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

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City surprise.

Bangkok surprised me. I spent two weeks there in total, which is nearly two weeks more than planned. Lots of people said it’s awful, noisy, busy and advised to just get out as quick as possible. But I found I loved it. It’s not really anything like you’d imagine. Ok, maybe there are seedy parts, dirty bits. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s a city. It’s certainly better than some cities I’ve been to (Delhi?). Maybe it was the area I stayed in; a Thai residential area. But I found it energising, friendly, cosmopolitan, bustling and vibrant. It’s easy to get around and is filled with lovely happy smiley people.

My second stay was when Nick came to join me to be my travel buddy for a couple of months in SE Asia. Nick’s first time in Thailand, we spent a few days walking miles and miles (literally; I think we covered around 40 miles in 3 days) around the city, eating lots of street food, trying to interact with the locals and take pictures. I met up with Rebecca again before Nick arrived for more food and drinks and a wander round a very wet and soggy Asiatique, a waterfront full of shops, restaurants and bars.

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It was strange having someone to travel with, especially someone I know from back home, after a few months of travelling by myself. It’s different, but in a good way. Someone to share stuff with. Like the experiences and sights that are being seen, but also the responsibility and organisation. Like remembering to take a room key, or figuring out which bus to get or doing a beer run. It’s making a nice change for a small part of my adventure. To share my adventure. We did a lot that week in Bangkok, here’s just a few examples:

  •  Had a few beers. Of course, it had to be done. And of course then I had to introduce Nick to the wonders of the 7/11 post-beer munchie food. Incidentally, there are 6500 7/11’s in Thailand. They are everywhere. Literally.
  • Stayed at the wonderful U-baan hostel in the Thonburi district ran by the lovely Joy (helped by her sister Jan). It’s a great place to stay at; we felt right at home and met some, erm, interesting people. Especially three Australian lads who were on a two-month rampage through SE Asia. The things they had already got up to in the few short weeks they had been travelling can’t really be written down here. And that’s just the things they told us about. The Dark Arts, as they called them, were not allowed to be shared publicly. I dread to think. But they were very sweet and very bloody entertaining. They left after a couple of days to head to a posh hotel nearer the centre of the action…god knows what they got up to.
  • Visiting Khao San Road. The backpackers mecca, we had an idea of what it would be like but we wanted to see it for sure. And it was exactly what we thought. Full of tourists, backpackers, english and irish bars, hawkers, cheap tat and fast food places. Pretty dire, and we were quick to make an exit. Not my kind of place, not my kind of travelling.

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  • Got interviewed by some Thai school children. I was in a shopping mall and I noticed a bunch of boys, probably about 11 or 12, giggling and nudging each other while looking in my direction. Eventually they came up and asked if they could ask me a few questions. I guess they were doing some kind of school project; they asked my what my favourite Thai food was, why and had a picture taken with me. It was all a bit odd but after a few months of being in Asia having your picture taken with people is kind of normal.
  • Discovered condensed milk on toast. Well yes, I know this sounds horrific, but, if you have a sweet tooth you may just be in heaven with this new taste sensation. Thick toast, butter then drizzled condensed milk. Oh. Em. Gee. I love Bangkok food courts. Where else would have a toast stall?
  • And staying on the condensed milk theme, Nick and I found a street pancake stall. A man with a little trolly making pancakes. This is quite popular in Thailand; a pancake with banana or egg (or both), drizzled with condensed milk and sugar. My advice? Try it without banana or egg. Just a pancake, on it’s own, with condensed milk and sugar. I may have died and gone to sweet food heaven.
  • And staying on the food theme, we ate and ate and ate the most amazing food. We didn’t go into a restaurant once; we stuck to street food. There were so many options, and the food was just so bloody good. Amazing flavours, so hot and fiery cooked and served right in front of you by happy smiley people. Street food all the way.
  • Talked to a lot of local people. We talked to loads of people. Well, talked/sign languaged as much as we could. Thai people are so friendly and so happy and so smiley. It was wonderful. I watched Nick make a paper aeroplane for a small Thai lad, we joked with people cooking our food and chatted with the people at the market.
  • Browsed the local markets. These are great places to go. All the foods, the smells, the sounds, the people. Makes all your senses come alive. Living, not existing.

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  • Took a sky train tour. One day we bought an all-day sky train ticket and just rode the train. When we got to a stop that looked interesting we just got out and walked around. I’d say with this and the walking we’d already done in the non-sky train areas we pretty much covered the whole of Bangkok. All the different places have a different feel; which we could really tell walking through them all.
  • Got grossed out at the Museum of Forensic Medicine. This was pretty gruesome but fascinating. Lots of exhibits and pictures of things showing what happens to the body after car accidents, murders, birth defects etc. A bit macabre but in an educational way. Apart from that all the writing is in Thai so we just had to guess sometimes.
  • Climbed a temple. We had to go to at least one temple so I chose Wat Arun. It’s a beautiful temple, you can climb to the top up really steep steps to get a great view over the river and Bangkok city. It looks like it’s made out of grey stone but it’s not until you get close up that you realise it’s covered in Bangkok grime and actually the stones are white and coloured.

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It’s amazing how we felt at home in Bangkok. It’s not because it’s a big city, because it’s not particularly westernised, although there are some areas where it obviously has parallels and home comforts. We tried to decide why, but couldn’t. I think there are too many reasons. Nick absolutely loved it, and will be coming back at the end of his trip. How long for, he’s not sure yet. But I suspect it has stolen a little bit of his heart.

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