Goodbye Thailand.

Chiang Mai was the last place we stayed in Thailand. It’s not the last place we visited, that was Chiang Khong, but as we were only there 1/2 hour before we crossed the river and the border to Laos it’s not really worth mentioning.

We were in Chiang Mai for about 5 days. It’s Thailand’s second biggest city and a popular place on the tourist trail, with umpteen million things to do, although most of these are extremely expensive for what they are, and compared to the price of other things in Thailand/Asia. First things first, the day we got there we had a wander around. This is customary for me and Nick now. Find somewhere to stay, dump the bags then go for a walk to figure out where we are and where the nearest facilities* are. We did this in style in Chiang Mai. We found a little guesthouse which was basic but clean and functional and in a great location for the cheapest price yet (around £2 per person per night). Just round the corner in a quiet soi was a bar with prime seats outside and 7/11 priced beer where we sat in the late afternoon sun people watching, putting the world to rights and chilling out with a beer or four. Or five. After a few we thought we’d best go get some food, and decided to be Westerners for the night and headed to Mike’s Burger Bar, a roadside burger joint with pricey burgers, good music, weird posters and smiley staff. Now, it might have been the beers, or the fact I’ve not had a burger in months but it was the BEST BURGER AND CHIPS IN THE WORLD. Fact. What we should have done then is stop drinking. But we didn’t, we went back and had more beers. Not before I had (apparently, I can’t quite remember the night from this bit onwards) stopped at a street stall, picked up a fedora hat and pretended to be Michael Jackson. And also told Nick that I didn’t need ANY help from ANY man to cross the road. And talked rubbish to some people from Ireland. Oooops. It was a tremaze night though, much fun and worth the fuzzy feeling the next day.

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Inside the city walls, Chiang Mai is very traveller orientated, with lots of little quiet soi’s full of guesthouses, restaurants, bars and massage places. Very much traveller-town, however it doesn’t feel anything like Khao San Road. It’s very villagey, with no loud music or partying, just a very laid back relaxed atmosphere. We both liked it straight away, and enjoyed a few days of wandering around, finding street places to eat and having a few drinks in the late afternoon sun at our newly found local bar. We spent one day walking the perimeter of the city walls (it’s about 4 miles in total, 1 mile each side), another day having a picnic in the park and another hiring bikes to have a bit of an explore out of town (we ended up in the University area, getting down with all the trendy youths. Chiang Mai is also a surprisingly dirty city – I ended up caked in grime and grit after a day riding round through the traffic. Nice.).

One night we had a traditional Thai massage, which wasn’t anything like any massage I’d had before. Nothing like my sports massages, or oil-based relaxing massages. Nope, this one involved being pulled, stretched, punched, kicked, squeezed as well as knelt and walked on by a Thai lady, with my clothes on. It was relaxing, in a strange way, and afterwards I felt very chilled out. We didn’t do much afterwards, apart from loll around.

On the Sunday night there was a HUGE market where one of the main roads in the old city turned into a walking street where every handicraft under the sun was for sale, as well as all the Wat courtyards being turned into food courts. That night was Snack Night, a night to try lots of different little snacks rather than a full meal. Like omlettes cooked in a banana leaf, or a spicy sausage on a stick, or a little pile of noodles in a leaf, or BBQ chicken wings. Or a bag of insects. That one was Nicks. Although I did try a worm. After freaking out a bit that I thought one was still alive in the bag, and then picking up a worm, squishing it in my fingers and squeaking and dropping it. You know when, before I left to come away, I smugly said “When I go to Asia and see insects on sticks I’ll definitely try one, oh yes I will.”. Yeah. Now I’ve seen them, it’s not going to happen. Can’t do it. The worm was bad enough. Although, it was surprisingly tasty. But. I couldn’t get over the fact it was a worm.

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There was one odd thing that happened while we were walking down the street. Ever been offered a turtle/tortoise for sale by a random man that walks past you in the street? I have. No idea why he was carrying it, whether it was alive or dead, or why he thought I might want it. It’s about as random as the time me and The Marine had gone to Ilkley for the weekend and this eccentric old lady practically spat the words “Stop!..<pause>..Being so..<pause>..intelligent. And..<pause>..Fit!” at us. Weird.

I think I might have decided on my next tattoo. Well, it’s actually going to be an extension of the one I already have on my right wrist. But, I’m keeping the idea until the end of my travels, as I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the next few months too. It did take a bit of restraint not to go and get one done in Chiang Mai. I need to be 100% sure. And I think what I end up having will actually be a few things, some of which I don’t know yet. So I’ve got to be patient.

Chiang Mai was lovely, but as the days went on it was apparent there was less and less to do, unless you had loads of money to spend. A lot of the activities on offer didn’t really appeal to me, and I think we both felt we were probably there about a day too long. Having said that, it was a nice place to spend a few days chilling out, we ate some good food and did a fair bit of walking and biking. We got a bit of culture by visiting a few temples, and we got out of Traveller Town by walking into the outside areas on the last day. This included Seedy Street where there were many bars, full of young pretty Thai girls, to go to, including one called ‘Foxy Ladys a-go-go’. I’m sure you can work out what type of bar that was. And the tuk tuk drivers ask the men if they want to be taken to have a Good Time.

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The alarm was set for 5 am to catch a 6 hour Green Bus to Chiang Kong (the Thailand/Laos border). Heading out of the guesthouse at 5:35am the heavens decided to open. It hadn’t rained for about 4 days, it had been bright hot sunshine. Hmm. It wasn’t looking good, especially as we’d been told the tuk tuks didn’t start until 6am, so our default option was to be to head down the road towards the bus station, looking out for tuk tuks as we went. However, Travellers Serendipitous Luck occurred. Don’t know what this is? It’s when you’re in the right place and the right time. Speak to any traveller and you’ll find it’s probably happened at least once. This time, I had just stepped out of the guesthouse onto the street and what should be coming up the soi but a tuk tuk, it’s lights shining in the rainy darkness like rays from heaven! If there had been sound effects, it would have been a heavenly ‘aaaaaahhhhh’ sung by angels. Price bartered down (of course: standard practice), we got in and escaped getting a good soaking. This is Important when a) you have a 6 hour bus journey on a cold air conditioned bus b) when you don’t have many clothes and you have to dry them and c) you don’t want wet clothes in your backpack. They make everything else wet and smell like wet dog.

Looking forlornly out of the window at our last glimpses of Thailand, we waved a reluctant good bye and crossed the river in Chiang Khong to Houxay to start our adventure in Laos.

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Goodbye Thailand, you were home for a month and a half and I could have stayed longer. I loved your food, it was truly some of the best, cheapest and tastiest around. I tried new things, and enjoyed all of it. Your people are some of the most friendliest, happiest, smiliest and most helpful people I have met. I never heard a raised voice or an argument. No road rage or beeping horns. Everyone I smiled at smiled back. Everyone I said hello to smiled and said hello back. People would go out of their way to help, even when they weren’t asked. I never once felt pressured to buy something, or to have a tuk tuk ride. I never felt like people were only talking to me to get my money. Your landscape and scenery was beautiful and interesting, and all so different. You’ve got a history I enjoyed finding out about. I thought you were a place that I wasn’t fussed about visiting.

You changed my mind. I’ll see you again someday.

*bars with cheap beers

Island life.

So I went to a little island (it seriously is tiny, check it out on google maps) called Koh Mak for just over a week. It’s kind of a filler time, something to do in between landing in Thailand and waiting for Nick to fly into Bangkok. I didn’t want to go South or East (Ko Samui, Krabi etc.) as that’s where we’ll be heading together at some point so I looked for somewhere [fairly] close to Bangkok that I could head to for a bit. After the last 3 whirlwind months I figured I’d choose somewhere that I could relax and chill out for a bit. Somewhere I could just have a bit of alone time, where I could catch up on my blogging, reading and so on.

So, after a 6 hour bus journey and an extortionate short taxi ride (robbing bastards) I found myself stood on a pier looking out over the bright blue ocean in the sun and thought, yep, life is pretty sweet right now. A hop, skip and a jump later and I was on the back of a speedboat whizzing through the nice calm sea from the mainland to Koh Mak. This speedboat journey was particularly pleasant and quite glamorous; wind in my hair, sun on my face and lovely scenery to gaze at. The speedboat ride back just over a week later was not so pleasant. The sea was rough so the boat was jumping about all over the place. I spent the entire 50 minutes clinging on for dear life, getting drenched from the waves coming over the side of the boat and wondering when the boat would either a) capsize or b) break in two from the force of jumping and then landing with full force. I remember thinking I didn’t really want to add ‘boat accident’ to my list of accidents I’ve had so far (taxi and bus), and how my iPhone would be ruined if I ended up in the sea. Luckily, we stayed the right way up and I live to write about another day.

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So the first night I got to the island I stayed in a fairly posh, pretty amazing room with a panoramic view of one of the bays, a massive king size bed and a floor-to-ceiling window next to the toilet (to take in that amazing view). And, for the first time since I’ve been travelling, that night I wished I had someone there to share it with. I still don’t know why. Maybe it was the view, maybe it’s because the island was quiet, maybe it’s because it was quite a romantic setting, maybe it was the huge bed. I don’t know. I just know it all seemed a bit of a waste just for me. It was the kind of place that seemed like it should be a bit special. Not just for a run-of-the-mill, filler week for just me. So, I watched an amazing sunset, lightening storm and the sunrise the next morning out of that window but the decided to find somewhere else. I just couldn’t spend a week there, I wasn’t feeling it. Plus, the wifi didn’t work properly. On an island where you’re alone and there’s not that much to do, this is a Big Thing.

So, I moved to the beach, to a little resort called Monkey Island. No king size, air conditioned room this time; I chose a little beach hut with a fan and a shared bathroom. No more wishing someone was here with me for this one, the resort was cute, had a bar (although it shut at 8pm) and was right on the beach. And had decent wifi. Sold.

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And there I stayed for just over a week. It’s low season for Koh Mak (as it’s the tail end of rainy season in Thailand just now) and so it was very quiet. There’s hardly anyone about (there were only a handful of us staying at Monkey Island) and a lot of things are shut. So, on a small island where there isn’t a lot to do in high season, there really wasn’t much to do at all in low season. Which, is kind of why I went there. I fancied a bit of downtime, although, if you know me you’ll know I like to be busy pretty much all the time and get a bit twitchy if I sit around too long, so why I decided to go there I’m not actually quite sure. Maybe subconsciously I thought it would be a good rest. Or a challenge. And, yep, I ended up getting twitchy. But, it also did me the world of good. So, all in all a win. But, I was ready to leave by the end of it, ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.

So you’re probably [not] wondering what I did with myself for just over a week? I’ll tell you.

  • Got sunburn. The weather was pretty iffy while I was there but there were a few days of sunshine so I decided to try and even my tan out. I’m a shit sunbather; I’m not very good at it, I get bored and if I’m on the beach I get sand everywhere. So I tried it and failed. I then had to spend the next day in my hut with no clothes on, slathering myself in aloe vera gel trying not to move because it hurt. Erotic.
  • Caught up on my blogging. Well, apart from this post which I’m writing after being back in Bangkok for a couple of days.
  • Thinking. Lots of thinking. I probably spent a bit too much time thinking about Australia and jobs. Both of those things are far away yet and I don’t want to wish my time away. But, I can’t help being excited about Oz; I have so many cool things planned. And jobs, well, it didn’t help that I saw my ideal job advertised, so I guess that’s what started me thinking. I applied, but it was a bit of a half hearted attempt and it’s not come of anything. But at least I won’t have any ‘what if’s’.
  • Walking and exploring. I wandered around the island most days (when I wasn’t sunburnt or it wasn’t raining) trying to get a bit of exercise in. I had all good intentions of doing some running but it never happened. I never got up early enough, there were no street lights and I didn’t fancy running in the dark or it was raining.
  • Watching storms. There were a few of them. I liked watching the lightning and the rain from the veranda of my hut. Apart from when the rain was so heavy it was raining into my veranda, then I had to retreat inside and watch it from the doorway.

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  • Imagining I was in Lost. I was on The Island. A lot of places were empty, quiet, overgrown and deserted. I can only assume that it’s because it’s low season, but it reminded me of the Dharma initiative village in Lost. I didn’t see any polar bears or black smoke. Or Jack. Unfortunately.

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  • Providing consultancy services to a friend who was applying for a job by helping them with their application one day. It was really quite bizarre, doing ‘work’ from a little beach hut on a tiny island (or at one point, sat on the beach).
  • Eating pancakes that weren’t pancakes. Not like you and I would think of them (like crepes). This was like a thick round shaped cake. A whole plateful of cake. I had this a few times. Of course.
  • Reading lots of books about murder. I’ve just discovered the DI Matt Barnes series by Michael Kerr and I found them to be can’t-put-you-down books so I got through two of them. But, they’re also pretty graphic, and I’m not sure reading about murder, torture and psychopaths when you’re in a remote, deserted place is the best idea…
  • Realising that no matter how many times I go, I’ll always need the toilet just before I go to sleep. Especially when it’s about 20 feet away from my room.
  • Making a bowl out of a water bottle using nothing but a key. I had bought cornflakes but had nothing to eat them out of. 2 minutes later, voila! It wouldn’t win any prizes for aesthetics, but it was functional. Win.

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So, a pretty relaxing week, but I was ready to leave. Ready to get back to a bit of city life and civilisation. It did me the world of good though, to just stop for a while and have some time alone. To figure some stuff out, recharge my batteries and look forward to the next adventure when Nick will join me for the rest of my time in South East Asia.