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Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai

The journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok was supposed to take 7-8 hours by bus, but of course it didn’t, the journey was fairly smooth in a reasonably comfortable bus though. About three hours after setting off we arrived at the Thailand border, at which point the bus stopped at the bus company’s office, they gave us entry cards for Thailand and took all our passports to complete the Cambodian exit part of the border. I’m never a fan of handing our passports over to a bus company but we didn’t really have much choice.

What did confuse us, was that twenty minutes later, the guy who had the passports came back and the passports were nowhere to be seen, but not before another guy took all of our bags out of the minibus, put them on a trolley and disappeared with them. Questions to the staff about what was happening went unanswered. It turned out he was taking them to go through the scan process at the border, and we were loaded back on to the minibus for about a 200 metre journey to the Thai border section, this was when the obvious happened, another corrupt entrepreneur who now had our passports but apparently spoke no English, wanted $10 each to ‘fast-track’ us through the border, he showed us he had our passports and put them away again.

I’m sure most people at this point would usually pay this, but we all (only 6 of us) collectively decided that wasn’t happening and got our passports back and walked to the border, the staff of the bus company and the ‘fast-track’ guy then disappeared and left us to it. We waited about 45 minutes in the queue, got through expecting our bags and the bus to be at the other side, but no, they obviously didn’t like that we had refused to pay the extra and had driven off and parked in a car park a few hundred metres away in a very busy border crossing, and we had to go and find them.

Eventually we found them, I was ready to give the van driver an earful, but noticed our bags were still missing, so thought better of it until we at least had our possessions back. After 10 hours, of which one hour was spent driving a one-block square in crazy Bangkok traffic, and a very shady border crossing, we eventually arrived in Bangkok in the evening, with only one night there before a flight to Chiang Mai the next morning.

That night in Bangkok, all we did was eat some very tasty street food and had a walk around before getting some sleep before flying the next day. When we arrived at the airport the next morning, we were there early as we nearly always are, and because it was a domestic flight, we got straight through security with almost three hours to spare. We went looking for some breakfast, food was expensive airport prices, but we saw signs for a lounge for 500 baht (£12), we walked to it, only to find out they had a special offer on of buy-one-get-one-free. We paid the 500 baht total and spent the next two hours relaxing in a huge lounge with unlimited food and drinks, which included fizz and that made Stac very happy. After about two bottles of sparkling had been drunk, we’d had fruit, sushi, a full meal and cake we left in a very happy mood for the flight, in fact, Stac was a little bit giggly 🙂

Chiang Mai

When we got to Chiang Mai, we shared a taxi from the airport with two German lads to the centre to keep costs down, then walked the 1.5km to the hostel with our bags in about 40 degrees, it was as hot as we’d had so far and we arrived at the hostel tired and sweaty. We stayed two days in Chiang Mai the first time, then went to Chiang Rai for two days and had two days back in Chiang Mai before heading back down south.

The first time in Chiang Mai, we walked around the city a lot, doing about 8-9 miles per day in ridiculous heat, it was so tiring, and then we booked on to a cooking class that Stac had found for us. The cooking class was amazing, the chef and another person picked us up at about three in the afternoon, picked up the others, which were just one group of girls from New York, and took us to a local market to show us the local ingredients and purchase the produce fresh for cooking that evening.

After the market we headed back to their kitchen, it was really nice and a great place to learn, a big open air kitchen, with about 12 wok stations and a huge preparation table, by the end of the night we had prepared from scratch and cooked; Pad Thai, Tom Yum spicy soup, Massaman curry, Thai Papaya salad and Mango sticky rice (a traditional desert). All of the food the we both cooked, tasted incredible and the chef that ran the class was so knowledgable and she made it a fun place to be. It was 9pm by the time we were heading back towards town full and happy from a great time.

Chiang Rai

The morning after the cooking class we got a bus to Chiang Rai in the very north of Thailand, it was only three hours away by bus, but the town was much smaller and more local than Chiang Mai and we got the there on the weekend so had chance to visit the Saturday night market which was the best market we have been to so far. Lots of really good street food, the best mango salad we’ve ever had from a street stall, and lots of things to buy that weren’t just the ‘same-same’ tourist stuff that you see everywhere. We spent the whole night just walking up and down the huge market street and eating and drinking little bits from different stalls.

We also went to see probably the most famous sight in Chiang Rai; Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple is a temple built recently by a famous Thai artist as a display of talent and art and as a reflection on modern society, a huge mural with modern popular culture references is one of the highlights, but the beauty of the temple from the outside is spectacular. It’s not even ruined by the mass bus loads of tourists that arrive hear every day from Chiang Mai just to see this.

The temple glistens and sparkles in the sun, and while the pictures look stunning, I think seeing it up close is something we will remember for a long time, it really was something quite different and very beautiful.

When we got back to Chiang Mai, we had started to not feel too well, Stac first had felt a bit ill one day, then I started a day or two later, just feeling a bit run-down, like we had a virus, so we had a couple of days of trying not to do much. We did manage to book our flights to the Philippines for May which we are very excited about, the plan is to go to Cebu, see some islands close to there, then go to El Nido, Palawan which we have been told is very nice.

We also got to visit some of the temples in Chiang Mai in the old city, but I was very heart-broken to learn that every tour agency and company here is still offering Elephant rides. Please, for anybody reading this who doesn’t know how these animals get treated, do some research and please never ride an Elephant.

We couldn’t even justify going to any of the Elephant ‘Sanctuaries’ that are now set up, because I’m still concerned that these are still the same people running these places who used to torture Elephants but have now found a different way to make even more money by making it seem like they now look after them. I’m sure not every single one of these places is the same, but it only takes a couple of minutes to learn how these Elephants are tortured and forced to perform tricks and rides for tourists every day. It’s cruel and needs to stop. But it seems the trade is only getting bigger with more tourists wanting to do this all the time, it’s clearly a huge problem and I can’t decide if people don’t know this happens or are just choosing to ignore it.

After a week of very hot weather in Northern Thailand, it was time to head towards Bangkok, with a stop-off at Ayutthaya on the way…

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