The train up to Chiang Mai is fairly comfortable, although it gets a bit nippy during the night. We’re prepared though with long trousers, trekking shoes, and most importantly our fleeces. The train leaves Bangkok just after the scheduled time but already before departing they inform us of a two hour delay. We find that a bit odd as we’re leaving on time but guessing there might be delays because of work on the rails or something like that. In the end we’re about 1h 3O min delayed arriving at Chiang Mai.
With a tuc-tuc we head straight to a guest house called Smile, but they’re full and we venture around the backstreets to find Pathara House. Very nice room, and its good value, so we’re happy with that. The owner tells us they’ve just taken over the running of the hotel, so they have not organised themselves enough to get the restaurant running and they can’t arrange any treks or tours for us- as they’re yet to sort out a licence apparently (not sure anyone else has a licence – they just refer to other agencies and get a little percentage back as commission). This is quite lucky it turns out, as we wander over to the neighbouring guest house the Dixie Pig. The owner Buddy is very welcoming and his beer is nice and cold, and with his help we get two days of activity booked up straight away. First day is a day’s adventure-trekking, which includes white water rafting, bamboo rafting, elephant trekking, and trekking up to a waterfall where we can jump in to cool ourselves off. In-between somewhere we also get served a very tasty lunch by the river. Crammed together in the back of the van we get to meet some fellow travellers Natasha, Brian and Reshvin – very pleasant company that makes the long journeys from and to Chiang Mai and the activities much more interesting. We get back to our hotel as the sun is setting and jump off the van and straight into Buddy’s restaurant for some refreshing beer and lovely food cooked by his wife Ann.
For our second day’s activity we’re booked in for a day’s cooking class at Thai Farm Cooking School. We’re warned by Buddy not to have any breakfast in the morning, just a bit of coffee to wake us up – this turned out to be very good advice as we had six courses to prepare and eat during the class. We first went to a food market some 20 minutes drive out of Chiang Mai where our teacher ran us through some of the basic ingredients that make up most Thai dishes. We then drove out to the farm to start our day. Just after arrival and a cup of tea we had a walk through the garden to get familiarised with some of the herbs we were going to be using in our cooking. We then went inside the kitchen to get started with making our own curry-paste and our breakfast. We had a choice of six dishes out of a menu with 18 options and I went for Red Curry Paste, Tom Yam Soup, Red Curry with Prawns, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Phad Thai and Pumpkin in Coconut Milk. Our teacher was really good, and had a cracking sense off humour, which made the day really fun as well as educational. The result of our cooking was also surprisingly good – I couldn’t believe I’d cooked it myself when tucking into it – with the result that I over-ate of course, and I think I was one of the few that cleaned my plate completely on all the courses, and didn’t need a doggy-bag to take home like most people do. Needless to say, I didn’t need to eat any more food that evening…
On our last day we have a bit of a rest in the morning, so not too early a start. After a lovely breakfast at the Dixie Pig we hire a scooter from one of the neighbouring guest houses and then head up to the Doi Suthep temple high up on the hill next to Chiang Mai. Buddy recommend that we get as new a motorbike as possible, and later on we realise why – it’s really steep going up the hill, and even with a brand new bike at some places it’s struggling a little. The real benefit we realise when after exploring the temple we head further up the hill to a small village called Doi Pui. Here the roads are virtually vertical and our bike is really struggling now, but it makes it up all the steep winding roads in the end. Doi Pui village has a really lovely market with lot’s of handcraft stores, once again we have to restrain ourselves from shopping as we don’t have space in our backpacks for souvenirs – we wish we could take some stuff with us home.
Chiang Mai also have a daily Night Bazaar which is a big draw for tourists – we were warned not to buy anything there as it’s apparently very over-priced. What the vendors tend to do is to get their stock from another market up the road and tries to flog it for three to four times as much to unsuspecting tourists. We’re more interested in getting some dinner and go there for a look-around and a test of the food-stalls. The food is pretty tasty and quite cheap so no complaints. The real treat food-wise – except from the food we cooked ourselves of course – is the food from the stalls at the Sunday Walking Street night market. In the temple courtyards there are a wealth of different food-stalls and they’re all the very best at what they do – I’ve never eaten so much in my life I think, and I just wanted more and more – good thing common sense kicked in or I would have ended up in hospital for sure.
One thing that soon strikes me as we wander around the streets is the obvious sex-trade and tourism – go-go bars with scantily clad women and lady-boys strutting their stuff to passersby (mostly to guys of course), trying to entice them into their establishment. We notice many old westerners with their very young Thai ladies – acting as if all is normal. I had expected to see more of this in Bangkok, and although it is apparent there I was surprised it was not even more in-your-face, as I expected from what people had told me from their experiences. As we were together as a couple they didn’t seem to give us much attention as we walked along the so-called Red-light District to get to the Night Bazaar, but when on our first day I needed to go to the ATM on my own I had the whole neighbourhood fighting for my attention – and this was not even in the Red-light District but just around the corner of our guest house… I was getting worried I wouldn’t make it back alive…
Although we didn’t stay at the Dixie Pig guest house I can warmly recommend it. The company of Buddy and the most excellent food by his wife Ann is a real treat. Many an interesting conversations with buddy, who’s a great conversationalist, meant many a problem was solved over some nice cold bottles of Leo beer.
From Chiang Mai the journey continues to Pai by mini-van through some very winding roads over the mountains and I can consider myself very lucky for not easily getting travel-sickness – some people on the bus were clearly showing signs of suffering, and I was expecting someone to explode their breakfast in the back of my head at any moment… It didn’t help that the driver was driving like an absolute madman. Thanks to our Formula 1 driver the journey was very quick though.