After two full days of rock-climbing, today I decided to pause my three-day course, and to relax and have a rest day. Three days in a row is simply too much: I'm tired and aching all over just from two; and I can't go on without a bit of time to catch my breath.
One night in Krabi: I really needed it, in between Ko Tao and Ton Sai. You can't go straight from one farang beach retreat to another: sometimes, you just need to spend a night in a real town. A place where you can find a cheap room, cheap food, and cheap Internet. And a place where a big city boy like myself can feel slightly more at home. Krabi's a pleasant enough town, but it's a bit small and boring. I mingled with my Dutch friend this evening, over dinner and a few drinks. She also insisted on finding a Thai massage, which I stupidly tagged along to: of the several Thai massages that I've had during my time here, it was one of the more painful (apparently, the more it hurts while they're doing it, the better you feel after — I have yet to verify this). Seems that most folks don't linger in Krabi too long: everyone heads to either Railay, Ton Sai or Ao Nang pretty fast.
After a quick brekkie, this morning I jumped on the 8:30am minibus out of Pai, and headed back to Chiang Mai. For the third time. I'm getting to know this city quite well: too well, in fact. But what can you do? It's the gateway to northern Thailand — there's simply no avoiding it. I was pleased to find, upon my return, that all my old haunts are still alive and well in this city: I found the same good-value guesthouse that I stayed in last time; and I returned to the same cheap Internet joint that I previously frequented. There wasn't much left for me to see here: although I did meet Adi and Maria, so I spent a bit of time with them today. I also booked the package ticket, which as of tomorrow night will get me started on my long journey south, direct from here to Ko Tao. Chiang Mai's a nice enough place; but I think I'm just about over it.
Seven (or "Sevens") is one of the easier card games I've ever played. Gameplay is simple enough: people start by putting down sevens, and from there you put down cards (of corresponding suite) in order from eight to king, and from six to ace. First person to get rid of their hand is the winner. Sorta like playing dominoes with cards. Late this evening, at the waterfall camp where we spent the first night of our Doi Inthanon trek, myself and some of the other guys played a few games of Seven. The game is really too civilised and boring for my liking (don't forget, I've been playing card games with such names such as "S$#%head" and "A$$hole" all year), but it's a good time-passer nonetheless.
After the cooking class (and the enormous lunch that came with it), a few of us went over to Chiang Mai's Sunday market, which takes place just on the edge of the old city, in a long plaza just next to the canal. The Sunday market is a nice little tourist affair, but it's not very big and its variety is limited: just a few shmontses and shmutters, really. Lots of ornate bags and sashes, lots of bulk-produced little wood carvings, and lots of artwork and jewellery. Also some good fresh juice stalls, which my bottomless stomach still had room for, even after lunch.
My plan for today was to get through a good chunk of ye 'ol obligatory city exploration for Barcelona. At breakfast this morning (at Kabul), I got chatting with a Brazilian guy at the hostel — one of the many Brazilians staying there — and we agreed that since we had similar plans, we should go exploring together. The guy speaks barely any English: but his Spanish is (sort-of) passable enough for me to have a conversation with him en Español. Made for an interesting travelling companion, if a bit frustrating language barrier-wise.
When you backpack around the world for a year, you become introduced to quite a few card games. Also to quite a few drinking games. Sometimes — as in the case of Circle of Death, which I learned this evening — you get introduced to both at once. Circle of Death is a simple enough game: a deck of cards is fanned out in a circle on the surface of a table; and each player in turn pulls a card out of the circle. Each number (or royal) in the deck has a certain action — failure to achieve the requirements of the various actions results in the loser(s) drinking. Very fun game, and a great way to turn a group of sensible, amiable friends into a bunch of loud-mouthed, hammered knobheads. But, hopefully, still friends.
This morning I explored the streets of Amsterdam, by going for a very long walk. 'Twas a bit chilly, but the sun was shining and the atmosphere was pleasant. Amsterdam's a great city to walk around: great to cycle around as well, but I'll have to do that another time. I spent several hours admiring the lazy canals that ring around the city centre, the quintessential squashed-in terrace houses, and the plethora of bicycles that are both chained-up in, and being ridden on, every street in town. It's quite a sleepy place of a weekday morning: unlike what you'd expect from a northern European city, many of the shops in Amsterdam don't open until 11am or midday; and many people are clearly still recovering from a big night out.
I already explored Zürich yesterday; today, I couldn't be a$$ed doing very much at all. What with the horrible weather outside, and with nothing in particular to see or do in the city, and with unlimited free Internet access right where I was, my choice seemed obvious enough. I just hung around inside Mark and Susi's apartment all day, catching up on a bit of blogging and online reading, mucking around with some Internet gadgets (such as the cool custom map drawing feature in Google Maps), and otherwise keeping warm and dry. My new ATM card still hasn't arrived: where the hell is it? It's supposed to be getting sent by express DHL courier; but it's been 4 days since it left Sydney, and there's still no sign of it. I hope it comes soon — because nice as it is staying with the family, I can't hang around here forever.
In pleasant contrast to the madness of yesterday — where I experienced everything from nightmare, to high culture, to disappointment, to good times — not much happened today. I did some laundry. I had a coffee break. I bought a book. I grabbed a kebab. I bought a new backpack (first item from yesterday's incident to be replaced — can't do much without a day pack — cheap and dodgy, but it'll do for now). I cooked up some pasta for dinner (which my Mozambique buddy at Gulliver's shared with me). And I spent plenty of time online, gradually catching up on what I'm realising is the Great Sicilian Blogging Endeavour. A sleepy old Sunday in the heart of the ancient world.