South East Asia: first impressions

Preface to the South East Asian Adventure series. View the rest of the series so far here.

I’m on a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, and can barely tear my eyes away from the large window to my left. Outside are millions of densely packed trees, a variety of shapes and sizes, all bright jungle green. We’re climbing a steep road into the forest canopy, the horizon beyond filled with verdant mountains hung with smoky white mist.

Thai jungle

The very green view from the Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai bus

We’ve been in Thailand for three days now, and it’s won my heart. The food is fresh, cheap and delicious, the people warm and generous, the scenery lush and wild. It’s the first country we’re visiting on a whistle-stop tour of South East Asia, to be followed by Vietnam, Cambodia, and finally Singapore for our friend’s wedding.

Thai beers

Thai beers we enjoyed in a restaurant’s pretty garden

Chiang Mai is a city of contrasts. Yesterday I was waist-deep in a muddy river with four elephants at 2pm, and drinking a cocktail in a trendy bar by 7pm. The day before was spent alternately padding barefoot through silent temples, ornately decorated in white and gold, and jostling down noisy, scruffy streets frantic with people and traffic. I’ve been burned by the sun and drenched by a monsoon.

Rain at Sunday Walking Street

Sheltering from the rain at Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street market

Thai food has jumped up my list of favourites. I love Chiang Mai’s traditional dish Khao Soi so much that I’ve had it twice: once in a tent out on the street and once in an upmarket restaurant (I got much more meat in the latter, but the street version was no less tasty). Everything seems to burst with fresh and zingy or rich and sweet flavours, and the textures, from light and crispy, to sticky and tender, to gooey and slippery, are just as thrilling. I never knew soup could be so exciting.

Thai appetisers

Appetisers at The House bar and restaurant, Chiang Mai

One last thing I want to mention is local transport. Using it is so much fun! The local bus/taxi thingamajigs called songthaews are great, allowing you to enjoy the scenery as the cooling wind rushes past, and the tuk tuks are even better. They’re the kind of thing I’d pay to ride in even with nowhere to go.

We’ll arrive in Chiang Rai in about 20 minutes, from where we’ll go to see Wat Rong Khun, a.k.a. the White Temple. I can’t wait to see what else Asia has in store for us, and I’ll be blogging about it all when I return!

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