The time had come for our epic journey to Chiang Mai. We left our hostel at 12pm faffing about picking up travellers from different hotels to take us to our ferry. By 2pm we were on a ferry to the mainland which took a further couple of hours after which we got a 3 hour bus to Surat Thani where we would take an overnight coach to Bangkok. The journey was a lot kinder to us than on the way down to the islands. I took up a snuggery position and slept the majority of the way, regardless of the colossal thunderstorms that shook the bus like a flimsy tin can in the middle of the night. We arrived at Bangkok at 6am. The party revellers were out in full force still. We hailed a taxi to take us to Mo Chit bus station where we bought a coach ticket to Chaing Mai for 379 baht each (£7.80) which is a lot cheaper than going with travel agents who will offer you rates between 600-800 baht, always go to the terminal yourself! We left Bangkok at 7:25am and endured a painful coach journey to the North. Why was it painful you ask? It was painful due to the same Thai boxing movie being played on repeat the whole journey on full volume so you were unable to sleep for a second. Oh and there was no toilet. But after 11 and a half hours we had made it to Chiang Mai. Totalling 32 hours and 1466km of continuous travelling that looked abit like this. (It says 19 hours on Google Maps, but what they haven’t taken into consideration is the efficiency of the Thai bus network!)
After exiting the coach in Chiang Mai one of the worst storms I have been in struck the city with great force making for a very nervous yet exciting taxi ride to our hostel, Thailandwow. First impressions seemed good but as our trip developed our opinions changed faces.
The following morning the skies had completely cleared and the scorching sun was back where it belonged. Today we were to spend visiting temples around the old city. The first temple we went to happened to be my favourite of the day. It was called Wat Muen Ngen Kong and it was one of the most sacred and calming places I have been to in Thailand. Only us and the monks paused to admire the intimate wood carvings and golden colour of the temples and the surrounding area that morning.
A short walk away was Wat Phra Singh (Temple of Lion Buddha), Chiang Mais most revered temple. Hundreds of tourists, pilgrims and monks toured the grounds taking in the classic Lanna art and architecture.
Chiang Mais most central and iconic temple Wat Chedi Luang was next. Within the grounds was a ruined ‘Chedi’ which is essentially a Buddhist monument containing relics related to Buddha. It had been restored heavily to ensure no further damage was inflicted upon the ruin after an earthquake happened in 1545.
After a couple of hours rest we headed to the Sunday night market. A cross roads of colourful stalls selling local food, hill tribe crafts, clothes and everything in between lay in the heart of the old city. I have to say most markets I have been to in Asia are predictably similar but this market was much more unique in the goods it was selling. It would be a disaster to visit Chiang Mai and not go to either the Saturday or Sunday night market.
Monday was the 1st of May which was Thai labour day. Most of Chiang Mai was shut so me and Georgia with no expectations decided to go on a tremendous walk out of the old city walls and into the unexplored area of Chiang Mai. It really is a glorious place, there is always something to look at, restaurants teasing your senses with aromatic spices showering the air as you walked by. We subsequentally walked 6km before reaching a museum of natural wonders and insects, however we glanced in the window and probably saw the worst illustration of natural wonders in human history so made an executive decision to walk back. We were about 15 minutes from our hostel and me not really paying attention was stopped hurriedly by a Thai army officer and was told to stop where I was. I obliged cowardly of course and waited as still as an stick insect. Suddenly an entourage of about 40-50 (I seriously am not exaggerating) blacked out Mercedes, police vans, armoured vehicles and motorbike escorts drove by us. Once they had passed I approached the officer and asked ‘who was that?’ and he answered back ‘The King of Thailand’. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and resting. At around 5pm we headed for the Night Bazaar outside of the old city. It was about a 2km walk and we strolled through Loi Kroh Road. A habitat of dingy and moderately expensive bars crowded with old western men attempting to impresse uninterested alleged prostistutes. The area was fun though, there were tonnes of vegetarian restaurants, book stores, massage parlours and ‘trendy’ bars. After a couple of beers we wandered the night bazaar and the Anusarn market which again impressed me unexpectedly with its wide range of products on offer by the vendors. We had such a great night there and walked home with a big grin on our faces.
Our third morning Georgia woke up to the most beastly looking blisters on her legs and feet I have ever seen. Turns out our beds were a holiday haven for red ants and although I was pretty much unscathed, Georgia had been torn to shreds and the bites had got irreversibly infected. An early morning trip to the pharmacy was in order and a late morning show of blister popping was the entertainment of the century. She did recover well and we marched on to the Lanna Folklife museum.
The Lanna Buddhists are very superstitious and supernatural in their thinking. Traditional Buddhists are more accepting that suffering is a part of your life cycle and focus more on the law of karma and the cycle of death whilst the Lannas preoccupy themselves from trying to avoid suffering by building pagodas, chapels and sanctuaries as a protective force to minimise suffering. The Lanna tradition believe in natural forces and practise rituals aswell as decorations. An example is the Pho tree (under which the first Buddha achieved enlightenment) known for its multiple trunks and aerial roots, with hanging branches that are cropped up by decorated poles which symbolises supporting their religion, bringing happiness and longevity. Lanna people also believe that supernatural objects they place in their house has supernatural powers to protect them from harm and danger.
About a 25 minute walk away was Warorot market which had a much more local feel to it. Passing through China town we reached a three storey building that sold packaged spices and fruit, sold traditional ornaments, plates and utensils aswell as your more common clothes, shoes and brick a brack.
On our walk home we hit disaster. It was about 3pm and the sun was shining bright at a toasty temperate of 37 degrees. I personally am absolutely fine in the open sun, I could walk miles and feel completely fine, what I sometimes forget is Georgia’s sensitivity to it. I think we were no more than 600 metres from our lodgings and Georgia complained of feeling delirious. I, possibly selfishly dismissed her allegations and encouraged her to continue walking as we were not far from being back anyway. There are no pavements on the Samlarm road back to our hostel so we always have to walk single file to avoid traffic. Out of the blue I heard Georgia say ‘I feel like I’m going to faint’ I turned around a her legs buckled and I just caught her before she face planted the floor. I held her up and ushered her to the shade but each time she woke up she would pass out again, making it extremely difficult to carry her. I signalled to a lady in the hairdressers that I needed help and we both carried Georgia to her empty salon. She was out cold on the tiles on the floor, I grabbed some pillows from the sofa to rest her head on as the lady forced a eucalyptus and menthol stick up Georgia’s nose to bring her around. We slowly fed her water and got her sat on the sofa. I took the opportunity to get a quick hair cut whilst Georgia regained conciousness (might aswell). The lady so kindly gave Georgia the stick of eucalyptus and menthol, an unopened 2 litre bottle of water from her fridge and a sun umbrella to keep for free so we could walk back safe. Further reinforcing the already worldwide known fact that Thai people are some the most generous and thoughtful people on the planet.