Chiang Mai, Thailand
The time came to remember that I’m a shoestring traveler, pack up my bag and haul it from my fancy hotel to the All in 1 Guesthouse. It’s still in the old town, down a very friendly soi (side street of a main street) lined with bars, restaurants and other guesthouses but with a very local feel. I haven’t been anywhere else in Thailand yet but I’ve been told by those who have that one of the nice things about Chiang Mai is the commingling of locals and tourists. The guesthouse staff are friendly, immediately playing with my hula hoop and offering me a smoothie while I waited for my room to be made up.
My first impression of the room suffered by comparison to Hotel M but when I consider that it is a very clean and spacious double room with private bathroom, TV & fan for AU$15/night, I’m not going to complain! And as I’m here for a fair few days, I took the time to unpack and spread out around the room – such a luxury when you’re accustomed to living out of a back pack.
I met Keshia at the Art Cafe just outside the Thapae Gate where we’d arranged to meet for lunch. This cafe seems to be something of a meeting point for people sick of Thai food and I seemed to be the only one that isn’t. None the less, I enjoyed my Thai interpreted veggie burger with whole cashew nuts and crinkle cut fries.
After lunch, we hopped into a tuk tuk with the intention of going to a particular dock for a particular boat ride but the driver apparently had other ideas and vested interests. Luckily Keshia has a keen eye and had read about this scam in the Lonely Planet. I’m sure it says something about my personality that the first section I look at in the Lonely Planet for any destination I’m considering is ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ – it’s never stopped me going anywhere but I’m always amused when I arrive to see a scenario played out to the letter as though scripted. What can I say – forewarned is forearmed! We protested and he corrected course without too much fuss. Once we arrived however, we were told that the boat had just left ahead of schedule. Conveniently, the person who informed us was a ‘tour guide’ who could recommend the one up the road where the tuk tuk driver had wanted to take us and was now prepared to drive us for free. Obviously there was something fishy about the whole arrangement so we aborted mission all together – not because we sensed any danger, just because they ****** us off!
Instead we cafe hopped and strolled back through the lesser seen parts of town with very little to see in them. A few hours later, we ended up back at Hotel M to have dinner and cocktails in the restaurant below it. I wished I still had a room there to charge it to. Several mojitos down, we decamped to a cafe where a plan was hatched…
Across the course of the day, Keshia had been extolling tales of her solo scooter mission into the mountains and of how, once she overcame her fear, she had one of the best days of her life. With just one day left before she flies back to The Hague, there’s nothing more she wants to do than hire a scooter again and go for a ride but had nowhere in mind to go.
Meanwhile, I was talking of my own plans to go up the mountain to the big temple and surrounds but hadn’t yet worked out how I was going to go about it – organised tour, songthaew, tuk tuk… you can see where this is going. Although Keshia had beaten that path just yesterday, she was more than happy to do it again for the opportunity of the ride and company – very serendipitous with one small catch…
I can’t ride a normal bike and although I would just be a passenger, there’s a more serious and sinister concern for me regarding motorbikes and by extension, scooters. Without exploiting the details, I’ll just say that someone very significant to me died in a motorbike accident. It is the most profound loss of life that I have experienced. This cast a whole different light and much darker shadow on my resolve to face my fears and say yes to new experiences in spite of them.
Logically, I knew my internal reaction was overblown and to an extent, my mortal fear irrational. I certainly hadn’t been fishing for a ride but now it was on the coffee-table so to speak, I had to make a call. I stilled my mind, strengthened my resolve, took a deep breath and accepted Keshia’s kind offer.
What should have been an easy call for an exciting adventure stirred up quite an emotional hornets nest of grief within grief and such cataclysmic questions of whether I am more afraid to live or die. It’s also called on me to accept that my fate is no longer tied to another’s as I’d always believed it to be.
I don’t honestly believe that I’m putting my life at risk or I wouldn’t do it. There is a more deeper intuition telling me that the more profound the fear, the more essential it is to overcome. One things for sure though, whatever tomorrow brings, tonight is one hell of rough ride!