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Al's epic odyssey "A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

Chiang Mai and back home

THAILAND | Monday, 9 November 2009 | Views [691]

I caught the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. It’s not that cheap, but if you take into account that you’re saving a hotel room, it makes it worth it. The train is incredibly slow and rocks around like crazy, the single track railway has probably not had a lot of maintenance since it was first laid. It takes about 10 hours by bus and nearly 14 by train, however at least you can stretch out a bit more on the train.

I arrived in Chiang Mai for the second and third day of the annual water festival. It was fantastic. The town was really buzzing. People came from far and wide to join in the fun. At night we flew burning lanterns from the bridge over the river and floated flower lanterns down the river. The fireworks were a little frightening. There is little regard for health and safety in these parts and it was quite common to have loud bangs and rockets going off right next to you. I retreated to one of the local bars at one point to get away from the loud bangs only to find people letting them off in the open air bar area.

The town of Chiang Mai is quite laid back and much less pushy in terms of trying to make you buy things the whole time. I really enjoyed the feel of the town. There are magnificent Buddhist temples all over the town and all were decorated beautifully for the festival.

I visited the Hill Tribe Museum which was quite interesting. It appears that some of the hill tribes still grow opium poppies quite openly as part of their culture. The long necked Karen people are from these parts as well. You’ve probably seen pictures of the women with stretched necks covered in large brass rings. I suspect it’s more about tourism than culture these days as apparently you have to pay a sizable sum to visit them.

One of the popular activities is trekking to the hill tribes and staying overnight. Unfortunately I was a little pressed for time so I arranged a one day trip into the countryside. We packed a lot into that day – an orchid and butterfly farm, an elephant trek, the highlight for me was being picked up by an elephant by his trunk. This was followed by lunch and a trek up to a waterfall, followed by some relatively tame white water rafting and a bamboo rafting trip down the river. We were exhausted at the end of it all.

I caught the night train back down to Bangkok and spent the last two nights back in Pattaya. I’d been there before and while it’s not my favorite destination in Thailand, it is the nearest decent beach to Bangkok and I felt like a bit of sea would be good before heading back to Scotland in the grip of winter.

After Pattaya it was time to head home. The tenant who had been renting my house had moved out so I thought it would be a good opportunity to go home for a while, take stock and decide what to do next. There are many places in South East Asia that I’d still like to see and a few places I wouldn’t mind going back to. I will definitely be back! 

Tags: chiang mai


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