Day 2 & 3 Summary: Fly Bangkok to Chiang Mai. 3 hour taxi to Pai. Get lost in the country with our new Venezuelan friends. Rent a motorscooter. Ride an elephant. Get $6 1hour massage.
As I stand at the gate waiting for my flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Debbie Dueter (my backpack's official name) has to be bigger than ANY of the Asian's themselves. And even though the signs clearly state there is a strict 1 bag under 7kg carryon policy, no one says a word do to me as I carryon my 30-35lbs backpack and an additional small backpack. The Asian airports have their s*** together here. In Tokyo, we almost missed our connection but were met and the gate and escorted to our flight and here in Bangkok, the flights that are leaving within the next hour are rushed to the front of ticketing and through security...imagine that...customer service from an airport and airlines! The flight attendants are friendly and here to serve you, not bark at you to sit down and shut up or you will arrested.
A quick one hour flight and we are in Chiang Mai, however, all the buses to Pai (our ultimate destination) are gone for the day. Talkative & personable as usual, Justin meets a couple while I am in the bathroom and learns they are trying to get to Pai tonight as well. Oriana & Francisco, a really cool couple of lawyers from Venezuela, offer to share a cab with us for the 3 hour journey. 3000 baht divided by 4 people comes out to $24 a person. I can't even get a taxi from one side of Dallas to the other for $24 dollars. A 3 hour taxi would cost you probably $1000!
The drive was long and the road is incredibly twisted up through the mountains. Sharp turns of 20-60 degrees are extremely frequent. There are no speed limits and a "system" of horn honking and light flashing are used as our driver swerves around buses, trucks, and motorbikes. We made it alive to Pai around 8:30pm...now...to find the hotels.
We were originally planning to stay at a resort on the outskirts of town and unknowingly passed it by it about 5km, so we decided to have the taxi driver drop off Cisco & Oriana and then go back to our hotel. Their hotel is newly renamed and information on the location proves hard to find. We direct our non-english speaking taxi driver down a couple country roads only to find our google map is completely wrong and has no idea where we are. Back to the main road. Cisco finally reaches his family who is meeting them at the hotel and get directions. The hotel is located off the main walking street in town. Walking streets are the term in Thailand for the streets that have night markets and are typically closed to taxis and only for walking or motorbikes. Our taxi driver slowly manuevers the way through the crowd anyways. Justin & I really like the vibe of this city so we decide to let our taxi driver go and think we will eat and catch a cab to our hotel.
We have a great dinner and as we finish, the owner asks if we need a
"homestay". When we tell him we plan to take a taxi to out hotel, he laughs out loud and says "ohhh...no taxi...they go home early....not lot of taxi in Pai". Crap. Good thing we havent paid for our hotel yet. We stroll down the street of vendors and tourist and locals enjoying the night. It is completely different than the wildness of Bangkok. Bangkok was like the Vegas Strip. This place is like...well...I have no place to compare it to. Its a street full of the coolest casual patio bars & restaurants will chill music and laid back people...one after the other. We come across Hotel de Artiste as the receptionist happens to be walking across the yard. He makes us a deal for 1800 baht ($53), normally 2300 baht ($75) for one night since it is so late. Understand that this is VERY expensive for Thailand backpackers. We are exhausted and after seeing the room, we are in heaven. This is the kind of place you would be lucky to pay less than $400 a night for.
The next morning, I wake up very early at 6am and head out in search of coffee & breakfast. Much to my surprise, nothing is open yet. I finally come across a cafe where the owner is unlocking his door. He sees me looking at his signs and says "you need coffee?". I perk up and say "YES YES". "you come in" he says and opens the doors to his shop. He sets his things down, fires up the espresso machine and boom... coffee! 40baht, 60cents for my coffee. "come back in 30 minute, i have breakfast" he says "Khop khun kaa" we say to each other other, which means thank you. Pronounced like "Cob coon kaaaa".
I sit on the patio of our hotel which starts serving breakfast around 7:30. Justin joins me and we explore some options for a place to stay for the next two nights since we $53 a night is absurd! haha! We rent a motorscooter for $150 baht for 24 hours ($5) and explore the town. We find the hotel we originally planned to stay in is really not that far, only 6km from the city, but just seems far at night when you are lost in a taxi! We passed a few more places that were happy to show us their rooms and tell us the rate. We found really great places outside of town in the mountains for $40ish and some really great, but no AC, places for about $20. Still, we decided we preferred to be right in the city on the walking street for convenience and socializing. It is still pretty warm here, upper 80s - low 90s. So we prefer AC; maybe once we get South on the beaches, no AC will be tolerable. We find the place that Oriana & Cisco are staying, view a room and decide that it is well worth $30 a night as it is almost as nice as our $53 a night hotel.
We move our belongings and then tour the city & countryside by motorbike for a few hours. We come across several Elephant ride places and book a 2 hour ride for 3pm. It is recommended to go for the bareback rides, as it is more authentic. We literally climb up the leg of the elephant to get on her back and about 3 minutes in we realize that we wont be able to take this for 2 hours! While it was a great experience, sitting atop the spine of an elephant with scratchy leather skin and wire hair while wearing shorts is an awful feeling! Our Thai elephant trainer has since lept on top of the elephants head for a seat, is dancing & singing to Gagnam Style blaring from his phone. A few minutes later we tell him "one hour only". He says ok and takes us to the river instead of into the mountains since he says that is a better experience. Once in the river, the elephant begins to play and spray us with water. He is instructed to sit and then begins to roll in the water...while we are STILL on his back. We are told to scoot up to the neck, and a few commands later the elephant directly sprays us then like a bucking motions sends us flying into the water. We laugh and then laugh harder at how this would never be allowed in the US because the liability and easily we could have crashed into a rock or been smashed by the 3 ton elephant. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore Dorothy! We notice two elephants with Chinese couples on their backs. The guides are pointing and asking if they want to do what we are doing. They Chinese girls feverishly shake their heads no and say 'no no!'. As we come out of the water, I ask the Chinese girl if they are going in....they look at each other to consider it then tell their guides, yes but "no throw...no lay down in water". We leave and about 5 minutes down the road we here shear screams from the river of the Chinese girls. Our guide begins to laugh and says "Chinese...they so scared always! When you tell guide you dont want to, we say ok and do anyway....it only water" and continues to laugh.
After our ride, we hope back on our motorbike and head to the Pai Canyon as the sun is getting ready to set. The canyons are incredible. You can see for miles....or should I say kilometers! We take some riskier paths that not everyone is taking as the trail is very high up, very narrow, and straight drop off on each side. We only go about 1/4 mile before realizing the sun is almost set and we cant figure out where the trail goes and if it loops around or not. So we turn around and simply enjoy the view a bit longer.
Justin is exhausted and heads to bed. I grab my phone & ipad and head across the street to an outdoor patio with accupressure foot massage & wifi. $6 later, oh wait, I had a beer, $8 and a couple Skype calls homes later I head to bed as well.
We hop back on ou