Next stop - Chiang Mai, Thailand. After a hell raising tuk tuk ride in the dark to the bus station in Luang Prabang, we boarded our "Luxury VIP" bus that would take us on the first part of our journey to Chiang Mai. We've had some pretty questionable buses so far but I think one wins! No sleeper beds here, just normal coach seats which reclined slightly- or in Lou's case didn't recline at all! The roads to the border crossing at Huay Xai were through the mountains and after a very long and restless night with very little sleep and lots of turns and bumps, we arrived slightly groggy ready to cross into Thailand. We then were put onto a tiny boat (3 at a time) which transported us across the river from Laos to the Thai border point at Chang Khong. Passports stamped and visas granted, we then had a 6 hour journey in a minivan to our next stop, Chiang Mai.
On arrival in Chiang Mai, we decided that Tuk Tuk was the best way to get to our hostel as we had no idea where it was. Turns out that neither did the Tuk Tuk driver!!!! After what could only be described as something of a comedy sketch, we finally arrived at our hostel which had been recommended by Ricky and Micky who we met in Halong Bay. We felt instantly welcome at Junior Guest House and they went out of their way to learn our names and make sure everything was ok for us. After a quick bite to eat in their restaurant and a shower, we booked a Jungle Trek for 2 days time and headed to sleep, exhausted from the journey.
The following day was spent exploring the city of Chiang Mai and getting our bearings. The inner part of the city is quite easy to navigate as it's all on a grid system and is surrounded by 4 walls (they were built to protect the city from the threat of nearby Burma) and so if you reach the wall and the moat, you know you've gone too far! Chiang Mai has more Wat's than anywhere we've been yet, you literally can't turn a street corner without seeing one, they are quite incredible with intricate detailing and bright gold's and reds.
In the evening, we headed towards an area of town where we were told there is a Night Bazaar. We settled down for something to eat at a restaurant facing the night bazaar and whilst we were there, the heavens opened big time!! We waited it out a while and then decided that we would head back to the guest house and avoid the rain and come back to the night market on a better day. On the way back, we spotted a fish pedicure place that also doubled up as an internet cafe and decided to have a go. It was so funny, Lou couldn't use the computer at first because the fish were tickling her so much but eventually we settled into it with our feet being eaten whilst we tapped away on facebook and skype! We became somewhat of a tourist attraction, with people taking photos of us as they walked past! Feet refreshed, we headed back to the guest house to prepare for our jungle trek the next day - we'll write about this in a separate blog.
Exhausted from our jungle trip, we got back to our guest house and had a quick shower and change before heading out to the Sunday Market. Tired as we were, we'd heard great things about the Sunday market and knew we had to go and have a look. They essentially close a block of streets off to traffic for the evening and all of the locals come out to sell their produce. You literally can buy anything from clothes to deep fried bugs (Lou tried a maggot!) to DVDs. It gets incredibly busy and the only thing I can liken it to is leaving a concert at Wembley and all traipsing to the station, shuffling along slowly in a massive crowd! How anyone manages to shop like that is beyond us!!
On Monday, after our weekend in the jungle, we decided we needed a bit of R&R so we asked our guest house if they knew anywhere we could go and sit by a pool for the day and they sent us to a beautiful luxury hotel in Chiang Mai where (for a small fee) we were able to sit by the roof top pool for the day and do nothing more than enjoy the sunshine, read our books, have a swim and a few games of cards (now that we actually knew some games thanks to our new friends in the jungle teaching us!!). We literally stayed there until the sun went down and then had a quick dinner and another browse around the night bazaar, picking up some *real* Havianas and a couple of t-shirts.
On Tuesday, it was time for us to head off on a day of learning at Thai Farm Cooking School. We were picked up from our guest house and taken to a market to see where the rice and other products come from that we would be using. All of the vegetables and fresh ingredients are grown at the farm but the other ingredients they buy from the market. After a quick lesson in the different types of rice, we headed to the farm. The farm is absolutely beautiful and kitchen classrooms were stunning. Our teacher was absolutely crazy but brilliant and showed us around the farm and all of the different fresh ingredients that we would be using. Now it was time to start cooking!!! We had all picked the dishes that we would make prior to the lesson, we chose:
Thai Vegetable Soup
Chicken stir fry
and I chose sticky rice with mango for pudding and Lou chose bananas in coconut milk.
It was hot and hard work but so enjoyable and the food was all delicious. After eating the first dishes of Thai vegetable soup followed by Green Curry, we were already feeling quite full. By the time we'd cooked and eaten our stir fry, pad thai and pudding, we were stuffed (think of Christmas eating when you literally can't fit anything else in and then just want to lie on the sofa and not move for the rest of the day!). So basically, that is what we did, we headed back to our guest house and pretty much went to bed haha.
On our final day in Chiang Mai, we did a bit more exploring of the city. The following day (unfortunately we would miss it) was the Loi Kratung festival which is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, every year thousands of people assemble floating banana-leaf containers (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles onto the waterways of the city to worship the Goddess of Water. Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom fai or kom loi), which are hot-air balloons made of paper, are launched into the air. The sky lanterns are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets. Because of this, the city was full of lanterns, adorning every building, street corner and public place, ready for the festivities. All along the riverside, vendors were setting up sell their candle holders for people to float along the river and the city was getting set for a big party!
Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand and its city museum tells the story of its history. We stumbled across the museum whilst looking for the Three Kings Monument - which turned out to be much smaller than we had expected and therefore why we couldn't find it! In the evening, we headed out for dinner and once again the heavens opened on Chiang Mai! Whilst sheltering from the rain, I was standing on a street corner and heard someone shout my name. Who knows my name in Chiang Mai! I turned around to find an old school friend who I hadn't seen since we were 16! I knew that she and her husband were travelling for their honeymoon but what a coincidence that we both ended up on the same street corner in torrential rain in Chiang Mai! We then legged it back to the guest house in the rain to pack and get ready for saying goodbye to our new friends at the guest house (if you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai we would totally recommend it, the friendliest service and nicest bunch of people you will meet and for a super cheap price!) early the next morning for our flight back to Bangkok!