Well here we are in Chiang Mai!
We arrived in Bangkok 6 days ago to the familiar sounds of beeping tuk-tuk drivers, the unique stench of the city and the tacky, vibrant neon lights of Khao San Road. It's hard to figure out why we love this place but what it lacks in bargains and real thai culture, it more than overcompensates in friendly faces and the essence of travelling itself. The Land of Smiles never fails to make a quick buck and Bangkok is definitely most refined in this area. So naturally we were fleeced by the tuk-tuk drivers and probably by some of the market owners, but this is their living and who are we to deny them a willing, naive tourist? Actually we were quite aware of it all but our pasty skin was enough to encourage 'hello sir's from every angle all day long, and we mean all day long. Steve now answers to the name of 'Mr Purple' or 'Ladyboy' so feel free to try those out when you see him again. We didn't explore the city as we knew we'd be returning in a couple of months, except for a short trip to the MBK Shopping Centre, which is basically seven storeys of soulless passion which you come to expect from the western world...and needless to say we made a sharp exit. All that said, Bangkok isn't so bad regardless of the giant cockroaches and stale beer, it just takes time to adjust to the crazy roads, the crazy people and the huge beaming smile imprinted on its name.
After a gruelling 15 hour bus journey, typically our bus broke down twice, we finally arrived in Chiang Mai and how welcome a change it has been. North Thailand is overflowing with natural phenomena and cultural endeavours. The picturesque hills of the north are particular popular for trekking, but the cool, forgiving climate steered our focus to more local activities. We used our first day here to familiarise ourselves with the area as we'd been half expecting a small village only to discover it is Thailand's second largest city! The winding lanes of the old town are filled with quaint cafes and resting places, temples scatter the city and there is a sense of calm which we so desperately craved. What a breath of fresh air! The next day, we signed up for a cooking course which was Steve's idea would you believe, especially as he was the only guy in our group. Seven dishes of thai culinary excellence and a Mr Miyagi chopstick gag later and we're now pretty much equivalent to Jamie Oliver, only thai-style and of course we won't be able to demonstrate our new found skills because we'll have forgotten by the time we get home - what a shame for you all. Thai food is literally amazing and we are now converted so Mums you'd better get some practice in! Yesterday we toured the old town, visiting the various temples which are rich in history and intricate architecture and contrary to what we may have originally thought, they are not all the same! We spent the evening at the infamous Chiang Mai Night Market, which on any other day would have been a mere browsing of the local merchandise, but oh no we went to the Sunday Night Market which is at least triple in size and heaving with tourists and locals alike. It seemed impossible that there were so many people in this town, having experienced three peaceful days here so we scanned the stalls and picked up some local food before heading back to a bar for a Singh beer or two. This morning, we went on a mission of a journey to the Tribal Museum. Since we decided not to trek, and it's too cold to move further north, we thought we should dose up on some of the hill-tribe customs and traditions. It was a beautiful place outside of the city and only a small building littered with various artefacts - definitely well worth the visit and probably not stamped with the usual backpacker footprint.
We're off to Laos this evening on a two day trip down the Mekong. Should be interesting and slow we expect! See you at the other end of the river...