I have a confession to make: at heart, I’m a hedonistic city girl. I’ve spent the last week in Chiang Rai city, partaking of the coffee culture (and the pastries), writing a lot, exploring markets dripping with sounds and smells (and food), even getting a high-class massage.

The routine of a gal who doesn’t like routine

I even have a routine of sorts now. I get up around 8:30 am. Around 9:00 I step outside to eat the breakfast included in my room rate: toasts, jam, instant coffee, a banana. Then I go back to my room for a couple of hours to read my e-mail, write a bit, do some research.

Around 11:30 I walk into town to get a cappuccino and possibly a pastry at one of the numerous coffee shops. Half the time I’ll stop by Nangnon, my favourite coffee place. It’s pretty small and not fancy at all, but the coffee is good, cheap, and the service friendly. I’ll linger for a while and either read a novel or write some more on my netbook. Then I’ll head out for lunch, or perhaps just stay where I am if they serve food.

I may run some errands on the way back to my hotel, and then spend the rest of the afternoon in my room writing. After sunset, I put a warmer shirt on, and go out for dinner, most often at street markets, because I haven’t really found any outstanding restaurants nearby. The markets are lively, fun and cheap.

Then back in my room before my self-imposed “dog curfew” around 8:30 pm (the dogs who “live” near my hotel seem to become more aggressive starting around 9:00 pm) for some more writing, Thai TV, skyping, or browsing the internet.

I take a long hot shower and go to bed between 11:00 PM and midnight

Coffee shops and bakeries

As I’ve mentioned many times, Chiang Rai is full of coffee shops and bakeries. It still surprises me. After southern Thailand, where good cappuccino was hard to find and real pastries almost non-existent, and Burma, which was even worse, I’m in heaven here!

Over the last week I’ve had great pastries in three different places, and seen many more bakeries along the way. The most accessible is Baan Chivit Mai, a Scandinavian bakery and restaurant with a range of cakes, marzipan, cookies and viennoiseries (think croissants and cinnamon buns). Then there is the Doi Chang coffee chain which also serves a variety of cakes. Probably the most decadent is Chivit Thamma Da, the restaurant attached to the spa of the same name (more on this later).

And then of course there are the brownies at Nangnon. I was even asked for my opinion last week. Which one did I like best: the old recipe or the new one? (The old one, most definitely!)

I am leaving Chiang Rai in five days and am now worried that I won’t have time to try all the downtown bakeries!

Other restaurants

I don’t have much to report on that front. I’ve had a few more meals at the “Food and Drink” place down the street. At night there’s rarely anybody there except for three orange cats. I have to call out and wait a few minutes before the young guy or the older guy (father and son?) shows up. All the dishes on the menu have pork in them. I usually order #12: wide noodles, pork, and some greens, plus a beer. Total: $4.

Markets

I discovered a new street Market last night. Well, I didn’t so much discover it as was informed of its existence. On Saturday night, the streets adjacent to the Tung Garden turn into a giant street market, selling both food and merchandise, from slippers to toys. This is the biggest one I’ve seen so far in Chiang Rai. I didn’t even have time to walk the whole length of it before the crowds tired me out. I did manage to dine for $3.50 on a variety of foods: grilled pork skewer, samosas, pad thai, strawberry juice, sushi rolls, small coconut cake, and “takoyaki” (fried batter balls stuffed with fake crab and drizzled with savoury sauces).

Tonight I headed back to “Happy Street” for the Sunday Market. Despite today being Election Day, the market was in full swing. I intended to buy some cheap clothes, but only ended up with a pair of leggings and a T-shirt. Once I was able to try on the T-shirt in my room (you can’t really try clothes on in the market) I discovered that it was a little too small despite being labelled “Large”. Oh well, I’ll give it to the sisters at the front desk. They’ve been very nice and helpful. I want to buy enough clothes to make it worth shipping a small package to myself in Toronto. This will still be cheaper than shopping at home this summer!

The high-class massage

What is more ubiquitous than coffee shops in Chiang Rai? Massage parlours. For about 300 Bahts ($10) you can have a one-hour Thai massage. For a little more, you can enjoy a one-hour oil massage. I know from experience that these places are not all created equal and since I can’t figure out which is better, I give them all the cold shoulder.

One place stands out though: The Chivit Thamma Da Spa and its restaurant. I read about them on TripAdvisor (glowing reviews) and saw the advertisement on my city map. On Wednesday I finally decided to give them a call. The price for a one-hour oil massage is 1500 Bahts (yikes!) but they had a promotion: an additional 30-minute Indian head massage for free. Now this is about four times the price of a massage in the city centre, and this place is a little far, across the bridge, out by the river.

But since my birthday is coming up in two weeks I thought, why not, as a birthday gift to myself? I could have spent that money on a day trip into the countryside visiting hilltribes and waterfalls, but who am I kidding? I enjoy massages a lot more than primitive cultures, hence my confession at the beginning of this post. 🙂

I decided to make an afternoon of it. I would have lunch at their restaurant, then the massage, and then some tea and cake. That sounded like a very good plan. I started enquiring at Nangnon about the price of a tuk-tuk to the spa, but unexpectedly, a young Thai fellow, with whom I had been having a short conversation, offered me a ride. He dropped me off and drove away. No charge.

The setting of the restaurant was lovely (see photos) and it was hard to believe I was still in the city. I had a great Thai ice tea although my main course was a bit of a let down (boiled pork?). The massage was of course top notch. The building itself felt “countryside French”.

In Asia, a massage always start with a foot bath. That one had flower petals floating in the water. I was also given disposable underwear to slip into. The massage table had the proper “face hole”, and right in my line of sight was another water basin with flower petals. The masseuse was petite but had strong hands. Soft classical music played during the treatment, and I kept thinking “definitely countryside French”. I almost fell asleep.

Afterwards, I had an iced honey ginger tea and a delicious piece of cherry cheese pie (like a cheesecake but baked in a pie tin) at the restaurant, sitting in a white wicker chair, listening to soft jazz, next to a shelf full of books: Jack Kerouak, George Orwell… Wow, this was definitely a classy place. I even got to meet the owners briefly while waiting for my tuk-tuk to arrive. He is a foreigner, most likely Australian, with a Thai wife. I’m sure they make a good living out of this place. Altogether, my afternoon cost me about $70. Definitely over budget, but a special treat!

Political commentary

Politics is not one of my favourite topics. However, after spending almost two months in Thailand this winter, during the no-end-in-sight anti-government protests, I feel the need to express an opinion.

In light of what’s been happening, especially the cowboy-style shoot-out on the streets of Bangkok on Saturday, and the efforts to obstruct the national election today, it’s obvious to me that despite all its modernization in recent years, Thailand still has a long way to go to become a developed country. This kind of ongoing lawlessness is not the mark of a first world developed country. Sorry.

I like Thailand though. I think I’m going to miss it after I leave.

P.S. I am leaving Chiang Rai on Friday to go spend a few days in the countryside. So if you’re waiting for photos of forests and hilltribes, you may still get them.

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