So long, Asia!

Round the World trip
November 2014 – May 2015
weeks 7 and 8 of 24


by Xavier

We seem to be getting a little behind with the blog, so here is another “two-for-one”, about the end of the first leg of our trip.

With only two weeks left in Asia we were determined to make the most of it. From Bangkok we flew to the north of Thailand and landed in Chiang Mai, which we really liked when we first visited about 15 months ago.

map: Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s main destinations, with plenty of things to see and do. We thought we’d use it as a base from where to explore other parts of the north we hadn’t been to before. For the first two nights we found a very basic but ok tiny guesthouse a short walk from the Old Town. Most of the sightseeing there is to do in and around Chiang Mai – over 300 temples, just to start with – had been done in our previous trip; still, one of the first things we did was to visit Wat Phan Tao again; a beautiful little temple in the Old Town, with stunning grounds which are decorated around the various religious festivals in the year, most notably during Yi Peng, the amazing Full Moon festival that takes place in mid to late November – which we have sadly managed to miss by a matter of days on the two occasions we have been here; maybe next time!

source: Christine Gilbert channel, YouTube.

The decorations from the recent New Year celebrations were still up; it is really one of the most joyful places I’ve ever visited.

Wat Phan Tao

Wat Phan Tao

Unfortunately we didn’t have the time nor the weather in the end to visit another favourite of mine, an extraordinary temple which I particularly fell in love with the first time we came to Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a few kilometres from the city, sits at the top of a mountain since allegedly the late XIV century and is one of Thailand’s holiest and most striking sites. The White Elephant legend is one of the many versions on the original foundation of the temple.

We did however, pay £2 each to pop by the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders, a grand name for what is essentially a small three-story house which hosts a private collection of old display cabinets full of assorted dead creepy crawlies (some truly stunning beetles and butterflies there), as well as some interesting information on malaria research. There is another larger insect museum a short distance away (the museum is larger, the insects are presumably of the same sizes) but we were beetled out after this one so we didn’t go.

Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders

We also visited two of the three main museums, on the history of the region and its peoples, quite interesting but it was horrendously hot that day and walking around became a bit too much after a couple of hours. Later on, the ubiquitous weekend market was crowded and uninspired, so we focused instead in finding somewhere nice to go for dinner and a cold drink. Simon, always the researcher, found a great restaurant very close to our guesthouse, a beautiful open teak house with indoor/outdoor seating, delicious yet ridiculously cheap food and live music, where we ended up having dinner every of the four nights we spent in Chiang Mai in total – partly out of convenience, but mainly out of how much we liked the place. On the last night, the owner herself (a fabulous woman) looked after us, and even gave us a bigger helping of her home made apple crumble (to die for). Honestly, if you’re ever in Chiang Mai eat there.

Looking at our options, Simon suggested a little trip further north, to the small town of Pai, near the border with Burma. The idea was to get there and either travel part of the Mae Hong Song loop, or stay in Pai if we liked it enough.

map: Northern Thailand

You can get to Pai by regular bus or slightly quicker mini van. Either option is very cheap, about £3 for a three to four hour journey. The guide book warned us that the mini van may not be suitable for those prone to car sickness (ie, both of us) so we jumped on a ratty yet extortionate tuk-tuk to the bus station to find there is only one company that operates the regular bus service to Pai, its ticket booth somewhat hidden in the terminal across the road from the main building. We were told the buses have no air con (and when we got to take a look at said bus while in Pai we realised that it couldn’t possibly have had air con on account of very likely having been built during the Industrial Revolution), so we headed back to town and bought two tickets for the mini van the next morning and hoped for the best.

It turned out the journey wasn’t too bad after all. The van was a little cosy but reasonably comfortable, it sneaked its way up and down (mainly up) the sinuous road fairly smoothly through some stunning countryside, and once in Pai, dropped us a short walk to our guesthouse – which was actually very nice for the price, very close to everything, and had a lovely pool.

In the last couple of weeks we have been asked a few times what are the highlights of our trip so far. Pai is definitely one of them. With a name so apt for puns (up to and including “Strawberry Pai Forever” at a fruit stall), it’s a quaint little town set in a beautiful mountain valley, very popular with both foreign and Thai tourists, with a chilled atmosphere (many hippies about), nice people, plenty of cool laid back bars and restaurants, dozens of street food and market stalls (of course), and with a range of outdoors activities, one of which we’d always said we’d like to do each time we’d been to Thailand, but we never got around to actually do it: ride an elephant.

And ride an elephant we did. Well, Simon for about 15 minutes, after which he decided that balancing precariously nine feet above uneven terrain on a three ton beast with a temper wasn’t really for him and got off, whereas I stayed on for the duration and it was great fun, except perhaps not the bit where one gets playfully thrown off the elephant into shallow water where said elephant has just had a big poo.

at Tom's Elephants

bathing time

elephant ride

the king of the jungle

All in all, a memorable experience. We ended up staying in Pai for a few days. The return journey to Chiang Mai, by mini van again, was this time a test to how firmly we could hold on to the contents of our stomachs, courtesy of our Thai driver who clearly detested his job, the road, and everyone on it.

Our second guesthouse in Chiang Mai was an excellent find. Good location, surprisingly modern, cool design, awesome service, and great price. And just as well, because the weather had begun to turn during our last night in Pai and by the time we arrived back in Chiang Mai the skies had truly opened and it was rain, rain, and more rain for the rest of our stay. Not ideal at all to be out and about so yes, we went to the cinema again, watched Taken 3, no comment.

All that rain wasn’t going to do at all, so from Chaing Mai we flew to the south and returned to sunny Bang Niang Beach via Phuket. It was great to end our Asian adventure where it had started, back in November. Even better was to see Phylippa again and have one more chance to hang out at Green Pepper with its really cool Swedish owners Andy and Dunk, and meet other Swedes and assorted locals. We sure are taking some excellent memories with us!

Khao Lak nights

making friends

making friends

We did spend one more night in Bangkok, from where we were flying to our next destination. And with one more trip to the cinema, a nice dinner, and one last visit to the Night Market, we put an end to the first leg of our trip.

We’ve loved every bit of Hong Kong and South East Asia (maybe not the stomach bugs so much), hope to visit again some time soon!

As we continue traveling eastward into Oceania and on to Australia, we have had a few really nice days in Melbourne and are now visiting all our friends in Sydney. More of that on the next post.

Oh, I did mention a debut on the Thai stage, didn’t I…

at Moo Moos Cabaret, such fun 🙂

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All media in this blog © Xavier González | Simon Smith unless otherwise credited.
All maps from Google Maps, also unless otherwise credited.