Chiang Mai; the second largest city in Thailand but in a way a world apart from Bangkok. There's quite a different feel to this place; the people, the food, the weather and even the smell.
Leaving Bangkok turned out to be quite a last minute "concern" as I was told at 4pm that my passport would not be back from the Laos embassy until 6pm (expected 5pm) - a bit of a problem considering I had a 7pm flight to CM! I decided that there was nothing I could do so waited patiently watching the clock as the time to leave for the airport grew nearer. At about 3 minutes to 5 my passport arrived, a hotel booking was confirmed and the taxi arrived to leave for the airport.....relief was an understatement.
We eventually arrived in CM around 9.30pm after substantial flight delays but were pleasantly greeted by a man in a van to take us to the hotel. Not having to try explain to a taxi driver where to take us was a great escape - especially when we arrived at our destination and realised that again, I'd chosen a place no one seemed to know of.
But it was (is) another little oasis......
(Time to go to bed - early bus to thai/laos border tomorrow so will finish this tale when i have a minute again.....)
I'm back - writing from luang prabang in laos; it's going to be difficult to sound inspired about finishing off the Chiang Mai story after the awesome few days I've had since leaving there (more in next blog). But to do it justice I'll briefly give an account of my time spent there.
The little oasis I mentioned earlier definitely was the highlight of my stay in CM; a fanstastic place where I spent hours sitting at the pool sipping beer and reading my book. It was literally right on the bank of the River Ping so felt like I was somewhere in the gorgeous countryside-after bangkok it was a welcome retreat.
Isabelle and I did venture out into town one afternoon - the driver of the hotel dropped us at what could have been a shopping mall in downtown chicago - so much so that it even had a pizza hut, a sizzling steakhouse and macdonalds in prime spots. We took a bit of a wander away from the "hustle of the mall and found a great big local market in which to have lunch. One thing that can be said for Thailand (and think most of SEAsia)is that the street vendor and local market food is most definitely in a class of it's own. To put it as eloquently as I can - yum yum yum (on the palette and the wallet)! After a couple of hours (early evening) we head back to the mall and were pleasantly surprised to see that the front forecourt had turned into a night bazaar! If you were ever short of T-shirts with Mr T emblems this would be the place to find them! I didn't really find anything too inspiring but did indulge in an incredible 30min foot massage....heaven!
The next day we decided to do a little "touristy" thing and booked a trip to an elephant training camp. This whole experience was rather perturbing so I'm not going to give a detailed account. Suffice to say that I watched an elephant "show" where their "logging" skills were displayed - these included raising a flag, bowing to the crowd and painting pictures! I was not impressed and felt rather sad watching the whole thing. After the show we went on a 1 hour trek on the elephants into the jungle to a hilltribe village - I think my picture showing "toilet" says it all about the experience!! After the trek we jumped on a bamboo raft and floated down the river for an hour or so - seeing the pleasant site of elephants all the way along the banks in the villages - chained to trees! I understand that this (elephant owning and working) is a way of life for the tribes people and elephants are sacred animals to all Thais, but it was still hard to align this with the site of these beautiful animal chained up in the middle of the jungle. Anyway - it was an experience but one that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
That excursion was the end of my time in chiang mai and the next morning I was up bright and early to catch a bus to Cheung Khong - the border of Thailand to cross into Laos.....