Chiang Mai

So here we are sitting in Don Mueng Airport in Bangkok waiting for the flight to Cambodia, and what an amazing, crazy and busy week we’ve had!

We had our first experience of the 14 hour sleeper train to Chiang Mai which was a unique experience just by itself. I’ve learnt to read a review/blog or two before going full speed onto any mode of transport we are using! The sleeper train was no different and we read a lot about it! The good, the bad and the down right ugly.
The ticket cost 881 Baht each, that’s for bottom bunk, air conditioning in second class. The only difference between first and second class is in first you have a private room and just two beds. As we were travelling as a three we opted for second class and I would recommend travellers to do the same. It’s much more social, yet when your ready to go to bed you can have all the privacy you need with a curtain that pulls around the full length of your bed.
It was all going great guns until our noses starting twitching and the stale stench of day old urine filled the cabins. Oh my, gag city. The air conditioning started to pummel through at the same time so we became cold and the smell became unbearable all in quick succession.

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Our neighbours were a very cool family from Canada, husband and wife and two kids around 8 and 12. They had taken the children out of school for a year, given up their jobs and rented their house so they could travel around the world for a year as a family. There’s no better education for those children than that! They were pretty amazing kids!
Anyway, we teamed up and came to the conclusion the smell was coming from the toilets but pummelling into our cabins from the air conditioning vents above. We found old leaflets in our bags and shared Sellotape to cover that puppy up. Worked a treat, we were no longer freezing and the smell was gone.

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The rest of the journey was spent eating the on board dinner, watching films, reading books, chatting and sleeping. It actually became the easiest journey so far.
Advice I would give fellow travellers however are as follows;
– Travel 2nd Class
– Cover up A/C vent
– Wear fleece and long pants
– Order the dinner but not the breakfast
– Wear eye mask and headphones
– Pay for the bottom bunk

Once we reached Chiang Mai we jumped into a shared Tuk Tuk and drove to our pre booked accommodation called MD House. First impressions of Chiang Mai were great, the place is beautiful, less crazy than Bangkok but still has a lot going on. Small shops lined the streets bustling with people, we came across a Boots right next store to a Starbucks – hello Heaven! Our guest house was In a great location, just a five minutes walk from the centre, it had 2 swimming pools and breakfast included. Always a winner 🙂 Seemed a shame we were only here one night before we move on to a place an hour outside the city in the hills of Chiang Mai.
I give my love and thanks to Alec for finding out about this next place, Chai Lai Orchid a little touch of heaven on earth. We shared a Tuk Tuk with a lovely young couple from Chichester whom we would end up spending a lot of time with during our stay.
We arrived early and were greeted by a herd of elephants munching away on bamboo leaves and looking pretty happy with life. Surely this isn’t where we are staying I thought. But low and behold across the rickety bridge was this beautiful looking guesthouse right alongside a river that we were about to call home for the next three nights.

Pinch myself moment.

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Picture us being woken up by either the cockerel or the grunting of elephants every morning. Eating breakfast alongside the river while the elephants took a bath and played in the water. Lunch time was spent playing with the adopted puppies that roam around the guesthouse and by then it was about time to go play in the river ourselves. You can imagine it was the hardest four days of my life.

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Our first day there, the five of us rode bamboo rafts down the river rapids for about an hour exploring our surroundings. We bumped into locals that use the rafts as taxis, other tourists, and kids that were spending their time after school jumping into the river, splashing all the rafts that floated by and having picnics on the man made huts that are built to sit just above the water.

The owner of Chai Lai Orchid is a women from New York that has set up this business after falling in love with the area. She employes local Burmese refugees and gets them trained as either Elephant Mahouts (trainers) or front of house. The place has such a cool vibe, every member of staff is so lovely and speaking to many of the people milling around its interesting to find out some have been there weeks and ended staying on to volunteer as they fell in love with the place. That, I completely understand!
It gets pretty fresh at night, I was grateful to the sleeper train for making me dig out my fleece and shaul from the bottom of my bag as I used them a lot at Chai Lai.

We signed up to do a trek in the hills of Chiang Mai which meant it was eventually time for my walking boots to get an airing. The three of us were taken in the back of a pickup truck to a local village, actually where our tour guide grew up and were shown around. It was very set up for tourists and reminded me of a market rather than a small village which I thought was a shame. However your able to see local people hand making shauls and jewellery and then buy them if you choose.
We walked to a beautiful waterfall called Maewang and were able to swim in the FREEEEZING cold water. I took a New Years Day Charity dip at home with my cousin a few weeks before I left this year and I thought that was freezing. Oh my I have never been in such ‘take your breath away’ cold water like that of the waterfall!! Buurgggh! I say that but it was inviting, refreshing and invigorating jumping into that ice cold bath, I won’t be able to forget that experience anytime soon.
We then walked for a while and saw some beautiful country side, rice paddies, rivers, mango trees and the biggest thickest spiderwebs I’ve ever seen. We didn’t hang around there very long! Our destination was a local tribe called the Long Necks. We were all intrigued to see what these people looked like and experience a culture I’m sure none of us had ever encountered before. It was an extra 200 Baht to do this which we were willing to pay to get a glimpse at the mystery village.
Disappointment was the first thing I experienced as I walked through the sheet covering the entrance. Set up again like a market the Long Neck people pestered you to buy their goods and spoke English words like buy four get one free or two items cost 150 Baht.
I found it awkward to take pictures of the extraordinary looking adults and children and left feeling massively discouraged about the whole village.
The history of the rings they wear around their necks are actually not to extend the length. The rings create an illusion of a long neck. However the heavy brass rings push down on the women’s ribs and adapts their posture. They can be removed but apparently the ladies become used to the weight and feel of the rings and feel naked when they don’t have them on.

Chai Lai Orchid quickly became my favourite place we’ve stayed so far. We spent the majority of our time watching or feeding the elephants, eating BBQ chicken on the riverside, playing with the local dogs, playing in the rapids, sunbathing, playing card games and just plain chilling, it was wonderful. All play and no work, that’s the order it should be huh!

The time had come to say our goodbyes to Alec after a month of travelling together as it was time for Fran and I to become a duo again. We wished him all the luck in the world and will miss him a lot. We hope to catch up in Cambodia for a couple of days before he travels back to Canada.

Another 14 hours were spent on a sleeper train travelling back to Bangkok. Another successful ride, no smell and no need for a fleece. Things were looking up! We had good company in the bunks opposite which always makes for a more comfortable trip.

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Here’s a little word from Fran to sum up our time in Thailand…

Fran’s farewell to Thailand!
Here I am again filling a hole in Joules’s amazing blog, I can just about put pen to paper and remember let alone post for everyone to see! Hats off to Joules as she has enabled you to share our wonderful time in Thailand!

It’s really hard to sum up how much Thailand has changed us both. We anticipated Thailand and it didn’t disappoint us, but ironically the places we longed to visit have not been our favourite. The places we knew nothing about have now become our favourite recommendations and the adventures we had there are the ones we constantly talk about!

Ah Thailand … Blue sea and sandy beaches… Big cities and bustling markets… Mountain villages and roaming elephants. It literally has everything us backpackers want and need and I have really loved venturing round, meeting new people and discovering new places. I can’t think of a favourite moment as each one holds a special place in my heart, we have stayed in Thailand the longest out of our two previous destinations and it sort of becomes like home. You get used to eating noodles and rice that are spiced and flavoured beyond belief. You forget about those home comforts you thought you would miss and replace them with a Thai alternative. Travelling the world does this to you and I find it incredible, things I could never live without at home don’t even cross my mind here. Inevitably I am slowly and surely becoming the stereotypical traveller!

As I sit in Bangkok airport I am both sad and excited about our departure from Thailand. I will miss the blue sea and warm sand of Koh Lanta, the partying in phi phi, the bartering in Bangkok and the relaxation of Chiang Mai. But I know I will always remember Thailand with fondness and I no doubt will go back and explore the parts our 30 day free visa did not allow us to venture. Thailand …. What a treat you have been! We will return one day and I’m sure much like everything else in Thailand it will be ‘same same … But different’! But for now it’s on to Cambodia and the start of our new adventure through south east Asia!
Lots of love
Fran xx

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2 thoughts on “Chiang Mai

  1. Hi Jules and Fran , your blog has painted such a vivid picture of Thailand, I feel I have
    Made the journey with you,I hope you enjoy Cambodia has much.
    Lots of love Mum xxx

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