Finally we had returned to Thailand, no more bland food! We touched down in the capital of the North and within moments I knew I was in love. Unlike Bangkok, Chiang Mai felt so peaceful and mellow, nobody screaming about tuk-tuks as we stepped out into the warm night air.
We made our way to our hostel Aoi's Garden Home. Our taxi pulled up down a quiet street. A beautiful garden sparkled in the dark night sky as hundreds of fairy lights twinkled and danced away to the sound of trickling water and enchanting melodies. The sleepy Thai receptionist greeted us with a big smile and an icy cold beer and despite him being dressed only in his pants I couldn't have been happier to be back in Thailand.
The next morning we were collected by minivan and driven into the jungle to begin our Flight of the Gibbons Zip-lining Experience; 5km of zip-lines woven into the Thai jungle eco system. Our leaders for the day were Aof and Eddi, two really fun and energetic Thai guys who seemed to really love what they do. Once we were harnessed up and donning a very stinky helmet we were ready to fly!
I was a little nervous (as always) but the zip-lining was great. We started off with a couple of short lines but by the 5th line they felt we were ready for the big one; 800 metres to be exact! Aof strapped me in, "Sit down" he says. All I can think is "Oh gosh, what am I doing?" but before I could hesitate he shouts "GO". I was gone and I could not stop screaming for my stomach had fallen through the jungle canopy, bounced around the floor and swung all the way back up to its original location. The feeling was exhilarating as I flew through the jungle with the wind rushing past my face and the adrenaline coursing through my body, really is this just another normal day now? I was sure that the scariest zip was over until we approached 'The Superman'. "I will attach the harness to your back this time, you will jump off this platform and fly like Superman" "Sorry, what was that? I must have misheard". Well apparently I didn't. Suspended 80 metres in the air, the next zip-line would be a leap of faith as we were to launch ourselves into the jungle head first.
Darren the fearless steps up "I'll go first". He literally ran, took a giant leap and flew into the jungle. Maybe not quite like Superman but maybe like one of those flying squirrels! My attempt was a little more modest as I basically crawled off the platform, kind of falling in to the jungle like a fat parrot but then I too flew dangling from a clip on my back into the midst of the Thai jungle. We did 18 zip-lines in total, plus 2 abseils and 3 walks over 3 very rickety wooden suspended bridges.
The food in Chiang Mai was incredible. The flavour, the spice that was so lacking in Vietnam had returned. The restaurants we ate in were so exiting, the décor so attractive. The Peppermint Café was decked out like a seaside kitchen and living room. The walls adorned with postcards, pictures and trinkets and it was so cheap; just £4 for 2 main meals and a drink each and the service was beautiful.
One restaurant that we visited twice was lit up by lanterns and candlelight. As you ate, different bands would play and sing the night away. One warm evening, after the best Pad Thai I've ever had, a four piece band stepped out on to the stage. A drummer, a bass player that looked like a Thai Brian Cox, a lead guitarist and a saxophonist sporting a beard that fell to his belly button. As they played, the background murmurs faded. They were captivating, with such passion and halfway through the most magical solo saxophone piece I have ever heard I became overwhelmed at such talent and I began to cry.
There were a few moments in Chiang Mai that would bring me to tears, all of them good. One evening we chanced upon a huge brass band rehearsing. I have never seen such passion as the young dancers leapt through the air and the musicians played in perfect timing as though their lives depended on it. It was at this moment I remember thinking how lucky I was to be there, to experience what I am experiencing. Even from this tiny encounter I felt my life had been enriched.
The more time we spent in Chiang Mai, the more I felt like I could stay. It had such a peaceful vibe and truly wonderful people. With second hand bookshops down tiny backstreets supplying every book imaginable, quaint coffee shops nestling on every street corner and the magnificent Saturday and Sunday walking markets selling an array of souvenirs, clothes, jewellery and fragrant street food continuing as far as the eye could see. It was hard to get bored in Chiang Mai and even harder to leave.