the box and he’d pull them out and have to do them. Like be a robot on the street, or making a cake for his neighbors. He told me I should do it. And then I told him to get the mango cheesecake. So we were both giving out good advice. And we both were pretty happy by the end of the meal. At least I was.
And I went back, met up with Bri, headed back to North Gate Jazz. Then we got Indian food as a late-night snack.
I went back that next morning feeling really, really great. I had come to Chiang Mai this weekend thinking “no, this is the last time” and, like always, it had just pulled me back in again. With arguably one of the best weekends in Chiang Mai to date.
And I was filled with this renewed sense of “fuck yes 2017”. And I know that’s what everyone feels as the new year comes in, but cheers to trying to continue this feeling. Cheers to just doing what makes me happy. Cheers to doing things that scare me, and sometimes doing them alone, but cheers also to always, and inevitable being surrounded by love. Just drowning in it.
That’s called Bliss.