We were going to visit Old Town in Mandalay, but after hearing three groups of people with various accents lamenting on its lameness, we took a few pictures of the giant brick walls, pet a few stray dogs and decided to go elsewhere. I sat in an adorable little restaurant to write while Tiffanie, bless her animal-loving heart, purchased a bag of chicken and distributed it to stray cats in the nearby alleyways.

After one last joy ride around Mandalay, it was time to return the motorcycle to the lovely Zach. Tiffanie got her passport back in the same condition she left it and we caught a taxi to the airport for our flight to Chiangmai. As we ascended, the smog and smoke in Mandalay was so thick, it was impossible to see the ground.

Feeling overly cheerful? Need a downer with your afternoon pick-me-up? Cool. Let’s talk about air pollution in Southeast Asia. Yes, it’s the dry season and there are far more dust particles suspended in the air this time of year than during the wet season. I’m also well aware of the horrendous human rights violations and corrupt government officials and thousands of people without access to clean water or decent healthcare and other pressing issues that keep people up at night. However, in addition to all the aforementioned where people are concerned, the environment is not a priority either.

It’s common practice to burn everything: plastic bags, microwaves, furniture, food, yard waste, you name it. The remnants hang in the air as a thick grey fog, dimming the sinister, blood-orange sunsets. Plastic candy wrappers and chip bags litter even the most remote of dirt roads. The vast majority of the forests have long been stripped of their trees, leaving barren hard ground that’s tough to farm. The soil doesn’t retain nutrients or hold water the way it once did. I find it most troubling in the light of recent policy decisions in the United States that move us away from addressing major global climate change in a prudent way. If we fail to make our environment a priority, what kid of a message are we sending to the rest of the world? How long will it take the chemicals drifting along the jet stream across the Pacific to impact our weather or our lungs? Will we pay attention then?

End rant.

We arrived in the only slightly less smoggy Chiangmai around 8 pm. The city is much larger than I expected. The old city walls make a distinct square in the center of town and the modest urban sprawl radiates in all directions. We checked into The Living Place 2–our home for the next three nights–and stepped out to the Night Market. Compared to the cesspool of awful known as the Weekend Night Market in Phuket, the evening bazar was absolutely heaven. We found a jazz/blues bar in the middle of the covered area and enjoyed a few bands over a beer before moving off to a bar closer to our hostel.