Trip Start Mar 07, 2009
69Trip End Apr 08, 2010
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We changed our minds again and had by now decided to get a connecting flight (at $50 it was rude not to!) to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. We never visited this area on our last trip and vowed we would on our return, and we had about a weeks worth of antimalarial medication so it just made sense. It would be a long day with a 6am bus from Hanoi to the airport and I rushed around town to find a couple of baguettes as we had saved some peanut butter and couldn't possibly waste it. I did find some and to my surprise was only charged local price by the non English speaking lady at the cafe which I thought was a nice end to our time in Vietnam after being screwed mercilessly for most of our time here.
The flying was okay, just an hour to Bangkok, though we did have to check out & in again which was annoying. Then we had to wait four hours at the airport but Bangkok is pretty smart so that was no problem
After a 2 hour flight to Chiang Mai, again comfortable with Air Asia, we eventually found ourselves a songthaew (a little 3 wheeled bus type thing) and headed to the bus station hoping we could get a bus straight to Pai, 4hrs north. We were a little late for the bus and in any case Ang was in agony after bruising her arse as the songthaew threw us into the air while going over a speed bump so we got a tuk-tuk into town. Our first choice was booked but we found a decent place to hole up in for the night before heading to Pai early next morning. Got a bit of legendary Thai street food at the night market for 50p, the food here is so cheap, and had a bit of a mosey round before bed.
The local bus to Pai was a bit cramped but luckily not full so I was able to sit length ways along a double seat so I did not have to break both my legs to free up a space. The 4hr trip was bearable due to the great scenery, though it was raining but in many ways that was actually quite comforting after the ridiculous temperatures we have had to endure lately (I can't believe I'm complaining about the heat but it's been a long time coming).
We arrived about 1330 and scoped out a few guest houses until we found one with the right vibe
Pai is a tiny mountain town about 100km North West of Chiang Mai and according to the book is what Chiang Mai was like 20yrs ago, quite, unassuming place with a few hippies and relaxed locals. A great place to hang out without being pressured constantly to buy stuff and sign up for treks and such like. The book was right, Pai (actually pronounced Bye) is brilliant. Even the dogs are relaxed, they just kip in the middle of the road as motorbikes drive around them. Although the dog at our place, a tiny thing with long white fur and a scrunched up face, is pure evil. As you get close to it the top lip starts quivering as he sets himself to attack, even the owner said he bites her. The first thing we did was sign up for a 2 day white water rafting trip at Thai Adventure Rafting. It was a good outfit but we were sold when Ang was shown the little 2 week old kitten, she's a sucker for baby animals.
19th June - 20th June:
Rafting trip. It was really good, the first time I had done it and although the water was not exactly high, it was still good fun and a good introduction to the sport
Like I said the water was quite low but we went through about 60 rapids over the 2 days, 3 or 4 were quite decent sized and involved some falling out of boats. We went through some rapids just in out life jackets, outside the boats which was a bit painful when you have a fat arse like mine. We got to do some swimming a water slides down a small waterfall as well which was good, saw some pathetic hot springs but the water was almost literally boiling, kinda weird these little holes in the ground spewing hot water. We spent about 6hrs per day on the river and stayed the night in a very well constructed bamboo camp in the jungle, which they dismantle and re erect every year apparently. Had a few drinks and a barbecue while getting literally eaten alive by mosquitoes, those are little critters that I will not miss
Day 2 was similar, though a little more paddling was involved and we witnessed Pooh and Chai capturing a foot long Monitor Lizard which Chai insisted he wanted as a pet despite trying to beat it's head in with his paddle. He's blatantly gonna eat or sell it we suspect, the poor little blighter, bang goes his tip. Overall the trip was highly recommended, though the drive back was a bit hairy. The bloke was driving through the windy roads like a maniac and Riazz was puking, while Ang was close and by the end I was feeling pretty ropey myself.
21st June - 25th June:
Next day we rested up and booked a 2 day trek starting 22nd in the surrounding jungle, seeing some hill tribes & stuff. Also did the first half of a cookery course in the afternoon. It was pretty guff compared to the one in Cambodia, the cooking seemed a bit rushed, the recipe sheets were wrong and the food was so so. The woman later told Ang she suffered from stress and anger issues so she was going to live in a temple for seven days without food or talking, which explained a lot
I had also decided by this point that I would like to get a tattoo here in Pai. It was always my intention to get one on the trip at some point and I got chatting to this guy (Poh, pronounced Bo, as in bo-ttle) who has a good reputation around here and he also told me he wants to be a famous tattoo artist some day so I was sold. After looking through his photo's and pointing out some I liked he promised to sketch up a couple of original designs for me to have a look at in a couple of days.
The next 2 days we spent trekking in the surrounding hills. It was not a brutal as the last one, no mountains involved, but still pretty hilly and scorchingly hot and humid, so still pretty tough. WE went out with guide Mr Pat and a young posh English kid Jamie, about to start a history degree at Cambridge, and a 23yr old girl called Anna from Nova Scotia who has fit in an incredible amount of stuff it seems into her life. She is clearly from a well to do family but despite this works several jobs, does loads of volunteering and traveling, is chairperson of several societies and still manages to have scored a top grade degree (albeit in Botany) and is about to start a degree in medicine. Really nice girl, and she also takes underprivileged kids on camps and used to be a trekking guide so she kept up an unrelenting pace which our guide could not even match, Ang could but I think she was finding it hard to keep up even though she would not admit it
Got back to Pai about 4 and after freshening up went to see my tattoo design which I was very happy with. I asked when we could start and Poh said come back in an hour. The first 3 hour session was actually surprisingly bearable, it hurt, obviously, but I seem to have developed a greater threshold for pain somehow, must be all the trekking or something. I was looking forward to it being finished though. I came back the next evening as it was simply too hot during the day and he had no air conditioning so we finished our cookery course in the daytime, which was actually a bit better as we had a couple of kiwi girls on the course (Becky & Molly) and it was a little slower. I cooked up fried rice with chicken & veg, chicken with garlic & pepper and a green curry. All of which I reckon I could make at home now, fairly simple. Will probably forget pretty quick though.
The second & final tattoo session (6hrs total!) was agony as my arm was a bit swollen & sore from before but I was determined not to show it and in fact I took a book with me so while he was inking my left upper arm, I was leafing through the pages of a John Grisham classic (The Pelican Brief) with my right. The work took place in his shop window which I was a bit apprehensive about at first as all passing traffic can peer in and have a look (his best form of advertising he says) so his Thai mates were popping in and saying stuff (in Thai of course) and he kept saying everyone was amazed that I was led there reading a book so calmly while he was doing his thing. Of course I didn't tell him I had to read every sentence about 6 times but I got through about 80 pages by the time he had finished up. Anyway I'm delighted with it, and Mark I think you'll be impressed, tell me what you think.
Went for a celebratory Beer Chang afterwards and now I sit here writing my blog on June 25th with a throbbing arm and really hungry so I bid you farewell.
26th - 28th June:
It seems like forever since this occurred as we have been in lands of slow and ridiculously expensive internet so I will blitz through the rest of our time in Pai, in summary:
Ang did some Yoga with a hippy woman who was apparently about 60 but looked half that and was able to do some extraordinary bending I hear, says a lot for yoga I guess, wont catch me doing it again though. My view is backed up by the fact Ang was unable to crawl out of bed without groaning in some pain for at least 3 days afterwards, not worth it in my book.
Ate some Hummus & watched the incredible hulk.
Went out on lash with Poh (tattoo bloke) and some of his pals, including a geordie bloke called Mick who reckoned he came out here and picked up the language in a couple of weeks and never went back. It was quite funny seeing the locals faces when he was able to fully converse with them in the native tongue, which is really tough to learn. It later emerged that he has since spent 1 year in a thai only speaking language school and a Thai missus, now it all makes sense!! Anyway we started at 1 bar then got picked up in a car and drove round the block and to another bar which was literally 50 yards away on foot which provided some amusement. Got pretty drunk and when we got back tried to apprehend the devil dog at our guest house, just a tiny little thing with a serious attitude problem. Needless to say it tried to bite me!
Next day we were due to head to Chiang Mai to get the overnight bus to Bangkok but were too hungover to face the windy roads on the local bus so decided to hang around and sample the great food and ambience for another day. The dog tried to bite me again even after I fed it some oif my bacon, damn mutt. Also witnessed a load of thai boys and girls performing a very gay dance routine in the garden.
Next day we did set off, will miss the place more than most, not least because of the incredible, and cheap, food and really friendly vibe. Unfortunately it will not be so in a few years as more people get wind of the place and tourism really takes hold here.
Said goodbye to our pals and got the bus to Chiang Mai and got caught out at the bus station when a policeman ordered us to stop walking and respect the national anthem (in a friendly way actually he was cool about it). We had not realised that at 9am and 6pm each day in public spaces they belt out the national anthem and some propoganda stuff which everyone must stand to attention and observe, very strange. The bus to Bangkok was uneventful, actually quite comfortable, even got a free muffin and a coke. We have been warned first hand to take the government buses, not cheapo private coaches as you often get herded into a cramped bus or even minibus for twelve hours and dumped in the middle of nowhere.If you are really lucky you might also get your bags ransacked by somebody who has sneaked into the storage hold, so we gave that a miss!
29th - 30th June:
Spent 2 days in Bangkok just sorting out a few things, sent images home on DVD, tried to get my dodgy memory cards fixed to no avail, stocked up on crucial supplies like vodka and sunscreen, watched Transformers 2 at the cinema very disappointing (though it is aimed at 12 year olds I guess but the first one was awesome).
Then got another epic overnight bus to Krabi in South West Thailand for a boat connection to Railay.