Alright. I know it's been a very long time since my last post but that's because I have spent the last week or so traveling around the Northern part of Thailand. Now I'm finally back and have enough energy to write about it. Well, I took a trip up to Chiang Mai on the overnight train. In an effort to save some baht I opted for the 3rd class seats (instead of the nice 1st class ones we took to Nong Khai) This made the trip pretty brutal. Instead of getting a nice sleeper bunk, all I got was the flat uncomfortable chair. It was as if I was riding the commuter rail for 14 hrs except that the seats were just plywood with the backs rising up at a 90 degree angle. But I ended up saving a lot and was able to do more on my trip so I guess it was alright. In any event, I arrived in Chiang Mai and made my way to the Top North guesthouse where I was to meet up with Marianne (a friend I met through Rachel) and her friend Jen. We all went out for burritos which were so good. The two girls are out living in the sticks and don't really get an opportunity to eat anything but Thai food so they really loved it.
The next day we set off for Pai. We rented motorbikes because I had heard that it was a neat trip winding through the mountains. I had no idea. The ride started out harmlessly enough with us leaving Chiang Mai on a crowded highway until we reached 1095, the road to Pai. This road isn't just winding, it's infamously winding. We didn't know then, but when we got to Pai they were selling shirts about it (stuff to the effect of "i survived 1095") One shirt was particularly informative, it said that 1095 had 163km and 762 turns. So that should give you an idea. The scenery was amazing. The climate of Northern Thailand isn't like the South at all. In fact, our ride felt more like one through Western Mass at points with crisp air and even pine trees(!). One of the main reasons we took motorbikes was that we could stop whenever we liked and we knew there were attractions to see on the way up. We stopped at a waterfall called the Mork-Fa which was really neat. It was more like two waterfalls side-by-side. There was a big lagoon where they splashed down and I went for a swim. Most of the Thai people thought I was crazy because it was so cold, but it was actually just refreshing.
We set off again and stopped for lunch at a roadside stand that was pretty delicious. It was so weird to think that the woman there does almost nothing but wake up and cook for the few people who happen to stop by. There wasn't anything in either direction for a good while. Well, we made it to Pai before too long and were luckily able to find a place to stay. Dec. 5th was the King's b-day which makes it a national holiday and so the Pai wasn't jsut filled with Farangs like usual, but also Thai nationals (Pai is actually a big vacation spot for Thais, especially ones from the South who want a chance to wear their fashionable parkas.) And on top of all that, there was a film festival going on too so despite the outrageous number of guesthouses, it was incredibly difficult to find a spot. We unloaded our stuff and went for a walk around the town. The streets were absolutely packed with people wandering around and looking at the different street merchants' wares. We eventually came upon a rad band that was doing a concert right on the street. Just like all the other blues/jam bands in Thailand they played a set of mostly Clapton, Hendrix, and CCR but they also opened up the mic to anyone and there was a revolving door of not just singers but also guitarists and drummers. They also had two percussion 'experts' who would somehow have new instruments for every song and were pretty much just going crazy. I loved it.
The next day we got around to doing all the things Pai is so famous for. We got on our bikes and headed toward a new waterfall that wasn't as impressive as Mork-fa but the surrounding area was a lot cooler; instead of being in an open area, the fall was almost in a cave. Then we headed for the canyon which was very cool. There were a couple trails you could take that had places as narrow as a foot, with a shear cliff on either side. There were a lot of cool pictures to be taken though. Then we headed to the hot springs. There were a couple options for us but we ended up going to the pricey one which was the natural hot spring while the others were more like swimming pools filled with hot spring water. At the top, where the spring started, there were people boiling eggs and selling them. We of course didn't go in there but instead we found a nice pool in the sun. It was empty because as I said earlier, Thai people hate the sun.
For dinner that night, we went to a place called 'Burger House'. Since the girls didn't get any Western foods where they were, they had been dreaming of this pace since before we left. It actually took us a while to find it but the time we spent lost only increased our appetites which made the burgers that much better. The owner was a cool guy. He was a Vietnam vet who was described in a Burger House article as "salty but affable". He actually opened the place because, like us, he couldn't find a decent burger anywhere in Thailand. Oh man were they good. I tried to eat it as slowly as possible and savor it but it was nearly impossible. I think I ate it somewhere around normal speed.
The next day we got back on our bikes and headed back to Chiang Mai. The ride seemed to go a lot quicker on the return but that was alright because I was pretty tired by the end and just wanted to lie down. It might've been quicker because I was used to the sights this time around, or because we didn't go to the waterfall, or maybe it was because I was listening to dragonforce for the second half of it. Anyway, we got back and they girls promptly left to get back home in time to sleep a little before school the next morning. I headed to the train station but the only tickets left for that day were the air-conditioned first-class sleepers which were way expensive. I settled for a next day ticket in the dreaded third class. The next morning I grabbed a book from the used book store and boarded the train. This time around, I didn't sleep a wink. It stunk. It was booked as being from 2:50pm to 5:30am but we didn't end up back in BKK till somewhere around 6:15. One thing that puzzled me was how the train would come to a standstill in the middle of nowhere for what felt like an eternity but was probably like 10 minutes. I figured we must be waiting for the track ahead of us to switch over or clear off because we would usually only start moving again once a train went roaring past us the other way. But sometimes it wouldn't and it be as if we had stopped for no reason. Frustrating! especially when I was so tired but unable to get the least but comfortable and the entire lower half of my body was asleep from sitting on those seats. Anyway, I made it back safe and sound and instead of taking the metro then walking home I decided I'd earned a cab ride which was only 20 baht more than the metro/walk would've been and about 3 times as fast. That's why I was a little late with my Pai update, I've been trying to get back on a good sleep schedule and clear of mind. I'm getting close.
That's it for now. I start work (for real) this coming Monday so I'm just enjoying my last few days. I'm trying to stretch my baht as far as it'll go and I've found a great street vendor who makes the best pad thai for only 25 baht. In fact, I think I might go get some right now.