Day 4 - Driving up into the MountainsDecember 15, 2019 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C
Woke up at 5.30am & wrote the previous days blog.
Around 9am we went down to breakfast. I had the usual, apparently too much, and Jackie had green curry.
At 9.50am we were waiting in the hotel reception for our hire car to arrive. Twenty minutes later, ten minutes late, our black Nissan hire car arrived. I filled in the paperwork with the guy & handed over 5,000 Baht (approx £125) as security. It was that or my passport, but I was too scared that it could get lost.
We then went outside & inspected the car for current damage. It was riddled with minor scratches & dents, which he insisted on me photographing, but the reflection of the sun made it difficult to actually capture the damage on my camera. After, I signed my life away in which I was liable for the 1st 10,000 Baht’s worth of damage & he for any more after that.
Paperwork complete, we headed out on to the chaotic Old City ring road & battled through the traffic. We headed north & did remarkably well in not making a wrong turn. We drove up to & through Mae Rim on the busy Highway 107, then turned left onto the scenic Route 1096. We were following a driving route recommended by my Lonely Planet guidebook.
Our 1st stop was Mae Sa Waterfall that were just inside Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. We paid our 100 Baht each ‘foreigners’ entrance fee (also 30 Baht for the car) & drove in. Jackie was not amused that we had had to pay 100 Baht, when Thais only had to pay 20 Baht!
The entrance fee was soon forgotten, when we parked up & set out along the path through lush rainforest to the waterfall. Mae Sa Waterfall is in fact a series of 10 cascades each about 150 metres apart that run down the rocky Mae Sa river from the San Doi Daen mountain ridge through the jungle. A concrete path ran alongside the cascades, which we followed to the very top. With the sun falling in shafts through the tree canopy it made for a very atmospheric hike, particularly as there were very few other visitors, just hundreds of butterflies.
Below each cascade was a pool, some of which permitted swimming, but we gave it a miss. I was however on the way down forced to wash my feet in a pool, because I had used the bathroom & inexplicably obeyed the sign requesting me to take my adventure sandals off before entering. I realised I had made a massive mistake when I was suddenly wading in god knows what to get to the urinals!
Upon returning to the car, we continued along the 1096, passing numerous elephant camps, to our 2nd scheduled stop, Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden. I pulled up to the entrance hut & declared I wished to pay for 2 adults. The young cashier asked “Is that for senior citizens?” Quite taken aback, I enquired what age qualified for senior citizenship & she said “60”. Instead of lying & paying the discounted fee, I indignantly informed her that I was only 55 & needed to pay the full 100 Baht each. We drove in leaving her with a fit of embarrassed giggles.
Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden covers an area of 1,000 hectares & is situated in the foothills of Doi Suthep-Pui. Our 1st stop was the Canopy Walk that was a 400 metre long raised metal walkway high above the jungle below. The biggest problem for me might have been the height, but instead it was getting past the hoards of locals who were taking photos of each other every step of the way. The stupid thing was that they could have been anywhere, because they didn’t actually look out over the canopy. Potentially we could have seen Draco Maculatus, a flying lizard, unique to Doi Suthep mountain, but we didn’t.
We drove on to the Glass House complex and viewed an array of plants in different categories. Interesting, but not anything we hadn’t seen before. The best bit was the scenery surrounding it all.
After, we stopped for lunch which consisted of just a Cornetto, Jackie had Strawberry & I had Black Hojicha, which I later found out it is a black tea. The ice cream was grey & it had a black charcoal cone. It wasn’t that nice.
Time was moving on so we continued our trip. Next stop was due to be the Hmong village of Nong Hoi. Annoyingly the description of the route to get there was non-existent, so we made an educated guess & ended up in some private estate with tepees & a lake, that gave the impression of being the home of some sort of cult. We drove around the lake & saw people tending the grounds but no one stopped us. We were clearly in the wrong place so we drove back out again.
We had another go up a road on the other side of the 1096 & crawled high up the mountain only for the fuel warning light to come on, hence we abandoned that idea. Back on the 1096 we were relieved to find a petrol station & we put in 200 Baht, which only took the level back to where we started.
We continued to a hotel called Proud Phu Fah, which was recommended for it’s views from the restaurant . We chose not to stop but continued the route as described by Lonely Planet. We climbed a steep windy mountain road through stepped coffee fields for about 5 miles until we were certain we weren’t on the right road again. One bonus was that we had to stop in the road for an elephant and his trainer to cross.
We were forced to retrace our route back to the Proud Phu Fah hotel & get back on the 1096, then picked up Route 1269 and swung around the mountain ridge back to Chiang Mai, where we hit total gridlock. The Saturday market was causing absolute chaos on the roads back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped for more fuel & being a total tight arse, I put in just an extra 100 Bahts worth which didn’t get the fuel gauge back to where it needed to be. Bugger, I’d have to go back out again in the morning.
We got back to the hotel around 6.30pm & after freshening up went straight back out again. We headed for the famous Saturday Walking Market in Th Wualai just up the road from us. As anticipated it was heaving with stalls selling food, clothes & novelty handmade goods of every description with an even more heaving mass of locals & tourists browsing. The market was essentially one very long narrow road with a river of people flowing in both directions & occasionally crashing into each other. Amongst these masses were schoolgirls, blind guitarists & others weirdos busking. It was all Jackie’s idea of hell!
We looked at Wat Srisuphan, the silversmiths temple & discovered we had to pay, so decided to visit another time. We bought a Chiang Mai spicy pork sausage that tasted of satay. Luckily we finished it just before a man with such severe facial burns walked past that he made Simon Weston look like he was just suffering a mild sun burn.
Feeling slightly queasy & having had enough of the market, we left in search of somewhere to eat without the crowds. As it happened our favourite Massaman curry restaurant was open but entirely empty, so we couldn’t resist the opportunity to do it all over again. It was just as good as before, but if I had to find fault, the beef was slightly fatty. On the way home we stopped for a nightcap & had a relatively early night.
Footnote : Doi Suthep and Doi Pui are two of Northern Thailand’s most sacred peaks.
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