I could write about differences in culture, architecture and weather in my attempt to describe Chiang Mai, however that's not what sets it apart from the other cities I've visited on this trip. What sets it apart is its blatant sex scene... though I heard this is peanuts comparing to Bangkok. My first evening here, I went out to dinner with a male fellow traveler, and he took me by one of the more 'happening' streets in that sense. I've never seen anything like this. Of course, in many other places one can see traces of the 'industry', and in other places in Asia, I've come across the specific kind of tourism. But here, it's set on a totally different scale. As we walked down the street, with me a couple of steps behind my friend, bar girls were continuously grabbing him, no doubt finding him a better option than many of the rather mature gentlemen who frequented the establishments. Sometimes, they would pull away when they would realize he wasn't alone; other times, they didn't seem to mind me altogether. Yes, Thailand is a very friendly country, but there is a particular kind of 'friendly' that only male tourists get to experience here.
Moving on to other subjects... Chiang Mai does have a lot to do, and here you really don't have to seek it out, it finds you -- tour operator offices are abundant, as is marketing for events such as Muay Thai (Thai boxing). I wouldn't rank Chiang Mai as a top hit for its must-see spots, though it could be because I'm a bit worn-out by the sightseeing. However, I do think it takes the top spot as a base for exploring.
One of the things I tried here was a half-day cooking class (dad, I hope I made you proud!). It was a lot of fun, largely due to a very colorful instructor we had. There were 12 people in the class, and each of us made individually chosen and individually sized variations of stir fry, curry made from scratch, and soup. We were all given the establishment's own cookbook providing recipes for all of the dishes we were choosing from. In addition to enjoying the experience, I picked up some broadly useful cooking tips, and intend to put that cookbook to a good use back home.
Today, I did a daytrip to the elephant camp. I have to say, I debated between one that had elephant rides, and the other one that was known to be more natural and had no rides or shows. I ended up choosing the one with the ride, as I've never done it. The best part proved to actually not be the ride, but rather an experience at the end of an elephant show. All the other elephants went scouring for banana handouts, quickly moving their trunks from one visitor to the next, however one came over to me and even though I had no more bananas left, put her trunk on my lap, lowering her head. She just stayed there resting for a while, with me petting her trunk, the only one to stand still. That was a great experience. The ride itself was ok, though given the smacking that the elephant received continuously from the mahout it certainly wasn't a bonding experience, and one that I wouldn't do again.
Tomorrow, I'm flying South to Ko Samui, starting my island hopping.