For the last portion of my trip to Thailand I remained in Chiang Mai as a host for 12 Massage Therapists from the Natural Health Practitioners of Canada (NHPC). They arrived over the weekend of the Flower Festival which gave us time to explore the city before they began learning their Level 1&2 Thai Massage at the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai (TMC). From Monday to Friday and then Monday to Wednesday of the following week the group spent all day at TMC devoting their time to learning Thai Massage. My responsibility was to deal with any issues that might arise, and arrange the social, cultural, and food experiences that would help them all fall as deeply in love with Chiang Mai as I have.
My days were spent organizing extra excursions for the group with Kan our fantastic travel agent from Northern Trek here in Chiang Mai, making transportation and payment arrangements, communicating with Shingai at our head office in Edmonton, and then meeting up with friends and exploring other areas in and around Chiang Mai. I liked to joke saying I was sacrificing my time for the group doing research on whether these areas I was exploring would be suitable for the group to take in.
Several flight issues made for a challenging start to their adventure. Despite the fact that most didn’t know each other prior to this trip, they searched each other out on their flights and helped each other, ensuring that every one of them made it to Chiang Mai. For me it meant a day of going back and forth from the airport to our hotel, Le Meridien, to greet them and get them settled. I had a great time in the flower market that morning buying orchids as welcome gifts for each of them.
The next morning we met for breakfast in the hotel to go over our schedule of events and decide on what things we’d like to do in the free time we had between or planned activities of school, a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, and a Thai Cooking Class. It was obvious to me at breakfast that this would be a fun group to host and gave me plenty to organize and plan over the week.
We left for a walk through the streets of the Old City to the park where the flower festival was centered. The floats from the parade the day before lined the streets and were made entirely of exotic flowers. The park had been planted with huge numbers of flowers, included public displays of award winning varieties, and areas set up for photo opportunities for the crowds that came to drink in the beautiful displays.
We walked back to the hotel stopping at the Clay Studio Cafe for lunch where terracotta statues adorn the walls and walkways of this quiet oasis. This was the perfect way to introduce the group to Chiang Mai with a walk through the old city pointing out areas of interest and eating wonderful food. The group had jelled already chatting along our walk, wide eyed, under the magic spell of Chiang Mai. We were even stopped by two tourists that thought I was a tour guide leading my group around, to ask some questions they had about the city. Fortunately I was able to answer them and this gave us all a great story to tell about our first walk through the Old City.
We had time for some R & R poolside before going out to the huge Sunday walking market in the Old City. I met up with several people from my course in Om Waters and ducked into Wat Chedi Luang to get some atmospheric night photos of the temple and meditating buddha.
Monday was their first day of school and I came with them, greeted the school owners Jan and Noo, and sat in on their orientation. TMC has a new video on You Tube about how to cross the street in Thailand that should be seen by everyone travelling here. What is amazing is that the entire video was done in one take!
The only man in our group, Jordan, quickly gained a Thai nickname; Wonderboy! At lunch I took them over to the market near the school for food. In the afternoon I worked on my computer in the sunshine at the tables in front of the school and rode the songtaew with them back to the hotel.
Our hotel was fabulously opulent with an incredible buffet breakfast, uber friendly, efficient and attentive staff, and a bar that will miss our group dearly when we leave, especially each night during happy hour and later in the evening for a nightcap. This group knew how to have fun and make friends everywhere they went.
One of the participants wore the soft white hotel slippers provided in our room everywhere she went, determined to find a pair of sandals to replace them asap, but never finding that perfect pair. Later in the trip when we were discussing our upcoming trip to see the elephants she talked about bringing her rubber boots which we all thought was a joke, but NO! She actually brought rubber boots. Despite that differences in this group everyone got along incredibly well, and we all appreciated, and at times laughed our faces off, over the characters we were sharing our time with.
Laughter, a sense of joy and appreciation for being here, excitement over their learning, and their sense of exploration made my time hosting an experience beyond my expectations. I really enjoyed getting to know these 12 people and spending my last twelve days in Thailand with them.
Monday night we ate at one of my favourite restaurants Ole Mexican Gourmet (Thai/Mexican fusion), which is very close to Le Meridien. The owner Yao was there and we talked about some upcoming musical and spoken word events happening at the arts and events space, Thapae East, next door to Ole. A few of us stayed to listen to a great jazz group.
The next day I spent with Melanie and Nadine (both from Om Waters fame) hiking in and around the Sticky Falls. The falls are famous for their bulbous limestone rocks. Tuesday night was a great dinner with the NHPC group at Rommai RimPing Restaurant owned by Kan, our travel agent extraordinaire, here in Chiang Mai.
Wednesday I met a fantastic couple, Ciprian and Andreea, from Romania while eating at the exquisite Woo Cafe for lunch. We tried to be respectful of each other having just met, but I could barely finish my lunch and they had a challenge ordering their lunch as they had little time to read the menu for all the talking we engaged in. We connected on Facebook so we could continue our friendship building while in Chiang Mai.
Wednesday after class we took a songtaew directly to “The Best Thai Cooking School” about 12 km outside the city. Our driver and chef Nero had a sharp and witty sense of humour and amongst all the great cooking tips we learned, the most dramatic was “how to burn the kitchen down”. The flames from our woks shot up way above our heads! This cooking school was so incredibly professional with a farm attached to the school and a system of learning that was fun, allowing us to eat our creations throughout the night.
That night some of us, including friends living in Chiang Mai, Coreen from the NHPC, Ciprian, Andreea, and several people I know from past workshops here went to Thapae East for the spoken word event. It was a night of surprising honesty, directness, and heartfelt poetic genius. I was deeply moved by the brilliant writing, and poetic presentations. The crowd was also incredibly supportive of the poets and musicians encouraging new poets and shouting out comments of pleasure and astonishment at their skill. It was organized by a Scottish poet with contributors from Korea, the UK, Thailand, and the USA.
Ciprian has done an Iron Man and is an active guy and asked if I would join him for a cycle up to Doi Sutep early morning. Andreea had a day long meditation class and was feeling better that Ciprian now had a partner for this cycle up the mountain in the early morning. We met at NK Bikes to rent our road bikes Thursday evening and met Friday morning at 6:30 am for our climb of over 1000 metres straight up the mountain. Ciprian was the perfect cycling partner. I was afraid I wouldn’t keep up but we were evenly matched and when we got to the top, we drank a few fruit smoothies and I even convinced him to try some of my cricket energy bar. We sped down the mountain reaching over 70 km/hour and then cycled another distance out to the Ban Huai Tung Khao Resevior. After a short cycle around the lake we stopped at the huts built over the lake and had an early lunch. I felt like I was cycling with a long time friend, not someone I had just met a few days ago. Back at Le Meridien I met Melanie (from Om Waters) for a late lunch and pool time. It was the perfect thing to do after a morning of activity.
I visited a few art galleries in and around Chiang Mai such as the See Scape Gallery, owned by the student of an artist who owns the Wattana Gallery. Both galleries are well worth seeing. During another research assignment I also had a great 2 hour Thai Massage at the beautiful Baan Suan Jungle Retreat and lunch at their cafe. That night I had an 80th birthday I attended for Jack, a guest I met at Tip Top Thai House. It was a great evening of food and conversation at Dash’s in the Old City and it is always great to be in the company of Noi (owner of Tip Top) and Phillip, another Tip Top devotee.
Saturday our group spent the day at the Elephant Nature Park. Every time I go to this Park I learn more about the Elephants and now, over the years, have seen some of the Elephants as they have matured in their Sanctuary home. It is always a moving experience being around these animals and experiencing how treating these beings with respect and kindness brings a beauty to their own relationships and to those with the humans that care for them.
That night we all celebrated with a night of music and dancing at Zoe’s in Yellow and other very popular live music and EDM venues around Zoe’s. Ciprian and Andreea arrived with their dancing shoes on and we burned up the floor with Reggae and electronic dance music! It was their last night in Chiang Mai and I was sad to see them go, but now feel inspired to visit Romania.
Sunday we organized a day trip to Chiang Rai visiting the hot springs along the way to the Black House, Blue Temple, and White Temple. The incredible talent of the artists that built, and in some cases still work on these sites, is astounding.
Monday I had a traditional Thai Herbal Steam and Massage in the Old City. Now that is a great way to spend two hours! That night I took Noi, Phillip and Tony out for dinner to the Cat House. The owner Jacky, and Sal where the ones who made us such amazing food at Om Waters.
Tuesday night was our dinner cruise down the Ping River at night. This is always one of my favourite things to do in Chiang Mai. The food is wonderful and the cruise is such a great way to see the city from the water.
Wednesday I cycled with Phillip and Noi to the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in the east end of the city. It is a private museum initiated by Jean Michel Beurdeley, his late wife Patrsi Bunnag, and son Eric Bunnag Booth. It is their private collection built over 30 years. It is a must see in Chiang Mai with the permanent collection on the second floor and travelling exhibitions on the first floor. As always a cycle with Noi includes at least one coffee shop and lunch.
That afternoon I went to the school to participate in the graduation ceremony marking the completion of the Level 1 & 2 Thai Massage training for our participants. They had a great day learning table thai and herbal ball treatments. That night we celebrated with a farm to table Valentines Dinner put on by the restaurant Rustic and Blue. It was a stunning evening of lights, music, food and company. Jenny and Mark, my Canadian friends living in Chiang Mai joined our party as well for a perfect evening in Chiang Mai.
On my last day in Chiang Mai I bought an extra bag to pack all the things I am bringing back (it definitely won’t fit in my carry on!) and spent the day poolside sorting pictures and completing this blog so I could post it before getting on my plane tonight for an 11:30 pm flight.
Despite the fact that I will miss this wonderful place and all the amazing friends and “family” I have here, I am excited to get back to my family and friends in Saskatoon and back to work incorporating my new knowledge and experiences. Excited too, to go from +35 to -16, trading my blue Chiang Mia bike for my new fatbike that is waiting for me at the Bike Doctor. Over the next month I have several Fatbike events to keep me excited about my winter return!
But most of all I feel so excited for this group of NHPC members that have experienced some of the things I love most about Chiang Mai while learning a new massage modality to add to their work back home. Their clients will be fortunate to benefit from their new knowledge and skills. For some this may be the start of a lifelong journey with Thai Massage and I am happy to have been a part of their Thai Massage Study Tour experience.