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  • Day8

    Chiang Mai Noon

    October 12, 2016 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    The train journey to Chiang Mai was an experience, the bed was okay but I'd lost my ear plugs and it was quite noisy. It also felt like for all the hopping around we were doing that we were going incredibly fast. I reached Chiang Mai just after 7:30 and arrived at the hostel to find that reception was closed. I jumped straight into the hammock on the deck and waited for it to open. Once checked in I grabbed a free hostel bike and headed around town, checking out Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan in the centre of town. Got back early enough & headed to bed as I'd booked a trekking & mountain biking trip for tomorrow.

    Got collected at 9am for my day trip & quickly learned that I'd be moved onto the intermediate mountain biking only trip as I was the sole person booked for trekking. We were taken to our start point at the top of the national park & given our bikes there. The bikes were decent at some point in the past but we're in dire need of a total service & we'd later learn that the front only short drop suspension was unsuitable for the crazy trails we'd be riding. After a short downhill spin we reached a coffee plantation run by the agriculture department of Chiang Mai university. The old lady working there was asleep when we arrived but quickly woke to serve us wonderfully fresh and smooth coffee. The cafe itself was a hut on stilts overlooking a lunch green valley. From here we set off down and uphill tracks that had become treacherous because of the monsoon rains. The group was going far too fast given the terrain and bicycles we were equipped with. Once we'd conquered an insanely long and steep climb we were told it's all downhill from here. It wasn't long before there was an accident, myself & a Mexican guy took a spill in the same spot and had cuts and scrapes as a result. We both slowed up from this point but towards the end of the route my front wheel hit a deep channel and threw me off. I landed heavily on my left arm/shoulder but was pretty sure it wasn't broken; as I could rotate it and lift it over my head. Once some tiger balm was applied I finished the route and met the group for lunch on the lake. Whilst uncomfortable, I did enjoy lunch at our lakeside hut before getting dropped back into town.

    I wasn't back too long before I realised that I should probably get myself to hospital; my arm was becoming more difficult to lift and the cut on the same arm was still pretty raw. Once I'd showered the muck off myself, I walked to the closeby hospital. Seemingly deserted, I waited to be seen in the ER waiting room. It wasn't long before I was taken in and sent for an x-ray. The x-ray room had a large bin outside collecting drips of water from the ceiling and the machine itself looked like it was from the cold war era. Once back with the doctor, he explained that I didn't break anything but to come back in two days as I could have tendon or ligament damage. They cleaned my cuts, gave me some drugs, and had sent me home within the hour; all in all it only cost me €20. Back at the hostel I got chatting to two Americans I'd met on my first day here and we headed in to the night bazaar in search of food and a sling for myself. We ended the night with a drink and discussed the king's death in hushed tones; nobody seems to know what it will mean for the coming weeks and months but it is illegal to talk about it.

    After a terrible nights sleep I woke up late and went in search of tiger balm and ice for my arm. I also had a new roommate from the Netherlands and we headed out of town to the nearby temple on the mountain overlooking the city. On the taxi over we met an Irish guy who'd had a scooter accident & got an infection on his cut arm; it seemed to be deep and he didn't seek medical assistant for a week. Now he was going to hospital daily to have the dressings change. We then went out in search of food and a drink somewhere. Food wasn't an issue, we found some from the 'famous' cowgirl street vendor nearby. A short walk across the street led us to the North Gate Jazz Bar, which had been recommended to us but was not open. In fact, we couldn't find any place open until we finally stumbled across a small bar come restaurant. After a quick drink there we went into the adjoining, but busier, late bar. It was full but the atmosphere was slightly strange without music; all entertainment in the country has been 'toned down' for 30 days as a mark of respect to the king. We spoke to some locals about this, the young were quite open and engaging while the older generation told us not to speak of this.

    The following day brought a reunion of sorts with four others I'd previously met in Bangkok arriving in Chiang Mai. I also spent a good chunk of the day trying to sort out credit card issues. After speaking to the bank the card finally worked in the fourth ATM I tried. A few of us then headed to the night bazaar for food; and medical supplies in my case. The night ended with us buying drinks from a coy street vendor as they were unavailable in the shops; again, due to the death of the king.

    We booked a Thai cooking class for the following day and yet another hospital visit was followed up by a Thai massage from from an establishment staffed by rehabilitated prisoners; in fact, I just got a foot massage due to my shoulder but it was divine. Back at the hostel we were quickly whisked off for our cooking class. Our teacher May was excellent and made sure that we used 'emotion' instead of measurements when making our meals. I was impressed with how well my food turned out but this was in no small part down to the instructions. All in all we did five dishes I chose a basal & chicken stir fry, spring rolls, Thai green curry paste (and then the curry), and Tom Yum soup. Stuffed to the gills we walked back to the hostel through the enormous Sunday night market.

    It was getting close to the end of my time in Chiang Mai so myself and the others headed out of town to the 'Grand Canyon'; a swimming point about a half-hour drive away by taxi. When we got there it was obvious that it was a quarry of some sort previously but it had been repurposed as a swimming and diving point. I stayed dry as I was worried about possible infection on my wound. Back at the hostel for some pool and hot tub we headed off to find the 'Casa' restaurant for pizza and a break from rice & noodles. The place was owned by an Italian from Rome who had recently moved to Thailand. The pizza was as genuinely Italian as anything I've ever had and, although slightly expensive by Thai standards, a large pizza and beer came to a reasonable €6.50. Full to the gills, we retired to our hostel for the night.

    For my final day in Chiang Mai, Frazer & I hired scooters and headed out of the city to do the Samoeng loop; a 100km mountainous drive around the nearby national park. Our initial plan was to hire small little 125cc Honda motorbikes but the rental shop only had one left so we settled for Honda Click 125cc scooters. Almost immediately we were pulled in by the police at a mass checkpoint for scooters. I could only find my paper international licence which I gave to them, they immediately laughed before calling me American and then barked at me to 'Go! Go!'. It took us a while to get out of town but once out we were onto mountain roads surrounded by lush green scenery. Our first stop was at 'Max Coffee' a rural multistorey coffee shop with a rooftop balcony overlooking the mountains. From here we continued to head further away from Chiang Mai and into the mountains. Our next stop was at a viewpoint on top of one of the mountain roads, the views were spectacular; strangely, some locals seemed to be hanging out there but with no cars or bikes around we wondered where they came from. Last stop before the city was a ten story waterfall, the largest in the region; the hike up was worth it for the view. Back in the city I discovered that then ticket for the bus to Chiang Khong, booked for me by the hostel, was void as I didn't make payment for it within a two hour window; they didn't mention that I had to do this at the time of booking. The best I could get was a later bus and hope I can cross the border earlier enough the following day to make check in for the Gibbon Experience in Laos.

    The bus to Chiang Khong was leaving at 2:30pm which gave me enough time to say my goodbyes to the others who were heading to Pai, and to get some food for the trip. It'll be the last time I'll see some of them but hope to reunite with some at points throughout my trip. The bus was thankfully air conditioned which provided some rest bite from the 36 degree heat. The journey felt every bit of the six hours but some beautiful scenery helped a little. I also caught some more increasingly crazy sights on the road; including two small kids, their mother, a scooter and seemingly all of their worldly belongings stuffed into the back of a pick-up truck on the motorway.

    I arrived in Chiang Khong just before 9pm and got to my hostel which was a glorified shed beside a British bar; owned by a Belgian. The place was a ghost town & I arranged for a tuck-tuck to collect me for 7am to bring me to the border.
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