Monday night Soloman and I board the night train to Chiang Mai and leave Bangkok behind. It’s the second night train I’ve taken on this trip, the first being from Tangier to Marrakech. This time I have a sleeper compartment though. I get a good night’s sleep and wake up just in time to be served breakfast, which is just some cookies, a fake orange juice that I swear is Tang (why is it so hard to find real orange juice in Thailand?!), and some ehhh coffee. I paid 150 Baht for this?! At least I'll have something in my stomach while we hunt down a more decent breakfast.
We pull into the station at 9am and decide to walk into town. We can’t check into our hostel until 2pm and figure we’ll take our time getting there and see as much as we can on the way. Our time in Chiang Mai is short so we want to be as efficient as possible.
Passing through the Thapae Gate, we enter the old town of Chiang Mai and check out a bunch of temples. Sad to say, but after a while I start to think “I’m done with the temples… they are all starting to look the same”. We do find a very old stone one which I dig. It has so much more character than the modern ones.
I stop at a street vendor and get some Mango and sticky rice, a popular street snack that I’ve yet to try. Later, we check into the Why Not Hostel. It’s a bit farther out of town than I had thought, but it’s a decent place and the staff is very friendly and helpful.
That evening we hit the night market. It’s interesting to see, but it has a weird vibe and everything is so spread out and sprawling that there is no real cohesion to it. Plus, I don’t think any night market will ever live up to the one we found in Bangkok.
The next morning, along with a group of girls from Toronto that we meet at the hostel, we take a Red Truck - which is like a covered pick-up truck that acts like something between a taxi and a bus - up to Doi Suthep, a temple up on a nearby mountain. I’m looking forward to the view from up there more than the temple. I’m disappointed, though, as it’s the smoky season and you can’t see shit.
Later, Soloman and I split another Red Truck with some guys from the UK and head out to the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon. An old quarry that is now filled with rainwater, the Grand Canyon is a popular spot for cliff jumping. The UK guys jump off the tall peak but, as I don’t trust my ability to control my form for that long a fall, I jump off the smaller cliff. It’s still a substantial drop, though. I have enough time to think “When the hell am I gonna hit the water”. It’s great. At first I’m not going to do it because I still haven’t bought a pair of board-shorts, but I finally say “Fuck it,” and jump in in my regular shorts, belt and all. This is probably my favorite experience in Chiang Mai. The jump is invigorating and it's the first time I've swam this whole trip. I haven’t been in the water since last August back in Virginia Beach. It’s refreshing - I really start looking forward to my time in the islands of southern Thailand.
The next morning Soloman and I are on a mini-bus to Pai. It’s a three hour winding trip through the mountains. Luckily I don’t have a problem with car-sickness, but the woman sitting behind us does. I feel sorry for her as I put my headphones in and blare some Titus Andronicus to drown out the sound. (Click here for my post on The Importance of Music while traveling).
In Pai, we check into our hostel. Though Soloman will be in Pai for a few days, my time is very limited. I will head back to Chiang Mai the next afternoon, Friday, so that I can catch a flight to Phuket early Saturday morning. Once again we are trying to cram as much as we can into the day.
Anne, a girl we met on the mini-bus, joins us for the trip to the canyon. The three of us take a shuttle (really just a guy with a pick-up truck) for the twenty minute ride to the Canyon. We get there just before sunset, and it’s gorgeous. Tons of trails wandering along all the various cliffs. We make our way across narrow paths with sheer drops on both sides. I observe the absence of guard rails and reflect on how this would never happen in the law-suit happy United States.
I take a bunch of photos and we sit down in a prime spot with some other people. We watch the sun swiftly sink behind a distant mountain. The sky morphs from magenta to purple to indigo. We hike back to our man with the pick-up and ride back to town.
Friday morning, my second and last day in Pai, Soloman and I hike thirty minutes north to see a giant white Buddha that sits on the side of the mountain. It’s so big you can see it sitting up there from miles away. We spotted it on the bus ride into Pai the day before.
Back in town we grab a quick lunch. Then I bid farewell to my latest travel companion and grab the 2PM mini-bus back to Chiang Mai.
One quick night in Chiang Mai and it’s uneventful. Saturday and Sunday will be travel days, which always suck, but Sunday night I will be in the south of Thailand, exploring islands. I gotta find some board shorts…