Woohoo Happy New Year Chiang Mai style. The lanterns and fireworks reflected in the moat. Some lanterns wound up in trees. Great fun.
We took a scenic bus ride from Chiang Rai city to Chiang Mai city, arriving the day before NYE. We decided to find a place in the city centre; which is surrounded by a moat and still has the old city “gates” standing. We’d heard that’s where the main fireworks would be and we wanted in on the action. We took a walk around the city enabling Graham to locate a nearby golf course and me to take note of the massage joints. We feasted on Thai curries and the next day, NYE, Graham got himself warmed up for the action with a game of golf while I tried out one of those massage joints. (Note a trend here!) New Years Day we woke without hangovers and decided to repeat the previous days’ activities!
“Hey I wonder if those little bungalows are for rent?”
Turns out they were…and just in time as it’s beer o’clock.
On the 2nd Jan (can’t believe a new year) we hired a bike and set off for the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) just outside of the city. First up we had to find a bed which wasn’t as easy as we had thought. We had hoped to stay at the ENP but the rooms were fully booked. There weren’t any signs for accom – plenty for the various nature parks, but just as we were getting nervous about finding a bed for the night we spotted these bungalows on the river. We went to the nearby resto and used our limited Thai and by now excellent charade skills to ask if the bungalows were for rent and if they owned them etc. In no time at all we had a cute little bamboo and leaf bungalow on the river for $10. Woohoo. Not even a squat toilet – but the hardest bed you can imagine – if it hadn’t been so cold it would have been softer to sleep on the bamboo floor – Graham said it would be good to play ping pong on! We have waited SO long for this visit to the ENP. Although we originally arrived in Thailand with plans to ride an elephant, after learning how they are”tamed” we decided against it and chose a different option for our elephant encounter. Here we felt we could do some good and still make contact with elephants. I have 250 photos to sift through so I am going to make a separate post for the ENP where I can store my photos offline and share with our family and friends (not the whole 250 obviously). I will also see if I can upload our precious video of “Baby Elephant rolling in Mud and Farting…very loudly”.
We dumped our bags and went exploring on the bike. We stood on a bridge and puzzled about what these rafts were for. Later on while having sundowners at the hut half a dozen tourists went past on them like SUP’s.
MAE HONG SON LOOP
After our day with the elephants we set off elated in search of our next bed. We had decided to do the Mae Hong Son Loop with our little 125cc bike. Graham wore the day pack on his chest, I loaded our main pack on my back (it wasn’t that heavy since we were wearing almost all of our clothes), and we stuffed a few bits and pieces under the seat. And we were off; up the very windy hills in search of stunning scenery, hilltribe people, yummy food, new friends, adventure and of course cold beer. Part way up the hill we were losing light and pulled into the Road View Hotel for the night – we haggled away for a good price and scored a REALLY nice room. Ahhh the bed was so comfy. Next morning we were so excited to get going we could hardly wait for the mist to lift, we piled ourselves on our little bike rugged up in all our summer clothes, donned our helmets, and used socks as gloves (it was FREEZING) and were off. We both regret not asking someone to take a photo – we must have looked a sight – we cracked ourselves up just looking at each other quite regularly. This loop has thousands of curves and hairpin bends and for the most part is a good road. There were some potholes on the way up to Pai, our next stop. This is a really cool laid back Rasta Village. They have the BEST markets we have ever seen – and that’s coming from a couple who hate markets and shopping. The stalls themselves had a different array of goods (instead of the usual repetitiveness), and the whole market had loads of items we had never seen anywhere else which was refreshing. It’s open air on the roads at night, (instead of cramped) so Graham didn’t constantly bang his head on things. Lots of yummy street food – we enjoyed curries and chai to warm ourselves, played pool and listened to live music in the evenings at various bars. Took the bike for rides during the day.
It was late in the day and we were keen to get off the bike and wander around Pai so we grabbed the first place we could find. The hammock on our verandah was a hit, and the rail was good for drying some hand washing but we weren’t into the shared bathroom over in the paddock, so we found another bed the next day. This was our only shared bathroom the whole 2 month trip in our budget accom.
We heard about this place called “The Canyon” so we went to check it out. The first part was easy to walk out to but to get out to the really cool parts was a mission. There were some really really narrow parts, slippery parts and parts where I needed a helping hand to get up. I have to say at one point I was ready to turn back but Graham urged me on and I’m glad he did. We never did get back for sunset but heard it’s meant to be spectacular. The scenery was great, and we really enjoyed the physical challenge. By the end of this day out we were filthy.
Next day another early start in search of adventure. But first we needed to fuel up – thick toast, a couple of boiled eggs and some piping hot cuppas on the side of the road out the front of our new accom (Pai In The Sky) and we were off. We rode past rice paddies, through quaint villages, and went in search of waterfalls
Went to a traditional Chinese Village where they had mud houses, and a tacky castle…I challenged Graham to archery and managed to retain my title, then we went up a hill and sipped chinese tea and looked out over the village.
Then back on the bike, through more rice paddies and villages and suddenly in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere we stumbled across Isara Garden – a funky little cafe and guesthouse in amongst the rice paddies and fields. The woman even had a beehive.
Peeling off the layers as the day heated up…down to his blue wiggles shirt (aka sunsuit) and only one tshirt. Looking very relaxed.
I’m not sure if the day pack has slipped down or he’s just excited about his bike ride. He was really loving those hairpin bends on the bike…me not so much. We really enjoyed Pai but it was time to leave as we had a lot of hairpin bends to round. We staggered out onto the street for another early start and found piping hot noodles for breaky, green tea and a little fire in a bucket which we totally hogged. We set off but had to pull over twice just to warm up with a coffee. The early morning mist makes for some great photo ops but we were freezing. I was wearing 3 tshirts, 4 long sleeve shirts, 2 pair of bike pants and 2 pair of long pants (all summer wear of course), socks on my hands (and feet) and my sarong wrapped around my neck. Graham had on all his clothes plus a red shirt we picked up at a “used clothes” stall in Pai and the raincoat (for warmth, no rain thankgoodness). We both wore surgical face masks just to keep the chill off. Graham was in front copping most of it, at least I could snuggle behind him.
4 seater crazy swing..how does that work? Feeling like we are on top of the world.
The scenery on this ride is fantastic, unfortunately the skipper didn’t pull over as often as I would like for photos – he was enjoying the windy road too much. We stopped at a guesthouse and met this SA guy who was cycling around the loop – and he was also going up a hill and doing an extra bit we had decided not to do as “it would be too much on the motor bike” – we had already lifted the front wheel off the road twice trying to get up some hills. Of course after talking to him we extended our route, and kept bumping into him on the way round. Wow what a mission on a bicycle! We stopped for lunch at a little place next to Wat Huai Pha (which was interesting to walk around). Great views and one of the tastiest pad thais around.
Made it to Mae Hong Son (the capital), and checked into the Jongkam Guest House which was near a lake (helps us navigate if we are near water). Took the bike up the hill to the Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (temple) for sunset and decided the view was actually so good we would return for sunrise. Sunrise was spectacular and you just felt like you could step out onto the clouds.
After our “floating on clouds” morning we set off on a day trip to Ban Rak Thai – a little Chinese Village situated on a lake fringed with tea houses. The scenery along the way was once again breathtaking. We walked around the lake in search of lunch – pork leg in a bowl of broth was popular but not a fave for us…we ended up back where we started and ordered a pretty plain meal before heading back to Mae Hong Son. Made up for food that night with a scrumptious curry from a local market (not the tourist one, so it was super spicy as we like it). Sat beside the lake and watched the world go by sipping hot green tea soy latte – YUM!
Not often Graham grabs the camera to take a photo but this time was an exception. We thought the clouds looked so cool.
Next morning we were up bright and early once again to brave the cold and head up into the clouds.
Then we were off on our longest day trip yet – 164km to Mae Sariang. We had planned on a shorter ride to Mae Lanoi but we blinked and missed it. The scenery was changing – fewer rice paddies and more bush. Still good roads (mostly), friendly people and of course plenty temples. The very first guesthouse we stopped at was within budget (whoohoo – sometimes it takes a few attempts to find one or just plenty haggling). We were tired from our day and didn’t feel like haggling. The shower was piping hot – dare I complain too hot since the last few had been freezing – which soothed the aches and washed off the dirt and bugs. After a little rest (we’re getting old) we went in search of a drink and found ourselves a lovely little bar with views over the river and cool jazz playing in the background. We pulled up a dentist chair (all sorts of odd furniture to be found) and rested our feet on the balcony while watching the world float by on the river. Finding a cheap feed was a mission and we thought we were being given a bum-steer when directed to the bus station…no they weren’t telling us to get out of town, there really was delicious pad thai to be found there.
Mae Sariang is where we had planned to turn off and head back to Chiang Mai, instead we extended our bike hire for the third time and continued SW to Ban Mae Sam Lab. SO GLAD WE DID THIS.
We headed over the bridge to Salawin NP then turned left about 4km before it. The scenery started to change…as did the condition of the road – the last 10-15km was either badly damaged or no bitumen at all. The road was steep and boggy in parts – Graham pretended we had a dirt bike instead of our little road bike. The villages became more “authentic” as we neared the Salawin River….bamboo sticks and leaf huts….all covered in dust from the road. People were super friendly despite the language barrier and seemed surprised and happy to see us.
We finally arrived at the boat landing, on the Yuam River at the Thai/Myanmar border – pretty low waters atm. Had the WORST lunch ever and have absolutely no idea what it was – Graham tried feeding his to the dog under the table while the shop keeper was busy wrapping betel nut in leaves for his customers. I think it was a bit too authentic here. We managed to make it up the hill and back to base in Mae Sariang by 3pm, more than ready for another hot shower and cold beers.
Next day we checked out of our hotel and headed for Mae Cham, 152km away. Once again it was freezing cold and we had to pull over after 90mins for a hot cuppa and a defrost. People would often motion to us that we needed a jacket but Graham insisted we were fine as it was only for a couple of hours each morning then conditions were fine – and I would have ended up with the jackets in the backpack for the rest of the day. We drove through a pine forest and then land cleared for farming, that looked like giant patchwork quilts for miles. Although another long drive this one seemed easier – perhaps due to the ever changing scenery – kept our minds occupied. Not so many hills and we made good time, arriving for lunch. Having not had enough of the bike and thoroughly enjoying the road as we came in Graham took off for a ride on his own while I indulged in a well earned massage (hard work carrying that pack on my back). The whole trip we had been looking for hill tribe experiences (without going on a commercialised tour). A few times we rode through ethnic villages but at Mae Cham markets there were loads of hill tribe people selling their produce and going about their shopping all dressed in their lovely bright ethnic costumes (and of course I didn’t have the camera as we were only going for breaky!). We didn’t see any other tourists and felt like this was an experience not to miss so we hung around for a couple of days. We ate breaky at the market – hot broth, the hugest plate of fried rice with fried egg on top for $1. We visited a local weaving shop – Tin Tok Art – the prices were VERY reasonable, and it helped out the poor and disadvantaged by encouraging them to keep their art and culture alive and giving them an income.
No idea which of the 13 villages of Ban Thap we are in but we found cold beer, “lunch” and a view.
I’m not even sure how we heard of Ban Thap, a nearby subdistrict of 13 villages, but since the area was so scenic we decided to leave the packs and head off into the hills and see if we could find it. Well who knows since there were no signs and google wasn’t really helping us, but we enjoyed the ride anyway. We were looking for a resto in the hills with a view – the best we could find was a little shop where we bought a cold beer and packet of crisps – which the very friendly shop keeper opened and served to us in a bowl with tomato sauce on the side (the crisps were like shoestring chips and we later discovered the sauce comes in the bag – we thought it was some novel way they had thought of to eat the crisps).
We made it safely back to Chiang Mai handed in the bike and flew back to Bangkok – this trip was coming to an end all too soon. In Bangkok we stayed at The Krungkasem Srikung Hotel, near the train station (making transport to and from the airport easy)and decided it was time to check out Khao San Road – I think you have to do it but we wouldn’t want to sleep there (or try to).
My 3rd time of coming across critter dinner and I finally worked up the courage just to photograph them – beetles, worms, slugs, frogs, scorpions and of course tarantulas. Ugh those big hairy tarantulas really freak me out. We were wondering if they were just there for the farangs (tourists) and if the store keepers sniggered when the farangs actually ate them – but we met a local lady who not only told us how the tarantulas are one of her favourite delicacies but also how she goes out and catches them. Ugh my skin crawls just remembering! Time to return to the Nap, finish off our hardstand jobs and sail down the Malacca Straits while there are still some NE winds around. Time to make our way back to Oz. See most of you at the end of 2016.