After arriving in Chiang Rai, I had done absolutely no research so didn’t know what part of the city I was in. I couldn’t find any wifi to look for a hostel, so just picked one on the Maps.me map. Norn Nung Len Hostel was a good pick. After checking in, I went to the pretty impressive night market for a late dinner and then went back to the hostel and to sleep, I was exhausted.
In the morning, I met Julia (Austrian) and her friend in the same dorm room. They were going to the white temple and invited me to join. We went down to the bus terminal and managed to find the dilapidated green bus heading that way South, at a cost of roughly 20baht each.
On arrival we had to pay approx. 50baht entry (we had been told it was free). The white temple looks really beautiful at first glance, but on closer inspection, it has some pretty creepy elements. There is a sea of hands reaching up from under the entry bridge, skulls in the surrounds, and sculpted heads of movie characters hanging from the trees. After a walk around the temple, we got lunch at the food court across the road (approx 50 baht), then went back over towards the white temple to the free art museum.
We were going to catch the public bus back to the city, but rather than having to wait, a songthaew (Ute with seats in the back) pulled over and took us there for the same price immediately. Back in town, we decided this time to get another public bus North to the Ban Daam Museum (or black temple), again for about 20baht.
The black temple was like a sculpture park, with little black houses placed around a park, each with a range of animal horns/bones/skins sculpted into all types of things. I found the black temple to be more interesting than the white temple. After the black temple we walked back to the highway and again waited for the public bus on its way back to the city. With no timetable, we didn’t know how long we’d have to wait. After about 20 minutes, a dilapidated green bus pulled up and we squashed in to the packed bus like sardines.
After we got back to the hostel, I went to see the clock tower light show at 7pm, and then met up with Julia and her friend again at the food court where I had a hotpot dinner and we all had drinks together.
The following day we hired scooters (with Julia as passenger) and drove the 45 minutes to Khun Korn Waterfall. I had a swim but the water was freezing, and the waterfall was violent and sent heavy rain-like mist all around.
Back in Chiang Rai city, we went out for dinner and again to the night market for drinks before calling it a night. In the morning, I went down to the bus station and caught the green bus (165 baht) to Chiang Mai, while the others headed to Sukhothai.
In Chiang Mai I had booked Brickhouse Hostel for three nights. It was around this time, that I realised my friend Chris, who I had met in Seoul some four months earlier was in Pai, my next destination. But before heading there, I had three days to kill, and I basically did nothing but sleep, eat and relax.
I didn’t really like Brickhouse Hostel. It has excellent beds and looks like a nice place, but the WIFI is the worst in Thailand, the bathrooms aren’t cleaned regularly enough, and the place is actually too big, I found it difficult to make friends there as a solo traveler. On my last day before leaving for Pai, me and another guy staying there named Daniel went for a massage. He was a self described germaphobe, so got a Thai massage with his shirt on (from a Ladyboy) while I got an oil massage (not from a ladyboy). I had never had an oil massage so didn’t know what to expect, but she immediately told me to take all my clothes off. So there I was on the table totally naked, she put a tiny towel over me for all of one minute before removing it and never putting it back. Once we got out of there, Daniel looked shaken up from his experience!
The minivan to Pai is a terrible drive as a passenger. 762 curves in the road (many of them hairpins), coupled with a local driver who goes as fast as possible makes it a grim few hours. After starting to feel a bit sick I closed my eyes for the rest of the trip.
The minivan arrived in town around 4 or 5pm, and from there I walked to my hostel (Happy House Backpackers) about 1km away. After checking in, I got in touch with Chris and we met up for the first time in four months and he showed me the town.
Pai has a really cool night market, with excellent and cheap food, and a whole heap of clothing stalls. We had a few drinks that night and also met up with Paco (who I met in Vang Vieng), then went our seperate ways, with plans to go to Thum Lod Cave in the morning.
We got a late start the next day, at about 11am after breakfast Chris picked me up on his scooter and we made the journey to the cave. The road was long and winding, with lots of hairpin bends and as a passenger it was less than ideal. We stopped at a lookout at the peak before continuing down the other side to the cave.
We arrived at the cave, and paid the entry fee (100-150baht per person) and mandatory local guide fee (150 baht) and explored the cave, which was pretty cool. A river runs through the cave, and we took a raft along the river with thousands of fish nipping at the boat, bats overhead and the big cave all around.
When we got back to Pai, I noticed on Instagram my friend Kyle (who I met in Beijing in October) posted a photo in Pai. I quickly got in touch and Kyle, Chris and I all went out to the street market for food and drinks. Kyle would go to Soppong the next day, but we made plans to meet up in Chiang Mai afterwards and perhaps dive together in Koh Tao.
The next day I moved hostels, this time to Common Grounds. It was a small improvement on the previous one. Chris and I had a quiet day, but went to Sunset Bar in the afternoon for their famous ‘shakes’. We met a few people there, Maggy from Mexico, and Clare and Estrella from Canada. At one point Maggy went back into town but the remaining four of us had a good night at Sunset Bar, and a good laugh when my hammock, positioned directly above Chris’, broke, and I fell through, somehow bypassing Chris’ and landing on the floor, where I lay laughing for a good while.
There was a guy exactly like Richard from The Inbetweeners Movie hanging around all night, I couldn’t control myself it was so funny.
The next few days in Pai were pretty uneventful, apart from Chris’ departure (not sure if we’ll run into each other again). I also met Jillian from NYC who was planning to be in Nepal at the same time as me, so maybe we’ll meet up there in May.
On the minivan back to Chiang Mai, we hit two girls on a scooter. Luckily it was only lightly on the side – I saw it coming, we were driving next to them. The scooter driver was distracted and looking at the view as she drifted into the side of the van. Nobody was injured, and the bike would have only had light scratches if any damage, but a close call regardless.
Chiang Mai (pt. II)
Back in Chiang Mai I met up with Kyle again. We had a pretty quiet few days, mostly meeting up for lunch and then heading to Zoes in Yellow bar at night. We also went to the night food court once or twice which is really cool, just a little overpriced (try and take your own beers in!). On one of the days we decided to go to Chiang Mai Canyon for cliff jumping. We booked a minivan there (leaving from M Hotel, not ‘Im Hotel’ – that got lost in translation) and when we got in the minivan, I recognised the other passengers as Maggy (from Pai) and her friend Jeff.
The Canyon has two options; the first part is only 50 baht entry, and gives access to cliff jumping, floating on rafts and tubes. The Canyon waterpark is 300baht but has platforms to jump off, an inflatable waterpark and even a small waterslide. It looks a lot more fun.
The four of us decided on the waterpark, and no regrets!
A day or two later Kyle left for Cambodia, but I still had a few days to kill. I met up with Maggy and Jeff to watch the Superbowl on Monday morning, cracking our first beers at 6am. I’m not much of an NFL fan but the game was epic. When it ended at midday though, I went back to my guesthouse to sleep off the morning beers.
I met up with Jillian again in Chiang Mai, and by chance also realised that Jair, who I spent New Years in Hoi An with was in Chiang Mai too, so the three of us went to lunch together.
After lunch I bought my bus ticket to Mae Sot where I would cross the border to Myanmar. Jillian and I went to the night food market to finish off the last night in Thailand.