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Published: August 9th 2008
A Royal Return
Hanging out with their Majesties
Part 2, The Revenge
As the saying goes, "everyone deserves a second chance"
so almost two months after we scurried out of Thailand with faces like thunder we returned, this time to the far north.
We decided that perhaps rude, modern and excessively commercial Bangkok did not necessarily represent the best of Thailand, especially as it is possible to say the same thing about London. Our plan this time was to head to a smaller place called Chang Mai. From conversations with backpackers Chang Mai sounded like it would be a chilled little oasis and the perfect place to rest and relax for a few days. In reality it is actually the second largest city in Thailand. Uh Oh...
went alarm bells in our head as the bus drove through the bustling outskirts and into a great big bus station, but we needn't have worried as Chang Mai turned out to be a good place.
In fact, to be fair to Thailand, from the moment we crossed the Laos border this has felt like a totally different place. Perhaps it's because many of the people in the north are from Laos and their Thai citizenship
Who You Pointing At?
Tracey attracts attention in downtown Chang Mai
is nothing more than a label placed upon them by the geography of borders. Or perhaps nothing was different other than our attitude and a more open mind to giving Thailand another go. Whatever the reason, we arrived to a warm greeting at a secluded guesthouse in downtown Chang Mai in the back of a cheap and friendly tuk tuk (so far, so very good). After checking it out, David left Tracey to a cup of tea while he set off in search of the perfect sleeping location.
A Million Zzzz's Please
Having traveled non-stop across Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos the plan for Chang Mai was five whole days of relaxation, healthy food and most importantly, SLEEP. For the next hour and a half David raced around the maze-like streets checking out loads of guesthouses like a man possessed. Who knows what the owners must have thought as he lay on the beds, closed the curtains, peered out the windows for any signs of construction, schools or temples and most importantly of all...no sign or sound of the purest of evil...the cockerel.
Eventually he returned hot and happy with the triumphant news that we
Stairway to Heaven
A beautiful Buddist temple in partial ruin
were staying...exactly where we were. This was good news to Tracey who had struck up a nice relationship with the owner during Dave's guesthouse odyssey. Of course in the 'zone' he was in choosing a room here was not over without a little more obsessing as he liked the bed in one room and the curtains in the other, but luckily Tracey put her rather more sensible foot down and we settled into what turned out to be a very peaceful room. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
The Big Bad Red Dragon
Skip forward to the next day and all was still going well. Sleep had been had, a wonderful fruit and muesli breakfast had been devoured and Dave had been to the dentist for a cheap filling and a clean. All that was left was to pop to an internet cafe to catch up on e-mails and write a new Laos blog. But one e-mail had been sent to test us.
After Thailand our plan was to was to fly to Nepal (all booked), travel overland with a tour company from Nepal into Tibet (also all booked) and then travel across China to Beijing (all booked)
before flying out of Hong Kong on Sept 13th. For many months this plan had been on hold because the increasingly fascist Chinese government closed the border with Tibet in order to have free rein beating up Tibetans. You might have seen the pictures on TV, you know, the nice ones where the Chinese Military are smashing nuns in the head with sticks. Anyway, thanks to a bit of global pressure and with many Tibetans now busy in Chinese 're-education' schools, the government had re-opened the border and our trip was back on. Obviously this was quite a relief given our ticket back home was out of China.
But then we got the e-mail from our Nepalese tour agency...the one that said the land border was now closed again and if we wanted to go to China we would have to skip the entire beautiful overland journey in favour of flying at great expense. What's more the Chinese had added the ridiculous visa requirement that you could only travel in a group, and that to class as a group everyone had to have passports from the same country. Being a married couple but on different passports meant we did
Next Came The Blood
The Friday night fights
not qualify. As we were saying, facist
with a large dollop of pathetic on the side.
It would be fair to say we were dissapointed, yet surprisingly relaxed and calm, and almost on the spot we decided to forgo China all together and to go to India instead.
Knees, Elbows and Frying Pans
The next two days were spent cancelling everything we had planned for China and finding out what we needed for India. By some fluke chance India had an embassy in Chang Mai, although in what might be an ominous sign, nobody knew where it was, three different maps had different locations for it and even their own website had no idea. We did eventually find it, only to learn that it takes up to two weeks to get a visa so we'll be doing that in Kathmandu instead. Oh well, there's nothing like cutting it fine when it's your ONLY option. If that embassy is no good then you might find us hiding out for the next few months as strangely tall and fair Sherpas.
The good news is all these dead ends and drastically changing travel plans did little
We call these Vegetables
Learning from the master
to dampen our enjoyment. On Friday night we fulfilled a long time ambition of Dave's and went to a Muay Thai Fight Night. Due to the fact these guys fight with punches, kicks, knees and elbows this is definitely a blood sport and Tracey had her "I hope these guys are not just putting on a show for us"
question answered when in the very first fight a guy got knocked out cold with a vicious kick to the head.
A bit less bloody but almost as sweaty was our all day Thai cookery course. We had signed up with a master Thai chef to learn the secrets to Thai cuisine and to learn how to cook 6 of their most famous dishes. The "secrets" we can now reveal are many spoonfuls of salt, fish oil, soy sauce and most of all SUGAR. Spoons and spoons of sugar. Hmmmmm, no wonder this stuff tastes so good. The day started in a local market learning which root vegetable was what and how to pick the right spices etc for soups, stirfries and curries. After that it was four hours in the classroom where each of us had our own cooking
David - always the show off
station in order to make and then eat what we were learning about. Afterwards, with tummies bursting, we were given a cook book to take away with all the recipies. This is a day we thoroughly reccommend.
For our final Chang Mai fling we hired a motorcyle and set off up a 1022m hill to a very famous temple and then into the countryside for a picnic and a swim beside some waterfalls.
Before we left Tracey also took advantage of some cheap dentistry and we watched the All Blacks wallop Australia at Rugby in an ex-pat sports bar we had quite literally stumbled across while dodging monsoon downpours the day before.
From Chang Mai we bordered an overnight bus to Bangkok. For long journeys overnight buses serve two good purposes, you can sleep (albeit badly) for much of the journey and it saves you the price of a night's accomodation.
Back With a Bang
Arriving in Bangkok we headed back to the place we had stayed before we left. Despite the area around it being a drunken tourist hellhole, this place was clean and quiet and it felt nice and comfortable
This Way Is Forward
David demonstrates his road code knowledge to Tracey
to return to it.
In fact, after all the bad things we said about Bangkok last time, it felt surprisingly nice to return to a city that we already knew quite a bit about. We knew where good cheap food was, we knew which bus to catch to get to the cinema (Batman at Imax - awesome) and wouldn't you know it, we ended up having a pretty good time. Given that was all in the same old Bangkok as before we guess we must have changed our minds about Thailand after all.
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