Chiang Mai...Oh my Buddha!

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June 28th 2012
Published: June 29th 2012
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We wonder how many places we will encounter that will almost make it feel like we got off a plane at home,we say almost as the heat still hits you as the plane doors swing open yet the feeling of familirarity was upon us almost immediately after leaving the airport but before we arrived at the hostel! The welcome from the Thai people was similar to that you get from northerners at home and as we were driven by air conditioned taxi no less, we were instantly reminded of Lancaster. Chiang Mai in the north west of Thailand is not like Lancaster in any way other than perhaps size but when Lauren first moved to uni there, something just felt right, clicked. That feeling hit us when we hit the streets of our new home for the next five days. The people are in the most part genuine and friendly, the smells are sensational in the most part, not by the moat as you leave the old town; and the sights are frequent but you get the feeling you have seen it before which really can sum up Lancaster rather well!

The first hostel we stayed in we now felt like we were robbed but as a friend we met put it, robbed by such a polite man you kind of allow it to happen. I mean the room wasn't so bad when you start to put things In perspective, something we started doing in Lancaster, a cocktail tonight is two nights accommodation, the meal out is 6 meals in S E Asia etc, and so to here, our room was on the second floor of a terraced building, it consisted of a double bed so hard it would solve any persons back problems, a side unit- that wasn't next to the bed as there wouldn't be room, a fan, and an en suite, now please don't be taken by this fancy word we will be encountering many terms that can sound one way and really be interpreted another. It was a wet room basically with a shower in the middle that when turned on gave the promised hot water but went all over the small sink and, luckily for us, western toilet. It didn't dry out in the three days we stayed there, which in hindsight was probably three days to long. But perspective jumps in, we had free wifi 24/7 and the router was outside our room giving us the speediest connection which Ben took full advantage of watching various things on YouTube it was also in the heart of the old town and had a movie room with various knock off movies to watch and no one in so you had the remote. And for this we paid 250 baht a night for us both. So £5. By some standards in S E Asia that can be considered expensive. Yes £5 a night for hot water unlimited Internet and a bed that wasn't infested with bugs privacy and a fan, a loud noisy fan but still it worked. Kind of. And so as you meander on your way after reading this ask yourself what you would get for £5? Not even a cocktail at revolution, where Lauren started the perspective stance! However we then saw in the same building another room, same price but with a king bed that looked comfy, a terrace plus things you realise are material but comforting- bed side table, mirror and dresser plus a chair but as this was taken we decided we should look for somewhere else. That is how we stumbled across luxury- an air con room that was huge really, no less than 3 chairs, mirror and dresser, again a wet room but it dried in an hour, free toilet roll, a wardrobe and table plus a king size bed- all this £7.80 a night. We agreed it was worth it! Lauren actually slept without staring at the creeks in the walls wondering what might come out and well Ben still slept as he had been but this time he could snooze to a tv. With English channels! It was fair to say we had arrived and further showed us perspective. For instance Lauren thought it would be easier to have her legs waxed which cost 400 baht, the same price as the new room, would clean smooth legs come under the same class as a great nights sleep for 12 hours? Needless to say legs were shaved later that day!

The Sunday we arrived saw the weekly market where the busiest main road was closed to traffic and thousands of market stalls appeared with stock of all varieties housed, from Tiffany jewellery to t shirts and handmade artefacts. There were also rows of massage stalls and Lauren treated herself to a half hour neck and shoulder following the flights and for £1.20 it was well worth it plus the opportunity to people watch and learn the art of haggling; which is an art and we saw it done many ways quite incorrectly! To the point where someone we met told us they go the opposite way just for the amusement, you say 200- no I give you 400! we got some great street food, sticky rice with mango and BBQ chicken skewers, it was very tasty! We also went to a roof top bar and had a cocktail and beer and watched the market from above which was a sight in itself! We returned to the hostel having found somewhere we could watch the match later and thought we should try and get 60 winks, Ben succeeded but Lauren decided to make some friends in the tv room, doing the backpacker song- where have you been, how long you here, where is next etc, and woke Ben up at 1am to head to a bar. We got to the packed out bar with no less than 3 projector screens and sat with a lovely couple who worked on small ships around the world, the gent from runcorn and she was from Florida. We chatted to them most of the night and watched the poor display of football, knowing it would go to penalties just as we were so tired! Well you know how it went and we left at about 4.30am and fell straight asleep.

We hadn't set an alarm hoping to catch up a bit and when we woke at 3pm we were pretty surprised and knew had to get up now so enable us to sleep tonight! We headed into the town and went on about a 6 mile walk discovering temples seeing local culture and learning about Thai people- the crazy moped antics- you know the one- four on one bike and usually the youngest about 3 years old will have no helmet! We saw locals eat the street food as we discovered most people have at least 2 jobs the second normally being driving a tuk tuk! We returned to the main area shocked at how far we had walked but in such comfort as we say we really felt right at home. We had only had a smoothie that day so we checked the lonely planet guide and decided to walk to the Ping river (we never found Pong river!) which was further than we anticipated, but worth the journey as we passed a restaurant overlooking the river which looked pretty luxurious and suddenly became in budget as cocktails were on happy hour! We went in and subsequently out onto deck and sat on cushioned garden furniture overlooking the river with lanterns lit in the trees sipping a Piña Colada for Lauren and Ben had a long island iced tea. It was beautiful, we realised right there that coming to such a place where it is so cheap you can really afford to do luxury! We then ate local Thai food at the riverside restaurant, chiang mai's answer to hard rock cafe and it was lovely, we walked back along the night bazaar and tried bartering first hand, Ben got a vest top and Lauren bartered for a Tiffany present for her auntie.

We woke fresh and ready for the day on Tuesday with two aims, book a trek for the next day and go and see the tigers, the first was done straight away and next door we bartered for a round service air conditioned taxi who waited for us and we got it for £6, 12 km each way plus we were there over an hour. He told us about local people, the king and the royal family, the Thai people love Elizabeth and how she visited Thailand for the kings birthday! He showed us a place where men can stay and eat for free to which Lauren was amazed then came the answer- prison! We discovered the 20baht store like our pound shops! He also apologised for the Thai music and said he had good English music. He put on Westlife. He told us that Thai's are only good at volleyball and boxing as we joked about England's poor performance and who he thought would win and the Brazil world cup in 2014. He brought his wife for the journey and we had a great chat, his English was brilliant!

The tigers were amazing! You had different options but we chose to go in an enclosure with the smallest tigers at 2 months old, it cost about £25 for us both for 15 minutes playing and seeing the big cats too. Words can't describe how great it was, just playing we them as they crawled over your legs and we could kiss them! We suspected the adults are tranquillised although the company claim they are not in order to stroke them but these little guys were so cute and playful there is no way they were!

Back in chiang mai we took a walk to a park that was about 2 miles away and had a gorgeous afternoon lying on a bamboo mat and snoozing. We ate burgers that afternoon at an American's place which were pretty awesome in a traditional diner and went home for a further kip! We skyped Ben's parents that evening and called it a day having found our new hostel to check into the next morning.

We were picked up after a smoothie at about 8.20am and we were on our way to the trek, the main reason of our visit to this region of Thailand but as he told us our itinerary we both exchanged looks and he studied our receipt a little too carefully, as we arrived at the butterfly and orchid farm we hadn't paid for the guide told us we were on the wrong trek. We know but you picked us up! We were told to wait 10 minutes and our new pick up would arrive but we could go into the farm so that was a result! The new guys we were squeezed in with were a much better lot to be honest! It felt like we had known each other for ages and Abs one guy was even from Kendal! We went to a tribe to see how locals live and then it was onto the elephant sanctuary! And it was incredible! We sat on the back of an elephant while Ahid another from the group was the driver! It was unusual to get on you had to stand on her but she didn't seem to mind and we were off feeding her bananas and sugar canes along the way. We sat there admiring the beauty of this animal, there really is no other like them and the way the trunk grabs food to feed into their mouth and can break up grasses to eat it was rather incredible! We also were taken through a gorgeous small jungle which gave the photos a stunning back drop, and had an awe inspiring time, Ben even had a passing elephant just rest his trunk on his lap wanting for banana! After the ride we ate some tofu and rice and had some refreshing pineapple before going another 5 minutes by truck to start the 1 hour trek to the waterfall. It was pretty tough walking to begin with a lot of hills and over grown grasses but it was a lot of fun and the scenery was worth every step, we stopped every 15 minutes for photos and had a great time chatting with the other guys in the group as there was about 10 of us. The guide, Chamlong or Mike as he told us, was a great guide and made the trek very enjoyable! Lauren made the comment that IF this went all well we should definitely do more of this back home and further into the trip.

Some of the walking was hard going, crossing over rivers on fine ledges and climbing up makeshift wooden ladders but we made it to the waterfall and it was as though we had stepped into Peter Andre's Mysterious Girl video! We got into our swimwear and went in, most people walked in gracefully, Lauren went in the same way and fell flat on her back! The water was cold but refreshing and the actual waterfall was very powerful it actually pushed Yazmin's bikini top aside, yes Yazmin we saw! We got some great photos and were lucky to be about 20 minutes ahead of other groups and had the place to ourselves. We got out, Lauren falling back again, Abs put it that at least she is consistent! We dried off and hit the trek back the same way worrying slightly as some uphill on the way would be difficult to climb down. Lauren kept her board shorts from the pool on and they were pretty wet that as she climbed up the tree to move on after 5 minutes she slipped and fell into the stream and scraped all her left leg and badly bruised her elbow and other knee. She was in a hell of a lot of pains and bleeding quite badly but we knew we had to carry on so she powered through very bravely! The main concern was that there were a lot of dogs following us and we hadn't had our rabies and she was walking with open wounds, but as we had two dentists with us they assured us what injections mattered and we had those, everyone was really kind and saying we could slow down but we actually stayed and kept up with the front of the group. As we got towards the next activity, Bryony kindly gave her an alcohol wipe but we decided plasters wouldn't cover it at all!

The next activity was the white water rafting! We got a brief instruction of what the would say and what it meant and we were off! It was so much fun, apart from when the captain, literally for no reason decided to try and haul Lauren into the water! No one else just her but the others all clinged on to her and he gave in. She didn't want to be a spoil sport it was due to the open wounds honest! We raced with the others and took the rapids at speed and eventually over took the other two groups and could drift down the river peacefully it was very relaxing! We only realised later that the other groups were held up as they had a first time captain who actually steered them into rocks! We then transferred onto the bamboo rafts and continued along the river for the last 15 minutes, our captain was still with us but let Ahid steer so he had a great time! We stood up on the bamboo but other groups sat down, it was a truly authentic experience apart from the captain thinking he would trick us all saying we all needed to go to the left to try and make us fall in but we got smart pretty quickly, so he just threw Ahid in instead! We also came across the saying "Oh My Buddha!" which we have all decided to continue it is a lot better!

On the way back to the city we agreed we would all meet up for dinner a couple of hours later as we all needed showers. We headed to a local Thai restaurant with geckos crawling on the walls and ceiling and Lauren tried not to bat an eyelid! It was great food sampling local pad Thai and the guys in the group very generously paid for us noting that for 8 it came to less than £12! We then sought out a karaoke bar knowing it would be a lot of fun and the first place we came to had it, owned by the American where we had burgers, called Loco Elvis. We really recommend it if anyone finds there way to Chaing Mai we even went back for Mexican food there the next day. We sampled margarita in jugs and several other cocktails and had a great laugh singing The Fresh Prince of Bel Air song, plus Rihanna and JLS! Other songs by others were things like "Cause I got high!" and "Show me how to dougie" it was a hell of a lot of fun! The owner and a worker also got up several times seeing themselves as a singer/rapper combo and doing hits like "Wanna be a Millionaire" and "Nothin' on you" plus we got a great video of him doing "Sexy and I know it" actions and all! We even got Ben up with us singing his heart out to Oasis! Two guys also had a bit of a free style rap battle which felt like 8 mile! And these kids came round trying to sell flowers but would take your baht if they beat you in a thumb war which seemed cute at first but very annoying and bloody cheeky but that is how it works here, the locals come to touristy areas and sell you anything and everything hoping you buy something just to make them leave, we wouldn't succumb to this on our budget but the guys with us did! The night came to an end about 1am and we said our goodbyes, exchanged emails for photos to send each other and left them organising when they could meet up for the full moon party next week.

That was the downside to super organised Lauren, we had flights booked on Friday to Laos and we couldn't change them, we could have gone with their plan but more groups of people will be met for sure and we had a plan to stick to. Lauren knew that kind of thing may happen but we feel better knowing how long we are in some place so we spend our time with purpose not missing out due to timing or indeed wasting time. On reflection we probably stayed here a day too long but the Thursday allowed us to chill out and get some laundry done, and go back to the the bar we loved over the river. We did go back to the hostel around 6pm hoping to chat to Lauren's mum which couldn't be sorted unfortunately but we caught up on the news and chilled out till we fell asleep so it was probably an overdue day. We had also contracted sore throats and a bit of a cold due to the day before so recuperation was invaluable.

We left the hostel this morning and had a healthy wrap for brunch before heading to the airport where we sit now writing this blog. We are now heading for Luang Prabang the old capital of Laos and a UNESCO world heritage site often quoted as the most beautiful place in S E Asia so pretty excited!

Thank you for keeping on reading and following our adventure, hopefully it's a wee bit of a reality escape to those in dreary England and you may even plan your own adventure from inspiration, who knows! Please feel free to comment and feedback if you like the blog or what you don't like, is it too detailed, not enough of what you want to know?!

Things of note:

You can get a lot of western food but it is always more expensive than local food.

You know which is a good food stall to eat at as the locals eat there.

The electricity lines are crazy loads of wires intertwined!

They drive on the left like the UK but as they do u turns at set points in the road they go near side instead and they have left turn on red lights (makes sense but harder to cross the road).

Cocktails are not really cheaper than the UK so we only had them on the happy hours.

The only hassles you get is tuk tuk drivers and selling tours which is pretty minor but they only listen after you say no three times!

Fresh fruit is the way to go with stalls every couple of metres and they are always very fresh.

What would we do differently: we can't think of anything except we didn't go to Doi Suthep a large temple on a hill.

Thefts: 0

Fallouts: 0

Near Misses: 3 - all for Lauren at the trek!

Additional photos below
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