Chiang Mai is a city that sparkles. One city wall, flecked in who knows what material, shimmers in the twilight. Golden temples dot the horizon. Silver temples look other-woldly in the moonlight. Each temple filled with gold, amber, emerald. Statues upon statues upon statues. Huge, colorful patterns on the dragons that line the way to the temples. Facades of a million small pieces of glass, a million colors.

In the streets, sweet smells & spices. The street markets feeling like a block party that never ends. Coconut shake for 30 bhat. Green curry, red curry, massaman curry. Coconut soup so good you wait 30 minutes in swletering heat, pestered by flies, adn you’d do it again in a heartbeat. Mango sticky rice that’s other-wordly. An electricity in the air while zipping around in a tuk tuk.

For all the light and sparkle, Chiang Mai has a darkness too. Finding yourself sick in a tiny bathroom with standing water on the floor, hearing restaurant staff nearby and knowing they can probably hear you too. If you’re lucky, there will be toilet paper. If you’re very lucky, you’ll be able to throw the paper in a toilet instead of a trash can. Dozens of sad, pathetic dogs roaming the streets, some with bellies swollen from ursing, sleeping under cars to try to escape the heat. Street cart workers sick but still working, knowing they probably have no choice and that your meager dollar will be all they get for their fine cooking. And the streets – loud, motorbikes everywhere, knowing Thailand’s high traffic fatality rate. The vendors selling muy thai boxing shorts, the brutality the culture can engender.

Thailand is, in short, a developing country. The darkness is very real. So is the light.