We took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We had nice bunks, the bathroom (a squat hole that emptied directly on the tracks) was clean, and the dining car remains a vividly surreal memory.
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s larger cities, although nowhere near the size or speed of Bangkok, and it’s known for being artsy and laid back.
The first few days in Chiang Mai were very pleasant. We ate our fill of good food, visited some of the 300 wats, enjoyed the night markets and the Sunday market, and walked all over the old city and around the moat. But we were having difficulty meeting people.
We switched from a guest house to a hostel, but everyone there seemed to already have their own friend groups established. We were starting to wonder if we should just move on to some other part of Thailand, but we decided to give it a few more days. We moved into a cheap hotel and soon met some fun Australian girls at the does-this-look-like-what-I-think-it-looks-like?-shaped pool.
We also turned back to Couchsurfing. We hadn’t Couchsurfed since our great experience in Iceland. We sent some requests while we were in Europe, but in most of the big cities, it’s difficult to find a host unless you send dozens of requests, and all of those requests require careful reading of profiles and personalized messages for each. We tried to find a host in Istanbul, but based on the quality of the personal profiles (and a certain indecent proposal we received), it seemed more like people were using it as a dating site.
But with hope blossoming in our hearts, we were willing to try Couchsurfing again.
And we found Kevin.
Kevin is a photographer from New Zealand who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years. His most obvious trademark is his handlebar mustache, although you quickly notice his other prominent feature which is an unfailingly cheerful and kind disposition. He’s done photography and documentary videos all over southeast Asia and China and has some pretty good stories to tell.
Although Kevin joined Couchsurfing ten months prior to our arrival, we were his number 80-somethingth guests. We helped him mop up his kitchen when his ceiling leaked after a rainstorm, had fun in his studio and around town being models for his personal and stock photo portfolios, ate a lot of good food cooked by friends and fellow Couchsurfers and vendors in his neighborhood, and attended multiple days of the local Yee Ping and Loi Krathong festivals.
We ended up staying at Kevin’s place for nine days and left friends for life. (And he’ll show up again in this blog for sure.)