Leaving Laos.. Had such a great time here and am so glad I extended my stay in Asia to see what it had to offer; some awesome people and some great memories which I will never forget. I'm a big fan of Laos!
So my next plan of action was the slow boat to Thailand. It took around 2 days to reach the border sailing up along the Mekong Delta; the biggest river in Asia. I could have caught the speed boat which would only take about 7 hours to do the entire length but it was basically a canoe with a V8 engine on the back and I heard it was uncomfortable, loud and potentially quite fatal haha! It was a nice scenic journey but I can't say the first part was very pleasant; it was cold and I hadn't prepared anything to eat..I did get quite hungry! The halfway town wasn't much to shout about and the next day it was back on the boat for the second leg.. I sat at the back and got to know two Canadians; Lauren and Christine. We had such a great time talking about travels, playing drawing games and singing along to Disney songs..Crazy, but it really did make time fly! We arrived at the border town of Houyxai but were unfortunately too late to cross the border; so as a result it was a cheap hotel and an early start in the morning to cross into Thailand.
We crossed the border easily enough but then I realised I was only allowed a 15 day visit in Thailand (border by foot); this was annoying because it meant making a trip to another country to apply for my 2 month visa..could have done without it but hey you live and learn! Got a bus to Chiang Mai (6hrs or so) which again went quite quickly and found a really nice hotel for 100 Baht a night. It had a really lovely hostess called Noo.. she quickly became Mama Noo; my Thai Mama just because she was so lovely and friendly. She told us to check out the sunday night market; a huge row of stalls that had just about everything, street performers many stalls and so much food. The strong scent of spice filled the air and the mass of people made it the place to be in the old City.
The next day I just sat in the sunshine and read about Chiang Mai trying to figure out the best things to do in this cool northern city. I wandered around town to check out the three main temples; Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Chiang Man. Beautiful mosaics of colour set in lush gardens of bright purple flowers. Blue, green, yellow, red, and gold made to reflect the sunshine to give an impressive yet delicate sight. Was a really nice little day trip made even better when I saw my friend from university walking down the street!! Crazy that we just bumped into eachother like that in a totally random place on the other side of the world..really is such a small world! Out for dinner we made plans to meet up the following day to check out Wat Phra That Doi Suthep- The most sacred spot in Northern Thailand. It's the resting place of Buddha's sacred bone carried to the top of the mountain by a white elephant. It climbed Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, turned around three times and then died.. this marked the spot for the sacred relic..Pretty harsh on the elephant I thought! The temple itself was my favourite so far sat on the very top of the tallest mountain. You could look down to see the busy city below and could even see the temple itself reflecting in the light from the top of my hotel. A brilliant gold pyramid shining in the sun making it very impressive and almost a hypnotic sight. I said a prayer, got blessed by a monk and rang the bells of the temple used in rituals and pilgrim ceremonies..really cool place and well worth a visit. On the way down the mountain we saw Mon Tha Than waterfall, James (my friend from uni) and me were the only people to go swimming..Absolutely freezing and I'm sure I had a cold for like a week afterwards.
Later that evening walking around the night Bazaar I saw a friend from Luang Probang (John), and he stuck with us for the rest of the night. We took a trip to a Thai Boxing fight which was really great fun getting involved cheering on our favourite fighter and taking mini bets with one another..I really got into it! Some crazy punches and kicks I don't think I'd even see coming! A broken rib later and a couple of photos it was back to the hotel! God I did alot today!
We met John the following day and set off to check out the Tiger Kingdom. I was worried that the tigers would be all drugged up or on leashes restricting their movements but I was really suprised to see the tigers up and awake moving around as they pleased. Happy and impressed with this I paid to see the "smallest", "small" and "big" tigers. The smallest tigers were adorable! Just like little puppies playing with eachother. Fascinated by the bracelets on my wrist it was like I was playing with my old dog back home. The small tigers were alot more chilled and infact they weren't really small at all! Basking in the sunshine they were happy to be stroked and lay on for the perfect photo. The Big cats were my favourite! Huge! Paws as big as my head almost, their claws could pop out to reveal massive sharp teeth like nails..They didn't even clip them! Again they were happy to be tickled and stroked and they didn't seem to mind human company. I was completely comfortable next to them and it was another great experience being so close to such wicked animals!
Reading my Rough guide I saw that a popular road trip is the Mae Hong Son Loop. It is a road of twists and turns with 1864 bends which pass through Pai, Mae Hong Son then back the Chiang Mai. Would have made a brilliant motorcycle ride cutting right through the mountains but then again me on two wheels just doesn't work haha. We settled with a car and the girls and me set off for our epic road trip! We covered good ground visiting a national park- Huai Nam Dang; Morkfa waterfall and Pong Dueat Gayser and hot springs. The waterfall was a beautiful setting and again I felt compelled to swim. The Geyser, bubbling hot water shooting upwards under the intense heat produced an impressive amount of steam. The hot springs were cool too. Natural flowing water from the geyser filling up nearby pools providing baths of different temperatures. Really nice to sit and look up at the sun and see the high mountains all around you; I was actually having a bath in the moutains. From here we made it to Pai... After struggling to find somewhere to stay (tension in the car) we sat down to have a nice Mexican then walked around town to check out the markets. Pai was a really hippy town famous for its Reggae festival, it would have been cool to see it but we couldn't really afford to stay around too long just because we had to take the car back before the 23rd; 1300 Baht a day can quickly build up on you!
The next day it was my turn to drive. I was nervous but it was easy enough! Thai people drive on the same side as Britain so it was home from home really :). We stopped off at a couple of viewpoints, a nature walk and a nice hidden place which was a buddhist retreat! People could stay for however long they desired just for a donation to the temple. They practised meditation and the buddhist way of life. It was interesting and not going to lie I was very tempted to give it a go!
Around 3 hours later we arrived in Mae Hong Son; Cham, a friend I met in Vang Vieng lived here and she said she would show us around. She booked us into a lovely guesthouse and even let us stay there for free, so nice of her and it was awesome to see her again! We looked at the local night market, a temple and then lit a chinese lantern allowing it to float away and then disappear in to the darkness of the nights sky. Really nice evening topped off with a few beers and a couple of games of pool. A good day!
We woke up early to drive up a mountain to see a temple in the early morning mist. The perfect white temple against the deep blue of the sky was a beautiful contrast and I took some great pictures in the sun. After this it was a drive to see the Longneck minority village of Mae Hong Son. We got there to find it a touristy place. Don't get me wrong it was good to see the long neck people as their necks were seriously long but I was quite dissappointed with the touristy feel; didn't feel like the minority village in Sapa for example. From here we went to the Royal Project. Now this was beautiful, I really enjoyed just lying on the grass, closing my eyes in the perfect combination of sun, shade and a gentle breeze. A lovely lake at the bottom of a small hill covered with tall trees providing perfect cover. There was bamboo rafts, mountain bikes and a camp site, I really could have stayed there for hours!
At around 6pm we got back to our guesthouse and said our goodbyes, we needed to leave in time to take the car back. Pretty gutted because it was Chams birthday the next day and it would have been nice to stay a little while longer. Anyway, we made it back to Pai, checked into a hotel and then went out for dinner. Dinner was funny as we got talking about our childhood..Lauren told me about her worst film (the Grudge) which I immediately did the impression..didn't go down too well ha! In the morning, after sharing one big bed it was really funny to hear the girls retelling a story about the night..apparantly while we were all sound asleep I just sat up and asked "Does anyone want a cup of tea?" "I would really like a cup of tea!" hahaha so funny hearing them retell the conversation I was having with them!
We got back to Chiang Mai the following day to give the car back to the renter. Exchanges of keys for passport there was alittle confusion about the amount of days we booked..turned out we were a day early! Gutted that we cut our trip short but atleast we got our money back. We also scratched the bumper alittle on the side and were pretty lucky they were busy; we were quite worried about how much that would have cost us. Looks like someone is looking after me :). In the afternoon I met my friend Beth from uni (who I arranged to meet) and we walked around the sunday night market before getting something to eat and then hitting a local bar for a few beers. Really nice to chill with her and have a catch up! Not seen her in ages and it was great to know she was doing well teaching English to children! Potential job??
The next day was just chilling on the roof terrace of the hotel before going out to eat with Beth and her boyfriend. Went to an all you can eat place where you cooked your own food but it wasn't the best! I think I ate a cube of fat thinking it was chicken..not nice!
I felt like I was coming to the end of my stay in Chiang Mai..my 15 day visa coming to and end afterall!! The next day I booked to do a cooking class; recommended by my rough guide once again. Christine, Lauren and me booked for the 24th and an early start took us on a tour of a food market and then to a house where a dozen or so work stations stood. Apron on we got stuck in!
Papaya Salad, Tom Yam hot and sour soup, Spring rolls, sticky rice with mango, chicken in cashew nuts, Red curry and Egg fried rice were all amazing!! I couldn't believe I could make food taste so good! Pleasantly suprised with my skills it was another cool experience. (The dish that made the biggest flame EVER was a highlight!)
In the evening me and Lauren went for a Traditional Thai massage which was really good! She nearly broke my spine but I felt loads better coming out. It was then to the second floor bar for a free salsa lesson meeting up with loads of cool people, I had such a good time dancing away in my own little world. I think the longer I stay here the more I grow to like it... So much to do, already making so many friends.. Chiang Mai, pretty awesome!
Until next time.