We arrived in Chiang Mai closer to 12:40 than 12:10 (we were spoilt with the efficient Chinese train service) and headed straight to the Tourist Information desk. A couple of men whom work for S.K.Hostel 2 were very helpful in providing maps and information and said to us – as we heard them say to everyone – that they offered free transport to their hostel in the Old City and if we didn’t like any of their rooms then no problem, we could just leave to find something else and we wouldn’t be required to pay anything. The fact that they were on the tourist information desk and other people were going with them (and we had read that most hostels would come to collect you from the station for free if you had booked with them) we decided to go for it, and upon arriving at the hostel we met some current guests in the lobby who heaped praise on S.K.Hostel 2, not only for how good the hostel was but how helpful the team were with information on activities and booking things through. The hostel has a small outdoor pool on the ground floor and they had double rooms with fan for 400 baht per night (8 quid) so we decided to go for it.
That afternoon we decided to get our bearings by exploring the surrounding area and visiting some of the nearby temples. Our hostel is right on top of Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple, so we explored there first before taking a 20 minute walk (via a pharmacy for some more Aloe Vera gel as my skin was flaking and so incredibly sore) to Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai’s most revered temple and perhaps my favourite due to the peaceful gardens with various sayings scrawled on plaques on the trees. It was also here that we saw a couple sat on a bench under a tree talking to a Monk; we had read about “Monk Chat”, whereby you have the opportunity at various temples to speak to a Monk and ask questions in order for them to practise their English, and it was absolutely wonderful to watch.
Afterwards we walked 15 minutes to another temple, Wat Chadi Luang, and we were fortunate enough for there to be a festival happening that day. Watching Thai people buy flowers from the market to take over to the Buddha to worship, with flags blowing in the wind and music playing in the background was a really moving experience. I have a mixed and slightly complex personal experience with religion and I am unsure where exactly I stand in my own belief system, but I am always touched by such emotional, sacrificial or dedicated displays of faith. It was lovely to then just wander the grounds, peruse the markets and absorb the atmosphere for a while.
As it approached 6pm and started to cool down we headed in the direction of the Night Bazaar, which is just on the outskirts of the Old City. While many old cities all over Thailand once had walls and moats, Chiang Mai is almost the only city where the old walls are almost still in tact, and the walls and water surrounding the Old City are beautiful – it was lovely to walk past as the sun was starting to set.
Before we reached the Bazaar we came across Ploen Ruedee Night Market International Food Park (clearly having an identity crisis with such a long name) and, feeling peckish, we went in to explore. Naturally we both ended up picking up some food from separate stalls (me opting for fish, Jason for steak) and sat to eat whilst listening to the live music and taking in the atmosphere. We then continued on our journey and finally reached the Night Bazaar, situated amongst a long street market and not that far from yet another Night Bazaar. It was good, but by this point the markets can become quite repetitive (although I did buy a watch for 200 baht as I dropped my other one) and I was starting to seriously struggle.
My entire body had flared up once again and I was completely covered in blisters other than on my face and arms, and some of the blisters were the size of 10p coins. Due to the heat and my clothes rubbing against my body as we walked, the blisters were being rubbed, popped and then my skin bang peeled prematurely so the skin beneath was red raw and dry. It sounds disgusting and so I apologise, but it was horrific and I was in so much pain; I couldn’t walk without it hurting and doing more damage to my body and I was constantly exhausted, still having a headache every day and continuously taking paracetamol. That evening I looked on the NHS website and, considering my symptoms over the last week, realised I had probably had at least 2nd degree sunburn (if not worse as I had all the symptoms of dizziness, nausea, chills and a temperature as listed under “severe”) and all the suggested remedies such as taking cool baths, applying a cold compress regularly, staying out of the sun and heat, resting and eating specific foods were all things that either were impossible or felt impossible while travelling and being away from home. I literally could not stop sobbing and seriously contemplated flying home just so that I could recover properly and then fly back.
Instead, we went to bed with the intention to head straight to the nearest public hospital (10/15 minute walk from us) in the morning so I could get checked out. I felt pretty wiped the following morning and got to the hospital in a bit of a daze. It was a struggle trying to communicate my problem to the hospital staff but within half an hour I’d had my blood pressure and temperature taken by a nurse (no fever!) and was speaking to a doctor. After I explained everything to him, his response to me was “I think you’re allergic to the sun”; best diagnosis of my life. His English wasn’t great (not that it should be – my Thai should be better!) and he said there was a doctor whom spoke really good English and oils be back from lunch at 1 if we with wanted to wait. We did. At 1 we met with the different doctor and I recounted my story again, he got e to lie down so he could check my breathing, my skin and my stomach, then said he wanted to send me for a blood test to check my blood cell count and to rule out dengue fever (yikes).
Now, for those of you whom don’t know me quite so well, blood tests are my biggest nightmare. I am seriously queasy when it comes to blood, I feel faint at the idea of needles, and after cracking my head open on a pebble-dashed wall at the age of 6 (or maybe it was 7 – Mother??) and needing 3 stitches I get really shaky, feel sick and panicky at the thought of anything even closely related. I am hardcore injection/needle phobic o the point of it being pretty darn wimpish. Throw into the equation being in a foreign country where most of the staff don’t speak my language, it didn’t take long for me to feel pretty distraught. I had a cry in the waiting room, and then we were taken through to a room where a woman with a mask was going to do the blood test with me sat down on a chair. Oh, no no – I cannot do is sat down. Did you read the above?! I had to communicate (with the use of palms-together hand gestures and tilting my head to the side, followed by a swaying hand to indicate my state of dizziness) that I had to do this lying down, so the lovely lady took me round to a ward where I could lie down on a bed. Jason holding my hand to on side, the Thai nurse on the left taking my blood, I stared straight up and tried my best to breathe through it. It was one of the quickest and most painless taking-of-blood I have ever experienced and afterwards I became tearful at the whole thing. Then the most wonderful thing happened; the tiny Thai lady, whom had just stabbed me with a needle to steal my blood, put one soft hand on my arm and used the other to gently pat me. Her kindness and empathy was so overwhelming that I really started to cry, tears pouring down my face, and it was then that she took my hand in hers. I was floored. We’ve never met before and barely said the same words to each other, yet she extended herself to me and sat with me in my distress. Our sometimes stiff and reserved British culture needs to take note – this simple act of human kindness and interaction was the most comforting and moving experience within an otherwise traumatic one.
Afterwards we had to wait 15 minutes before seeing the doctor again, who showed me my results and confirmed everything was fine. He prescribed me with 3 lots of meds (one for the itching, one for nausea and the other that had something to do with helping the gut!), ordered me to rest and eat easily-digestible food, and told me to come back in 3 days for a check-up. We had already prepared to stay in Chiang Mai for longer than expected if needed (we may need to skip or shorten certain trips down the line but we will worry about that later) and the main thing is that I really recover, so we thanked him and left, heading back to the hostel for some food.
And that is where I will end this Chiang Mai post for now – as it is going to be a longer stay than usual I will post a separate blog, once I have recovered, on the activities we actually get to do in Chiang Mai! Until then…
[See previous post: Bangkok 2]