While I’m already embarking on a new adventure in Vietnam I still have to finish writing on my last. I’ve spent almost two weeks in the north of Thailand. One week at the Elephant Nature Park project and the rest of the time I was in Chiang Mai and Pai. Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand and very different in comparison to Bangkok. I came in by plane, at the airport I met an American guy who helped arranging cheap transport to the centre.
As I was already getting used to the backpacking culture I had no accommodation arranged for the night (who’d have thought I would be able to do this), but managed to do so while enjoying a lunch at the Irish pub with good wifi (I went back just for the wifi standing outside of the property at least four more times). The rest of the day I spent wandering around Chiang Mai. I loved it, streets full of the best little shops and cafes, a temple at almost every corner, street markets all over the place, kind people and a good vibe in general. There are lots of yoga places, vega(n) restaurants, juice bars and massage tokos, some of which especially have ex inmates employed.
One of my wishes was to do a cooking workshop in Thailand. I signed up for a full day course where we first went to a market and later started cooking our 7 course dinner by ourselves. Curry’s, soups, salads, mango with sticky rice and spring rolls. I’ll take all the recipes home with me, hoping to reproduce what I managed to make there, cause it was good!
Another day I rented a scooter and went up a windy road that led to a beautiful temple on a hill, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Someone told me to go right before sunset as it would give the best views and it did! Only downside was not bringing any jacket or vest and I was freezing on the way down. Again loved riding the scooter, will do it again for sure!
I visited many of the markets, mostly just looking at the stuff cause with the backpack I can’t really afford buying too many souvenirs. It was a bit too crowded for my taste. Only tourists and after a few hours it felt like walking in a crowded pub after getting drinks and going back to your friends, little movement. But there was a funny moment on the Sunday market at 6:00 PM sharp the national anthem will be played and every Thai person stops doing what he was doing during it. I read this beforehand and expected it, but other tourists did not and it took them some time to realize why everybody literally froze.
Wat Chedi Luang is another temple complex worth mentioning. The chedi, or Buddhist stupa, has been ruined by either an earthquake or cannon fire and has never fully been restored. The temple is almost 600 years old and is very picture friendly. In the complex are a lot of other buildings and also a ‘monk chat’ program which sadly enough I did not participate in at the time.
After the elephant week I headed to Pai to spend the last days I had still left. Pai is a small town in the Mae Hong Son Province which popularity’s grown vastly in the last 20 years. The route to Pai is windy to say the least. Again I was warned and actually decided to drive a scooter up to Pai as the minivan ride was not pleasant at all. Unfortunately the company I wanted to rent the scooter from was sold out for the day so I did have to take the minivan. The first part of the 136 km is okay but then the hills and turns start. As if being in a roller coaster we go from left to right, gas, break, gas. 762 curves later you are in Pai. No one was looking very happy but luckily enough everyone was able to hold everything in (I took a pill beforehand which definitely helped).
Pai is even more laid back than Chiang Mai. There is a bit of a hippie culture I think. Lots of dreadlocks, guys walking bare feet, yogis and organic stuff. I liked the town being much smaller. There was again a night market but not too crowded, great street food and oh I stayed in the best hostel with the biggest beds!
The scenary around Pai is beautiful. Renting a scooter is a must and while doing this with my Canadese roommate I met in Chiang Mai we visited some places around like the Lud cave where you go on bamboo rafts through a dark cave and only lit by the light your guide has. We went to a waterfall, a viewpoint and ended the day at Pai canyon. This part I liked the most as the scenery is just stunning. The walk around is a bit scary, no hand rails and very small paths to walk around on. The trip was around 130 km.
The next morning I went to a hot spring Sai Ngam some 17 km from Pai. Early in the morning to have the entire spring to myself. It was still a bit cold outside but then the feeling of the warm water is even more pleasant. The sun made sure there was steam coming of this jungle bath, it was beautiful. When I left around 9:00 AM the first van/can of tourists was opened.
I was not looking forward to the 762 turns back to Chaing Mai. It was going to be a long trip. 3 hours from Pai to Chiang Mai, then waiting for about 2 hours at the bus station, then a night bus to Bangkok. The night bus was not really planned, I rather had the train but it was fully booked way before I realized I had to book it sooner around Chinese new year. So I booked the most expensive bus I could find (22 euros). And it was the first time I found myself with only locals. It was a pleasant experience with big chairs, a blanket, a pillow, drinks and snacks, USB ports, an entertainment system and the best thing of the 33 people who bought a ticket my neighbor was a ‘no show’ so I even had more space. Just the air condition at position ‘Siberia’ was not cool, or actually very cool.
Lights go off at 20:22 and I actually managed to doze off quite quickly after that. Until 23:03, the lights go on, doors open and two army guys with a face mask walk in. Euhh what? Apparently I was the only one to find this strange. They walk up and down the bus and leave without a word. The journey continues until 1:15, we stop for a little break. It is Thai style to put the blanket over your head if you want to keep sleeping. And then 6:00 we arrive in Bangkok. Instead of the advertised time of 7:30. So to compare this with Dutch transport, it is cheap, and arrives earlier than planned. There are 6 taxi drivers asking me where I want to go, I had actually not thought about this myself but as it was really early I spent the first 3 hours in a bit shady 24 hour internet cafe, then finally had my first Thai massage (good!!) and ended the day in the park enjoying the 33 degrees outside before going to the airport.
Here my Thailand adventure ends. What a beautiful country and there is still so much more to discover here. By the way, never thought I would write so much.