Thailand – last day in Chiang Mai – Sunday Market – Jan19, 2014

Felt a bit somber packing up to leave Chiang Mai to fly to Bali. After Bali we only have three days in Bangkok and our Thai adventure will be over.

I really love Chiang Mai. It’s my second favorite place we visited in Thailand, beat out only by Koh Tao.

We decided to hit the streets and wander around since we had a half tank of gas and paid for the bikes until 6pm. We ran into a huge street market on the north side of town (surprise, surprise). What was meant to be a quick stop for food turned into an hour of wandering.

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We had bbq pork belly, passion fruit juice, fried quail eggs, fried chicken feet, banana pancake roll, sticky rice and egg on a stick, fresh coconut, Thai doughnut, and more bbq chicken and pork. I’m not even trying to not get fat over here. Too late. So worth it.

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We did not, however, brave the street sushi. Although a few westerners swore it was safe.

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We also got 30 minute head/neck/back massages on the side of the street. Nick had a man, I had an old lady that kept rubbing my cheeks. She was actually really good too, but I couldn’t help but giggle when she was manipulating my face!

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Sundays are infamous in Chiang Mai because they block off a few of the main roads that run straight through the center of the city and have a full blown street fair! They call it Sunday Walking Street, but I don’t believe that name is very fitting. Sure, it’s Sunday. Yeah, it’s a street, and you’re walking. Ok. But I’d like to call it “Chiang Mai weekly street fair and free for all”. WSFAFFA for short.

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Nick was pretty worn out from the first market I drug him through, so he opted to head back to the hotel and let me wander around for a little while. I wish I’d had more time. There was so much to see.

The vendors weren’t just selling the same old tourist shit. Chiang Mai and the surrounding hill tribes are known for their handicrafts. The WSFAFFA was full of hand-made goods; unique clothing, jewelry, and art; foods I hadn’t yet seen or dared to try; and blind people playing musical instruments on the ground. The local Hari Krishnas were walking around singing and dancing and chanting. Random performers were attracting large crowds. The streets were lined with people just trying to push their way through to the next table of stuff to look at or buy.

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I loved it!
At 6pm sharp, they played the Thai national anthem, and the whole world stopped. It was the strangest thing to see and be a part of. I think I saw an episode of The Twilight Zone when I was a kid where an entire town just froze in time. And there I was, living it. Weird.

Later that night Nick and I hitched a ride to the airport to take the hour flight to Bangkok. We arrived at midnight and tried to sleep in the airport until our 6am flight. To our dismay, we couldn’t just check our bags and go sleep at the gate. There was nobody there… except for dozens of other travelers also pulling all-nighters in the airport.

What I love, is that Nick couldn’t just be satisfied with a bench and a pillow. He had to string up his fancy new hammock in the middle of the fucking airport! Brilliant idea with regards to comfort, but I knew it wouldn’t last for long when I saw the security guards buzzing around him.

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10 minutes later I was woken up by Nick and two guards who were offering to take us to sleep in a quiet and private room. They took us to a freezing cold monk meditation room where we got to have two hours of quiet, sleeping in the dark under the watchful eye of Buddha.

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Thailand- Hill top temple in Chiang Mai -Jan 18 2014

Nicks stumps have not been very healthy at all in Chiang Mai. He has hardly been walking, relying on the motorbike to go any and everywhere. Going to the tiger place yesterday was the most walking he’s done, and it really wasn’t that much. But still, his stumps are aweful. Looks like he’s been bit by a tiger. Sorry for the graphic photo below, but this is what we’re dealing with. Oh, and I have an ear infection too. It came on four days after diving. Don’t get me wrong, we’re having fun over here, but it’s definitely not easy on Nick. We’re just doing the best we can, trying to enjoy the uniqueness of where we are, without pushing too hard.
Yucky!

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So we spent the morning lounging around the hotel lobby, eating brekky and calling Mom and my Dad. Then out of nowhere, we hear Darren’s voice asking the receptionist for Nick. Awesome, Darren made it up to Chiang Mai with his Mom and wanted to hang out with us.

He took us to get some amazing local Chiang Mai food called Kow Soi. It’s noodles and pork in a flavorful sauce I’ve never tasted before. You can only get it in the north. It’s like a poor mans meal, but it’s soooo good.

And we spent the afternoon taking a scenic, winding ride into the mountains east of the city to see a famous hilltop temple called Doi Suthep. An entire tourist town has sprouted up around this temple. There are a few hundred stairs leading to the top, lined with vendors half way up. Nick and Darren’s Mom hitched a ride in a little tram while Darren and I hoofed it.

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But westerners aren’t the only tourists. I think monks and monks in training come here wide eyed, camera-ready as well. See.

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In Thai architecture there’s just so much going on!

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Gold Buddhas everywhere!

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I got blessed by a monk.

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I wrote my name on a cloth that’s to be blessed and then wrapped around the main tower.

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Can you spot the guys?

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And then the real adventure began. Darren thought we might like to take the real scenic route on the way down, and we did! We also got more than we bargained for. He said it was a bumpy, rutted out dirt road part of the way and we might have to put our feet down a few times. We were up for the adventure, or so we thought.

Number one, it was cold up there. I bought a beanie hat at a tourist shop, but they only had Tshirts on. Number two, it ended up getting dark only half way through the two and a half hour ride. Number three, Darren completely forgot how long the ride was and so we didn’t expect it to take so long. I nearly dumped by bike a dozen times, luckily able to jump off and catch it. We had to drive through a stream deeper than our breaks. And our throttle hands were absolutely toast by the time we got back to the city at 8:30pm. It really was a beautiful country ride. A bit thrilling at times, but the kind of unique experience you’d only have with a friend who wants to show you a good time! After that Fener and I were done for the night.

Thailand – Tiger Kingdom, Chiang Mai- 17Jan 2014

Well, I guess we can go home now because I can’t imagine anything topping our visit to Tiger Kingdom today.

We rode our scooters about 10 kilometers north of town to spend 840 baht and about 30 minutes petting and cuddling with tigers. They have four different sized tigers you can hang out with: smallest (2-3 months), small (6 months), medium (12 months), and big (18 months). The way they set up the packages, we opted to visit the small and big tigers. I’m secretly wishing we had paid to see the smallest ones too, but oh well.

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Tiger Kingdom breeds these cats, producing one to two litters a month, and then raises them by human hand.

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They advertise that the animals are not drugged, and after being there and interacting with about 10 different tigers, I believe them. Just standing outside the cages I could feel the respect each cat had for all the trainers.

Each cage had about five or six tigers wandering around or sleeping, and the same amount of trainers (or tour guides, really) walking small groups of tourists from tiger to tiger.

We entered the small tiger cage first, which was about 1000 square feet, and met our guide Peng. He was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, having a degree in animal science from Chiang Mai University. He brought us to the first tiger and instructed Nick to approach from behind, never the front. Approach slowly and make no sudden moves or sudden loud noises. Never to touch their faces, heads, or front paws. And never encourage or insight playfulness. He said we should pet the tigers firmly, that they don’t like gentle touch (we were told the same thing about the elephants).

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The trainers spent half the time entertaining us, taking our picture, and telling us about the tigers, and the other half of the time monitoring and correcting the tigers behavior (which I obviously appreciated). If they turned their belly and head toward us, the trainer nudged them to turn back. If they became too interested in us, they nudged the tigers head away or distracted them with a “tiger toy” made of a long bamboo stick with bunches of grass at the end. They would use the toy the same way we would use one with a house cat. I found it interesting and cute that tigers are so easily entertained and become fixated on a toy the exact same way. I’ve also heard that some people who are allergic to house cats have had the same allergic reaction when visiting these tigers. See, they’re just cats, only bigger. Nothing to be afraid of!

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We got to lay with the tigers, using their hips as pillows. We cuddled and pet them. Nick kept trying to get closer and closer to their ears, but the trainer was quick to correct and tell Nick to stay away from their heads. But Nick did get to feel one of the small tigers tongues. Who can say that?

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The tiger was licking his coat, and Nick put his hand in the licking path. He said the tongue was like a strong muscle, wrapped in sand paper. And wet.

Most of the small tigers were trying to nap while we were there, except a few who were wandering around trying to stir up trouble with the trainers by pouncing and playing with the ones who were sleeping. Nick had one come up behind him and try to wrestle with the tiger he was laying on. The trainer quickly stopped it and a different trainer came along to tend to the rogue tiger and calm him down. He was just being a playful, curious young animal, but they discourage that when the tourists are there. Duh. It’s a 130 pound curious cat with growing teeth and claws. Claws they sand down once a week. At six months old though, their claws aren’t yet fully developed and neither are their teeth. Still, I wouldn’t want to find out how it feels to be gnawed on by them.

After about fifteen minutes of hanging out with four or five small tigers, we left the cage and waited for 20 minutes to enter the big tiger cage. While we waited, we watched one of the big tigers sit on the ledge of the pool inside the cage and pee and poo in it. They are trained to go in the water like that (think: Jinxy cat pooping in the toilet in the movie Meet the Parents). He even made a poop face when squeezing it out. I had no idea that tigers make a poop face too!

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They called our number and we entered the cage with our new guide Louie. I could tell he loves his job. He loved taking pictures of us and playing with the big cats.

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At one point he instructed me to sit behind one and not move. Then he tickled its ear with the big cat toy. The tiger sprung up so fast, focused and ready to play. Of course this served for a great photo op!

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The big ones were my favorite. At 18 months old, they’re already 500 pounds and over 10 feet long from tail to nose. When one was lifting his front legs up onto the cage and standing tall trying to chase the toy, he was easily 8-9 feet tall.

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Their paws are enormous.

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Their teeth are enormous.

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In general, they are enormous creatures. I really had no idea they were so big because I had never been so close.

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When I got to spoon with the the biggest tiger, I realized just how blessed I am to be here with Nick. That we could share this experience together. Just two and a half years ago a doctor told me he would never walk again. And here we are, riding elephants and cuddling with tigers in Thailand. Totarrry unberrrrievabrre.

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Thailand – stuck in bed in Chiang Mai -Jan16 2014

Poor Nick. He always has to pay for it in pain when he has a good time. His stumps are really bothering him again. They’re swollen and cut up. We actually tried to reschedule our elephant trek yesterday because he could barely walk, but it was too late, and we weren’t about to miss it.

So today, Nick didn’t put his legs on at all. He stayed in bed. Didn’t even get up out of bed once. I’m not sure his legs would have fit, even if it wasn’t too painful for him to wear them.

I got up early and went to a morning Crossfit class, even though I was incredibly sore from the night before. We did heavy back squats, push ups, sit ups, and kettle bell swings. So in fourteen hours I’ve successfully used every muscle in my body. I hope I can walk tomorrow.

I just hung around the hotel with Nick all day, keeping him company, running to get food, and just hanging out.

In the evening, my soreness was coming on hard. You know the kind: when you have to hold onto the wall and brace yourself just to get seated on the toilet. So I went for a massage and then visited the popular night bazaar just outside of town. It requires a lot of walking, so I figured going by myself would be the best.

I drove to where I thought the night market was and found the “locals” market. Blocks of street stalls selling stuff the Thai people would want to buy. Lots of household goods, food, clothes, flowers for religious offerings, even puppies. I was the only foreigner there.

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I left and headed in the direction I thought was home and accidentally ran into the night bazaar I was originally looking for. This one was going off! I parked my scooter in front of the McDonalds and Burger King, across from the Subway, Haagan Daaz, and Starbucks, and began shuffling through the crowds of people browsing the rows of stalls. People were everywhere. I mean, farangs were everywhere. That’s what the Thais call westerners. It’s their version of gringo. I was officially in tourist hell.

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I didn’t buy anything, and quickly grew tired of fighting the crowds to look at the same stuff, so I left. And of course, as I was driving away, I saw another night bazaar I had to stop at. Instead of lining a busy street, it was in a huge open area. They had beautiful handicrafts and fabrics, live fish stalls, and live music. Pushing through the crowds, running into people, I quickly made my way across the market, following the sound of an American accent singing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here to an amplified acoustic guitar.

I found a little cafe surrounded by art stalls, and a Thai dude sitting outside on a stool singing and playing into a mic in front of about twenty tables of people. He sounded really good, unlike the Thai band we heard on New Years Eve. Apparently a Pink Floyd fan (who isn’t?), next he played the first song off Dark Side of the Moon, Speak to Me/Breathe. By then I was on my way out, already an hour late to meet Nick back at the room with his dinner.

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Street pad thai and mango sticky rice for take-away please!

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Thailand – Elephant trekking in Chiang Mai – Jan15 2014

What an epic day. Be warned, there are about fifty photos accompanying this post. What a chore having to choose only the best fifty shots from such a memorable day.

We did a full day elephant hang-out sesh with a company called Jumbo Trekker. They picked us up in a little pick-up truck full of people and took us about 90 minutes north of the city. First stop was an orchid and butterfly farm. The flowers were gorgeous, and we found the absolute most perfect gift for Mom while we were there!

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We drove far from the city into the jungle where the locals speak their own tribal language, not Thai. They have a lovely compound to host tourists and board the elephants.

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We were given bananas and sweet potatoes straight away and had some really special moments feeding a baby and mama. It was surreal to just be in their presence. They eat A LOT of food, and had about forty bunches of bananas and the same amount of potatoes, as a snack! We all took turns being their best friends for a few moments.

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We learned that when an elephant pees, it’s like a fire hydrant erupting. And they have massive labia too!

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Then our main guide gave us a very lively “elephant training” lesson in her hilarious broken English. “Bon Bon” means eat. “Pai pai” means go forward. And she explained how often the elephants have sex. Only once a year. “Good for lady, because man elephant heavy. Bad for man elephant.”

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We wasted no time putting our newly learned elephant commands to the test, with a quick demo from a local who made it look easy. He even climbed up from the front of the elephants head.

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I know it looks like there were a lot of people there, but there really wasn’t. There wasn’t a single moment that we felt like we were in “tourist hell.” It was actually quite personal.

Of course I was the first one of the group to hop on top of the biggest female. Bareback. I used my right hand and got a tight grip on her right ear, then grabbed a huge chunk of her flesh with my left. With the local guides help, I gave a command to have her lift her leg so I could step on it for a boost. And then I just sort of climbed up the elephant like I would a big rock, holding on tightly for dear life.

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After only a few laps around the compound, my inner thighs were pooped from squeezing so hard. Her shoulder blades were shifting under my ass with every giant step. It was clear immediately that Nick would be way too uncomfortable on the hour long ride scheduled for after lunch. Also, climbing on such a giant animal would be nearly impossible, as it was very challenging for me and everyone else.

So they put Nick for a test ride on one of the younger males. Apparently only the males are strong enough to kneel all the way down and be able to get back up gracefully. Nick was able to throw one leg over and hop on fairly easily. But it took him by surprise when the elephant stood up immediately when he felt Nicks weight.

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I love how they drink water. They need 600 liters a day!

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We played around for a little while before taking a lunch break. Who knew they had lips like that?

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For the actual jungle trekking, the tour company and local guides surprised us by really going out of their way to make sure Nick could enjoy the experience too. They took the time to install a two person riding chair just for us, and then brought us and the elephant to a giant platform to get aboard. We rode like royalty, while everyone else was getting a sore butt.

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We took off through the jungle, with our own personal guide sitting on top of the elephants head giving all the commands for us. Sweet. I couldn’t get my elephant to listen to me earlier anyway. And this was the only big male, who they usually don’t have customers ride or feed because he’s a little too wild or aggressive or something. Every so often he would completely veer off the path to eat the jungle. He’d rip down tree limbs or sides of hills. We figured he was the kind of creature that could only be controlled to a certain extent. After that, he’s going to do what he wants to do: eat!

We headed down toward the river to bathe them.

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Most of them love the water, but a few wouldn’t go near it. I climbed down from our royal seat by jumping off the front of the elephants forehead onto a little hill. Yea I was nervous. They wouldn’t let Nick get down because he wouldn’t be able to get back up again, so he didn’t get to experience the elephants in the water.

The bathing was my favorite part. They rolled and played like humongous dogs, dunking and blowing water around. I got tons of GoPro footage I will upload some other time. It was truly the most unique moment of the day.

I hopped on a different elephant with a sweet Kiwi girl named Ruth for the short 5 minute walk back to camp. Sadly our elephant experience was over and it was time to drive the 90 minutes back to Chiang Mai.

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To make a perfect day even better, I was back in time to do an evening Crossfit class. Three rep max push presses with a cool Brit chick named Gems who lives here and teaches English to 3-year-olds. Then a barbell wod with deadlifts, hang power cleans, and front squats. I did about 20 pounds less than I normally would’ve, and it felt extremely heavy. Guess that’s what taking a whole month off will do to you. I had a great experience though. Totally needed that!

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I stopped for some delicious street meat on the way home. I love how the Thais do it. A little grill on a scooter. Entrepreneurship at it’s finest.

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Thailand – Getting lost: Day 1 in Chiang Mai – Jan14 2014

Oh my god I love this city. I can already tell we didn’t plan enough time here. Damn it, why do we have to fly to Bali so soon?

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Then our first order of business was to get motor bikes and see the city. It took us about 15 minutes to find gas, and then another 30 to find our way back from getting gas. That’s even with a map. Two maps.
The roads are crazy here, filled with crazy drivers. It’s a good thing I have progressed slowly to this, otherwise I’d be pooping my pants. Driving on the calm, slow-paced islands was training wheels for driving in Chiang Mai.
And I love it! Driving on the left side of the road feels surprisingly natural to me. Driving with no rules feels so good. You just…go. Where you want, when you want, how you want. I quickly learned that you’ve got to own the road, or the road will own you.
People driving everywhere, passing each other, going into oncoming traffic, merging when there’s no room to merge, turning without space to turn in to, driving the wrong way, not stopping at stop signs, stopping in the middle of the street, carrying an entire family on a motorbike, you name it! “Baa” is Thai for crazy. Thai driving is certifiably baa.
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We took the bikes and visited a few wats (temples). There are almost 300 temples in Chiang Mai. We saw three and then called it quits. Worshippers and visitors are expected to dress modestly and remove shoes. No short skirts or shorts and no bare shoulders. Nick even took off his shoes.

The temples are absolutely breathtaking works of art. The Thai Buddhists sure do love their gold. We walked into each wat and out of respect I kneeled down in the front to briefly clear my mind and then study their statues and “alters”. Nick stayed in the back or moseyed around the sides to avoid fumbling around even attempting to kneel. The temples were quiet, brightly lit, and had a calming energy to them. One had bright hand painted murals depicting stories of the Buddha. And there was even a crystal Buddha statue dating back to the 1300’s.

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The statue of the old monk was so incredibly lifelike, we had to stare at it for a few minutes to believe he wasn’t real. That completely creeped us both out and we left right away.
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We drove around some more, just basically exploring and stopping as we pleased. Just enjoying the day in the city together.
Food is so cheap in Chiang Mai. Street pad thai is about 45 baht as opposed to 80 down on the islands. We found a fruit stall that sells sizable portions of fresh mangoes and papayas and watermelon for only 10 baht. That’s like 33 cents. You can’t buy shit for 33 cents in the US. I am getting so spoiled, stretching a dollar so far over here.
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A dollar isn’t the only thing I’m stretching either. Thanks to copious amounts of sticky rice and Thai goodies, my waistline is stretching too. I’m glad there’s a Crossfit here in Chiang Mai, because being in vacation mode, and having a busted toe for so long makes it really easy to be lethargic. I’ve really, really missed my intense workouts and weightlifting, so we drove to the crossfit for a drop in class. The gym is located north of the Old City, off the “super highway.” Just getting there was like a workout. The evening traffic was NUTS!

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I got there early and eager, and even emailed them in the morning to tell them I was coming, but they wouldn’t let me workout. I was so bummed! They had misinformation on their website, didn’t reply to my email from early that morning, and wouldn’t bend the rules to allow a visitor to drop-in on their “special” barbell class.

If I wasn’t so desperate to get a few WOD’s in while I’m here, and if they weren’t the only Crossfit in town, I would’ve told the lady to suck it. But I didn’t. Nick and I left and decided to get some food. That is, once we figured out how to get back to the city.

All day long we had to stop every few blocks and check the map. Then usually turn around because we were going the wrong way, which usually involved going way out of the way and doing a U turn onto another one-way street. Seriously, getting around is half the fun here. Nick went with me to Crossfit just so he could drive around some more. And I’m grateful he did. We just stumbled upon this night market and had some interesting grub.

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We tried spicy tentacle skewers, from either an octopus or squid. Who knows. I can’t believe I even wanted to try it. When in Thailand…

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We also tried pig guts on a stick.

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I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Eww. But for the low low price of only 5 baht, I have a priceless lifetime memory of the unmistakable taste of pig shit. I took a bite and tried to chew two or three times and realized I couldn’t get past the texture. It was like a flexy, chewy, plastic-y, shit-filled morsel. But I was so focused on the way it felt in my mouth that I completely missed the taste. I spit it out, and then Nick tried a bite. He got one good chew and spit it out yelling, “That’s shit. There’s still shit inside.” Ewww. Ewww. Ewwwww!

Thailand- Getting to Chiang Mai -13Jan 2014

We got off the boat yesterday and I could still feel the rocking 24 hours later. 48 hours later even.
We ran some errands, ate some food, packed, and basically just waited to leave Khao Lak and catch our flight to Chiang Mai. Khao Lak was definitely our least favorite Thai town, but we had our most favorite experience from there on the live-aboard. Lets just say, we were stoked to be leaving and going somewhere completely different than the beaches and islands.

We had THE nicest cab driver on the way to the Phuket airport, and saw some funny stuff while we were there.

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And after a quick 2.5 hours at 32,000 feet, we found ourselves safely in northern Thailand at the Chiang Mai airport. At 10:15pm. With no place to stay. And only a vague idea of where to look.

We got a cab and had him take us to a certain street where we discovered many guesthouse a were either full, or closed for the evening. Nick posted up with our bags at a little western pub and I set out on foot down the dark alleyways of the Old City to find us a place to stay.

I circled two square blocks, ducking into every single guesthouse or hostel or hotel I saw.
“Full!”
Such is traveling in high season I guess.
After forty minutes I found a nice little spot called MD House. It’s a three story building with two pools, wifi, and free breakfast for 700 baht per night (that’s $21.37. That’s at the high end of our budget, but I was desperate and grateful and took a room on the third floor with two twin beds. I Love Lucy style.

So so glad to be in Chiang Mai. We have six full days here, leaving at 11:40pm on Sunday night.

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The pink square is the Old City. It’s enclosed by a dilapidated brick wall and has “gates” to get in and out of via one-way streets. We are staying in the north east corner where I’m pointing.