Tuesday afternoon Nik and I set out to explore a new neighborhood.Â We originally planned to visit Suthep, which is the neighborhood just south of Chiang Mai University, but then decided to go to the Tha Pae Gate area instead.Â I must admit that I encouraged the decision against Nik’s wishes. You see, Tha Pae Gate is the tourist mecca of Chiang Mai.Â Everyone and their sister, brother, mother, aunt and cousin stay here when they visit Chiang Mai.Â This is where Tuk Tuk drivers sit and wait at every corner waiting for a foreigner to walk by.Â And since we like to consider ourselves “temporary locals”, we steer clear the same way that most New Yorkers stear clear of Times Square.
Unfortunately for Nik, I am curious about these touristy areas.Â I want to know what everyone else that visits this town sees.Â I want to know how they are treated and what they eat for dinner.Â I want to see the guest houses where they stay.Â I want to see them, the tourists!!Â Who are they?Â Are they young or old?Â Are they families or singles or couples?Â Are they Americans or Europeans or Australians or Africans or Asians?Â Where do they congregate?Â Do they actually go to the Starbucks and Burger King?
I am also interested to know if the true locals act differently in the tourist mecca.Â Do they try to haggle you into their stores and restaurants like they did in Koh Phi Phi?Â Do they spend their leisure time here or do they choose to dine and live elsewhere?Â What are the houses like in this neighborhood?Â Are they cleaned up so that the tourists think Thailand is perfect, or are they just like all of the other neighborhoods?
On Tuesday I found answers to most of these questions.Â The majority of tourists are caucasian, and are probably from Australia or Europe because we haven’t encountered very many Americans.Â Most look to be in their 20’s and traveling in pairs, but I did see a few families with younger children.Â There are tons of guest houses to choose from. I mean one, if not 4, every block.Â The guest houses range from dilapidated old concrete block buildings to sleek modern resorts.Â Most of them have restaurants that serve western food along with a few Thai dishes, and most of the tourists I saw eating were at one of these establishments.Â I’m certain that all of the menu items are marked up by 200-300% in this neighborhood verses the area that we live.Â There are street vendors selling the typical Thai snacks, but most of them are within the neighborhoods instead of the main streets.Â Which brings me to my next observation, I saw very few tourists walking through the smaller neighborhood streets.Â They were all either at their guesthouse restaurant or walking up and down the main streets.Â I find this very unfortunate!Â The side streets are the best part of Chiang Mai!!!Â You can find so many interesting places, and you can see from several of my previous posts.Â And finally, tourists do go to Starbucks for their lattÃ¨s andÂ frapacinos.
As for the Thai people in this neighborhood, they seemed to be the same as everywhere else. They smiled when I smiled.Â The massage girls asked me to come in for a massage.Â Half of the street vendors ignored me, half of them smiled and said hello.Â The houses are similar to the ones in my neighborhood…gates, walls, bright colors and barking dogs.Â The main streets didn’t seem to attract very many leisure locals, but I did visit on a Tuesday afternoon, so I’m sure that everyone was at work or school.Â I guess I’ll just have to come back this weekend!!!Â Just kidding…Nik would have a fit!
In the midst of all of this curiosity, I found time to do a little shopping and have a 60 minute massage.Â I wish I could remember the name of the spa, but I know that it was in a yellow building that had a guest house and small restaurant and it is located on Tha Phae Road Soi 5 behind Wat Mahawan.Â Since it is low season, I was able to walk right in and the kind host brought me a glass of water while he prepared my massage room.Â Once in the room, I waited for about 20 minutes before the maseus joined me.Â First she did the traditional foot soak and massage, then I had requested that the longer massage focus more on the back and shoulders.Â It was more of a deep tissue massage than I expected, which was perfect.Â Then when I came back outside the host brought me a delicious fruit tea, I paid my bill (350 Baht or $10.20), and left to meet Nik to go home.
It was another good day in Chiang Mai.Â Next tourist destination…the Night Bazaar!!!