by Robert Fitzsimmons
Ladyboy artist painting dragon on my backpack!
I arrived from Bangkok via an overnight non-air-conditioned train, spotting ‘Mr Robert’ on a card held up by a Thai man assuming it was for me I questioned the man to confirm, it was and he was the bus driver.
Driving through Chiang Mai the first thing that became clear very quickly was it was not like Bangkok, it was… more real.
People actually lived their lives here, it was busy with plenty of people about just getting on with their daily lives but the lack of traffic made my own progression through the city very quick, arriving at my guest house that I booked through the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
After using my room as a dumping ground for the contents of my backpack, I set out to the centre of the old city, surrounded by a wall and moat with no real plan but armed with a map provided by the guest house.
A tuk-tuk driver called at me offering a tour of the city and questioning how long I’ve been here. I told him I wasn’t interested as I needed to eat, but the “I got kids to feed” line worked on me, he took me somewhere to eat first then around some backstreet temples that I probably wouldn’t have found myself and then to shops out of the city.
Now I’ve been long enough in Thailand to know when I’m being dragged in a tourist trap, this whole road is a complete stretch of them. Gems, umbrella painting, tailored suits and bedsheets, leather goods, silk goods. A factory outlet road of all the known Thai products. It was even on my map as a place to go for tourists, I also realised the map was produced by the Gem factory at this point!.
However, unlike the Bangkok variety, there is value in seeing this in Chiang Mai. You get to see the gems being cut, the silk being weaved, the wood being carved, the umbrellas being painted, or even have something yourself painted, I got a dragon painted on my backpack by the ladyboy artist for 40 Baht.
The tuk-tuk driver took me back after collecting all his fuel coupons he got for taking me too all these places (even after I told him I’d had enough leather products for one day and wanted to go back to the city) and asked for his fee, only it wasn’t the daily fee we agreed on before, he wanted that per hour now, he also left me a bit outside the city so I had to walk in – not what we agreed.
Taking 6 hours of the day (including when I went for food at the start) the price had increased by a factor of 6! I was going to double the daily rate as a tip as he did a good job but felt this was a little unnecessary.
Eventually after argument he agreed to take 2 hours pay (the amount I was going to give him including the tip anyway), I guess some things in Thailand never change!.
Bio: Robert Fitzsimmons is a corporate escapee turned travelling nomad from England with a taste for adventure and trying new things.
He is usually found photographing and writing about these things and is the author of his own website, to follow more of Rob’s journey’s please visit the AdventureRob.com website.