Feb 21, 5:40pm

I’m sitting on the VIP bus to Chiangmai. It’s much nicer and more modern than the one from Surrat Thani. Everything is a soothing sand color. They still insist on blasting Thai love music though.

The view outside is spectacular. I wish I could reach my camera, but it’s in the storage area underneath the bus with my other luggage. The sun is hanging low and blood red in the smokey sky, just above the shadowy mountains. It illuminates the stepped farmland of the region, with abundant fruit trees and tea plantations. The bus is rolling deeply in its suspension as the driver throws it enthusiastically into the road’s snakelike curves. Many people here seem passionate about driving, no matter what type of vehicle they’re piloting.

Feb 21, 11:55pm

I’m in Chiangmai now. It really is a beautiful place. I can see why the people who live here are proud of it. It’s a vibrant and lively city, even at night, yet still feels like a small town. The “old” city is a square, surrounded by a moat from Thailand’s medieval times when it was resisting Mongol conquest. I’m staying at the Montri Hotel, just inside the main gate and bridge over the moat.

The bus ride turned out to be quite nice. I met a nurse from Chiangmai, who was sitting in the seat beside me. She looked quite miserable when she got on the bus. This is unusual for Thai people, who usually seem to be happy, or will at least pretend to be if they’re not. At first, she appeared to be absorbed by her cellphone, making calls and sending text messages. As I mentioned before, young Thais are quite fixated on cellphones, so this was not surprising. When she finally gave it a break, I said hello to her and told her I thought she looked sad.

She turned out to be very sweet, and very patient in trying to talk to me. It was a fun experiment in communication. We talked in very limited English, and I gradually learned what words she understood. I was even able to throw in the few Thai words I know, like “sanook” (fun). It’s amazing how ground you can cover with very little language in common. We talked about family, school, work, Canada, relationships, friends, cars, motorcycles, religion, health, drinking and traveling. When it was time to get off the bus, she gave me a little silver ring and stuck some cute girly stickers on my PDA and cellphone as a souvenir of our friendship. I gave her a big pack of Chiclets that I was carrying in my camera bag and promised to send her a postcard from Canada.

The taxi ride from the bus terminal to the hotel was interesting too. My tuk tuk driver was very talkative and colorful, and spoke good English too. Apparently his brother lives in Toronto and is taking graphic design there. His brother wants him to move to Canada too, but he says it’s too cold for him. He said Thai people are frozen solid if the temperture goes below 14 degrees C. Funny guy. He was excited to hear that I’m a photographer. Apparently he borrowed his brother’s digital camera and took some photos at the botanical gardens. He asked if he could email them to me for my honest critique. Of course I agreed to help him out. I feel like I’m back at dA already!

After checking into the hotel, I strolled down the street to The House, a restaurant recommended by Frommer’s. It’s a Thai Fusion place, with an internationally trained Thai chef. This was another very memorable meal from Thailand. The bread was some kind of crumbly olive cornbread. They served three toppings with it: a red pepper pate, finely chopped cucumbers with dill, and a tomato and cilantro salsa. I had a smoked duck appetizer, which was served sliced very thin on a bed of lettuce with balsamic vinegrette. It was garnished with mandarin orange slices and a fancy pattern made from hoisin sauce. For a main course, I had pan seared red snapper served with crispy stir-fried lettuce on top of roasted almond and saffron risotto. It was covered in some kind of rich, buttery cream sauce that is still making my mouth water just thinking about it. To drink, I had a smoothie made from fresh apples and ground ice. Not a bad meal for 20 bucks. I tipped the staff heavily.

I felt like I needed a walk after dinner, so I explored the city a bit. I’m glad I decided to spend three or four days here. I get the feeling that it might not be enough.