Finally leaving Bangkok, we meet up with our Stray group, where we'll travel up to the north of Thailand and eventually cross over into Laos. First thing, finding the Stray office. After checking out of Lub D Silom hostel, one of the staff kindly wrote down the address in Thai. Perfect. All we have to do is jump in a taxi, no problem. That's how it started, anyways, except the driver had no idea of the address, and had to keep getting out and asking fellow taxi drivers for directions. They also had no idea. By some miracle, however, we found the office, only to have an absolute wacko outside pretending to machinegun everyone down, then followed that by doing some yoga and throwing a giant slab of concrete around. This was all topped off by a woman having a pee on the street. Once all the fellow Stray passengers arrived, we had a quick meet and greet, two honeymooners, Fran & Graham, two Scottish lasses, Carly & Fiona, and two solo travellers, Siobhan from Ireland and Lee from USA. Leading this motley crue is Yuluv, aka Wan. We jumped in a taxi and headed off to Bangkok Station. We boarded our coach heading for Chiang Mai, and couldn't believe our luck. Fully reclining seats, complimentary coffee and snacks, and snuggly blanket, and on-board films. It made the fourteen hour journey that little bit more comfortable.
We got a glimpse of the floods causing havoc in the continent, with the coach seeming to be driving on a river. We even had to miss out on visiting Sukhathai because of the flooding.
Finally arriving in Chiang Mai, we check in to our guest house and head out for a late dinner. We opt for Gordon Bleu (sic), a Thai take on a French classic. Surprisingly tasty. We then headed out to a reggae hangout, only for it to be overtaken by 50 year old Germans. No worries, we head out to another bar with a cool hippie vibe and delicious mojitos for 50 baht (£1 approx.). I think we're going to like Chiang Mai.
Day two of Chiang Mai, and we're off to Baan Hongnual Cookery School. Taught by the lovely Amporn Hongnual, We first head to a local food market to pick up our ingredients, which were amongst boiled chicken blood in a bag, live fish, fruit & veg we never knew existed and lots and lots of flies. Back in the kitchen we cook up a Phad Thai, easy but delicious, Tom Yam Koong (Hot & Sour soup, and we mean hot!) Kaeng Ped Kai (Red curry) and for pudding, Kluay Buad Chi (banana in coconut milk, yummy but so sweet you could feel your teeth rotting).
After a sweaty session in the kitchen, we head back to the guesthouse for a nap to sleep off the food, only to be interrupted by the cleaner, who did not understand our pleads to "no clean today. We sleepy. Tomorrow".
We meet up with the rest of the group in the evening and head to International Thaphae Boxing Stadium for some Muay Thai. After watching kids beat each other up, and laughing uncontrollably at a match involving 6 blindfolded 'athletes' (we use the term lightly) trying to beat the s*** out of each other and the referee (not as brutal as it sounds) we decide to head over to one of the bars inside the stadium. Nemo's is where we set up camp for most of the night. We soon made friends with the staff, beautiful owner Chang, sweetheart barman Martin from Chicago and his lovely Thai boyfriend Poly. After way too many tequilas and B-52's, we drunkenly watched a match between a 6ft Canadian and a 5ft ex Thai boxing champion named Hom. Of course we all rooted for Hom or as we mistakenly chanted "CUM!" As we made such an impact that night, we were introduced to the stadiums owner, a gorgeous ladyboy called Sandy. After taking lots of stupidly drunken pictures in the ring, and me performing a wonderful clothesline on Sarah who ended up in a heap on the floor, we decide to head out to the local clubs. Maybe not the smartest idea, but we hitched a ride on the mopeds of our new friends. Fiona with Chang, me with Hom and Sarah with Chang's cousin, who ended up getting separated from the rest of us as she was driven to the wrong club. After finally being reunited, and squeezing 6 people into a 2 person tuk tuk (not easy or safe but bloody funny), we danced the night away with a little help from Chan Beer.
After leaving our guestroom in 7 in the evening (it was a tough morning and afternoon) we headed for some local street food. What delights we found. Freshly made shakes at dirt cheap prices and crispy pork noodle soup with pork dumpling in bowls fit for a king. Rachel still feeling the effects from the night before couldn't eat hers but mine went down a treat. Our motley cru then headed to Chaing Mai's 'Night Bazzar'. The streets where lined with stalls along with a mass of indoor markets. We had our first experience of bartering (failing miserably) but I got a pair of 'Ban Rays' out of it ;). If only we didn't have to carry this stuff for 5 months! In search of deep fried bugs we stumbled across a cabaret show of a different variety. Lady boys! Feather boas, wigs, diamantes and sequins galore but no matter how much we tried we couldn't spot their 'crown jewels'.