My apologies for getting around to this post earler– it’s been a very busy few weeks!
We survived our 22 hour bus ride from Phuket to Chiang Mai, and have been roaming around the North for the last two weeks. The bus ride was actually quite enjoyable. We opted for the VIP bus, which meant we had lazy-boy style seats with massage options in them. Probably the only time in my life I’ll have a 22-hour-long massage. The other saving grace of the bus ride was the fact that we befriended our bus attendant, Jack, whom we talked to for several hours. Turns out he is from Chiang Mai, and is half Lao (Laotian?), so there was no shortage of things to talk about. He is one of the nicest people we have met to date, and we actually met up with him a few days later and did some sight seeing with him. He took us up Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, which is home to one of the King’s palaces, and one of the nicest temples I have seen, with a view of the entire city and surrounding countryside. Having someone from the area show us around just for the joy of it was a very cool expereicne. Not even falling in a river with my camera in hand could put a damper on that day. (Dont worry, the camera was fine — luckily everyone felt the camera’s well being was more important than my own, and grabbed it before it could get wet. I was not so lucky.)
Chiang Mai’s main form of tourism comes from doing trekking and cooking courses. So Alanna and I spent a day doing exactly what our gender roles prescribed. I did a day long trek involving elephants, white water rafting, and hiking; Alanna did a cooking class. The woman we booked the excursions with thought it was hilarious. Despite this, we both had fantastic days. I’ll let Alanna describe her day, but my trip was a lot of fun. I got to ride an elephant, which was something I always wanted to do. It’s also something I told Lewis I would do and take a picture for him. So the picture will follow.
The only other real highlight from Chiang Mai (and by highlight, I mean lowlight I want to vent about) was me getting lost for two and a half hours in the rain. Alanna was getting a massage, so I thought I would slowly wonder back to our room through the market. After a few minutes I realized I didn’t know where I was, so I aksed for directions from a local woman. The problem with that, is that despite being generally very nice, Thai people will not simply tell you they don’t know the answer to your question. Instead they will give an answer despite not having understood a word you’ve said. So I was led in the completely wrong direction. Somewhere during this adventure (it’s still raining, by the way) I stepped in wet cement and ruined my Birkenstocks. I finally found my way back to our guest house expecting to find Alanna waiting for me, but it turns out she had got lost as well, and we got back pretty much the same time. And that was that adventure.
After Chiang Mai, we took a nauseating bus ride through the mountains to Pai. Pai is a small town in the north, that at one point was a hippie gathering point in Thailand. Now, all the hippies have grown up and married Thai wives and opened guest houses or restaurants. So there are almost more white people there than there are Thai, but it’s still a beautiful town. And, to the credit of the resident non-hippies, the owners of Evergreen guesthouse where we stayed happened to be Thai and Aussie, and two of the friendliest people you’ll meet.
Pai has some great food, and even better secenery. We decided to rent a motorbike for a few days and explore the countryside, which is the best way to see it. In between visiting the Pai canyon, the hot springs, elephant farms, and hidden water falls, there’s an endless string of postcard worthy views. Having the bike allowed us to do things on our time, and at our own pace.
After 2 full days in Pai, we took the local bus 1.5 hours through the mountains to an even smaller town called Soppong. I feel like Soppong is the Thai equivalent of a truck stop. A few stores along the road, and not much else. But just outside of town is a place called Cave Lodge. It’s a wooden lodge built in the jungle by an Autralian guy named John who has lived there 30 years. The main attraction is the caves around the area. The first night we went to Tham Lod, which is a cave within walking distance of the lodge. To go through you need a guide to take you through on a bamboo raft. The cave is well travelled, but beautiful. Even more impressive than the cave itself is the half-million swifts that fly into the cave at sunset. So of course we stuck around for that, and it was just as amazing as it sounds.
The next day, Alanna hung around the lodge with some friends we made, while I went with a few others to explore a 4km deep cave. We had a guide who spoke no English, but all we needed was someone to show us the way. No one had been to the cave in over a year, so the path that once led to the cave had been reclaimed by the jungle. Our guide simply got out his machete and made a new one. We were in the cave for just over 4 hours, and had only the lights on our helmets to light the way. We crawled through spaces that were just big enough to get on your stomach and crawl through. Which in principal I don’t have a problem with, but when it’s a few km in a cave, in between rocks, in the dark, with water flowing under you, it can get the heartbeat going. When we got to our farthest point in the cave, we all turned off our lights, and I’ve never experienced darkness like that before in my life. It was such a fun trip, and I did it with some very cool people. All in all, our time at cave lodge was nothing but fantastic.
From there, we made our way to Mae Hong Son. It is only 55km away, but we had a little adventure that made for a trip that was over 2 hours. We were waiting for the bus, and a local offered to take us in his truck for free. He was headed there anyway, and offered us a spot in the back of his pickup truck. What could go wrong? Well, the answer to that is mechanical failures. The trip started great. Wind in our faces, beautiful mountains all around us. The truck was having some issues, but the driver seemed not too concerned by it, so neither were we. Eventually, the truck came to a complete stop in the middle of the road and was not going anywhere anytime soon. Luckily for us, fairly shortly after this a tourist bus came by and picked us up, so it was all fine in the end.
Mae Hong Son was a lot like Pai in that the city itself was nice, but it is everything around the city that makes it worth visiting. We rented another motorbike and spent the day just scooting around seeing waterfalls, and visiting a Chinese Tea village called Ban Rak Thai right on the Burmese border. It was another beautiful day, with no shortage of gorgeous sights.
Ok, I’ve written way too much. We’ll try update again soon so I don’t have to write another essay.
Tons of love from Thailand,
Sam and Alanna