It’s been quite a while since my last blog post but I have been a busy little bee so apologies. It seems like it was ages ago since I left the harsh waters of Koh Samui – a gruesome (to some) 13/14-hour journey back to Bangkok by bus, boat and bus. However, I have got used to the long distance journeys after doing a few. I try to aim mostly for the night buses which a) – saves on accommodation (sometimes) and b) -means it’s a tad easier to sleep as your natural body clock kicks into force.
My mission was Chiang Mai and I had booked a hotel room for the 28th January in Bangkok with the plan of sleeping a few hours and leaving at 6/7pm the same day to get the overnight bus to Chiang Mai. A double whammy of a bus ride all within 32 hours.
However, plans were scuppered when the very unhelpful lady at reception told me I couldn’t check into my room at 2am despite me advising and requesting this at the time of booking by adding the details into the special requirements. I tried to reason with her and advised that I was leaving that day at 6pm but the sleeping police had other ideas and wanted to make me suffer. Or I had to basically pay another day if I wanted to check into the SawasDee Hotel on Rambuttri Road (yeah I’m going there) there and then.
With my mule head on, I thought there was no way I was going to pay another day when I wasn’t even going to be there a full day. So off I went trudging the streets of Bangkok – well the rest of Rambuttri anyway. I eat, drank and smoked, I only needed to wait five hours until Cruella would let me in. However, my spell in the restaurant took up only 1 ½ hours so I still needed to kill some time. Everything seemed to be shut or shutting around Rambuttri and boy was I starting to feel tired so I went back to the hotel and thought I would play the waiting game in the lobby.
I read, watched, twiddled my thumbs and tried to prise my eyes open from shutting at one point – I was shattered.
Tick, tock, tick tock – time was at an all-time slow. How can five minutes feel like 50? All I wanted was bed. After what seemed like ages and after a few other people had checked in, Cruella must have thought I had had enough punishment as she let me check in one hour earlier at 6am rather than 7 – yay!!!
The trouble was that I was now a bit over tired and also had to get up early to make sure I got my bus ticket for the evening. However, after switching everything off, I was soon in the land of nods and waking up to the sound of my alarm clock a few hours later.
That day I sorted everything, bus ticket, massage, nails the lot. I thought I might as well pamper myself and that would be my treat for the sleep I was depriving my body from.
It’s funny as I never once before looked at my body being deprived from the episodes of partying non-stop for days at a time. Back then I was always following the motto “you only live once”. Yet here I was feeling sorry for myself and feeling like my pampering day was required to compensate for the sleep injustice contributed to by my dear friend Cruella. Funny isn’t it!!
Anyway before I knew it, it was time to board the bus and the journey to Chiang Mai had started. After another tiring bus ride, the 12-hour journey was finally over and it was time to say hello to my new home – Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is great – such a quaint little town with a big backpacker and hippy vibe. There’s everything you want from food, activities, markets, temples, music and the whole partying element – a back packers dream.
Walking down the familiar streets of the Chiang Mai city centre brought a smile to my face. There is something about this place that is so homely and inviting.
My first night included visiting a vegan café for an open mic night. I got talking to a comedian on the bus from Bangkok and he invited me as he was performing there.
As soon as I arrived at the Tea Tree Café, I was amazed by the health conscious free spirits oozing from the room. Everyone was sitting on a raised platform towards the back chatting away, eating and drinking homemade power smoothies. Different faces but all with the same looks – nose rings, baggy trousers, braids or rough tied up hair stared at us newbies who had just entered before resuming their normal conversations.
Dave and I approached the bar with caution like two lambs to the slaughter. It was all so new and an almost very clicky scene so I immediately didn’t think it was my cup of tea. We quickly sussed that the bar didn’t serve alcohol and instead opted for the super detoxing mix of whatever was on offer.
I sipped on my nutty shake and suddenly remembered I had a leather bag on me – oh no was anyone looking at me? I mean just because I came to a vegan place didn’t mean I had to be a non-meat eater with scrupulous morals? Either way I sunk to the floor to perch for the evening, sipped some more on my shake and awaited the acts of the night.
Dave was up first and despite being a tough crowd did well to keep the momentum going with his comedy gig. I couldn’t do stand-up- it must be one of the hardest things to do and also one of the most personal. I mean it’s pretty horrible if people don’t laugh at your jokes – it means they don’t find you funny! It would definitely be a kick in the teeth to me and I can almost envisage the pain I would go through while trying to salvage what little dignity I had left after the ghastly seconds of silence following the anti-climax of my performance.
No thanks, I would rather be part of the audience and show support to the up and coming as if I knew the pain they were going through.
Next up was Roland, who was of German descent and sported an almost Hawaiian theme coupled with long silver crimped hair. He took to the stage with his ukulele and warranted crowd participation whilst his wife pranced around in the background with a hula hoop.
“Shanti, oh shanti, shanti hole”, we all harmonised back. I felt the smile widen on my face and the quiver in my lip start to take control. I wanted to laugh out loud and dared not look at Dave as I probably would. It wasn’t because I was laughing at Roland, it was merely a different scenario I found myself in and I couldn’t believe that there I was taking part in the hippy gospels. Especially as only a few moments ago I didn’t think it was my cup of tea! In fact, I thought it was great and truly admired the happiness that Roland and his wife were sharing with the room.
Something in that room must have changed me that night as I am now the proud owner of not one but three pairs of hippy trousers which I bought from the night market the following evening. The night market is a shopper’s paradise. Full of everything you can imagine from trinkets, to clothes to candles and so on. It’s hard not buying everything as it is so cheap and a great stop for getting some essential hippy pants. I must admit I have fallen in love with them as they are the most comfortable piece of outdoor trousers that I own. It’s basically like having the okay to wear your pyjama bottoms outside – I love it!
One of the highlights of my Chiang Mai trip was the two-day trekking that I booked through a lovely guesthouse called Libre House. The owner Dao is super friendly and very helpful and the rooms are clean and cheap and definitely recommended.
It was a fairly early start and we set off in a safari style vehicle donned for the waterfall of Mok Fa. The day was hot but the gushing water of the cold waterfall instantly took your breath away. Immediately your senses go from being too hot to freezing cold which leaves you in a state of shock for a brief few moments.
After the visit to the waterfall came the hot springs of Pong Deod. Now this was lush- a hot natural mineral bath outside, it was truly relaxing. When it was time to come out, I was actually quite cold and eager to start the four-hour trek to the village which would be our home for the night. We were going to be staying in bamboo huts so it was all an exciting experience to me.
We set forth through Huai Nam Dang National Park, up hills and carefully weaved through the lush green trees taking in the sites as we moved. Some of the views were amazing and you could see the outline of the hill tops and the vast amounts of forestry that seemed to span the whole land.
The sun beamed down and reflected the magnificence of the place and the vibrant luscious contrasting greens oozed out of the picture perfect landscape.
The scenery was stunning but the walk although a runner myself was quite difficult. Perhaps I was losing my touch and had lost all my running fitness as my breathing was becoming heavier and heavier.
Regardless, I still managed to keep up with the guide and even ran up one hill just to prove I could do it. A few hours later, we were soon approaching the village and even though we were walking downhill for quite some time I was still sweating profusely. As I reached the village, I didn’t feel right at all and before I knew it I was running out of sight to projectile vomit the contents of my stomach. Not nice!
After I had been sick, I did feel much better and was well enough to carry on the last hour’s journey to the final village where we would set up camp for the night.
By the time I got to the village I was sick again and then went straight to bed without eating anything. It was a shame I was ill as I missed out on the camp fire stories and fireworks however I was glad I wasn’t feeling like this in the beginning part of the trek.
The bamboo huts were well equipped with blankets and mosquito nets and I was shocked to find that there was actually a porcelain toilet with water barrels next to it instead of a hole in the ground with saw dust.
I unfortunately was sick once again but a lovely French lady looked after me and told me not to worry whilst I was apologising profusely for not making the toilet and being sick in sight of everyone outside. She gave me some clove oil and we communicated in broken English and French.
The next morning, I felt a lot better but my energy levels were really low. However, despite this I was really excited as we were going to venture a bit further into the park to search for the elephants. We travelled off with the Mahout (the elephant trainer) in search for these big amazing creatures. At one point we lost the Mahout and we had to listen out for any sounds to try and locate him.
We could hear we were getting nearer and then all of a sudden we could hear the breaking of branches and these two big and strong beautiful animals appeared in the distance. It was absolutely fantastic and we followed the Mahout and the elephants back to camp where we bathed them in the river.
I was memorised by these gentle giants and asked our guide how many elephants were in the park to which he replied two. All of a sudden the feelings of elation I had came crumbling down as I then realised that these elephants must have been brought here and this in fact wasn’t their natural habitat as there were only two.
Although they have the freedom to move around (however now I also question that) I still felt sad to know that this was not their homeland to roam freely on. Maybe a little naïve, I know, but for some reason I thought this trip would be completely different. Perhaps I need to ask a few more questions to ascertain the full extent of how they came to be there and then I can make my mind up.
After bathing time and feeding time was over, it was time for our bamboo ride down the river, normally I would have really enjoyed this but because I was shattered from being sick, it was hard for me to withstand the three-hour journey.
Eventually we reached our destination with bamboo intact (just) and it was time to depart back home. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it however I keep thinking about the Elephants and wondering how they actually live when no one is around to keep watch. Are they tied up at night so that the Mahout’s can find them easily for the tourists? What happened to the rest of their family? Why do they have chains around their necks if they are free? We were told that they put chains around their feet purely so that the mahouts can see where the tracks are otherwise it would take days to find them, however, these chains were around their necks- why? Perhaps to keep the blocks that make the noises we heard when they were moving in place? I hope so but it is probably unlikely.
Whilst everyone was heading back to Chiang Mai. I opted to try out Pai for a few days. This place is even more chilled than Chiang Mai and I loved it. There are lots of little quirky signs, pictures and statues and a real nice chilled out vibe.
I booked a day trip for 500 baht (£10) and went round most of the hotspots including Mor Paeng Waterfall, The Temple on the Hill, Pai Hot Springs (300 baht more), Memorial Bridge and Pai Canyon amongst others.
I really enjoyed walking around the Canyon climbing up and down the fissures even though I doubt I was meant to. The colours and the backdrop was superb.
I even climbed the top of Mor Paeng Waterfall and came back down and then only noticed the sign warning people not to climb it. Ooops!
For a tenner, I thought there was a lot included (even lunch) and a good little outing taking you around. Of course, you could always take a moped around which would probably be a lot more fun however these metal death wishes scare me and I don’t trust myself to ride one.
Overall I also loved Pai- it has some of the most beautiful landscapes and picture perfect moments.
Keeping in with my new found hippy status, I even tried out yoga (in fact I went twice) which I thoroughly enjoyed and evenings were spent listening to live music or immersing myself in the reggae tunes blasting from a great outdoor reggae venue called Don’t Cry. Unfortunately, each time I visited, there was not a huge turnout but nonetheless the music was great and the mural’s kept me entertained whilst the fire kept me warm. I loved it.
I’m back in Chiang Mai now and visited the flower festival which is on this weekend only. I got up early and waited around to watch the beautifully decorated floats with amazing intricacy and detail cruise by with a parade and live music.
After I had my fair share of the beautifully flower decorated items, I opted to visit the Art in Paradise gallery which is all about the art of illusion. The paintings are fantastic and I certainly had a lot of fun even though I was on my own.
This has been a rather long post but all in all – Pai and Chiang Mai are one of my favourite hotspots so far. Everything is nice and easy and the main message is “don’t worry about a thing, cos every little thing is gonna be alright” and it certainly is.