13/04 – day 74 to 21/04 – day 82: Koh Tao again
Arrived in Koh Tao super early, rented a bike, left my stuff at Spicy Tao and joined up with my friend. So great to see him again!!! And feeling I’m exactly in the place I wanted to be !! First day was Songkran, which was great and then… well Koh Tao adventures…!!
22/04: Day 83 – Kanchanaburi and night bus to Chiang Mai
Go left early and I hanged around Kanchanaburi, looked a bit into what I should do in Chiang Mai, went to check out, finally, the Bridge of the river Kwai. It’s famous because it’s considered as the start of the infamous World War II Death Railway to Myanmar. During the 414-kilometre railway’s construction, in harsh tropical conditions with starvation rations, diseases running rife and brutal treatment by Japanese guards, an estimated 13,000 out of some 60,000 POWs died along with an additional estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilian workers.
The bridge was immortalized in Pierre Boulle’s novel, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and the classic 1957 film of the same name.
Walked around Kanchanaburi for a little bit. Noticed something I hadn’t before, that Kanchanaburi is one of these Thai cities full of old white English dudes, holding their bars with their Thai wife…
Took the night bus around 9 pm direction Chiang Mai !
23/04: Day 84 – Early arrival in Chiang Mai
I arrived so stupidly early in Chiang Mai… Around 4 or 5 am, which was totally stupid, because I had to hang around until 6.30 am for my Hostel to open. The good thing though, was that I got to see the monks walking around, bear feet, seeking for their morning alms. Monks basically cannot ask for anything (if I’m not mistaken), so they just walk around until people come to offer them alms, in this case, food, that they carry around in a silver container.
6.30 am, after having been devoured by mosquitos, the hotel finally opened and I was able to go and nap for a bit. The mission today was to check out 2 things:
- how and where to go trekking (one of the highlights of Chiang Mai),
- where to take a cooking class. Massage course would have been a good thing to do also, but money wise, I had to choose… and I can more easily cook for myself than give myself a full body massage (that’s how selfish I am!)! ^^
So that first day in Chiang Mai, I just walked around the old city, went to a couple of agencies, found my 3 day trekking plan, had the most amazing Thai bubble Tea (I haven’t been mentioning these ones too much, but I spent my time drinking Thai and Green bubble tea everywhere I could find them. I even tried to send some back home, but didn’t find the right tea mix…) and book my cooking course! I had found very good comments for the Basil cooking school and it wasn’t too far from my hostel, so I went for it!
I guess I did go for a walk around the night market that evening, but I was so exhausted, I just went to bed pretty early, especially as I as the agency I had booked for the trekking was picking me up at 7 am the next morning !
Bunchun: I seem to remember I had read good reviews about this hostel. The staff was nice, good for socialising, but the whole set up was a bit strange; The rooms where a bit weird and not super safe and it was a mess.
24/04: Day 85 – Trekking day 1
Well, we trekked alright ! Walked through the forest, up and down; I had been taking it pretty easy until now, I guess, cause these couple of KM were a pain and I can literally say it, in my back side!
We arrive in the afternoon in an elephant camp, not one of these trekking camps, but more the kind of place where they have a couple of elephants to make the tourists happy. We road on their necks and bathed them. It seemed okay. This place was quite in the middle of nothing, so you just had a small village and a lot of space for the elephants to roam in and and and… the smallest, cutest 7/11 in the world! It was just a small wooden house, selling water, Coke and beers.
We had arrived in what was supposed to be a sort of Long Neck village, where women accumulate these big rings around their neck from the age of 5 and keep adding on new ones over time, ending up with about 10 or 15 rings by the age of 70 (or so). It looks pretty painful, since these rings stretches their neck, so they end up with 10 cm more than everyone else.
Anyway, we were supposed to spend the evening with them and for these ladies to give us a traditional dance around a bonfire, something nice and chill. So we (we were a group of 5 people to do this trekking), ate, played a bit of cards and then smoked a bit of weed with the couple of locals.
Shortly after, these ladies came along and I didn’t know if it was the weed, but what followed just seemed totally weird, surreal, absurd and actually quite disturbing… (I did get the confirmation the next day that it wasn’t only in my head).
Okay so, they started playing a bit of guitar and singing which was fine and then came the moment of the “traditional” dance. They started talking and laughing between themselves, as if they were saying “what can we possibly do and invent now for these stupid tourists”. That lasted long enough for us to feel kind of awkward and eventually the lady with the guitar played and they started moving around… hum… okay… sure why not… 3 of us were chosen to demonstrate with them, which clearly made them laugh a lot. One of the local guys then played some traditional music for about a second on a speaker, which then turned into heavy metal; that’s when it really got bizarre (sorry this is taking so long to build up). The ladies, the long neck ladies, all started giggling until one of them began acting like a crazy rock star, jumping everywhere, faking to have an electrical guitar and again, they all laughing between themselves. Honestly, and I’m sure this was me not being open minded enough, but my jaw dropped, my eyes were open as wide as they could possibly be and I truly thought she was going to rip her clothes off and we would suddenly notice her black nail polish and make-up… I don’t remember enough details to add to the whole weirdness going on, but I really thought that weed was having a very strong effect on my brain… Again, turned out it wasn’t only me!
After that, I think we were all happing to go to bed…
25/04: Day 86 – Trekking day 2
Don’t remember too many details, other than it was nice, but super dry… I guess that what happens when you go trekking during the driest and hottest period of the year. I’m sure it would have been so much more beautiful with lushy, generous nature. We did manage to go tubing though, which, by this heat, was great!! Even if my bum was hitting the rocks in the river half of the time, because the water was so shallow.
Walked some more under the dry heat and sun. Every time we would go through a small village, little old men would come up to us with some fresh water and soda and we emptied their stock each time.
The house where we stayed was cool. It was like a big barn, but with big mattresses everywhere, all in bamboo. We had dinner outside, the food wasn’t that great for any of the meals, but we were by a bonfire and our guide, Jimmy, was telling us stories, I can’t really remember what about, but he was pretty cool to listen to and his stories were all accompanied by him playing the guitar, under a sky full of starts.
I slept in one of the corners of that and I could feel the breeze on my face in the morning, running through the each little crackle.
26/04: Day 87 – End of the trekking
Last day of trekking and after going up up up, we had to go down down down… and that’s the hardest !!!! When your muscles are super tight one way, just abuse them the other way! Why not!?
We finished off in a nice waterfall, which, once again, didn’t have much water, but still it was nice to cool off. We then walked to somewhere to have lunch, which was actually the nicest part of the trek, since it was cooler and not so dry. Anyway. Had lunch and took the car back to Chiang Mai.
Our guide had been super nice and he was kind of cute, but totally ignored me the whole time, but waited the last minute as I was getting off the car back to my new hostel, to ask for my number… which was rather out of the blue but still quite funny. Of course, I couldn’t possibly accept to do that and didn’t give it him… No, I’m joking! Of course I did! and we agreed we would meet up later in the same place.
In the meantime, I met 3 French guys in the hostel and we started chatting, once again, about our trips. They were travelling for about 2 months and they had they project of interviewing as many people with out of the common stories (I can’t remember exactly the project, but it was something like that). Hearing me talk with so much passion about my experience at ElephantsWorld, they actually asked to interview me, so I could share my stories about the elephants and what it was like to volunteer at EW (note to self: I should ask if they ever did anything with the recording).
Jimmy, the guide, first turned up at the hostel about 1 hour early… I guess it was just a warm up, since he came we chatted, played a game of pool, left, said he would come back and… was 2 hours late. That boy was a bit crazy, fun, but crazy ! So, I spent the evening with these 3 guys until he showed up again.
We went to the Chiang Mai street food night market to have a snack for dinner, then we lost each other, he disappeared, didn’t answer his phone, which was strange, but okay, maybe he just wanted to get away, so I went back to the hostel and 1 hour later turned up again! His girlfriend was probably looking for him and tracking him down!! Not that he would ever say of course, but once you get to know the way Asian guys work, one figures out these things pretty fast! Hahaha. He stayed for a bit and I sent him back home pretty soon after and celebrated the birthday of one of the French guys.
Julie Guesthouse: It’s pretty popular in Chiang Mai. The atmosphere and the people are pretty cool, the staff is nice, the food is alright, the set up is nice and it’s super super cheap (you can have under 100 baht for one night). But rooms are very very hot (which can be a bit of a problem around April time and security is not the best.
27/04: Day 88 – Visiting the temples of Chiang Mai
Today was temple visit day. THE main thing you come to Chiang Mai for. There are SO MANY TEMPLES in that city, it’s crazy !! Everywhere you look: a temple, which makes all the beauty of it. The are way too many to make a full list but there’s at least a good top 10 that one can do in 2 days. I stayed in the city centre for the day and already there was way too much to do and see. What I did was to walk to the big famous temples and then stop on the way when one would catch my attention.
All these temples are really same same but different. You always find a new colour, a new atmosphere, some gold, some silver, some full of life and colour, some with a peace and serenity that fills you up and others where women aren’t allowed.
Other than the beautiful temples, what should one do in Chiang Mai? Enjoy the amazing food, especially Khao Soi, which is a northern speciality and Mango sticky rice (I’m drizzling just thinking about it). There so much to do in the city and so much FREE stuff !
The heat though in Chiang Mai during that season is really really intense, but then again, like it was in Phnom Phen or in any other city I guess.
In the evening, I went with a girl of the hostel to the famous Chiang Mai night market, full of touristy farang stuff, but I did have one of the best passion fruit shakes. There’s all an area with loads of little stands with drinks, food and live music, which are pretty cool.
28/04: Day 89 – Cooking class, Monk chat and Meditation initiation
Cooking class with Basil Cookery school was good ! 1000 bahts. From 10 to 2, we started by going to buy our food at the market and then headed back to the school, to pick which recipes each one wanted to execute. I cooked a Green curry soup, a Chicken in coconut milk soup; Fried cashew nut chicken; Pad Thai; Papaya salad; Mango sticky rice and made a curry paste. The result was great and the class in itself was pretty fun, especially as I realised Thai cooking (for some dishes anyway) was not that difficult! You just need to have to right ingredients. Thanks to that class, I was able to show what I had learnt during my trip, to my 20 people family, by cooking Pad Thai. Quite the challenge, but everyone was happy!
Then went to Wat Srisuphan to have a 2 hour chat with a Monk and a 2 hour initiation to meditation. Coming out of there you feel like after a good massage, very peaceful, light, serein, it’s quite funny. The monk talks a lot of abstract concepts, or rather concepts that seem so simple and yet almost impossible to actually apply in real life. “You have to think only about the present; that is who you were and who you will be”. Love the concept, but literally impossible to apply… as for meditation, if was unfortunately more focused on wanting to scratch my mosquito bites and the next stop of my trip. Definitely need to go back and work more on it ! Meditation retreat?
29/04: Day 90 – Chiang Mai Temples, take 2
Rented a bike and started off by driving to Wat Suan Dok. It’s a very long temple, with very high selling and a huge door. After looking at the Buddha for a while I turned around and I was struck by this image of a person in a wheelchair, in the middle of the temple, not facing the Buddha but facing the door, seeming to be in a kind of meditation state or waiting for something that was going to take time to come. He had this peaceful, clam attitude, in this gigantic silent temple, which, I’m not sure why, but just really marked me.
As I went outside, the reflecting sun on the white colour of the many little domes and the radiating heat was so strong, it gave the whole place an event more mystical sense to it. I was the only one there, so I could enjoy even more the spirituality of the scene.
Went to visit a couple other temples and then took the motorbike and rode to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The ride to get there is about 25 min and it’s an experience in itself. You first get out of the city, see another style of architecture, everything is more spaced out and then, as you get closer, you zigzag up the mountain, in between the beautiful vegetation and as you go up, you have a great view over Chiang Mai. A Thai saying says: « If you haven’t tasted Khao Soi or seen the view from Doi Suthep, you haven’t been to Chiang Mai. » Wat Phra That Doi Suthep thrones up on Doi Suthep mountain, overlooking and, somehow, protecting, the city.
Climbed the 309 beautiful steps (no, it’s not ironic) that separate the parking from the pagoda, to discover a real little town up there. It thrives with many little pagodas, statues, flashy decorations and of course… people. It is probably the biggest temples in Chiang Mai and for sure if there is one Wat to visit when in Chiang Mai, it’s that one. There’s also in there a museum, a restaurant and the quarters of the monks living here.
The view is awesome… I mean… I’m sure it is, when the view isn’t blocked by clouds threatening to poor hell over and around you… which of course was the case for me… But anyhow, the place is pretty gran, colourful and for sure nice to visit.
30/04: Day 91 – Heading to Pai
Hit the 3h30 journey and its famous 762 curves that separate Chaing Mai from Pai. Yup, Pai is in the mountains and if you get car sick, you better think about going there twice!
Met Marlous in the bus, with who I hanged out for the next couple of days. Arrived in Pai early in the afternoon and after quite a long search for the perfect hostel (not too far, not too expensive, etc.), we found this cute little place which I don’t remember the name of at all…
That afternoon we just walked around the… let’s call it a big village. Pai is that kind of funny place, where you can either spend 3 days and judge that it’s more than enough, or, depending on your vibe, stay there for weeks. If you consider everything, Pai, although it is lost in the mountains, with no extensive history or culture, has quite a lot of outdoor stuff to offer (tubing, bamboo rafting, hiking, etc.). I met a guy who had been “stuck” in Pai for over 1 month because he had had a terrible motorbike accident and couldn’t really make it anywhere, but he was happy to hang out here.
One would wonder why and how this cute village, sunk high up in the mountains, became one of the “not to miss” places… An interesting cultural/historic fact has lived on in Pai… That region was very famous in the early 90s for playing a big role in the Golden triangle. And what was the Golden Triangle most known for, other than the fact that it reunites 3 boarders (Myanmar, Thailand and Laos)? Well for its white gold… Opium. Although it has considerably diminished, Thai government having offered to most drug lords the option of converting or going to jail, Pai is still wildly known for is its Mushrooms… and not the kind you put in your coconut curry soup… the kind you get high with! We had had during the day the first rain in weeks, April being the driest period of the year. So, when we went out that night, we heard and learnt all about the fact that it meant that mushrooms were going to come out like daisies the next day…!
Pai actually has some pretty decent party scenery, with a lot of different bars, even for those who don’t want to smoke weed or eat mushroom shakes.
01/05: Day 92 – Pai surroundings
We had booked one of the many tours Pai offers, that brings you to see some of the main attractions around (which you can totally do by yourself on a motorbike):
- Stop 1 is a view point which is nice
- Stop 2 was the Tham Lod Really cool. You walk around a small forest before arriving in front of a gigantic cave entrance, crossed by a river. Hopped on to a small wooden boat who took us through the cave, full of bats! The tour of the cave, in the dark, with all the noises and everything was pretty cool and the nature around was impressive even though it was still dry season.
- Stop 3 was a hot spring. We were all very happy to hang out there, since the heat was pretty intense. Small and a little bit crowded, but still nice to chill in.
- Stop 4 was another, bigger, more crowded hot spring (I seem to remember organisation was a bit chaotic due to dry season they didn’t really know where and if there would be water).
- Stop 5 Pai Canyon. Quite unique I thought (for Asia) and more the kind of scenery you find in Arizona for instance (but then… that’s just because it’s a canyon I guess…). Anyhow, view is pretty awesome and you can let your Tom Sawyer spirit run free by climbing around all the rocky paths covered in that red dust and find the best spot to enjoy the sunset. Only inconvenient, is that all the tours end up here at the same time to watch the sun go down, so you have the Pai tourists gathered in the same place at the same moment…
In the evening, we enjoyed nibbling on the wonderful street food that covers the main road at night, wondering in that street full of atmosphere, shops, jewellery stalls and again having drinks in these distinctive Pai bars.
The whole “Pai thing”, the vibe, the why it’s different from other places, is pretty difficult to explain. It’s just that small that it feels cosy and familiar, yet, it has quite a lot to offer. It’s different and I wouldn’t which words to use to describe it.
I met up that night with the 3 French guys from Chiang Mai, in the famous Don’t Cry bar, another Rasta / pot smoking bar, but the music and the place were good and we had a lot of fun; these boys were crazy!
02/05: Day 93 – Pai > back to Chiang Mai > Chiang Rai
Last morning in Pai, our bus back to Chiang Mai and then to Chiang Rai was beginning of afternoon, so we decided to rent a bike and head to Wat Phra That Mae Yen (Temple on the Hill).
The roads around Pai are so pretty ! It’s such a shame we didn’t do more driving around. Considering it’s in the middle of the mountains, one can get lost in this bucolic scenery, with old road, no one around, incredible view and nature being the one ruling.
We parked the bike and started the ascendance up to the temple. 1, 2, 5, 10, 100, 200…. I can’t remember exactly how many steps I counted to get up there, but it seemed like a lot (especially as we realised there was a parking space half way up)! The last few are very large white marble stairs, which make this big white Buddha even more impressive. Took our shoes off as we got to the premises of the temple, even though the marble was boiling hot under our feet and got closer to this imposing statue. Looking at it, I was thinking that it was kind of disproportionate compared to the small size of the town it was overlooking, as if it needed some extra protection or needed to compensate and repent from all the bad vibes and karma, all the drug and other kinds of traffics had fathered.
Got back to Pai, gave back the motorbike, hopped on the bus, sat through the 762 curves again, got to Chiang Mai, changed bus and got on the one to Chiang Rai. Marlous and I got to Chiang Rai quite late, so slalomed in the empty street until we found our hostel and that was it for the day.
Mercy Hostel: it was really cool. The set up was great, it was cheap, clean, the atmosphere was good, the people were fun, the staff was helpful, well located, but then Chiang Rai isn’t very big, there’s a pool, a snooker. I wouldn’t say it’s cosy, on the contrary, it’s quite big and all, but it did the job very well.
03/05: Day 94 – Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a funny place… I didn’t really spend time in the city, but can’t say I liked it or that there’s was much to do, but I’m not sure.
3 highlights in Chiang Rai: The famous White Temple, the Black House and the Blue Temple, i.e., properly called Wat Rong Khun, Baan Dam and Wat Sear Tean. So, we decided to go for one of the most famous Temples in Thailand and go to Wat Rong Khun and got on the 30 min or so (I think) bus ride to get there.
This White Temples is nothing like a conventional temple. It’s a contemporary, art exhibit, supposedly in the style of a Buddhist temple, privately owned, designed and built by Chalermchai Kositpipat, in 1997. It’s funny because it’s so well know, yet it has nothing to do with a traditional temple, on the contrary, it’s kind of weird. Well, it’s not weird weird, but let’s say it’s surprising if, like me (as usual), you don’t expect it. One sure thing, it’s 100% unique.
First of all, when you look from far away, the colours, the structure, the reflections of the sun on the white and silver parts of the temple that make it shine like a royal gem, already give it its uniqueness and make it seem very majestic. Then… you get closer… You start by walking towards a kind of little bridge that leads to the temple, but instead of a nice pond, with little cute ducks and fishes underneath (although there is one just next to it), it’s a fake pond with hundreds of hand statues reaching out as if they were crying for help… It looks more like one is going to hell rather than heaven… strange! Anyhow, then when you enter the temple you understand why you can’t take any photos! Painted on the walls, surrounding the Buddha in the middle, are famous characters from cartoons and movies: Matrix, Start Wars, Sponge Bob, are a couple of the figures featured in the painting… I was cross-ways between “WTF?!?” and “this is pretty cool”; it’s difficult to choose either way.
We took about 1000 pictures outside, to take all the funny details of the temple and then headed back to the city. Marlous had to go back to Chiang Mai to catch her bus, so that was the of our common adventure which was sad, but I now wanted to check out the Black House, which sounded like another kind of cross-ways between “WTF?!?” and “this is pretty cool”, just with an extra mystical touch and that’s what I got !
Took the bus, dropped me off in the middle of this small highway and then made my way to the House. So… what could I say, where should I start… Well, first it’s not only one big Black House, it’s a big garden with many big Baan . What they call “black”, is actually dark wood and the combination between the colourful garden and these beautiful structures is actually very nice. HOWEVER…. Why the F**K would they keep an owl, a python and I think there were other animals, in 4m3 cages ?!? It doesn’t bring anything, other than making people like me so angry !! Then, inside these houses, are displayed, hanging on the walls or laid on massive tables, furs and skins of all sorts (wolfs, crocodiles, probably bears), skulls of all sorts, penises sculpted in wood and stone and other interesting-like objects… In the end, “Black” could be translated or replaced by “Devil’s” House. Okay… awkward, but uncommon for sure!
Back to Chiang Rai, took a bus back to Chiang Mai (I thought, probably wrongly, that there wasn’t much else to do here) and then took a night bus to my next stop, Sukhothai.
04/05: Day 95 – Sukhothai
Got there early, way too early, as usual with short distance rides. Tuk-tuked through the city, thought it was kind of sad looking and pretty empty. It was early in the morning and the heat was already crushing me (Remember it’s dry/hot season?), but I got to this “hostel” I had checked up; no else there other than the owner… and what they called “hostel” was actually 4 rooms with 2 or 3 beds on the 1st floor; the ground floor was what maybe a former shop or something, but totally empty… (strange). Anyhow, got to my “private” (since I was the only one here) room and got in some sleep (yes, 6 hours bus drive, doesn’t really always make up for a nights sleep).
I thought Sukhothai would be more busy than that… For sure it once was! “The dawn of Happiness”, as the city’s name is translated in Thai, laid the first stones, during the 13th century, for what was to become the Kingdom of Thailand. This ancient city, classified as UNESCO world heritage site, is known for its vestiges from another time, when it was the capital of the great kingdom of Siam.
With that in mind, I took one of the local buses that go to the ancient city (the fact that I was only with a couple of old Thai people and 2 or 3 Chinese tourists should have made me understand that there was going to be absolutely no one on site either) and had been told to rent a bike to get around the temples. So, did that, paid the fee to get in the Historical Park, I think it was something like between 100 and 300 baht and peddled around.
The ruins are very similar to those in Ayutthaya or Bagan actually, probably because they date from the same period (13th to 14th century)! They commonly used these brick colour stones to build the Wats and Buddhas. Although the site is beautiful and it’s very impressive that they’ve lasted through time, wars and weather, like in Ayutthaya and I remember thinking exactly the same thing when I went, it is very manicured: mowed lawn (even though it was all dry due to the dry season), roads that show you where to go… However this time, unlike Ayutthaya, I was almost all alone! It felt a bit strange / uncomfortable to be here just by myself. I guess I kept myself company by making a tone of videos, where I basically talk to myself, in the ruins, next to the Buddhas or on the bicycle. I even called Romain, one of my friends for about 45 min, to share the experience !
I think I had never been so indecisive on what I wanted to do next… I had been postponing the decision for at least 5 days. Should I spend a couple of days in Bangkok? Got to Cambodia (I feel I left Cambodia too soon and didn’t have time to do everything I wanted, i.e. all the Este of the Country: Mondulkiri, Kratie, Koh Kong)? Or go to Vietnam? I only had about 2 weeks before I had to be back in Thailand to start volunteering, so it was a bit short to go to Vietnam, but I really wanted to go to Halong Bay, also really wanted to go back to Cambodia, but 2 weeks was maybe a bit much… At 5 pm, I had taken a decision! I told the camera I was going back to Cambodia!
Finished my visit, went back to the hostel, decided I didn’t really want to stick around here, so book a night bus to Bangkok. It was time to move on !