Today is our second day in Chiang Rai. Yesterday was our first day in Chiang Rai...yes.
We somehow made it to Bangkok Friday night after a 13 hour flight to Seoul (sweet airport) and a 6 hour flight to Bangkok. We were too exhausted and disoriented to do anything but collapse at our hotel.
When we woke up yesterday, we were in a different world: stray dogs, families of 4 riding through the skinny streets on single mopeds, street vendors and all the smells that go with a new city (barbecued meats, sewage, animals, a nearby river).
At 11:40 we jumped on a flight to Chiang Rai where we planned to brush up on our Thai - the boy sitting next to us laughed and corrected us. We were greeted in Chiang Rai by a festival on the air strip which we soon discovered (after wandering around wondering what people were staring at) was a military air show. Everywhere we looked people were staring and we were quickly struck with the realization of being foreign. After discovering that we had written down the wrong address to the guesthouse, we attempted to call Thellie (our only contact in Thailand) and failed on all of 5 pay phones in a row. A group of ten or so Thai cab drivers (all just hanging out at the empty airport) sat and laughed at us (a reccuring theme of our trip so far).
We decided to get a ride downtown and assumed we could find our way to the guesthouse 1 km away. With Lonely Planet in hand and 50 lbs of baggage on our backs we headed NE with the help of a newly purchased compass/whistle (78 Baht! - how much is a Baht?). Trucks with at least 10 children in the back passed and all the heads turned toward us. Walking around we found that with a little smile or wave or a timid "Sawat dee" (hello) everyone we passed would beam back at us. We've already discovered why this country is known as the Land of Smiles.
The supposed fifteen minute walk from downtown continued for an hour along the highway heading back to the airport and we soon realized we were terribly lost. It was time to ask for help (ah!). We stopped at a small moped mechanics shop where four or five mechanics sat staring at us with dropped jaws. As we timidly approached with our massive backpacks, tevas, sweaty T-shirts and map in hand, their awed expressions turned to fits of laughter. The head mechanic and his wife grabbed the map from us and began to pass it around and looked just as confused as we were. We finally mimed "telephone, please" and were able to reach Thellie on our second try who spoke to the mechanic for us. Before we knew what was happening, we were each on the back of a moped, speeding through the streets of Chiang Rai and were finally dropped at the guest house - which actually was just a fifteen minute walk from downtown. The mechanics' act of kindness seemed to be an expected gesture in this culture - not an inconvenience at all.
After a nap we headed to the night market, a bustling 5 lantern-lit blocks of vendors selling everything from hand-sewn pants to maggot covered sushi (intentionally). Today we take it easy, soaking up the living-in-the-present mentality of Chiang Rai. Tomorrow... trekking?