With a moat surrounding it, a crumbling city wall and numerous temples, Chiang Mai is pleasant but will not stop you in your tracks. So it may seem a bit of a mystery why nearly every tourist to Thailand ends up visiting it with many going direct from Bangkok, only to return a couple of days later. It’s with this in mind that Chiang Mai deserves a lot of credit, because where she is lacking in standout sights, she has instead transformed herself into the adventure capital of Thailand. A quick browse through the brochures at my hostel showed: ‘trekking’, white water rafting, elephant rides and sanctuaries, zip lining, cooking classes, mountain biking, tribal village visits and so much more. It’s not the best place to do these activities but I doubt you can find many places in the world that makes such a range so accessible. It’s a place that made me feel inactive and guilty, only completing one activity, that being another cooking class. It was good though, a one to one class, where I got my very own certificate, signed by the directer no less!
Thankfully unlike the grief some hostels give, I was encouraged to do little more than sit around, read a book, chat, and drink fruit smoothies (they were very good and very cheap. Coffee with banana was a surprise hit!) For the first time in six months it was great to stay in a place that matched a proper hostel definition, with a stupid number of dorm rooms and a superb social area. As over twenty of us left the hostel one evening, the token German and fellow traveller of India kept repeating how different it all was from India. How correct he was! In the hostel I met up again with Richard, a fellow actor in the Bollywood film I did and a host of other people whose names came and went as they dispersed in every possible direction across Thailand and Asia. It made for a great time!
On one night a number of us went to watch some Thai boxing. Disappointingly it turned out to be your typical tourist affair, with the only proper fights happening between teenagers (most I am quite sure on a huge concoction of drugs). However, whilst the fights were not as skilled as I guess the adults would be, the atmosphere from their coaches and families did make for an enjoyable time. At the end of the night, as people began to leave, there were some ‘grown up’ fights but these were shockingly choreographed. The one redeming adult fight was the three person blind boxing which was hilarious. Surrounding the ring was a huge array of bars all being run by the Thailand circus that is the lady boys. It’s a continuing confusion why in such a conservative society, it is such a common place pretty much everywhere you go.
Chiang Mai was a great place for a few days but tired of having to sleep in a ten person dorm every night and with the hostel having such a huge turn over of people, I decided to leave a day or so early for Pai. Now if there is one enduring fact about Thailand it is that everyone loves Pai. An old hippy enclave in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by various hills and a with a cooler temperature, it’s a town of ten thousand people, all mostly running guest houses or restaurants and bars. It’s nice enough, very chilled with everything you could want within a few square meters however it symbolised a lot of the issues I have with Thailand. I am convinced that if my first Asian country was Thailand then I would have been more impressed that I have been to date, but as it turns out, its not. Which means that I can’t help but look upon Pai, for example, as a poor mans Manali or Ella, to name a couple. It doesn’t mean that it has not been enjoyable, its just with the exception of Ayutthaya, Thailand has not been able to compete with other places I have been on this trip and subsequently fallen a little flat. I’m hoping when I head down south in a few months time, it has something a little more to offer. But anyway, I digress. Pai was ok, except for when I decided to rent a bike rather than a scooter. In the heat of the day, on a full ‘American’ breakfast, cycling uphill was a rather silly idea.
In hindsight I should have stayed in Chiang Mai a little longer because due to booking complications (i.e. they were fully booked) with the rather exciting Gibbon experience in Lao, it didn’t make a lot of sense to cross the border until the 17th if March. I’ve been very lucky to date that I’ve always had something to do or somewhere to go and not had to burn any length of time. Unfortunately though as I headed up to Chiang Rai, near the border, that is what I would end up having to do.