Chiang Mai’s Little Details

It’s easy to write about the big, exciting events. It’s easier to overlook the small, daily quirks of a place that constantly shape and mold an experience. Here are a few of them.

Spirit houses can be found all over the city and country in general. They aren’t, in actuality, related to Buddhism, rather Animism – the belief that specific spirits occupy certain spaces. Our apartment building has one, as do certain streets, University buildings, restaurants and so forth. Small flowers and trinkets will be left by passer-byers as an offering, a act of appreciation for a nice place, etc…

A rather pronounced Spirit House on the road up to Doi Suthep

Toilet paper has become a pleasant surprise here. All toilets are equipped with small hoses that are used to clean yourself after you do your business. Everyone in my program is still perplexed as to how this wouldn’t just make more of a mess. Needless to say, I abstain. When toilet paper is supplied, you are expected to throw it into the garbage bin instead of flushing it down. The old plumbing can’t handle it.

The bum gun – source: google images

There are a million drink stands/small open air cafés everywhere in Chiang Mai. Order a green tea latte, iced coffee, peach tea, or what have you and be shocked at how delicious it is. This is because they load these drinks up with carnation sweetened condensed milk. Like, it is very difficult to get a no-frills black iced coffee. You have to say ‘no sugar’ (‘mai ao nam tahn’) at least twice, loudly and even then you might sip up a sweet surprise when you wanted a biting black.

Random dogs hang out in the street all day every day. There’s three specific ones on my street, our most favorite being Café, who trots next to us as we walk to school and lays in the middle of aisles in 7-11 as all the Americans coo over her. Another one lays sweetly in the same two spots every day quietly with gouged out eyes that are pink and swollen. The first day it was shocking, now, day after day it’s just heartbreaking.

Bugs of the scary, tropical variety haven’t been a problem (yet). Cockroaches will skitter around the streets at night once in a while, we saw an iPhone-sized spider on the Southern Islands, and a friend almost stepped on a long grey praying mantis, but that is the extent of it. Even mosquitos haven’t been a problem!

Walking around the city, you’re sure to see orange-robed monks out and about since Chiang Mai is replete with temples. At first this was startling but it’s become totally mundane now. I smile my most respectful smile and try hard not to accidentally bump into them.


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