Chiang Mai State of Mind

Conde Nast Traveller

The rigors of a book behind me, I head for rejuvenation to Thailand’s largest city in the North.

My mind was still in overdrive when we landed in Chiang Mai on that early morning. As we came down over the flat land–the low-slung concrete houses, the rice fields that extended towards distant, misty hills–I found myself meticulously, and a little obsessively, building a taxonomy of holidays. I thought of all the reasons there are for taking a vacation. A man (or a woman) can take a sightseeing holiday. There are, too, cultural holidays, religious holidays, historical holidays, wellness holidays, and culinary holidays. Then there are retail holidays and wildlife holidays, and, though I aver I have never taken one, there are carnal holidays.

I was in Chiang Mai for yet another kind of holiday. I had come to this ancient city of wats and orange clad monks, this centre of culture and learning, in search of what, that morning on the plane, I had decided to label a real holiday, a holiday holiday. I had spent the previous months (or was it years?) holed up in a cottage in my backyard, desperately trying to finish a book against a final, non-negotiable deadline. Like some kind of hibernating beast–or like a prisoner–I had lost contact with the world. I saw few people; I rarely left my neighbourhood.

By the time my family and I arrived in Chiang Mai, I was in a state of nervous exhaustion. Writing a book is like making sausage. The author is meat, thrown into a machine, ground down and spat out in a horribly attenuated, unrecognisable form. My wife and two boys, who had suffered every minute of the sausage factory with me, were similarly worn out. We all felt we’d earned a respite. In Chiang Mai, I resolved, I would slow my mind, regain a semblance of balance, centre myself—-and take the only kind of holiday really worth having.

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