There were two things I wanted to fix in Chiang Mai. The first was my huge collection of broken HTC cell phones and the second is a tooth. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the camera of the HTC M8. I actually used to be an ambassador for the brand, which is how I discovered it’s fabulosity, but got dropped from the list when I couldn’t give the M9 a decent review. (The cam was sooo kak, you guys!) And I haven’t tried the M10. But I’m an M8 girl for life and this is problematic because the brand’s now pulled out of South Africa,
obviously, as a direct result of having lost me as a face.
Now, I buy all the second-hand ones I can find online. Many of them are broken, wounded little soldiers and I happily fix them up. This is how I happened to be winging it through Asia with four cell phones. Three HTCs, all suffering from a different ‘medical condition’ plus my dad’s old iPhone 6S as back up.
Anyway, I planned to take my sick kids to Chiang Mai’s Pantip Plaza, a huuuuge mall with literally hundreds of shops dedicated solely to electronics, both new and second hand. Alas, my guest house manager, Lek, says it’s become a bit of dump and recommended Central Plaza Chiang Mai Airport, a few minutes away via taxi. Initially, I was a bit skeptical but this woman hasn’t steered me wrong. I mean, a mall by the airport? That just sounds like it’s going to be shit. But I was super duper wrong. The place is HUUUUUUGE! It’s basically like the Canal Walk of Chiang Mai and, as it turns out, one of many. (My mom will be pleased to see this because she wants to visit but has the impression that Chiang Mai is a teensy little village and its sooo not.)
Anyway, Central Plaza was so freaking big (five stories!) I could barely explore a smidge of it. It’s a mind-boggling mix of local is lekker stores as well as global ones like H&M and Boots… it has a traditional Thai food court (where dishes go for R19 a pop) plus loads of international chains like Pizza Hut, KFC and… SIZZLER! If you’re here on the reg you’ll know I’m a biiiig Sizzler fan. Like, I literally Stopped! In! My! Tracks! when I saw it (turns out people actually do that) and went ‘OH MY FUCK!’ Out loud. Which totally got me a look. Turns out Thai people who don’t speak English definitely understand ‘fuck’.
I mentally made big plans for Sizzler but needed to drop my phone somewhere first. Lek had said a place called K Phone was good but it turns out they didn’t deal with HTC. Almost nobody did. The brand wasn’t, like, a ‘thing’ in Thailand. This is how I found myself getting hungrier and hungrier but walking from electronic to electronic store with an open Google Translate window reading: ‘Can you fix my broken HTC charging port?’ I eventually found someone in a little electronics court on level three were a stall called Happy Phone promised to sort me out.
I was finally free to Sizzler it up but then spotted a dentist. Ooooh! Like I said, this is the second thing I wanted to fix while in Thailand. I have a back tooth that contains a large white filling. But a few months back one of the four ‘walls’ of this tooth broke off, leaving the one side of the filling totally exposed. It didn’t hurt (but it was annoying as hell, especially since my tongue couldn’t seem to leave it alone) so I decided to wait and get it fixed in Thailand, the land of ten thousand million dentists. Like, literally, every fifth shop you pass in Thailand is a dental or tooth whitening clinic and prices are cheap, cheap, cheap.
I could see from the shop window that a filling would cost between 500 and 1000 Baht (R194 to R388) and, while I’d planned to ask around, or at least get online referrals, this place looked legit enough. Moms with kids where walking in and out. People were paying with their credit cards. It didn’t look like a back alley chop shop. Sure, I was starving, but this looked like the place to go and I’d have to get in there now. There was no way I was going to stuff my face full of garlic bread and then open my mouth in some poor dude’s face. So in I went.
After signing my name into a book, I was immediately called into the office to lie in a chair with a super sweet dentist who looked no older than 15. His English wasn’t great but he could simply look inside my mouth and totally understood the words ‘filling please’. I got ready to pull out my phone to ‘talk’ about it a bit more via Google Translate but nope! Within a second the chair had flicked back and his assistant placed a super weird pink cloth over my face that completely covered everything except for my mouth. I lay there, totally blind, feeling like one of those falcons that the rich Arab dudes take with them on planes. Have you seen them? The sit on the seats with little hoods over their faces so they don’t get hysterical mid trip. This was me. The hooded falcon medical tourist.
Except I was suddenly feeling totally hysterical. The saw was buzzing… the suction thing was going… and I was just lying there going ‘GIRL, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!’ I suddenly started panicking because we hadn’t even chatted a white vs silver patch up. What if he was in the midst of giving me a big, gross, metallic monster?! OMG! OMG! OMG! I wanted to say something but was terrified of moving my tongue ‘cos, like I said, that buzz saw was a whirlin’. So I just lay there in my stupid little hood while half my brain screamed ‘Fly falcon child! FLYYYYYY!’ while the other side tried to talk me down and make peace with the situation. Yes, Leigh. You WILL get a hideous metal filling. This is what your impulsive ass DESERVES. You will then smile and pay and leave. No tantrum, okay?! I’m FUCKING SERIOUS. Later, you can go crawling – full of apologies and dripping with tears – to your wonderful, amazing Cape Town dentist, Dr Mark Bowes (who you naughtily haven’t seen in ages) and empty your wallet into his lap while he sorts it out. That man works magic. If he can’t do it, it can’t be done. You are going to be okay. YOU ARE GOING TO BE OKAY!
I was halfway through mentally processing my horrific, glinty new mouth when the hood was whipped off with a flourish.
What?! I hadn’t even been there for more than 15 minutes. I snatched at the mirror, braced for the worst and BOOM! I had a perfect, beautiful, totally fixed, VERY WHITE AND FABULOUS-LOOKING new tooth! The colour match was perfection! Nobody would ever know as to which of the three ‘walls’ was ‘fake’. And can you guess how much it cost me? A VERY COOL R388! Can we get a ‘yay’?!
After leaving the dentist I felt super emotional and completely and utterly RAVENOUS! But that was fine. I was going to eat alllll my feelings at Sizzler. I was going to klap that place in its moer! But… as I was stomping over I got sucked into yet ANOTHER of the coolest buffet’s I’ve ever been to – Oishi Shabushi!
You guuuuys! For just R156, I got to pick a soup (they had tom yum, miso, chicken and a few others I can’t remember) that’s heated up on a little stove thing at your seat. You can then season it with chilli, garlic and lime before grabbing whatever ‘additives’ you want from a huuuuuuge conveyor belt to cook in your personal hot-pot.
Naturally I went mad on the prawns. And clams. Plus bacon. And squid. Oooh! And these little sticky bun things filled with what I think was cheese. I just lost my shit and threw everything into the bubbling hot-pot and washed it down with a Chang. Unfortunately, I didn’t know before ordering it that they only sold those ENORMOUS 640ml bottles.
This is how I ended up day drunk, started talking to my dead grandpa in my head (who I’d sensed in the room when I got scared at the dentist) and, almost immediately, Cat Steven’s Wild World came on. This is a song that’s totally got meaning to us, and the lyrics… oh my God, the lyrics!
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
It’s hard to get by just upon a smile
Oh baby baby it’s a wild world
I’ll always remember you like a child girl
THAT’S WHEN I TOTALLY LOST MY SHIT AND STARTED CRYING (happy tears!) INTO MY SOUP!
But if you want to leave take good care
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there
But just remember there’s a lot of bad everywhere
Yoh! Did this only distress the waitresses. They all thought I didn’t like the food which couldn’t have been further from the truth. ‘No, no! I’m happy!’, I said. ‘I promise!’ Either way, they brought me a scoop of ice cream which, as it turns out, is also included in the buffet. (You’ll find it next to the bottomless soda fountain.)
While my double scoop of ‘Cheer up, crazy Western person’ should’ve been dessert, it was merely a palate cleanser for all the sushi (again, it’s all part of the buffet) that I would stuff into my face. Along with prawn tempura and the most delish ultra crispy pork dumplings (gyoza) I’ve had in ages.
When I was done, I waddled out and picked up my cell phone which was fixed. I was so happy I handed over another broken phone (one with SIM card drama) that I’ll collect later today. Sorting out BOTH has cost me less than R350!
Upon exiting the mall, I saw these super weird back and foot massage machines that all these old people where sitting in. The one man had slumped over to the side and looked asleep. Or dead. ‘Fuck it’, I thought. ‘Let’s see what it’s all about’. I mean, it was less than R8 for ten minutes. This is how I came to get a very odd yet fab feeling VERY vibrating foot massage that kind of shakes you all the way to your core (my calves started to itch from the sudden rush of blood flow) while what I imagine is a ‘finger’ studded rotating wheel kneads your back.
It was while sitting there I took stock of my day while realising that, in this huuuuge, enormous mall, I hadn’t seen a single other Westerner. It was just me. (And possibly my dead grandpa!) I had a (very) full tummy, a fixed tooth and sorted out cell phone. Brief dental/mental breakdown aside – I’d enjoyed a very nice day out.
P.S. When I got back to my guesthouse Lek was disgusted with me. ‘Buffet again?! REALLY?’ She shook her head and narrowed her eyes like a disappointed Tiger Mom and it was then that I realised I am really going to miss her.