Bus after bus after bus led me to the bridge that formed one of the borders with Thailand; from Myawaddy to Mae Sot. I found myself walking across with four Italians who were travelling into Thailand too. Only one of them was allowed through though, due to new rules on land border crossings into Thailand, so we didn’t really make friends. The one that was allowed through caught a bus straight away, so I found a street-creperie, had a cheese and tomato crepe, then found a place to sleep. The next day I made my way to a bus stop and caught a bus to one of the most famous towns in northern Thailand: Chiang Mai.
Being unable to spend 6 hours on a bus by myself without talking to strangers meant that by the time I arrived in the town I had now found two buddies that I was discretely tagging along with. Not in a creepy way, like I was following them from a 50m distance and checking which hostel they were at, but in a way that you just casually throw in a ‘we’ early on in the conversation as if it’s already settled that you’re a group.
A Canadian girl I’d met in Mynamar had recommended a hostel called the Brick Hostel, so we went there. It was pretty fancy and swanky and had a swimming pool, but it also cost an astonishing $11 a night, and we weren’t made of money. So we decided to stay there for a night or two, then find somewhere else a bit skankier and more our speed.
Chiang Mai is a small town, with the central focus being on the walled square Old Town that laid host to dozens of temples, one hundred guest houses, about a thousand massage parlours, and probably other things. Some Muay Thai gyms and restaurants. And a load of markets dotted around the edge.
I’m not selling it here. It’s a pretty cool town. All those things are pretty cool. Well, the Wats get a bit repetitive, but the rest was pretty swell.
Our first full day involved me, Vincent, an American of Filipino heritage (not really important but I think he got hassled less than us), and Annika, a German girl on a gap year, wandering around the town looking for somewhere to stay, eating a lot of food, drinking lots of fruit smoothies, and relaxing in the slightly more westernised Asia that Thailand was. There were 7/11s again. They’re the best.
The next day I rented myself a scooter and went on a solo trip to the top of a mountain that I’d read had a big temple at the top of it. As a temple connoisseur, I made sure I only went to the best Wats, ignoring the general riff raff temples that you could find in the middle of villages or towns that didn’t cost a community its total GDP and several decades to build. So in the early afternoon I found myself at Wat Phra Tha Doi Suthep. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s kind of a big deal. Here are some photos of it, and some photos of an informative booklet that I very nearly almost bought.
Slightly worried about the lessons and beliefs being taught at the temple, I went to have my fortune read, in order to cheer me up.
It didn’t work.
Fortunately I had my fortune from the Chinese temple in Singapore to counter this one, and considering that it had told me that I was basically the best thing since sliced bread, I was more tempted to go with it. I kept the one above as a memento anyway, just in case I needed something to read in hard times. I proceeded to wander around the temple a little bit more, before heading home, ensuring that I did everything ‘the right way’.
By the time the evening came I had forgotten about doing things the right way, and was a couple of drinks down at the hostel next to ours, with Vincent and a few others from our hostel. We had met Aurora and Claire, who were thinking about joining us on our way to Pai, and a couple of French lads who were, I think, hoping to join Aurora and Claire on the way to their rooms. I kept attempting to talk to them in French despite their best wishes, and that’s probably why it wasn’t long before everyone started making their way to bed. My phone had ran out of battery, so I followed everyone up to the dorm room, put my phone on charge, before questioning whether I really wanted to go to sleep. I quickly realised that, in fact, I didn’t, and that I’d like to go and see if there was anything else happening around the town. Maybe a bar, where I could make new friends.
I wandered out onto the main street, a little tipsy, and free of the shackles of modern technology known as a smart phone. Almost instantly a Thai man on a scooter went past, calling the familiar call of the common Tuktuk driver.
‘Where you go?’
‘I’m not going anywhere mate, just having a wander’ I replied, calmly, with a charming smile and a wink that said ‘I may look drunk and completely lost, but I actually know exactly what I’m doing.’
‘Okay, we take you!’ the man said. I realised then that it was not just one man on the scooter, but a man with a worryingly skinny Thai girl sat on the back. She must have been the counter-signatory on the ‘we’.
‘No, honestly mate, I’m just looking around. Maybe trying to find a bar.’
‘Okay, I know bar, I take you!’ The man shouted again.
‘No, really, it’s fine.’
‘No, no, we take you!’
‘Okay, go on then.’ I said.
This was a stupid thing to both say and do, but it does teach you one thing; persistence works.
So I climbed on the scooter; the skinny woman climbed off and then on behind me, so I was in the middle riding pillion on a dodgy Thai scooter with two strangers in a strange city without my phone. Then the man took off.
I’d like to credit myself with the fact that I realised how stupid I had been within 15 seconds of the scooter starting to move. Twenty seconds later, and several hundreds of metres down roads I did not recognise, I shouted over the wind at the driver.
‘I think this is where I wanted to go mate. Can you stop?’
‘Okay, sure, I stop.’
He continued to drive. The woman behind me started massaging my shoulders.
‘No, really mate, I need to get off here, this is where I was going.’
‘Oh, okay, okay, I stop.’
If anything he sped up. The massage moved down to my sides.
‘I’m getting off here. Okay? I am getting off now. Stop the bike.’
This seemed to worry him, as I obviously came across as someone who would throw themselves off a scooter moving at 30mph. He slowed down, then stopped. I hopped off, thanked him for driving me, then sprinted off.
Thirty seconds later he drove past me again shouting ‘Where you go?’
Think the bugger thought he was funny.
So I ended up on a street in Chiang Mai, struck sober in the light of my situation, no phone, and no people around. I was relatively sure that I was still inside the Old City walls, meaning that I was at a maximum only 3 or 4km from my hostel. I just wasn’t sure of the direction. So I picked one at random, and five minutes later found myself outside a Taco Bells food stall, a Thai homage to Taco Bell, surrounded by other foreigners. After speaking to a couple of them I was informed that I was right next to the North wall, and that the south was probably over there, down that road, they thought, maybe.
It turned out that actually that we weren’t near the North wall, really, but closer to the East wall. Fortunately there was a group of people on a mission to go a McDonalds that I was sure I could find my way from, so I tagged along with them, stole some of their chips, and finally headed home.
That was enough adventure for that night.
We spent another couple of days in Chiang Mai; scootering up to the Wat again, attempting to chat with some monks at Monk Chat, but getting the day wrong. Aurora joined the gang, having decided to travel to Pai with us, and I paid 100 baht for some poor Thai lady to massage my horrendous flip flop afflicted feet. I even bumped into Lucy and Leo from the old days in Myanmar, just two weeks earlier. By that time I think that we were ready to move on; it was a nice town, but we were temple fatigued and ready to see what Pai had to offer. So the next day we all bought our tickets, and headed up the windy mountainous roads up to the fabled traveller town of Pai.