Chiang Mai, Thailand
Time for my last move of the trip. I checked out of my guesthouse and awaited the prompt arrival of a car to pick me up and take me to Joy’s House – a guesthouse just outside the city. It’s still a commutable distance and many guests use it as base to explore Chiang Mai, I’m using it as a retreat. My friend Lindsay stayed here before her time at Elephant Nature Park and added her voice to the chorus of online praise for it. As soon as I passed through the gates, I could feel why – I was instantly surrounded by an oasis of tranquility.
Joy herself greeted me with such calm gentleness, offering me a drink and a seat before going through the most serene check-in procedure I have ever encountered. She introduced me to her partner, Ulrike, who then gave me a tour of the grounds including the pool, massage centre and yoga hall. She then showed me to my room which is basic but well considered. I have my own bathroom (with separate shower), a lounge and a lovely writing desk overlooking the courtyard.
I signed up for the 3 hour ‘welcome package’ for the afternoon then set off to explore the surrounding village. I didn’t find much to write home about – quiet, empty streets with a few sleepy businesses catering to locals who were nowhere to be seen in the height of the days heat. I headed back in the other direction until I came to a main road where I’d seen a temple on the way in with what looked to be a massive Mary statue (I’m sure it’s not but there’s a resemblance). She was impossible to miss and reminded me of all the ‘big’ things in Australia like the Big Banana, Big Pineapple, Big Merino etc. I walked towards the Big Lady and was delighted to find a vegetarian restaurant at her feet. I had a delicious mixed wonton noodle soup before heading back to Joy’s.
Although Joy’s House is ostensibly a guesthouse, Joy and Ulrike also run the Children’s Shelter Foundation which is an orphanage set on an organic farm closer to the Burmese border. Once the students are old enough, they are offered the opportunity be trained in hospitality at Joy’s House, each learning and practicing massage, housekeeping and tour guiding. When I fronted up for my 3 hour welcome package (body scrub, steam and oil massage), I was delivered into the hands of one of the students who couldn’t have been much older than 14 years old.
I would like to say it was a wonderful experience but it was actually quite harrowing! I was laid out in a big room without any pretence of discretion – no curtains, no screens, not even so much as an old sheet slung over a few sticks – just me in a big room with about 5 giggling girls coming and going. Already feeling exposed, I was mortified when I heard two fellow guests being walked through for their treatments with a full view of yours truly! I’ve always been pretty self-conscious but have learned to be far less so on this trip, even so I think the staunchest exhibitionist would have baulked at this unforeseen scenario! The remainder of the treatment was an exercise in averting eyes, suppressing abject humiliation and repetition of the mantra “it’s for charity”. I definitely left more tense than I arrived!
Back in my room, I was able to relax a little until dinner where I was awkwardly seated at the same table as the couple who’d seen me all before! There was nothing for it but to introduce myself and acknowledge that it was nice to at least know their names given all we’d seen of each other earlier in the day! They weren’t so jovial. They were a young couple, not even 18, on their first holiday together and obviously not in need or want of my company. They put me in mind of my first trip with Matthew at around the same age (though it was only to Melbourne) and suddenly the cavalcade of memories that led me to this point came rushing towards me. They packed a punch hard enough to send me back to my boudoir (without dessert!) to begin what I came here to do – start facing the real thing I have been averting my eyes from, my return home.