Check out all recent Thailand pictures here.
Motorcycling is glamorous. Riding my scooter definitely is not. It has a wimpy tenth of a liter engine that coughs and wheezes to lift me up hill and can barely move itself 45 miles per hour even in a full downhill sprint. But it's still incredibly freeing.
In a car we have our personal space well defined: I'm in this five by ten foot box, you're in your own five by ten foot box. On a scooter that box doesn't exist. At traffic lights all the scooters push to the front of the queue, only a foot or two apart from each other. Here I'm exposed to the world: hearing people's conversations, talking to them as I drive by, feeling and smelling particulate exhaust from the bike in front of me burn itself into my eyes and nostrils. Getting covered in dust, feeling the puff of air from passing cars, and feeling the difference in heat from the sunny and shaded sides of the street.
On a motorbike you can see a friend, say hello to them, and then stop and talk for a while without turning your bike off and without blocking traffic. This doesn't feel much different from the way that the Segway was supposed to change cities: the motorbike is just faster, cheaper, and you look like less of an idiot riding one.
After several months of walking, busing, and taking public transit around Asia the simple ability to get on a bike, kick start start the engine, and move across town without sweating a liter of salt water is incredible. It feels like the childhood dream where I learned to fly. It gives me a fresh understanding of the cities I visit.
Chiang Mai is a gorgeous place, so much that I decided to cut my other plans loose and spend some extra days here. The people in Chiang Mai are among the friendliest I've found and Chiang Mai is the first place I really think I could live. It's the Kyoto of Thailand: temples everywhere, smaller and quieter than it's big brother city, and decidedly more relaxed. A nice hotel room would cost you $900/month and a perfectly adequate hotel might be $300/month — much lower if you can negotiate.
Outside Chiang Mai is nice too. Riding through the mountains it's easy to see why people with attention deficit disorder love to ride motorcycles: it's nearly impossible to think of anything aside from the number of ways that you might be dying in the next few seconds. Dodging gravel pits, loose sand, and potholes feels like a video game with only one life. It's enthralling.