Arrival in Chiang Mai and etc.

Chiang Mai is possibly the most popular non-beach destination in Thailand. After returning from Myanmar, I stayed in Bangkok five days and then caught the bus to Chiang Mai: 9.5 hours to cover 700 km on four lane, well maintained roads, in what was essentially a nearly new double-decker bus with assigned seating, aircon, and in transit snacks - a different world entirely from bus travel in Myanmar. It cost $12US. By the time I had located a guesthouse to stay at, I had realized that about 50% of the population of Chiang Mai at any given time is farangs (at least now, in the "high season"). English-speaking farangs. Something about this place attracts a lot of Canadians and Americans - maybe it's the temperature (5 degrees Celsius lower than Bangkok, but still quite warm), or the English signage, or the abundance of New Age touches, or the hill tribes and mountain trekking. I like the restaurants - Bangkok has lots of good restaurants, but Chaing Mai has almost as many in a much smaller area, so they're a lot easier to get to. It also has cheaper guesthouses and internet cafes.

I saw a couple movies before I left Bangkok. The Thais could teach North America a thing or two about running movie theatres. Regular seating is ASSIGNED, and $3US. Assigned seating: you choose where you sit from the seats available when you purchase. So there's no rush to get into the theatre, and they don't even open the doors until ten minutes before the movie starts. Then they show ads and trailers, as you'd expect. But just before the movie, up comes a message saying "Please pay your respects to the King," at which we all stand up for the National Anthem (at least I assume it's the anthem ...). Thai movies tend to be incredibly violent - I haven't seen any in the theatres, but I've seen trailers and parts of VCDs - and I don't need to see any. Most American movies are shown in English with Thai subtitles. The latest Harry Potter movie is ... astonishingly good. And "Aeon Flux" is pretty bad. I enjoyed it, but it just doesn't hold up well in this format. I did enjoy the huge billboard at another theatre I saw ...

A movie marquee in Bangkok advertising "Aeon Fluk" (sic).

It was the King's 78th birthday yesterday. This was prefaced by a great outpouring of patriotism: Thai flags everywhere, and more pictures of the King than you can imagine on buses, buildings, all over. The night before his birthday he came on TV and gave a speech, maybe about an hour long. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know I respect him: I really wish I understood the language, I probably would have listened to it from end to end. Now that I know a little about the contents, I respect him even more: he encouraged the Prime Minister to be more accepting of criticism, and said that he wouldn't mind being criticized himself (how does that fit with the law that says you can't criticize the King?). But this is precisely why he wouldn't be criticized (much) if the law didn't exist, because he really is trying to do his best for his country.