Plane lands. Shuffle through the airport. Meet the fixer. Bodies load into van. What’s that smell? Drive. Drive. Keep driving. Deja Vu. Lets do it again. Be still. Be still… Driving away from the colorful lights and wonderful food aromas of Chiang Mai I felt I was being thrust into eternal darkness. The streaking tunnel of lights zipped by then quickly faded through the rear-window as the city’s sounds were drowned out by the silence of the road. Stuck in a perpetual state of hypnogogic bliss from all the travel hours logged, I wasn’t sure if I was asleep or awake. (It turns out that the feeling wasn’t too far of a stretch as our final destination felt completely enchanted.)
By the time I arrived in Chiang Dao it was pitch black. The long journey had rendered my eyes completely useless with pupils that could not focus. I did not have the wherewithal nor did I possess the mental capacity to take any of my surroundings in visually. The air however was ripe with a rank and pungent odor that burned deep through my nasal receptors. Numbing the back of my corneas. If smells could leave an imprint, I was forever branded. Lights out. Sun up. Bathe. Eat. Glide. Be still.
I awoke feeling completely revitalized. The odor was made tolerable once I could see its root: A thoroughfare jammed with commuters riding elephants and oxen. Unlike anything I had ever experienced before, the moment was magical. The only thing lacking was a rainbow. The enchantment continued as I disembarked from the back of an elephant and stepped into the village where the Palong Hill Tribe resides. It felt as though a veil had been drawn back allowing me to walk through a time warp of sorts. Everything was in slow motion. I was greeted by a sea of memorable stoic faces, with arresting smiles as wide as open horizons. A plethora of vibrant colors radiated from the Palong Tribe’s garments. The effect was blinding. I got my rainbow after all… The cuisine was unique to say the least. Minced bat, roasted snake, frog stew. Were the chefs going to eat or cast spells? There wasn’t a cauldron in sight. That was extremely settling.
Behind-the-scenes there was no drama, the local crew was top-notch, and the entire episode went off without a hitch. Perhaps I was under a spell or drugged? Like Alice, I had taken some pill that opened a very small door to a unique and mysterious place. The entire experience of Chiang Dao was truly mystical. I do not believe that a place as beautiful and seemingly untouched by the modern world’s crude brush strokes still exists.