Jenny\'s Southeast Asia/China Adventure

Travel time: February - June 2004  |  by Jenny Chu

Thailand: Chiang Mai / Pai

Saturday, 2/21/04
Day Eighteen, In Transit to N. Thailand

"Starting today, taxi we charge 60 B to go to the pier." Argh! What is it with taxi drivers on this island? My one way ride to the ferry docks was supposed to be 30B and everyone knows that is the going rate. However, I didn't want to be late, so I said alright,alright I pay you 40. Knowing he was still making more money, we sped off. At the pier, a throng of travelers were waiting to depart just as a new group was arriving to satiate their island fever.

I was to arrive into Bangkok at 7 said the guy who sold me my ticket, but we didn't get to Bangkok until 9. Oh, well. The ferry and bus ride wasn't too bad. The bus was one of those touristy, VIP air-con buses that for some reason showed only bad action movies starring Van Diesel and then Jean Claude Van Damme. I actually watched the entire Jean Claude one out of boredom. On the bus, three Korean girls asked me where I was from and we exchanged stories. They were near the end of a three-week trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, which I thought was crazy. Most people take 3 mos at least to do that circuit, but at least they got to see all that they wanted to. My own 4 mo/5 country trip to many is overly ambitious.

When we arrived in Bangkok, the bus dropped us off near Khao San Rd. I was actually a little bit excited to finally see this infamous backpacker's grotto. I needed to book my train-ticket to Chiang Mai at a travel agency there, but I wasn't sure where I was going to stay that night. I was thinking of maybe going back to Suk11, but when the Korean girls asked me if I wanted to share a cab to Khao San Rd, I jumped in with them. Once we got out, I saw that immediately the area lived up to its seedy reputation. There was neon lights everywhere and a massive amount of backpackers walking around, many indulging in a night of debauchery. There were bars, massage parlors, clubs - you name it, and Khao San Rd had it. In fact, this road offered a plethora of goodies as long as you had the dough. Fancy a MBA degree? Sure, they can print one up for you. Or, how about a press pass? No problemo. Or, you can just settle for a head-full of dreadlocks and then top it off with a henna tattoo.

And of course, Khao San Rd.'s main draw for the tourists was the hundreds of the cheapest guesthouses in Bangkok. The Korean girls were heading to a Korean guesthouse for 90B/night in a dorm, so I went with them figuring I might as well have some company and stay in this part of town because it was closer to the train station for my trip to Chiang Mai the next night. They were extremely friendly and one of them Ja Rang, even carried my smaller backpack when she saw me limping with my bad foot. On the way there, they ran into Cristof, a French guy they had gone trekking with in Chiang Mai. I was not even surprised to see that happen. You really realize how small the world is when you travel. They made plans to meet with him at 11.

After walking for 15 minutes, we finally got to the guesthouse. The dorm room was decent, small bed, but later that night when I saw a huge cockroach in the bathroom, I realized you sure get what you pay for. It was ten-o'clock, when we headed out to grab some dinner, settling on a Korean restaurant. Who knew I would be able to satisfy my kim-chi craving in Bangkok? But, then again Bangkok really did have all different kinds of food. Okay, no more food talk.

Meeting Cristof was a trip. He was a short French man, much shorter than I was, and quite a character. Only 32, he had already been married to three diff women from three diff countries in a span of eight years. Wow. I learned all this at a quiet bar over a drink with him and the Korean girls that Cristof kindly paid for.

"You are a playboy! Playboy!" The Korean girls said over and over again, while I laughed and enjoyed their company.

Sunday, 2/21/04
Day Nineteen, A Day in the Khao San Rd. Vortex

I was told to book a 2nd class lower bunk sleeper to Chiang Mai, but by the time I made it to the travel agencies around 11 am, they were all sold out. So, I took an upper sleeper for 550 B that was leaving at 10pm that night. With a whole day to spare, I decided just to hang around Khao San Rd. and catch up on some travelogue writing and doing a bit of shopping.

Wandering around the area, I felt back at home in Bangkok. It seemed like no matter what time of day, the atmosphere was always filled with a lively buzz. That afternoon I bought a thin cotton top, and some fisherman type pants, completing the all-around versatile, yet very generic traveler's outfit for SE ASIA. I later ordered a coke, to watch Cold Mountain that evening at a movie house, but had to leave for the train station before the end.

The train station although looking like the ones in Europe, had a huge TV screen inside featuring the WWF smackdown. There were rows of people just sitting on the ground listening to the Thai wrestling commentary. Quite amusing. My upper bunk was indeed quite small, but it was one of the most comfortable beds I have slept on in Thailand. I slept soundly that night, highly anticipating my arrival in Chiang Mai, which I heard was supposed to be just lovely.

Heading north to Chiang Mai.

Heading north to Chiang Mai.

Monday, 2/23/04
Day Twenty - Chiang Mai

Disappointment was the name of the game in Chiang Mai. Even getting there was not easy. My night train was supposed to have pulled into N. Thailand's biggest city by noon, but on the way there we stopped on the tracks for a full hour without good reason. Finally, sixteen hours later we got to Chiang Mai. I didn't have my guesthouse picked out, but I figure I couldn't go bad with "Eagle House 2", recommended by two travelers I met in Europe a while ago, who also did some trekking with them. There was a guy from the hostel there, and when I asked him how much a single room would be he said 100 baht. "For Eagle House 2, not Eagle 1, right?" - "Yes, Yes."

Okay, I got into the van for my free ride to the hostel. There was one other girl in the car.
Where are you from? California.
Oh, Cool! I'm from Texas! Finally, I meet an American!!!!!!!!!!! I've been traveling with some British and I can hardly understand them sometimes!!!!!!! What's your name?
Oh cool! An American Name!!!~!

Oh, brother. Needless, to say the 22 yr old Texan was not my cup of tea, and when she asked me if she can join me at the table I was sitting at after we got to the guesthouse, I said sure. But, I was starving more than anything and said that I'd see her later. I think she thought I was a stuck up snob.
I did kinda feel bad making a quick move on, but whatever, you don't need to explain yourself when you're traveling and don't know the person. Anyway, I was also a bit upset because "Eagle House 2" said that their single rooms were 150 and that "Eagle House 1" was the one with rooms for 100, but they were full. Um, I only had asked the driver twice. So, I decided to take the dorm room for 80B and figured maybe I can meet some cool travelers.

When I opened the door, the cutest Japanese girl was there. Only 20, she was traveling Asia and India for 11 months solo! And instead of joining a tour group for some trekking, like 99 percent of people who come to Chiang Mai to do, she planned on renting a motorbike and doing it on her own. Crazy. You know, people may be surprised that some of the bravest travellers I have met on the road have been young Asian girls traveling by themselves. Once I was in Italy, when I met an 18 yr old Korean girl who was biking throughout France and Italy by herself with her big backpack on her back, the whole way. Talk about defying stereotypes.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Chiang Mai being a disappointment. After scarfing down some lunch, I took a brief tour of my surroundings. I was staying inside the old city walls, in the old town. But, from what I could tell there was not a discerning difference between the new city and old town. I imagined some picturesque historical Thai city. Much different from Bangkok. However, instead I was now in a place that was basically a city just like Bangkok, but lacking any sort of character. The vibrance that resonated from every street corner in my beloved capital city was definitely missing here.

Going by my first impressions then, I went into a travel agency to make my plans for heading into Laos. I forked over 1350B (~35$) for a 30 day visa for my next destination. I am so excited to visit Laos, and originally I have planned two weeks, but with the positive reports I was hearing about this laid back country, I will play it by ear and the 30 day visa will give me that flexibility. For anyone getting their visas to Laos, I say do it in Chiang Mai if you are heading there, rather then at the embassy in Bangkok cuz it's cheaper and you don't have to go through as much hassle.

With my Laos visa sorted, I headed back to "Eagle House" to meet Mikao and another Dutch girl who was also flying solo for dinner. The three of us decided to head to the night bazaar. I have heard awesome things about Chiang Mai's night bazzar. But, when I got there it was basically the same 10 stalls selling all the things I saw in Bangkok, repeating themselves over and over. And the bargaining here is crazy.
How much for this shirt? 380.
No, way.
Okay how much you want?
No. Sorry, I give you discount already.
Walk Away.
Grabs arm okay, okay. 110. (Another time, a girl asked how much a headband was: 120. Bargain, walk away, fine. 40. They mark things up by like 200 percent sometimes).
Fine, with my Beer Chang shirt in hand, I left with my only purchase from the night market.

The three of us then split up because we had different visions on how to tackle the huge maze of vendors. I looked around the market for two hours and at midnight decided to call it quits. My foot was still bothering me, but I managed to make it home in one piece to sleep on the hard-as-a rock mattress. (I don't recommend "Eagle House 2" - not for the dorms anyway).

Tuesday, 2/24/04
Day Twenty One - Off to Pai

Ahhhh - the virtue of traveling solo is being able to wake up in a city you are not so keen on and decide at the spur of the moment to leave for a better place. Originally, I thought I would give Chiang Mai another day, perhaps do the all day cooking class that I had planned on taking. But, I woke up a tad too late to enroll, so after asking the Eagle House receptionist for the bus schedule to Pai, I decided to aim for the 3:30 bus. I figure getting away to the mountains that surround Pai, would be a good way for me to get a glimpse of the northern Thailand area. Although it barely gets a mention in my Lonely Planet, I had heard from a few travellers that Pai was beautiful, and that in recent years it had become a backpacker's hangout. I definitely was looking forward to my visit there.

However, before taking off I wanted to visit Wat Umong, which was situated a bit outside Chiang Mai. This temple is a bit different as it is situated in a cave underground and is surrounded by the forest. I hired a tuk-tuk driver for 40 baht, and as we drove through Chiang Mai, I knew that I made the right choice to leave. When we got there I told the tuk-tuk driver to come back in a hour-and-a half, plenty of time for me to enjoy the tranquil environment. What I liked most about this temple was its various sayings posted on the trees. Below are a few of my faves:

"Once born, a person should strive to make a name for himself; before dying, a person should bequeath something good to the world."

" Being aware of our ears is better than trying to stop others from talking."

" Without good done in this life, it is useless hoping for heaven in the afterlife."

The origin of the monastary is unkown, the caves were probably built in the 2nd half of the 14th century. Really, it never ceases to amaze me how old some of the things I visit are.

My tuk-tuk driver showed up a bit early, which was good cuz I was ready to go. I hired him to take me back to town, stop by a cooking school to get into, then to Eagle House, and finally to the bus station for 65 Baht, a bit of a bargain for me. We drove for about a minute, and then all of a sudden he pulls over to the side of the road and stops his tuk-tuk.

Oh-oh. He then tells me to give him a piece of paper, and he proceeds to write his name and number. Below that, "Goodbye. Bye."

Um, okay. I thought maybe he was going to kick me out not wanting to drive some westerner who thinks she can hire him for 65 baht. But then I was thinking why would he give me his name and number? He barely spoke english, so we weren't really communicating much.
Later, when he was driving me to the bus station he pulled over yet again! And he wrote his name and number again. But this time he pulled his budhha bead bracelet off his wrist and gave it to me. He wanted me to be his "friend". Okay, I said. He also wanted me to call him when I get back from Pai. Okay, okay I said. I knew that I would not call him, but I didn't have the heart to tell him that. So, I accepted the bracelet for fear of offending him. In exchange for his gift, he asked me for a picture of myself. I didn't have one, but then remembered I took a picture with my IZONE camera, so I tore it out of my little picture album and gave it to him. No harm done, and I got to the bus station just a few minutes before the Pai bus was going to take off. I actually was quite lucky because I went to buy a few snacks for the ride and right as I was heading back to the bus, it was already pulling away. Somehow, I managed to do a gimpyish trot (foot still kinda bad) and caught up with the bus just in the nick of time.

The bus was small, no air-conditioning and had about a handful of travelers. The ride was 4 hours and only 60 Baht (but the travel agents will try to sell you a minivan ride - saying "the bus is 100 Baht and five hours - take the gov't bus instead and experience the ride with some locals"). We made our climb into the mountains and took in some beautiful scenery along the way. The bus driver was quite adept at taking the sharp turns, which was quite a relief since at times the road was very narrow. And everytime, we would pass another truck or a bus, all the drivers would smile and honk. I never saw such a friendly truck/bus culture as Thailand's. We also passed by some cows crossing the road and truckfuls of pigs. Welcome to the countryside, eh.

As the bus pulled into town, I had no idea where I was going. All the other travelers vanished in a poof, so I just walked down the road for literally a few seconds when a man asked me if I needed a room. Duang's guesthouse was right across the bus station, and when I heard a single room was only 70B, I was sorted. Throwing my stuff down, I walked outside to absorb my new town for the next few days. For me, Pai was just what the doctor ordered. A few main roads, a serene river flowing by at one end, a moviehouse and an assortment of restaurants all surrounded by some lovely mountains.

I grabbed some grubbing Pad Thai for 20 Baht (50 cents) from a street vendor who definitely knew what she was doing. Afterwards, I decided to end the night at the movie house which seemed to be one of the town's hot spots. I took one of the last remaining seats at the bar and watched "Once Upon a Time in Mexico". Man, I'm sure getting caught up in all my movies. Everyone was eating their dinner there as well, and as I slowly drank my beer I gave in and ordered dinner #2, a bowl of veggie yummy noodle soup.

Full, happy, and sleepy, I looked forward to waking up and renting a bike to explore the town and the the nearby waterfall.

Wed, 2/25/04
Day 22 - I'm A Trooper, Why Yes I AM!

The grandmother who owned Duang's guesthouse, where I was staying, said that it should be no problem for me to rent a bike and ride 10 km uphill to the waterfalls. Afterall, if she could do it, then surely I could. Okay, cool. So, after eating a power brekkie consisting of a bowlful of homemade yogurt (Thailand has great yogurt, btw) with fresh fruit and muesli, I was ready to go. I walked across the street, rented a bike for 50 Baht and started off on my ride.

I probably didn't even ride for more than 10 minutes, when I already felt hot and a bit tired. Great, this wasn't even the hard part yet, yet the road was already starting to go uphill. When I rode by a temple, I jumped off and looked inside. An old Thai man pointed to the donation box, so I dropped in the requested 10B and received a beautiful flower wrapped around an incense stick. I went inside, bowed three times, and then put my incense stick in the pot. I didn't really know what I was doing, but the old man accompanied me and was getting a kick out of my inability to speak Thai even tho I told him I was Chinese. He then took me around to one of the Buddhas and opened up it's head, took a spoonful of water and dripped it over my head. The cool water felt refreshing and I was happy to learn that the water was sacred. I was now blessed and ready to get back on the road.

Luckily, the stretch of road I was riding on was dotted with little bamboo shacks that provided very much needed shade. I was dumb to start my ride at this hour, it was high noon, and the sun kept getting hotter by the minute as the hill got higher and higher. So, I would ride a bit. Stop. Ride a bit. Stop. Pushed my bike, when it got too hilly. As this pattern repeated itself, I saw a few hillstribe people in their traditional costume which pleased me since I wasn't able to do a trek due to my foot. (I also had decided prior to the sea urchin, that maybe trekking in Thailand was not for me. And I wasn't sure how I would feel staying overnight in villages where their dependency on tourism may not be a total win-win situation for the locals. Imagine having to entertain Westerners day after day in your little village as they take photo after photo. Also, I learned that some hill tribes, like the long-necks were actually forced to stay in their villages by the Thai government - virtual Kodak prisoners). Anyway, riding through their neighborhood as they went about their normal daily business, seemed more natural.

Twenty minutes later, I ran into another British girl who was also pushing her bike at the time. So we trudged along together, but when the road turned into a dirt path I gave up and tied my bike up and walked the remaining 2km. I did not feel defeated however, and when we got to the waterfalls we saw that we were the only brave/stupid(?) ones that got there by bike. Everyone else was there on rented scooters. So, yes I did feel like a trooper.

The waterfall itself, was unspectacular although I'm sure it's much prettier during the wet season. The British girl and her friend who met her there, stripped down to their bikinis which was providing eye candy to some teenage Thai boys who could not stop staring. I felt a bit too bare myself since I had taken off my pants after slipping on some muddy rocks and was only in my bikini bottom.

After my pants dried, I decided it was time to head back. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant on the way down, and had maybe my worst Thai meal ever. That's okay tho, considering I have now been in Thailand for three weeks - one or two bad meals definitely did not bother me one bit in this land of gastronomical delights. And my dinner of delish fried rice with raisins, pineapple, cashews, tofu and a fried egg more than made up for it. I didn't mind eating dinner by myself that night, in fact I was really enjoying my solitude in Pai.

That night as I got ready for bed, I was looking forward to my two hour massage the next day as a treat for my 20km bike ride!

pai's countryside

pai's countryside

Wednesday, 2/25/04
Day 22 - Last day in Pai / Back to Chiang Mai

I rented a bike today again, but this time for a leisurely ride through town. My first stop was for brekki, a nice scrambled eggs with tomato and onions, and some hot ginger tea for a $1. I then biked 20 seconds to the Pai traditional massage, which was recommended by Duang's guesthouse and just around the corner. I eagerly signed up for my head-to-toe treat - a 2 hour traditional Thai massage. Laying on the mattress on the ground, the woman pushed on my pressure points, kneaded my muscles, and cracked my joints. Sadly, at the end I was still feeling a huge knot in one of my shoulders. I was a bit disappointed, it seems like Thai massages don't really focus on strategically getting out ur knots, but instead go through the motions of a routine massage. However, determined to feel light as a feather, I caved in and had my masseuse do an extra half hour with oil and herbs. Four hundred Baht (10 bucks) later, I was finally feeling better.

For the rest of the afternoon, I strolled through town enjoying Pai until my 4pm bus back to Chiang Mai. The bus ride seemed to go by quickly, and I arrived back into Chiang Mai around 8pm. I decided to take a sawngthaew - a pick up truck with two wooden benches in the back, to Eagle House (not sure I was heading back there, but too lazy to find a new guesthouse). On the truck with me was Shira, a British/Spanish/Israeli woman who was traveling on her own. We chatted a bit, and I asked if she minded if we split the cost of a room - figuring it would be cheaper and that I could use a bit of company. So, off we went to Midtown Guesthouse situated right near Taphae Gate. Our room was clean and had its own bathroom for 150B/person.

For dinner, we ventured out to the Night Market and settled on some Indian food. It was expensive and blah. Shira never tried the sticky rice wtih mango, so we thought maybe a nice dessert would make up for our meal. But, it was not soo good either. Okay, Chiang Mai was def not my fav place. Before we headed back, we walked around to see if we could find a cheaper room for tomorrow night. But, as we were walking around I was thinking, is it really worth the $1 in savings to pack up and move? I was glad when Shira realized the same thing and we both agreed on staying one more night at Midtown.

Sometimes when you are traveling on a budget, your sense of money becomes a bit skewed. You really have to ask yourself when it's worth it to save that extra bit of money, or to pay more for convenience. I remember my ghetto days traveling Europe, when me and my friend would sometimes share (one of us would sneak) one single bed in expensive cities like Paris. On this trip, a bit older and more sane, I am letting myself afford more luxuries, like massages and the all day cooking class I was set to take tomorrow! =)

Friday, 2/27/04
Day 24, "Our Goal is to Make you Look Pregnant"

At nine o'clock in the morning, a lovely ladyboy picked me up and shuttled me over to the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre. Might I add here, that I think it's great that Thailand has such a welcoming attitude for its transgendered population and for homosexuality in general. Here, ladyboys do not only come out at night; they take part in the normal daily routine, working in all the jobs everyone else does.

Once I got to the cooking school, I noticed painted on the ceiling in the doorway: "Our Goal is to Make you Look Pregnant." Now for those who know me, I was definitely at the right place for my transformation into a Thai-chef extraordinaire! Anyway, after checking in and having some fruit for brekkie, our group of about eight people headed over to the local market for an intro to the essential ingredients for Thai cuisine. Our teacher was really articulate, but the whole market trip was a bit set-up. Instead of walking through and showing us what to buy, we went to two places where everything was already set up on display. I did however, feel better as I saw a few groups, who had many more students in the group also doing the same market "lesson".

Back on the range, we split up into our groups by the items that we wanted to cook. On my menu for the day was: spring rolls, green curry w/tofu and veggies, spicy papaya salad, pad thai, tvp (fake meat) w/basil and for dessert sticky black rice pudding. I liked this school cuz there was a veggie option for every item.

For the next four hours or so, I diced, sliced, chopped, and surprisingly produced some very edible and yummy Thai food at my very own wok. Thai cooking is actually quite basic considering how many flavors and smells come with each bite. I learned that there aren't too many ingredients to get and all you really need for utensils is a wok and a spatula. All the dishes were nice, except for the tvp basil one I wasn't too keen on.

And yes, by the time we were done, I along with my classmates (even the men!) really did feel like we were pregnant. My 20 bucks was well spent (we each got a cooking book filled with all the recipes the school teaches - so friends and family: I hope to throw a Thai feast upon my return =) ). Needless to say, I did not have to eat dinner afterwards and instead went to pick up my visa for Laos. I also wanted to book a package to do the border crossing/slow boat into Luang Prabang, but the travel agent told me that they just sold out 20 minutes prior to me going there. Not only that, but there was only one other agency in Chiang Mai that sold similar packages and they were sold out too. GREAT! I really had my heart set on leaving tomorrow, and I definitely did not want to stay one other day in Chiang Mai. I was ready to just take the bus to Chiang Khong myself and do it on my own, but then I stopped by two other travel agencies, and luckily the second one phoned in and they had just one seat left. Looks like I really did get the last seat for the package in all of Chiang Mai. I was more than relieved.

Although I prefer to do things independently, I was told that booking this package saves a lot of hassle, and it's not really that much cheaper to do yourself. So, for 1250 Baht (~32$) I bought myself a ride to Chiang Khong, one night accommodation there, dinner, lunch, transportation to the border, and a two-day ride on the slow boat to Luang Prabang (Laos).

That night, Shira and I caught up on each other's days and wished each other luck on our journeys. She was headed back to Bangkok and on to India. We exchanged emails as well, so hopefully I will see her in London when I move there this fall.

© Jenny Chu, 2004
You are here : Overview Asia Thailand Chiang Mai / Pai
The trip
Follow my travels through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and China..........
Start of journey: Feb 02, 2004
Duration: 4 months
End of journey: Jun 02, 2004
Travelled countries: Asia
The Author
Jenny Chu is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 20 years.
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