Chiang Mai Round 3

Thailand was great. It was better than great. It had exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately my month there was coming to an end. After returning to Chiang Mai once more (for the 3rd time) I was almost ready to move on. Luckily I had a few days extra in the city before I had to fly out! Good thing because I had yet to tackle 2 main attractions….

The first was Doi Suthep. This is one of the higher mountains in Chiang Mai and at its peak sits Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is an iconic Buddhist temple known for its giant golden stupa. The legend states that a white elephant carried a relic of Gautama Buddha to the top of the mountain, trumpeted three times, and died upon its peak. The construction of the Wat was ordered immediately after. After a 45min motorbike ride out of Chiang Mai (one of my more difficult rides through the big city) we made it to the top for some fantastic views of the city below. The Wat was also something to behold. I can’t imagine having to be a worker on that mountain in 1383 A.D.

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The next and final adventure in Thailand was to the Bua Thong waterfalls, also know as the ‘sticky falls’. These waterfalls were about a 90min drive out of the city. Their signature feature is the limestone makeup of the rock. It allows you to literally run up the cascading falls with relative ease. Even as the water rushes over you, it’s easy to find solid footing as though your feet are actually sticking to the falls below. As with most things in SE Asia, I’m shocked that more people don’t die on these falls on a weekly basis. While it was easy to find your footing, if you do happen to slip, the falls are quite steep and you’re sure to find yourself in the hospital. If you do survive a climb up and down the falls, it makes for a pretty unique experience.


Chiang Mai Round 2

Once more unto the breach. Back to Chiang Mai, this time with new friends and no set plans. The night train sucked the 2nd time around as the AC blasted me in the face for the 13 hour duration, and I was confident the train was going to derail. But, I made it back up.

To be honest, the crew was due for some relaxation time and we found just that in Chiang Mai (sort of). We spent a few days walking through the old city and lounging in the sun outside our hostel. At night, we explored some of the local watering holes to sample the finer hooch. By that I actually mean we put down buckets (literal) of Thai redbull and low grade vodka. My friend Martin and I went to another Muay Thai fight near the city gate. The fights were much better, but once again it was weird to see such young kids fight. I felt even worse when i lost a 200 baht bet on a 14 year old who proceeded to get knocked out via a kick to the head. That will go down as a lower point of my gambling career.

On Sunday night, we were able to experience the famous night market along the main walking street. It was the biggest street market I’ve ever seen. About 1 full mile of road is packed with vendors selling food and goods. They’re shouting prices, haggling, wheeling and dealing from 4pm until midnight. The people pack the streets. The air is filled with music, yelling, laughing, and the smell of delicious food. Options are essentially endless: local sausage, gyoza, chicken and beef on scewers, octopus, fried fish, mangos, dragonfruit, pad thai, khao soi, and much more! If you would prefer to sample the fried crickets or maggots, that’s also an option. For desert there are cakes and ice cream and cookies alongside mountains of fruit. In the stalls the merchants who have come from surrounding villages are selling their goods. Whether its clothing, bags, toys, soaps, or accessories you can find whatever it is you need at one of the stalls. It’s borderline overwhelming, but one of the best things I’ve seen yet in Thailand.

After we had eaten our fill and done some shopping, some friends and I checked out a cultural thai dance show. What that means is that we went to the famous Lady Boy Cabaret of Chiang Mai. It was actually hilarious. It’s essentially what the name describes it as. A group of ‘ladyboys’ puts on a very funny performance while decked out in extravagant outfits. They had us laughing and cheering the whole night. I also may or may not have been pulled onto the stage with a friend, made to wear a wig and a dress, to perform a dance number or 2. I don’t think any pictures exist to prove anything.

All in all, Chiang Mai was great the 2nd time around. It was fun to get involved with the night life and experience the market. I’ll be down once again before heading to Cambodia but first…. we’re headed into the mountains in the north to a small town called Pai!


Back to Bangkok

So I’m back in the big city. This time however, I’m rolling solo. To be honest I was rather nervous to start my onward journey, relying on only myself. It was sad to see Chelsea go. She was a great travel companion and it would have been hard to adjust to SE Asia without her there to struggle with. But with two weeks under my belt already, I felt ready to take on the rest of my trip as a solo backpacker.

It’s been 12 days since I returned to Bangkok on my own and it has been fantastic. Often meeting new people is tough and striking up conversations with total strangers can be intimidating. Luckily the hostels here make that so much easier. Everyone staying there is a traveler, so you already have that in common. Plus most travelers like to drink, so you also have that in common. When you put a bunch of young people together who all happen to be on adventures of a lifetime and add in a few beers, they tend to become friends quickly. I met a great group of friends while going on the walking tour that the hostel provided. Not only that, but I gained a better understanding of the city. We took the water taxi’s, the metro, tuk-tuks, and walked all across the city. We saw temples and strolled through China town. We viewed the Bangkok skyline atop Wat Sakat, the Golden Mount (one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist religion. Bangkok has a unique skyline that’s filled with old abandoned skyscrapers. These were projects that were abandoned when the market crashed in 97. So you have a newer skyline with the modern city and old creepy towers. It’s also absolutely massive! Overlooking it, you might think it’s never ending.

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After settling in with a group friends we took to the Kho San road for a night of partying. I won’t go into detail, but that street is absolutely insane. There are things there that would NEVER fly in the States. It’s like the modern day version of the wild west. I don’t think there are any rules.

After 3 days in Bangkok, I’d met tons of people from all over the world and teamed up with a few travelers from the UK who were ready to head North. My friend Martin from Birmingham, England decided to join me for a day at Ayutthaya before we joined the group in Chiang Mai. Ayutthaya was the original capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1351 – 1767 until it was burned to the ground during the 2nd Burmese war. Martin and I rented bicycles and toured the old ruins scattered about the city. It was about 90 degrees and we biked almost 15miles so by the end we were ready for a cold beer and a shower.

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Unfortunately, we had to settle for only the beer because we had to catch the overnight train up to Chiang Mai…


Chiang Mai: Round 1

I turned 24 in the 2nd class sleeper car of a train headed from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Just how I drew it up. At first glance, the setup is a little unusual. The seats fold into the lower bed and a top bunk pulls down from above. It was a 13hr ride, most of which was spent asleep in my top cubby. The final 2 hours we watched the northern Thai landscape from open windows while sipping terrible coffee. The train meandered through forest covered mountains and fields until it finally steamed into Chiang Mai station.

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We checked into the hostel and still had a full day ahead of us. Chelsea had Doi Inthanon National Park on her list and we figured it was as good a day as any to go. The desk attendant hooked us up with a driver outside who was willing to take us in his Songtaew (basically a red open sided pick-up truck converted to a cab). It was going to be a full day, and our driver Dem was willing to take us 2hours up the mountain, wait for us, and drive us back to the hostel for a modest fare. The ride was a great experience. It was long, steep, and windy through the mountains, but the view at the top was worth it.

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At the peak of Doi Inthanon sit two adjacent chedis, Naphaphonphumisiri and Naphamethinidon, meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land and ‘by strength of the land and air’ respectfully. The Buddhist chedis were surrounded by beautiful gardens in full bloom. The lack of other tourists made for an exceptionally tranquil 90min stroll atop the mountain.

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After the return trip we ate at a local restaurant about 2 min from the hostel. The green curry was exceptional. Then it was off to bed early, because in the morning we had to be out by 7am on our way to the Elephant Nature park.

The time spent with the elephants could have its own post entirely but I’ll keep all of Chaing Mai together since I’ve been slow posting these (been moving around a lot). The Elephant Park was about a 90min drive outside of the city. It sits on acres and acres of land in a river valley surrounded by high forested peaks. And it’s full of rescued elephants. 69 to be exact. We spent the day in a group of 8 tourists with our guide Kay. He knew every elephant by name and knew each of their stories. These elephants had experienced very tramatic lives either in the illegal logging industry or in the servitude of elephant camps, entertaining tourists. We learned that if camps offer elephant rides or shows, it means these camps DO NOT treat the animals well. They have to be ‘broken’ by a mahout (elephant keeper) at a young age and are often controlled with large hooks through their ears. Some of the rescued elephants had gone blind due to poor diets, others had broken backs or broken legs. A few had their lower legs mangled after stepping on landmines on the Thai border with Myanmar. All had been abused and many feared humans.  At the nature park they roamed freely, spending their days playing in the river and eating non-stop. The mahouts did not carry hooks and did not control the elephants’ movements. They lived much happier lives at the nature park.  We spent the day learning about the elephants and their habitats as well as the threats they faced. We got to feed them and ended the day in the river bathing them before returning back to Chiang Mai. I think it will remain as one of the highlights of the trip!

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The final day in Chiang Mai was rainy. We visited the 600yr old Wat Chedi Luang and had a local breakfast before heading to the airport. I’ll be back in Chiang Mai in a few weeks. There’s plenty more to see and explore!

Now we’re on our way to the beaches of south Thailand….