S̄wạs̄dī North Thailand!July 24, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 88 °F
The rest of the slow boat gang were going straight to Chiang Mai so I bid farewell to them in the morning and got the local bus to Chiang Rai, just a couple hours away. It was quite a nice change getting a local bus as opposed to the big long distance buses or minivans I’ve been used to until now. The bus was quite old and small and I was definitely the only tourist in it. I almost had felt like Red at the end of the Shawshank Redemption when he gets the bus out to field with the big tree, mainly because it went though the countryside and was old, not that I had jus been released from prison... Anyway, after a couple hours we reached Chiang Rai and I was pleased to find that the bus station was actually in the entire of town (not always the case here) so I was able to walk to my hostel. After checking in I asked about the bus times to the White Temple, the main tourist sight here, and headed back to the bus station. I found the right bus easily and got on, followed by a handful more tourists. Just a short ride outside of the town we got off on the side of the main road and followed the trail of tourists heading to the temple. Wat Rong Khum, to give it its official name, is actually a contemporary, slightly unconventional private art exhibit which was designed and built in the style of a Buddhist temple by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. From the outside the building looks like a very pristine, shimmering white temple. But inside the main building is where it’s really weird as the walls are covered in bizarre murals. At first glance it looks like any spiritual paintings but then you notice images of Michael Jackson and Harry Potter. The most bizarre is definitely George Bush riding a rocket. Very odd indeed. After marvelling at temple of madness of a while I headed back to the city for an early dinner. The temple is pretty much the main thing to see in Chiang Rai so I decided to spend the rest of the evening relaxing at my hostel, taking advantage of the air conditioning and WiFi.
I got the late morning bus to Chiang Mai and arrived at the bus station in the outskirts of the city at around 2pm. I refuse to pay the extortionate price for a tuk tuk to my hostel so managed to find a local bus that would take me there for a tenth of the price. Win for the day! When I arrived at the hostel I was greeted by probably the friendliest woman ever, Jaidee. She owned the hostel with her English boyfriend. And when she found out I was from England too she said “welcome home” and gave me a big hug. After she showed me to my room I relaxed for a while before going down to the cafe for an early dinner. I felt that I was starting to get a scratchy throat so I decided to have an early night, hoping I’d feel better in the morning.
Unfortunately I didn’t feel better when I woke up. I think all the traveling eventually caught up with me and I just felt really run down. So sadly I had my first sick day and stayed in the hostel for the day. All I can say is I’m glad I was ill at that hostel with Jaidee around. Every time I came down from my room for food or a drink she’d feel my forehead and ask if I was ok. So sweet. Even though I wasn’t able to see any of the city that day, the rest was a welcome break. I was sure after keeping hydrating and eating enough during the day I’d feel back to normal again in the morning.
Thankfully I woke up feeling much better and well enough to explore the city. After a very welcome english breakfast of beans on toast (I’m pretty sure it was even warburtons bread too!) I headed out for the day to visit Chiang Mai’s many temples. Unlike the White Temple, the temples here are very old, some of which dating back to 14th century. As there are so many to chose from, on Jaidee’s recommendation I visited Wat Chedi Luang (a huge stone temple, where the small temple in front had a sign saying women aren’t allowed in as they menstruate), Wat Lok Molee (the three tiered wooden temple guarded by two elephant statues) and Wat Phra Singh (which was renovated in the 19th century so looks more modern than the others). In between temple visits I stopped at a vegan restaurant for lunch and to buy some of their baked goods for later. On the way back to the hostel after being temples out I stumbled across a huge vintage clothing shop and enjoyed a good half an hour rummaging through the clothing rails. Sadly due to luggage constraints I had to contain myself and walk away empty handed. It’s nice to know that the second hand trade is not just a European thing. Back at the hostel I got chatting to an English couple in the common area and after a few minutes discovered that although they live in Bristol they’re both from Torquay. How weird! We spent the next while reminiscing about home. After a while Jaidee popped in and said we should go to the night market so we headed out to have a look. As with most night markets in Asia there are the usual food and souvenir stalls to browse. We stopped at one food stall and had some noodles for dinner and continued to chat about each other’s trip, they also gave me tips on Pai where I was headed next. After walking the length of the market, avoiding buying any souvenirs, we headed back to the hostel to pack for our onward travels.
I got the late morning minibus to Pai and had yet another awful windy bus journey. I’m not usually one to get car sick, but this was a windy of windiest roads, so by the time we got to Pai (three hours later) I was feeling pretty queasy. Luckily Pai itself is pretty small so I only had a two minute walk to my hostel and soon found myself having a lie down in a large bamboo hut with 8 beds on each side. I had a nap to sleep off the nausea and woke up feeling well enough to venture to the famous backpacker walking street to sample the culinary treats Pai had to offer. Pai is the backpacking hub of Thailand with about 90% of its inhabitants on a day being tourists. Walking down the main street you’d be hard pressed to find any locals, other than those manning the food stalls. Thanks to happy cow I found a small falafel stall and got myself a huge falafel pita. Next to the falafel stall was a fresh fruit smooth stall so I got a mixed smoothie too and headed back to my bamboo hut to enjoy my dinner on the porch looking out at the river. And FYI the falafel was the best I’ve ever had. After dinner it was time for an early night so I was rested for a full day exploring tomorrow.
I was up early feeling well rested and ready to explore the nature surrounding Pai. After walking around the village for twenty minutes I eventually found shop renting bicycles instead of mopeds. I should have taken that as a read flag that in the whole village there were about twenty shops renting mopeds and only one renting bicycles. Blissfully ignorant I set off out of the village towards pai canyon, the main attraction in the area. Clearly I had mentally blocked out the car ride into the town due to feeling sick and forgot that not only were the roads windy but also hilly. After starting off enthusiastically I soon lost energy after the first hill. I spent the next hours journey walking up the hills, cycling down the hills and sweating profusely. After much effort I finally made it to the entrance to the canyon. I took a few minutes to catch my breach and climbed the last few steps up to the canyon. Andrew me tell you, the view was definitely worth the effort. The canyon, like a mini Grand Canyon, covered a LARGE AREA, and consisted of a number of natural walkways across and around the canyon (some treacherously narrow). I spent around an hour walking around the canyon and taking in the impressive view. Many people come here for sunset, but the thought of repeating that journey was too much for me, plus it was cloudy so there wouldn’t be much of a sunset anyway. I headed back to the parking area and grabbed a quick smoothie at one of the stalls before grudgingly getting back on my bike and heading to my next destination. To be honest I was tempted to just cycle back to town, but as the next place was sort of on the way I forced myself to continue as planned. After a further hour of cycling and walking I reached the “Land Split” a unique tourist sight. In 2008 an earthquake split a farmers land right down the middle making it almost unfarmable. As a stroke of entrepreneurial genius he decided to turn it into a tourist attraction and also sell his homemade jams and teas. Although not a big area, taking just ten minutes to walk from top to bottom, it’s quite a unique place to visit, especially getting to talk to the farmer himself. While visiting I met three other travellers (an English guy, Sam, a South African guy and an Israeli girl). They were shocked that I’d cycled there as they had taken the more commonly used mopeds. The we’re going further along the road to visit the nearby waterfall and bamboo bridges and invited me along on one of their bikes. I gladly accepted as there was no way inward cycling further away from the town. The waterfall was quite small but fun to climb through the rocks to see the full height of it. Sam even took a quick swim in the water while the rest of us waited on the rocks having not brought a change of clothes. After the waterfall we continued on to the bamboo bridges. The bridges themselves were more like a ling network of bamboo walkways connecting various rice fields together. It was nice and peaceful waking along the bridges taking pictures of the rice fields. We stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at the local bamboo restaurant looking out over the fields. After our food the guys took me back to my bike, and after a few unsuccessful attempts of trying to find a way to carry my bicycle alongside their bikes so I didn’t have to cycle I thanked them for the gesture and committed to my fate of cycling back to town. The journey back didn’t seem as bad though, probably due to the fact that I know once I reached the cycle shop I wouldn’t have to cycle again, and I reached town after only twenty minutes. I headed back to my hostel for a brief rest before dinner. I couldn’t leave pai without another visit to the falafel stall so my dinner was exactly the same as the night before, smoothie and all. I also treated myself to a couple vegan spring rolls I spotted on the way back. Back on the porch again I enjoyed my dinner looking out onto the river (while also catching up on a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy). I went to bed feeling satisfied after a full and active day.
After a welcome lie in I got the late morning bus back to Chiang Mai and to my home away from home Jaidee’s house. Thankfully the bus ride wasn’t as car sick inducing and I reached Chiang Mai around 3pm. Although it was till early I decided to spend the rest of the day at the hostel planning the next leg of my journey as tomorrow I’d be flying to Myanmar.
So there you have my week in North Thailand. Next stop Myanmar, my tenth country of this trip.
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