When we were planning this trip, Thailand was not my priority. I felt like I’d seen it all through my friend’s stories and stranger’s pictures on Instagram. I was worried about the huge party scene that everyone, apart from me, seems to love so much and the fact the main attraction appeared to be centred around sex. Sure, I saw the beauty beyond this, the white sandy beaches and famous limestone cliffs but I wasn’t “all in” when I thought of spending time there.
However, we decided to do Thailand differently. Partly because of my anxieties but also because we’d just spent two weeks on the beach in Sri Lanka and we weren’t ready for every crevice to be filled with sand again…
We landed in Bangkok and after an excruciatingly long journey from the airport to our hostel (we we’re both in serious need of the toilet and were just about ready to pee our pants!), I was introduced to what will from now on be referred to as Hell on Earth… Khao San bloody Road.
We arrived at night so of course the party was in full swing. Being stopped every few feet to be asked whether I’d like a men’s suit (?!) or to see a ping pong show… Wading through the sea of harassment, we eventually found George’s friend who we had arranged to me and found a “quiet” bar to sit and catch up. Thus ensued a level of alcohol consumption I didn’t even imagine was possible. From 3 litre beer towers to buckets of Sangsom and M-150’s (for those of you who haven’t been to Thailand, just imagine a bucket of death that kind of tastes like red bull and rum – hell on earth I’m telling you!), I quickly found myself dancing in the street between pop up bars and carts of caramelised scorpions.
The next morning wasn’t particularly pretty and with Bangkok being such a massive city, we decided to stay as local as possible but away from the chaos of Hell on Earth. We both got Thai massages – head, back and shoulder and it was glorious. Never would I have thought that having a small Thai lady press her knees as hard as she could into my back would bring me such joy. Typing this now is making me want to go back!
During our time in Bangkok, the River Festival, or The Auspicious Illumination of Loy Krathong if you want to be fancy, was in full swing. Being in the state we were in, we of course missed the exciting parts of actually experiencing the festival (worst bloggers ever, sorry guys! At least I’m honest!) and arrived to the boat which took you between the various stops to shop, eat and enjoy the entertainment a little too late. We settled for a free boat ride along the Chao Phraya River to view the temples dotted along the banks from the river itself. What we did see was nothing short of impressive, Thailand is home to some of the most decorative temples we’ve seen so far on this trip.
From Bangkok we headed north to Chiang Mai where we spent a few days doing not much to be completely honest. Something in hindsight I definitely regret as through following The Passport Memorandum and their time in Chiang Mai, we definitely missed out!
We did hire bicycles, much to my displeasure to begin with as I hate riding a bike but it turned out to be one of the best things we did! We unfortunately missed the infamous Lantern Festival by just a few days which we were absolutely gutted about! But as we we’re cycling around, we came across a temple which still had their lantern displays adorned. We continued our day of cycling around the city until we reached Art in Paradise, a 3D art gallery made for brightening up a cloudy afternoon.
One thing we did do, that I am extremely happy about is a night at the Thaphae Boxing Stadium watching a number of Muay Thai fights. I have only recently got into boxing however it is something George has been interested in for a while and watching authentic Muay Thai was an opportunity he was not going to pass up! It was such a fun night, with such a great atmosphere. It seems an obvious thing to do but it really is something you have to do Chiang Mai as I’ve heard in the south of Thailand, the fights aren’t actually real (DO NOT HOLD ME TO THAT!). We drank beer and placed tiny bets between us on which fighter would win and it was probably one of the best nights out we’ve had whilst travelling!
Despite not leaving central Chiang Mai, whilst wandering the streets we did find some absolute gems of places that I would 100% recommend checking out if you’ve got some free time!
Neither me or George are particular book worms however when we stumbled upon The Lost Book Shop, the longing for a good book to read took over our bodies and I swear we spent about an hour in that inconspicuous little book store browsing the endless shelves. If you love a good book, please go and check this place out. The guy that owns it is hilarious and has many funny signs displayed around the shop encouraging you to read. My favourite was by far the one stating “Tobacco companies want your lungs. Facebook wants your mind. Save Yours. Buy a book”. Now if that isn’t effective propaganda, I don’t know what is.
Another spot is Miranda’s Cafe, a small cafe with an important back story. Outside of the cafe is a multi-coloured painted piece of wood which tells the story of the original building which was designed and built by Miranda’s parents. The original building was mostly made of wood and following a fire, it was heavily damaged. The wooden board states “The building is designed in no particular style, but is rather a collection of my parents life journey – where they have been, what they have seen, what they have learned & done. A bit of this & a bit of that all mixed & matched & rolled into one” and that is the exact charm of the place. The food is delicious, the fresh pressed juice is delicious and the vibe of the place is spot on.
Pai oh Pai, our little place of peace and happiness. The journey from Chiang Mai to Pai involves 762 curves along mountainous roads. 762! The four hour journey is winding and nauseating but it is so bloody worth it. The town is small and has a hippy vibe that you could not manufacture. Thai men walking around dressed like they’re just about to go to Woodstock and live music playing at nearly every bar, it was exactly the chilled vibe that we needed.
When visiting Pai it is pretty much a necessity to hire a scooter but at the teeny tiny price of 100 Baht a day, there aren’t many reasons not to. The town of Pai itself is great but you need to head a few miles out to see the real beauty. We hired a bike for two days, George driving and me perched on the back and it was perfect.
We visited the hot springs, where you can bathe in water ranging from 38°C to 34°C in a tropical forest setting and even boil an egg further up the spring! We completely missed this aspect of the attraction and just thought it was hilarious that there was (what was believed to be) a random egg shop at the entrance. Not sure I’d eat an egg that had boiled in water containing sulphur however!
Pam Bok waterfall was another highlight of our biking adventures, where I’d recommend getting there before 1pm as it got super busy as we were leaving! The road to the waterfall is quite steep and beyond is a viewpoint however the shop where we rented our bikes from strictly prohibited using their bikes to reach the top due to how dangerous the road is. So if you are to visit on a scooter please do be careful!
Prior to reaching the waterfall, make a stop at Land Split. The attraction itself is not particularly impressive and the owner of the land has even placed a giant sign at the main focus point of a relatively bad review explaining that the actual split caused by an earthquake isn’t actually the attraction, it’s the unbelievable hospitality you receive as you cross from the car park. The land is used by local farmers and their offerings for a small donation was unexpected but so representative of the spirit of the Thai people. We were seated on benches, made from fallen trees and were served a range of fruits, juice and even wine, all which came from the land around it.
Our little adventure also took us to the WWII memorial bridge and Pai Canyon however George forgot to bring his memory card for his camera so unfortunately not much to share visually but two great little stops to check out whilst driving around. The day George did have his memory card, we took a trip down a rocky dirt road to the rice paddies where he was invited onto the land to take photos of the men and women at work. Another example of the friendliness of the Thai people!
Our last stop before we had to give back our beloved bike was a cafe/bar built up of shipping containers and oversized red telephone boxes. We stopped as I had spotted the egg chair floating on the rooftop terrace and I just knew that I needed to sit in that chair with a cold drink and my book and admire Pai and that is exactly what we did.
Our time in Thailand was brief (although you wouldn’t have known from the length of this post!) but idyllic. Bangkok introduced me to the party scene which in the end was a lot of fun, Chiang Mai was a haven of hidden gems and Pai became our paradise.