I begin this month with an apology. Once again, an eagle-eyed reader has spotted a glaring error in my scribblings. I thank that reader for taking time out of what I can only assume is a very busy life for pointing out that witches do not have claws, as I suggested in last month’s article, but hands – because they need opposable thumbs for gripping their broomsticks, apparently. I would like therefore to publicly apologise to that reader – and of course all witches. Am I an idiot or what?
This month – Chiang Mai International Airport departures lounge. There is one place in Chiang Mai where I think it’s permissible to throw loss-of-face to the wind and cry openly. Nope, it’s not Adam’s Apple during a beautiful ballet between a pair of athletic young boys giving their unique interpretation of, what I believe was, the dramatic duel between Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. And it is not while watching the marvellous televised hotbed of aptitude and ability that is ‘Anywhere In The World’s Got Talent’ with a group of friends while the odd looking kid takes to the stage and belts out Nessun Dorma like Pavarotti. No, it is the arena of emotions that is the domestic departure lounge at Chiang Mai International Airport.
I will, of course, for the sake of brevity, be using the internationally accepted acronym for Chiang Mai International Airport because I know that your time is precious. The acronym, or abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words, is CNX. So, dear reader, forgive me for saving a bit of time by using the accepted International Air Transport Association’s acronym for Chiang Mai International Airport (passenger, not cargo) during this article. Obviously I’m not talking about the stock market index for the Indian equity market, the gorgeously named CNX Nifty, or the short-lived Irish and UK television channel aimed mostly at male teenagers operated by Turner Broadcasting System Europe between 2002 and 2003 _ also confusingly abbreviated to CNX. Nope, I mean Chiang Mai International Airport. God forbid you’d think I was talking about CONSOL Energy Inc, cranial nerve number 10 or China North Express.
I have shed many a tear at the CNX departure gates, as I’m sure have many of you who have lived here for any length of time. Whether a friend is departing after a couple of days, a family is jetting off after a couple of weeks or a partner is leaving after a few years, this is where the final mental snapshot of those people will be taken. This is where hugs and kisses before sliding glass doors and x-ray machines remind us that those we love, or even just mildly appreciate, will not be with us again for some time and should be hugged and kissed a great deal more whenever the opportunity arises – important expressions of affection should not be left until an airport lounge.
Thankfully there is plenty to occupy oneself with while trying to hold back the avalanche of emotions that will come when it is time for that last hug, kiss or handshake. Why not take a picture of a loved one posing with Ronald McDonald? It’s a marvellous keepsake because the wild-haired yellow jumpsuit wearing mascot is doing a wai. And there’s nothing more Thai than a wai. The energy-saving-escalator is also worth a visit. If it is your first time, do not be lulled by its apparent inactivity, it isn’t broken. Like a methed-up tiger at the Mae Rim tiger prison it is docile until you step on it. Then it springs into action. If you have a few minutes to kill it is worth enjoying the bewildered expression of an unaware tourist taking the escalator as it jolts into motion.
There is also the ‘The Best Restaurant in the World’. The Thai Airways restaurant opposite domestic departures was dubbed ‘The Best Restaurant in the World’ by a friend who is sadly no longer with us. By that I don’t mean he’s technically dead, he just moved to Australia. And I have been informed there is a difference. What a place in which to say farewell to a loved one. If any place on earth can take the sting out of the imminent departure of those dearest to us, it is this place.
And there is the fantastic bookshop where that essential coffee table volume on ancient Lanna pottery and textiles can be picked up for the price of a return flight to Bangkok. Other than being essential reading for anyone who has been on holiday to the north of Thailand, these weighty tomes will guarantee that your hand luggage will now have to be taken down that tricksy escalator to be stowed in the hold.
Once again, my faithful reader, what the hell is my point? Again, I am not really sure. It might be that because the stress of seeing those we adore get onto a plane for a far away country is hard enough without coping with extra baggage charges at check-in, that bloody escalator or the ridiculous prices a certain airline thinks it can charge for a MSG sodden pad tai and a small beer in its restaurant, I want to suggest another option.
So here’s my top tip for a last couple of hours at CNX. Sod the departure lounges. Check in and walk straight back out of the airport building. Cross the car park and there, just over the other side of the road, is a restaurant with outside seating on a deck for when the heat is at a bearable level, or inside seating in the air-con for when it is not. The food is good, the drinks are not overpriced and it is usually pretty quiet. Although, when I was there a few weeks ago what appeared to be a birthday lunch was in full swing with a bunch of older-citizens having a gay old time – and that’s got to be an endorsement from the locals.
Oh, bloody heck! Scrap everything I’ve said. CNX has just gone on high alert because of the possibility that the MERS virus might be flown in from South Korea. I can therefore only suggest that instead of the airport departure lounge goodbyes to loved ones are said from inside a government approved quarantine facility with a wave and perhaps a card containing a good luck message.