Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while everyone. I’ve had fairly unreliable internet until recently, and didn’t bother attempting to update anything. SO without further ado, I will now regale you with tales from my time in Chiang Mai and Pai… keep in mind this is before Songkran took place, so there will be much more Chiang Mai to come!
Day 1 – April 3
I arrived at the Chiang Mai train station around 9:30 pm and caught the first taxi I could find to a hostel I had been told was a good place to stay. Apparently the lady driving didn’t actually know where it was located, so she dropped me off at an expensive resort instead, that happened to have the same name as the street the hostel was located on. At first I didn’t realize there had been a mistake, so when the guy at the front desk started to check me in and told me the room cost 845 baht a night, I almost had a heart attack. After a few minutes of trying to explain to him that I was in the wrong place, he pointed me in the right direction, so I made my way to the hostel I had asked for on foot. Unfortunately by the time I got there they didn’t have any more space available, so one of the workers kindly drove me to another hostel nearby and made sure I got checked in without any issues before telling me goodnight and leaving. This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I didn’t know it at the time, but Chiang Mai Backpack House would become so much more than just a place to sleep during my time in Chiang Mai.
By now it was 11 pm, and I was both incredibly hungry and sleepy, so I followed one of the workers up to my dorm room and quickly got acquainted with the only inhabitant Zoe, before heading out for some quick dinner before bed. I was SO happy not to be in Phitsanulok anymore.
Day 2 – April 4
I woke up at a decent time and chatted with Zoe before heading out to explore Chiang Mai. My goal for the day was to visit a few temples and get a feel for the city, so I was more than excited to find a bustling market that sold everything, including a large bag of grapes that eventually became my breakfast. Since I never quite figured out exactly which temples I managed to visit during my first full day in Chiang Mai, I can’t give you an elaborately drawn out account of how my day was spent. I mostly wandered through side streets, with an annoyingly happy expression, and stopped anywhere that seemed interesting. I ended up in 3 different temples, grabbed lunch at a small Thai restaurant, and enjoyed an iced coffee in an American themed cafe. All in all a great evening, made even better after chatting with the hostel owner, Tony, who instructed me to try a seasonal desert named Khao Niaow Ma Muang which is made up of Mango, sticky rice and coconut milk. It’s very sweet, but oh so delicious.
Day 3: April 5
Since Zoe and I were still the only two people in out dorm room, we got to know one another fairly well from forced habitation, so when she invited along to a swimming pool I couldn’t say no to the chance to swim, so after a quick breakfast the hostel owner drove us to the Thai public swimming pool, and we proceeded to forget about the outside world for most of the day. When the sun began to recede in the sky, we caught a sorngtaaou back to the hostel and got ready to go out to dinner with Zoe’s friend Yinon who had just gotten back from jungle trekking. We all wandered through town until we found somewhere good to eat, and as they planned their trip to Pai the next day, they generously extended an invitation to me. Since everything I had heard about Pai was good, I accepted their offer to tag along and we headed back to the hostel to organize baggage storage and bills at the hostel. Luckily we just happened to be staying with the most respectful and understanding owners of any hostel I have come across, so they were more than willing to help us book our trip and take care of our things while we were gone. Like I said earlier, this hostel became much more than a place to sleep during my stay in Chiang Mai.
Day 4: April 6
Zoe and I woke up around the same time, and proceeded to take over the dorm room as we pulled things out of our large packs in order to pack smaller bags for the short trip to Pai. It was lucky that we were still the only two people staying in the female dorm, because I’m sure anyone else would have been annoyed with how much space we had taken up to accomplish such a small task. Our bus would be there to pick us up around 11:30 am, so we hurried downstairs and found something to eat. It would be the first time I had really been into the mountains in Northern Thailand, and let my just say that this particular trip is not one I would repeat if given the chance. It was by far the worst day and bus ride of my entire life. There are a reported 762 turns on the road up to Pai, which is situated in a valley towards the top of a mountain range, and the whole journey takes about 3-3 1/2 hours… all of which is spent speeding along at the normal hectic Thai pace. Needless to say I eventually had to hold my head out a window while I proceeded to throw up all over the side of the bus. To make matters worse, the driver continued to zoom along at a hurried pace without any concern for me or anyone else in the vehicle, and there were a few times where my head came close to a long hanging branch along the side of the road.
When we were forced to stop at a check point, some poor Thai soldier stuck his hand in my puck and quickly went along his way to go wash it up. If anyone on the bus had drugs, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to them. We seemed to sit there for a long time, and eventually the bus driver came back with a bucket of water and went off towards a building only to return with some sort of rubbish. He proceeded to call me out of the bus and make me scrub the side down with trash while he poured the water everywhere. Humiliating and hilarious all at the same time. What a spectacle I must have been to everyone on the bus and all the soldiers at the check point, but once it was over I washed my hands and we were off again. The second time I got sick, the driver was more apt to pull over and let me out of the bus without any complaining. I guess he didn’t want to help me clean it all over again.
Photo taken by Zoe Gossage
I was so happy when we reached Pai that I practically ran off the bus and found somewhere to sit while Zoe and Yinon negotiated for some motorbikes. The plan was to get two for the three of us, but after a quick trip to the gas station proved to be uncomfortable, we went back and got me my own bike. Once they had given me a crash course on how to ride my bike in the middle of the street, we got directions to the resort, where their friend Jenn was staying, and we were off. After the day I had been having, I was happy to make it to the resort alive and without any incident. After checking in and getting everyone organized, Jenn took us out to explore a little of Pai by motorbike before the sunset. It was a lot cooler than Chiang Mai, so late afternoon felt wonderful from the seat of a motorbike, but once again I was happy to make it from point A to point B in one piece.
Mountains around Pai
Sunset in Pai
Goofing off at the bar – Taken by Zoe Gossage
Me and my bike – Taken by Zoe Gossage
After our little journey and some dinner, we walked across a rickety bamboo bridge and found a crowded bar to enjoy a few drinks in. By this time Zoe, Yinon, and I had decided to stay another day, so I partook of a few beers and tried not to think about getting sick. I have to admit that I still didn’t feel good from the trip up the mountain, and that I was all for the decision to stay another day because it meant that I didn’t have to get back into that bus again in the morning.
Day 5: April 7
Photo taken by Jenn Farmer
After what was meant to be a quick breakfast eventually turned into a few hours of all of us trying to get each other organized and ready to leave, we finally got on the road and headed off towards our first destination: the Pai Canyon. I have come to realize that any canyon I’ve seen, after visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time some years back, is automatically a little bit of a let down. While the canyon was cool, and provided us with some decent photo-ops, it wasn’t nearly as impressive as I had been imagining.
I’m on top of the world
Next it was on to a few waterfalls. The first one was rather small and not too far down the road from where the canyon is located. The water was freezing cold, but felt good in the hot afternoon sun. While we were here our group went from 4 to 7 with the addition of Alicia from Brazil, and two French-speaking guys whose names I never did catch. I’m horrible about not asking for names when meeting new people! As we left and rode through town, we basically took over the lane with our 6 motorbikes, and somehow made our way to waterfall number 2 with little to no trouble.
The first waterfall of the day
This one was packed full of foreigners and Thais alike swimming in various pools and sliding down the side of the large rock central to the falls. It was the type of activity that looked both scary and fun all at the same time. Most of us climbed up on the rocks and enjoyed a swim in the freezing water, but only a few people out of our group actually slid down the rock. By this point Jenn and I had made friends with a girl named Megan who rounded out our group as we headed back towards town for food and the promise of a swimming pool nearby. All you could hear was the sound of motorbike engines echoing in the trees, but it was nice to have so many cool people around to enjoy the experience with.
Waterfall number 2
All of us were enjoying the ride, and I was feeling fairly confident on my bike at this point because I had finally figured out how to turn using my weight, when I heard the worst sound imaginable: Zoe screaming and metal crashing. Since she was riding behind me, I quickly looked into one of my side mirrors and saw a cloud of dust and her bike crashing into the asphalt. My heart sank, fearing the worst, and I stopped my bike as fast as I could and ran back to where she was at on the ground. It didn’t take long before everyone was soon crowded around her as she made her way over to a bench nearby. Zoe had hit her face on the ground in the accident, so she was convinced her nose had fallen off, and none of us knew how to tell her that her nose was probably the least of her problems as we could all see the scrapes and cuts along her right arm, leg and foot.
Since she had apparently used up all her bad karma on the crash, two French guys came out of a bar down the street and brought alcohol and paper towels with them. One of them proceeded to clean Zoe up a little bit while we all kept her calm and held her hand. Eventually they discovered a rather large hole in her foot and instructed us to take her to the hospital to have it cleaned properly. When everyone suggested we just let her rest and go to a pharmacy on our way back and clean it ourselves, I made the executive decision to take her to the hospital, out of fear that something might happen if we didn’t.No one really seemed to argue, so we began to organize how to get her here.
During this time we heard an ambulance coming towards us, and were collectively a little confused since we hadn’t called for one after her crash. When it zoomed past us on its way to the waterfall, we knew something horrible had happened, but were all more concerned about getting Zoe to the hospital that we put it out of our minds. The 6 of us that were left headed off with the directions the nice French man had given us in search of the nearest hospital. Poor Zoe was forced to ride on the back of Yinon’s motorbike, as she felt safest with him knowing he had ridden with people on the back before, but despite that she told me later that she almost had a panic attack on the back of the bike. To be fair I was even a little apprehensive about my bike from this point on out. I was WAY less experienced at riding than Zoe was, so I knew any false move might end with me right beside her in the hospital.
Luckily we found the hospital without any trouble, and once we realized that the empty building was open, a nice Thai nurse or doctor ushered us right inside upon seeing us. Zoe knew that having her foot cleaned would be painful, so we asked if it was okay if I stay with her inside the little operating room, and somehow through broken Thai and English he agreed and I told her to squeeze my hand as tightly as she wanted too while he proceeded to clean all her cuts with water, then alcohol, and finally cover them with Iodine and bandages. By now Jenn and Yinon had left to deal with the motorbike company, and both Alicia and Megan had graciously been waiting out front refusing to leave poor Zoe before they knew she was safe.
Once the paperwork was filled out, Alicia carried Zoe on the back of her bike and we all headed back into town. Along the way there was a collective decision to grab something to eat, so we found a vegetarian restaurant and enjoyed a little normalcy after our crazy afternoon. I don’t think any of us had realized how hungry we were until the food arrived. After eating, Megan had to go return her bike, so Alicia stayed with Zoe and I as we ran to the pharmacy, 7-Eleven, and ultimately back to our bungalow resort. I changed Zoe’s bandages and helped her hobble around, giving Yinon and Jenn a free pass to enjoy their evenings. It ended up being a blessing that Zoe and I had decided to share a bungalow the day before, because I was there to keep her company until we fell asleep.
Day 6: April 8
We were leaving Pai, and after Zoe and I organized all our stuff and took turns in the bathroom, I grabbed all our bags and headed up the hill to check out. We had a late afternoon bus, but since Zoe was injured, we tried to take care of everything at the bottom of the hill before heading up to the common area. After some breakfast and down time, during which time Yinon being the good guy he is went and purchased our tickets in town, we piled everything back onto our bikes and went to return them. There must have been some sort of paperwork error, because they didn’t mention the wrecked bike to Zoe when she went to pay the difference on our bill and retrieve her passport, that had been held as collateral, so we rushed out before they noticed and talked about it in hushed tones a little farther down the road. After a quick stop at both 7-Eleven and the pharmacy, where I purchased some motion sickness medicine for the ride, we grabbed some lunch before the bus arrived.
Buying that medicine was the best decision I have ever made. Despite the fact that it did make me act like a really stoned person at the rest stop, which didn’t fail to entertain either Zoe or Yinon when they found me laying on a bench, I can say that I made it through every turn without feeling a tiny bit sick the entire time. Needless to say I was happy to be back in Chiang Mai, and after finding Zoe a sorngtaaou at a reasonable price, I proceeded to walk back to the hostel thanking every figure there is to worship for solid ground.
Day 1 Total: 706 Baht or $24.11 for food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 2 Total: 455 Baht or $15.53 for food, drinks, and accommodation
Day 3 Total: 579 Baht or $19.77 for food, drinks, pool entry, lounge chair, sorngtaaou and accommodation
Day 4 Total: 920 Baht or $ 31.42 for food, drinks, helmet, motorbike, bus ticket, and accommodation
Day 5 Total: 405 Baht or $13.83 for food, drinks, motorbike, and accommodation
Day 6 Total: 515 Baht or $17.58 for food, drinks, bus ticket, motion sickness medicine, and accommodation