I left London with my usual feet at the end of my legs, but by the time I arrived in Thailand these had been mysteriously replaced by puffy great imposters that were significantly larger than my old ones, if not any longer, and they wouldn’t go away. This meant that my sandals, which fitted comfortably at home, now became a blistering exercise in Chinese foot binding.
After hobbling around for a day and a half I gave up and bought a pair of ‘very genuine’ Havaianas for a couple of quid. My new feet spread out happily and I’ve been slopping around in them ever since, to the extent that when I moved on I didn’t bother packing the other sandals.
When I first arrived in Chiang Mai I went off for my usual walk to orientate myself, arbitrarily selecting Wat Phra Singh as a destination. The mountain air felt fresher than Bangkok, but I was still so hot by the time I reached the temple – distracted on the way first by a mango smoothie, then lunch – that all I could do was find a shady vantage point and slump into it.
The mango smoothie was fantastic, by the way. It came from a café called Fruiturday. They called it a smoothie but it was actually a slushie, made with finely ground ice and fresh ripe mango juice and pulp. I have been craving them ever since I left Chiang Mai.
Once I’d recovered a bit I explored the wat, then went off to inspect its facilities. The toilets were sparklingly clean and covered in intimidating signage. Before you entered there was a rack where you had to deposit your shoes and another rack where you slipped on spongey plastic pool sliders instead. Inside were signs in ordering you not to squat on the seats of the western-style loos, not to wash your feet in the toilet, and not to brush your teeth (it didn’t specify where). It took me a while inside the toilet block because I was fascinated by the signs and the diagrams that went with them.
When I came out my flip flops had gone.
For a few heart-stopping moments I stared in disbelief at the space on the rack where they had been, and then I started hunting round for them with mounting anger. Though I’d heard of these things happening, I couldn’t believe someone had stolen my shoes from within a temple. I’d just got them nicely moulded to the shape of my feet. I looked round for likely culprits, but there was only a middle aged Chinese man sitting on a wall, watching me sympathetically.
Just as I was beginning to wonder how far I’d have to walk barefoot to the nearest flip flop shop, a middle aged Chinese lady sauntered out of the toilets. She was wearing my shoes.
I pointed at her feet. ‘Those are mine!’
She looked down, realised what she’d done and an expression of horrified mortification appeared on her face. The man who was waiting for her began to hoot with laughter. She shucked the shoes off and gave them to me, apologising abjectly. Then we both started laughing too.
I slipped the flip flops back on and left, feeling lightheaded with relief but also rather affronted that my ‘very genuine’ Havaianas had been mistaken for public toilet shoes. As I walked away I could still hear the man barking with helpless laughter behind me.