I mentioned before that Couchsurfing is a wonderful way to meet people while traveling, and the easiest way to take advantage of it is simply to show up at a meet-up. It’s a safe bet that any city that is accessible to travelers has at least one weekly Couchsurfing event that is open to anyone who is interested. It’s usually a mix of locals, ex-pats, and travelers, and they are invariable friendly and excited to meet new people.
Chiang Mai boasts two weekly events, the typical Friday meet-up at a rather inconveniently located bar and the Thursday dinner meet-up in the Old City. Naturally, I was interested in the option that included eating.
The dinner meet-up is organized by an ex-pat named Dino, who is a Canadian ex-pat with excessive energy and an overwhelming personality. When I first met him, he immediately went in for a bear hug before realizing that we had not in fact met before. His greeting to more familiar faces could be described as “jumping” them. He literally jumped on them. Dino has been organizing the Couchsurfing dinner for 9 months, which means choosing a different restaurant each week within the price of 50-60 baht (less than $2) that is willing to accommodate an unpredictably sized crowd of 20-50 people.
I arrived right on time, as is my nature, and was a little nervous as I crossed the street towards the vacant meeting place. A man fell in step beside me, we made eye contact, and simultaneously asked each other “Couchsurfing?” I learned that his name is Matt and he is a travel blogger from the states, most recently Utah. As we chatted, more people continued to arrive and we drew some of them in to our conversation. We seemed to attract disproportionately Americans, while the ex-pats gathered nearby.
After fifteen minutes passed we were up to thirty people, and Dino led the way to a friendly but generic Thai restaurant. They have a system where each person writes their name and order on a sheet of paper and gives them to Dino, and it’s a bit of a rush since dishes are prepared in the order the sheets of paper were received. I ordered a nice Phad See Ew with chicken and a Singha.
It was hectic and loud, but everyone was friendly. I was across from Matt and his friend Steven (another travel blogger), and an entrepreneurially-minded Californian who runs his e-commerce businesses out of Chiang Mai. I told him about one of my business ideas, and he gave me a quick run-down of how to make it happen. If only I was a little more excited about the prospect.
After dinner it was time to migrate to The Bus Bar near the night market. I tried really hard to get out of it, but Dino found a spot for me on the back of a motorbike and Matt offered to split the cost of a Tuk Tuk back to the city. I hopped up behind a previously unmet American named Jason who had been living in Chiang Mai for some time and we chattered away about the city and motorbikes.
The Bus Bar is a pretty cool outside location that is essentially picnic tables, a bus that serves as the bar, and another bus that houses the DJs and serves as a stage for performing bands. It neighbors a bridge that is beautifully lit with a constantly changing rainbow of colors, which does a lot for the atmosphere. I bought in to a share of the “whiskey” pool for 100 baht ($3 dollars) which got self-serve cheap liquor and mixers. Calling this Thai liquor”whiskey” is a bit of a stretch, and I am of the opinion that it’s pretty gross– the kind of stuff you drink before you have disposable income and taste.
I stayed until the whiskey bottles were emptied, and mingled a bit more, but I wasn’t really feeling a long night and fortunately Matt had to get up in the morning. We said our goodbyes, exchanged some contact info, and easily found a Tuk Tuk for the trip back.