So the journey from Laos to Chiang Mai wasn't the most comfortable, it was 13 hours, overnight, in a little minibus! But luckily we had the seats behind the driver (best in the house!) and James slept of the floor and Em across 2 seats! We got to Chiang Mai at 6am, and went in search of cheap accomodation. We found a little gem (after about an hour of looking and feeling pretty rough after the journey!) called Montrara Happy House, with the smiliest hotel owner we've ever seen! We got the room for half the normal price as we were staying for a week to do a cooking course and elephant trekking. We started the course the next day, which was run by Somphon, a Thai celebrity chef who spent a lot of time in England researching how westerners could cook good Thai food with the available ingredients. We cooked 30 dishes in total, and loved every one of them! But our favourites were the Phanang curry, the roast duck curry, papaya salad, tom yam soup and steamed banana cake. Which we're sure most of you will get to sample when we get home! We also learned how to make the curry pastes from scratch, carve flowers from vegetables (!) and went on market trips to learn about the ingredients first hand. It was great meeting different people every day, as we seemed to be the only ones doing the full 5 days!
Once we'd completed the course, (bearing in mind we had been eating our free breakfast at the hotel, then 6 dishes before 3pm for 5 days!) we were in need of some outdoor exercise! We went with a group to an elephant camp, where we rode the beautiful elephants into the jungle for a couple of hours. There were baby elephants too! The camp was very big, and the elephants well treated. They did a show for us, and they seemed to really enjoy the mental stimulation of the tasks. We didn't realise just how clever they are, and one even painted an elephant on canvas, then signed her name! (see pics!) We also went bamboo rafting down a pretty rough river, where we both managed to fall off of our stool backwards, but luckily managed to stay on the sideless raft! The Aussie couple behind us were in stitches, and so were we after we realised we hadn't falled in to the snake infested water!! We also went on a buffalo cart, which is how people would go to Bangkok in the olden days to sell their goods and buy supplies for the year. It would take them 4 months for a round trip! The last stop of the tour was the orchid farm where Em said her grandmother's garden had more colour! But it was nice all the same! That evening we treated ourselves to a relaxing oil massage (1 hour for 4 pounds!) and a cheese board and red wine after all that Thai food!
Next we had to decide where we wanted to spend our last 4 days in Thailand, and we decided to go to Pai over Chiang Rai, as unfortunately Chiang Rai has become too touristy and a bit spoilt. So it was off 3 hours north, into the hills! Even just driving into Pai, we're so glad we chose there. We found a cute little village nestled in a lush green valley, littered with quirky little bars and restaurants. There was also lots of bamboo hut accomodation to choose from, so we found one we liked by the river for 2 pounds each per night, and settled in for the 4 days. Apart from being a beautiful place, there is also lots to do in Pai. We rented bikes for 50p on the 1st day and cycled 20km round trip to the natural hot springs. The scenery was incredible and there was hardly anyone around. There were also lots of waterfalls and caves to stop at, and places you can fish for catfish and piranas. We could have gone whitewater rafting but decided we'd already done that in Australia. We spent the days relaxing on our little terrace of our bamboo bungalow, and the evenings sipping beer and fresh mango mojitos at the cute little bars which were covered in silk lanterns. It really was bliss! One day we were feeling brave and went to the foot spa where little fish nibble at the dead skin on your feet! (see pics!) It felt like pins and needles, and we both said we probably wouldn't do it again! We also had the best pizza we'd had in ages in Pai, cooked by 2 little Thai ladies! The whole place felt quite magical, expecially at night time when all of the lanterns and little street vendors came out selling trinkets with 'I love Pai' on them. Sadly, the days went too quickly and it was time to make our way back down to Bangkok via Chiang Mai and our 'Happy House' for 1 night!