On Chiang Mai; or Rapid Accelerations in a Torrent of Traffic.

Spirits were considerably lower in the days that followed the events at Vang Vieng. We struggle our way from the bus station into town in a dusty red songthaew, and I remember just enough to get us to a former hostel, which of course we can’t check-in to until lunchtime.

We wander while we wait for the promised respite of a room, and play some frisbee in the park. An old Thai man enthusiastically joins Fox and I, but he isn’t much chop and soon gives up. He heads on his merry way, unfazed by the complete language barrier that prevented us from explaining how to play.

Our serotonin slowly recuperates and we venture an excursion to the night markets. There is nothing unexpected: just more fake Rolexes, ray bans and vans; Thai-themed t-shirts and hippie pants – accoutrements for the travelling glitterati.

The following morning we decide to hire scooters and set off to explore Chang Mai from the road. The scooters are 110cc and fully automatic, and in no time we are blasting along, zipping in and out of traffic, speeding towards Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. We have no trouble pulling ahead of the locals as red lights turn green, their burdened 50cc steeds no match for our enthusiastic acceleration.

The speed is exhilarating, and the sense of being part of a fluid stream of traffic one that is hard to put into words. You achieve an almost zen-state of flow, completely focused on the motorized ballet unfolding around you. While chaotic from outside, the system works well; other drivers are incredibly courteous and I feel much safer than I do on my bike back home.

The goal of Doi Suthep turns out to be far less interesting than the ride itself. An ancient legend alleges that a white elephant carried a piece of sacred relic up the hill, trumpeting three times before dying where the temple now stands. Despite this significance and the number of Thai pilgrams on the stairs, it is just another Wat in a country of many. We amicably stroll its confines before returning to the adrenaline-inducing mountain road that snakes back to town.

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Later Redbeard has a few Chang, for the road, and we race through neon-lit streets; his skids providing ample entertainment for the tourist-laden songthaew ahead. We hit 80 kph doing laps of the inner city circuit: pure irresponsible joy.

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