The Arduous Journey North

Recently we had to say goodbye to a peaceful little island called Koh Phayam, you’ve hopefully seen how much we enjoyed the place. Next on our radar though was Chiang Mai. A change of pace and long break away from golden sanded beaches and luscious sunsets. Chiang Mai is the largest city in the Northern territory of Thailand and was a small stop gap between our last southern island for a while and Chiang Saen, where we will be teaching for four weeks before our move over to Laos.

Small backpack in hand and the “monsters” on our backs we set off on our epic travels through Thailand. I jump onto the smallest moped I could find for our short 10 minute taxi ride to the pier – luckily Mel got one large enough to squeeze her backpack in between the driver’s legs. I feel that I may have been more comfortable sitting on the drivers lap, as my bag slowly dragged ever closer off the edge of the moped seat, luckily the journey wasn’t long enough though for it to pull me to an untimely crash, bang and wallop.

What followed from hence forth was a journey I look forward to forgetting…

The Arduous Journey North

• Tip One – If you can avoid it, do not travel when you are ill.

DSCF5579I was ill, tired, slightly sun burnt, probably dehydrated, hadn’t brushed my teeth (my own fault I admit), and for the large part of our coach travels I was sat next to a sneezing man, whom I was sure would give me my next bout of illness. After about 1 hour 20 minutes of waiting at the pier, we set off with the wind rushing at our faces and the boat spewing out those lovely fumes, one last look around to soak in the views and watch as Koh Phayam became a fragment of our memories, probably never to be visited again. Our vehicle for this pier to pier journey was a rather spacious slow boat, luckily not too slow as the toilets stunk and I needed to put my head down something in the not too distant future (sorry folks). Luckily we had stocked up on my current life saver, “Flying Rabbit”. Thailand’s white, and better tasting answer to Pepto Bismol.

• Tip Two – Prepare to be delayed, you’re in Asia.

One leg down and before we knew it we were on a bus from Ranong pier to Ranong’s bus station, another 30 minutes of bowing my head between my legs as I sway harmoniously left and right to the pull of the road. Ranong’s bus station was fine, in fact, it was in better condition than most bus stations I have spent time in back in the UK. However the same cannot be said for the state of Thailand’s transport. Thanks to its lack of punctuality our wait at this stop lasted 3 hours, before we hopped onto the slightly delayed coach to take us north. Bangkok was as north as we could go in a 9 hour blast up the highway, but in keeping up with the luxury of their bus stations, Thailand provided us with a coach, which practically had beds the chairs reclined so far backwards!

• Tip Three – Prepare, Prepare and Prepare. If you don’t know your way around then you will get lost.

It was now 5:30am, we had our bags back in tow and were ready to embark on the next small hop up the country. So off we set for the next bus station. However being the foolish travellers we are, we failed to realise how far the northern terminal was from the southern bus terminal and how infrequently the busses run (have I already mentioned the really good timekeeping in Thailand?). Again showing our immense knowledge of the transportation options in Thailand, we waited at the wrong bus stop for 30 minutes. We stood debating for 10 of those minutes whether to get a Tuk Tuk to the Northern Terminal, whilst a plucky Tuk Tuk driver continuously pointed at the bus stop sign trying to show us that the Red Number 3 bus was never going to come. Finally we succumbed to his pointing and we jumped in and whizzed over to the correct stop. We arrived and there staring at us from the other side, almost mocking us in its decrepit shade of red, the bloody Number 3. “Quick you pay, I have the bags, and I’m making a run for it!” I shout to Melissa as I scramble the hefty cases from the Tuk Tuk and with the ugliest grimace I make a run for it across the road, with both cases in hand. Luckily a Thai guy begins to signal to the bus to stop and wait. “Phew” I think as I nod to him in appreciation.
“No, stop, get back. Boll**ks!”… I swear that driver smiled as the bus drove passed us, leaving us to sit on another bus stop curb at 6:00am in the middle of Bangkok, and I almost pulled a muscle for nothing.

• Tip Four – If you’re in a hurry, don’t debate just hop in the Tuk Tuk.

We sat here for 1 hour waiting for a local bus, all the while my stomach reminding me of why you shouldn’t exert too much effort when ill. A Red Number 3 finally made an appearance and took us on a congestion filled tour of Bangkok’s business district and through the city to the Northern Terminal, all in 30 minutes, which I admit could have been a lot worse if it was a little later. Mo Chit, as the locals call it, was our stop now for 2 hours, a great chance to sit, relax and witness as a little part of Bangkok came to life around us, all in sync with a somewhat hazy sunrise. We would be on a bus by now but thanks to our ‘Scottish’ mentality of haggling a little too much on our way to Mo Chit, we had missed the bus we planned to catch.

• Tip Five – Check there are no festivals or holidays in the city you’re travelling to, and if there are then book your accommodation in advance.

When the coach did arrive we were lucky enough to be presented once again with a pretty snazzy piece of transport, equipped this time with a fairly clean toilet, large reclining seats, blankets, snacks and water… Truly living VIP. This next VIP experience was an 11 hour drive to Chiang Mai, giving me enough time to start getting over my stomach bug and arriving just in time to miss all of that day’s sunshine. Luckily, or so we thought, a quite rapturous man (he was overwhelmingly happy to be back in Chiang Mai and he was aptly named Smiley, yes this was his actual name), our new “bus friend” forced us to tag along as he had somewhere in mind we could stay. So we scurried through the bus terminal, onto a taxi bus, drove 30 minutes through the city, gave the driver 50 Baht each, jumped off the bus and scuttled (we were in no rush, just the nature of this man meant he could not simply stroll ahead of us, even when I would stop to wait for Mel to try and break through the human traffic crawling through the streets) to where he was staying, as he was certain there would be room for us there, and as luck would have it, the sunshine of the day was not the only thing we missed in Chiang Mai, we had also missed any spare rooms!
Now alone, as Smiley had found his bed for the night, as he had thought ahead and booked at this guesthouse which we amusingly found out was called Smile Inn. His sole reason for recommending the place to himself being the name, and that alone. Anyhow back to the road we went as we followed our trail back the way we came and spent the next 30 minutes playing out the roles of Mary and Joseph, getting turned away from everywhere we inquired. Now an hour and a half had passed since leaving the VIP world behind. Mel found camp outside on a 7-Eleven alcove, whilst I trotted off without the burden of my 20kg baggage, to try and find us somewhere to sleep. Finally after 40 minutes and asking at 9 guesthouses, I had eventually found somewhere and the door to door journey was at an end. Terminus for the day, Lak Guesthouse. Ideally placed, a spacious room and a reasonably comfy bed.

• Tip Six – Charge your electricals or bring a book, as that my friends gives us an approximate travelling time of….

…30 Hours and 40 minutes getting from door to door 🙂

What do you do in Chiang Mai?

Not ones to waste a night, we threw our bags in our new home and this being our only chance of the trip as we were not to be travelling the next day, we went out to have a few drinks and make a night of it. There was the Chiang Mai Flower Festival in town and apparently we were in for a great show with some live singing and some colourful nature lining the streets.

IMG_3110After a sniff of pollen our bellies began to grumble, so we flew through the flower show, then strolled to the nearest restaurant to eat our fish and chips and platter of grilled sausages (we yearned for western food after the drool we was fed at one of bus stations en-route)…Then we crashed and with stomachs bursting we stumbled home. We lasted about an hour and half before the crash of Chiang Mai. Next time we said, we will light this town up.

What do you do in Chiang Mai? The question we asked ourselves whilst contemplating our day’s actions with a very confusing tourist map at hand. Well the answers came quick enough and soon enough we realised that our time in Chiang Mai was not enough for the activities we had chosen. The list was long by 11am and we had only 26 hours to get as much done before another journey awaited.IMG_3128

  1. A walk on the wild side with some Jaguars got left out grudgingly as we had to pre-book.
  2. Thailand’s version of Go Ape got chucked in the ideas bin due to its budget breaking ticket costs.
  3. The local-ish hot springs also got weeded out by other activities as it was just too far for us to get too on two wheels.

Some other forgettable looking trips also got left out, but low and behold they have escaped my memory. Left on our list was the Museum, The Mall – which was our gateway to the Cinema and we were desperate to catch a glimpse of American Sniper, a nice lunch and after finding a cheap moped rental right by our guesthouse, we added to the list a drive around Chiang Mai to do some unplanned, two wheeled adventuring.

  • The Historical Museum – Wow! What can I say about this place?

DSCF5541Probably not the best I have been to, although we had a good enough time. The videos had no English subtitles, the plaques on the walls gave contradicting dates and information about the 700+ year old city – I am now aware of how Chiang Mai fared through the predicaments of 2074 AD, which I am pretty sure, to my knowledge anyhow, this would suggest events which happened 59 years into the future* (hint – it does not include hovering skateboards and self-tying trainers). The Museum was in its entirety a 50 metre stroll through three hallways and a glimpse of two sections still remaining from the wall surrounding the old city. I am pretty sure, as I have witnessed with my own two eyes that the same wall is, in part, still standing and is visible outside of the museum for the fee of 0 Baht.

*I have since learned that the dates in Thailand are completely different than those in countries which utilise the Gregorian calendar. Thailand mainly adopts the Buddhist Era which is in fact 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar and is written as DD/MM/YYYY BE, yet in the museum they had mistakenly left AD on the dates, the source of my confusion. So 2074 AD (meant as 2074 BE) was actually 1531 AD.

DSCF5568

  • Another surprisingly cool temple – Actually one of the best yet, and we have been to a few. Unfortunately we can’t remember the name and was unsure which one this was on the map, as there were at least 12 in the centre alone.

DSCF5562DSCF5574

  • The Mall – in a word was cool. It was swanky like the many malls I hDSCF5521ave laid witness to and was as cold as a fridge.
  • The Cinema – Film was good, cinema was good. Highlight though was standing for the national anthem at the start of the film.

In summary, Chiang Mai is a pretty awesome place but for now we had to get back on our feet on head yet further north, this time stopping near the Thailand / Laos border in Chiang Saen. This journey though should only take, around about 6 hours, phew!

Edit: It took 10 hours 😦

Tips

  • Buy bus tickets from the station and not the travel agencies. The busses are better and they’re the ones the Thai travellers use so apparently no dodgy goings on with your bag on the lower level.
  • Take the taxi buses instead of the Tuk Tuks they are about half the cost, even if you pay them to leave before they’re full.
  • Make sure your electricals are charged before a long journey, you will soon regret it if you don’t.
  • Prepare to be delayed and do your research into local busses and where to get them from, otherwise you will be sitting around longer than planned.

Costs

Travel – Each and one way

  • Coach -Ranong to Bangkok – 780 Baht
  • Local bus – Bangkok Southern Terminal to Bangkok Northern Terminal – 7 Baht
  • Coach – Bangkok to Chiang Mai – 566 Baht
  • Local bus – Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai – 140 Baht
  • Local bus – Chiang Rai to Chiang Saen – 37 Baht
  • Moped Rental Chiang Mai – 150 Baht per day

Misc

  • Cinema – 210 Baht (each for Honeymoon seats)
  • Popcorn and Large Soda – 210 Baht
  • Massage – 100 Baht (each for 30 minutes)
  • Museum Entry – 90 Baht (each)
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