Chiang Mai is a city in northwest Thailand (``pop. 89,272'' says the dictionary; it says nothing about three percent growth a year, about populations doubling every generation; but it says ``two.'') There are mountains all around, inhabited by tribes that speak languages even more convoluted and tonal than Thai. There is a museum village in the city, one exemplary hut for each of the major hill tribes. There is a clean zoo, where the animals look very patient. There are Peace Corps volunteers who smile a lot when they speak Thai in the shops. There are wats on the hills surrounding the city, with stone steps for the last few dozen meters - sometimes for the last few hundred meters. At the bottom of the steps are small stalls selling trinkets of wood and bamboo and paper, and more substantial buildings where jade and ivory (``all of it fossil'') are carved and sold, with signs in English, French, German, Thai and Japanese. At the top of the steps there are statues of plump Buddhas and Boddhisattvas. There are orange-robed monks visiting the wats on pilgrimage (travelling by bus, with Nikons and Canons around their necks), and there are orange-robed monks selling paper flowers in the shape of poppies, ``for a charitable cause.'' There are markets where you can buy Yves St. Laurent suitcases for a few dollars, and beautiful bronze statues for rather more. There are Sheratons with CNN in every room and a particular sort of cheap meal made by filling a bamboo tube with sweet, sticky rice and a bean paste. Nowadays there's even a university on the Internet - I'll write back as soon as I find the time...

Chiang Mai is a city in northwest Thailand. The local women are reputed to be unusually beautiful. Perhaps one has to be Thai oneself to make such distinctions. Perhaps they are why it is the second city in Thailand, after Bangkok, for what some quaintly call vice and others quaintly call nightlife. Perhaps Americans on R&R from Vietnam had something to do with helping the business get started.

Chiang Mai is a city in northwest Thailand. Some people say it is on the edge of the Golden Triangle. Some people say it is inside. They all know that the hill tribes are inside. They have been very serious about better living through chemistry for decades now: the Golden Triangle is the largest source for opium poppies in the world. Perhaps most of the world's opium and heroin has its start there - no one really knows. The people who buy the tribes' poppies are very serious about better living through chemistry, too. They make a lot more money than the tribes.

In fact, they pay the tribes such a small fraction of what the poppies are ultimately worth that the tribes would be better off growing strawberries. There are a few villages where King of Thailand has been funding efforts to teach them to do just that. It seemed to be working, as far that went. I have never been able to find out what the military government thought of this program, but it did not appear to think highly of anything which did not give it an opportunity either for graft or for shooting.