Chiang Mai – It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Day 101-104)

We arrived in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, on the 23rd of December, just in time for Christmas.

Having spent months living in the cheapest, and consequently, grubbiest accommodation, we treated ourselves to a stay in a brand new apartment. Opening the door was like peering into a dreamland; a clean, marbled bathroom sporting a hairdryer (!) and plush white dressing gowns, stylish decorations – complete with two very appropriate metal reindeer – artfully placed, and a giant marshmallow of a bed that absorbed you in its warm embrace as soon as you lay on it. Lin, our kind host, had stocked our festive abode with biscuits, fizzy drinks and a golden mountain of Physalis fruit, which burst with delicious acidic juices when you bit in to them.

We quickly got to work bringing our winter wonderland to life. We decorated our ‘mantelpiece’ with tinsel, polystyrene snowmen and piles of tiny little present boxes we had picked up in Vietnam, all the while listening to classic Christmas songs. Our Christmas hats – due to budget cuts doubling as stockings – lay limp and lifeless, in desperate need of filling.

Christmas Eve came and Jade was still unwell, this meant we couldn’t be away from the apartment for more than an hour at a time. We made a mad dash – budget in mind, lists in hands – around a local supermarket looking for stocking fillers, before rushing back, arms loaded with treats, to the comfort of our apartment.

In need of a cooldown following our supermarket sweep, we took an evening dip in our apartment complex’s pool. Jamie hopped straight in, immediately realised he’d made a terrible mistake and then stood frozen in the middle of the pool panting, arms wrapped around his chest, unwilling to move lest he stir up the frigid waters. After some deliberation, Jade edged her way in, inch by inch. Both freezing, we admitted defeat, crawled out of the pool and went upstairs to chisel the icicles off and take a hot shower, before curling up to watch Home Alone. A freezing swimming pool in Thailand; who knew?

Late on Christmas Eve we were surprised by a knock at the door. Confused, we answered to find Lin’s mum smiling affectionately at us, holding a present with our names on it. After a few minutes of awkward conversation – a combination of language barriers and us being naked under our dressing gowns – she wished us happy Christmas and left with a smile. and a nod. The note on the present read;

‘Dear Jamie and Jade,

Merry Christmas and may this New Year bring you joy and laughter. To be happy is the greatest wish in life.

From Lin’s Family’

This is just one example of some of the extraordinary kindness we have received during our time away, even more poignant when you realise her family don’t celebrate Christmas, and to them it is just another day.

Christmas Day was hot! A far cry from the comparatively arctic temperatures we usually associate with the most festive day of the year. We exchanged our bulging stockings (hats) and wasted no time before gorging ourselves on the myriad of tasty treats we had received; chocolate coins, Werther’s Originals, and gingernut biscuits to name a few. This year Jade introduced Jamie to a new festive tradition; placing a piece of fruit in the bottom of a stocking. Jade received a dubious looking orange, whilst Jamie was ecstatic to find a tin of pineapple. Joy soon turned to despair as the lack of a tin opener, and absence of a ring pull prevented Jamie from accessing his delicious treat. He took up the only knife in the apartment – predictably, blunt – and spent 10 furious minutes stabbing at his present, finally rewarded with the wonderful sweetness of pineapple syrup, and sore hands.

Having got a bit too excited with all the chocolate, Christmas Lunch became Christmas Dinner. We sat down in the evening for a lovely candlelit meal of garlic and spring onion stuffed chicken, boiled vegetables, and sage and onion stuffing, followed by homemade Rocky Road. Even on the other side of the world, Christmas is a magical time of year.

Massages are a big deal in Thailand; on Boxing Day we joined in on the trend. Having heard horror stories about painful contortions forced on customers, we were quick to clarify we didn’t want any of the more extreme movements performed on us. We relaxed as we sat in comfortable reclined chairs having our feet washed in lightly scented water, before being lead upstairs to the massage room. Our masseuses clearly did not get the ‘no pain’ memo and proceeded to abuse our bodies in every conceivable way. They crawled whole bodily up our legs, crushing muscles, joints and tendons under their knees. Thumbs were deemed inferior to elbows as they made several forceful attempts to shift our spines 6 inches to either side. Legs and arms were bent and stretched in unnatural ways, as if they were trying to perfect a questionable wrestling move they had seen on TV. At one point Jade glanced over to see Jamie curled in a ball, his masseuse balanced rigid and horizontal on top of him like some sort of nightmarish Starfish. Being too British to complain, we endured the torture for a whole hour – if we had had anything to confess, we definitely would of – before being abruptly left alone in the room. We both sat up and looked at each other in a delirious state of confusion, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened, and afraid that they might come back.

Our first Christmas away from home was definitely one to remember.

Jade and Jamie

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