Laos Slow Boat Day 1

7am breakfast isn’t so bad after falling sleep at 9pm the night before. We wake up and go downstairs to eggs and toast which aren’t bad. The hotel also provides a packed lunch for the boat ride. We meet some guys from England at breakfast who are also on their way to Laos and are taking the same slow boat that we are.

The White Temple

We get up early to catch a van that will take us closer to Laos. We won’t actually reach Laos for 2 more days, and will be traveling mostly by boat, but today we take a van further north-east in Thailand. The van fits 10 people so we share the space with some other groups of people. There is a group of girls (3 American and 1 Canadian), a German couple, an older French guy, and a younger guy who looks Scandinavian, but I don’t know for sure where he’s from. It’s a quiet ride to the hotel.

The driver of the van is totally cray, and takes corners at 80km an hour. This is not an exaggeration. At one point during the ride I dozed off, and woke up because I hit my head on the ROOF of the van from him driving so fast over a pothole. We’re driving up through a mountainous area which is very windy, and I kid you not I look at the speedometer to see he’s going 130km/h through hairpin turns on a pretty skinny little road. People are bouncing all over the place inside the van. Sketchiest thing ever, BUT out of 4 vans doing the same tour that we are, we arrive at The White Temple first. Boom.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai (not a typo. There is Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai) and it’s a half way point through our days journey. This temple is even more gorgeous than the one I visited yesterday. It is a bright, piercing shade of white with silver accents and the most detailed architecture. It is surrounded by a small moat and has ponds on either side filled with fish. From afar, the temple looks ancient due to it’s classic style architecture (and I guess I just assume all temples are ancient) but as we get closer I start to think perhaps it is not so old. Just before the entrance way, over the bridge to cross the moat, there are two almost bare trees with white heads carved as dragons or scary demon faces hanging from the branches, which are all surrounded in dead grey moss. The pathway up to the temple is lined with two pits on either side, with hundreds of white hands reaching up out of the ground, some holding skulls and others holding up bowls (temple donations). One or two of the hands have red painted finger nails… it’s creepy but sick. It’s what is inside the temple that I really find the most interesting about this place. We aren’t allowed to take photographs inside, so you will just have to rely on my description of the art on the walls, and I know you won’t believe me when I tell you.

The back and side walls are painted dark orange and red, with very fine details painted in… of pop culture characters. Harry Potter, Jack Sparrow, SpiderMan, The Hulk, Jabba The Hut, Darth Vader, Michael Jackson, and The Terminator, just to name a few. Among the paintings of these characters, are scenes of the twin towers being blown up, tentacles surrounded in flames, wearing digital watches, cellphones, and basically anything else you can think of. When you step back to take it all in you can see that the basic backdrop is the face of a dragon roaring (or whatever noise dragons make) and all the images are emerging from it’s mouth. It’s all so fantastic and SO confusing.
There is a monk sitting in front of a gold buddha statue at the front of the room. Ilona and I can’t figure out if he is a real monk or a life-sized wax figure because he doesn’t move once, and has a slightly shiny finish to his skin. In a regular temple I would of course assume that he is a monk who never moves, but in this place I don’t know what to think. I don’t know how to ask without potentially offending someone so I let the mystery be for now, and plan to google it later.

Around the temple, there are a few stores and cafés, and a lot of construction happening to build more. It seems as if a little urban centre is being built up around the White Temple in Chiang Rai. I plan to google that also. I didn’t see any brochures or other sources of information about the temple so I will just have to find out for myself… I am intrigued.

By 4pm we have arrived at our hotel, where we will stay until tomorrow morning when we get on the slow boat to Laos. There isn’t much of anything surrounding the hotel and the van leaves immediately, so I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do for the next 15 hours. There isn’t even wi-fi, and the rooms are mediocre at best, but at least it’s not a night train.
Yeah, I went there. Prepare to hear about this frequently. Forever.

I don’t know if it’s the heat or what, but my hair is legitimately turning curly. I’m sad about it. Straight hair was so much easier to deal with. Especially when traveling.

I have a quick nap on my sketchy hotel bed and get up for dinner which is served downstairs outside by the river. This is the only opportunity I have to access the wi-fi. It doesn’t work in my room. Our boat leaves at 7am tomorrow morning, so after dinner I plan on just going to sleep and waking up early. Woot woot!

Sunday Market

After breakfast we decide to use this day to get some things done. I haven’t done a laundry yet since we’ve arrived, Ilona needs to send a package of things home (which I was lucky enough to have Dolly do for me when I was in India), we have not decided on a way to get to Laos yet, and we have yet to book a place to stay in Koh Phangan for the Full Moon party, so most of our afternoon consists of those sorts of things. Not too exciting, sorry.

Someone that we met a couple days ago had told us that there is a market that only takes place on Sundays downtown Chiang Mai, so we decide to go visit that when we’re done with the boring stuff. The market is HUGE and we walk around for about 3 or 4 hours but I lose track of time because I’m having so much fun. I buy lots of small things like hair accessories and jewelry, because all the market clothes are a size like 00-2 and are “one size fits all”. Grr. Other than the small clothing, the markets in Thailand are awesome and this one doesn’t have any raw fish stalls (just fresh fruit and cooked meats) so it doesn’t smell! Bonus!

The market is lined by shops which are there full time and stay open late on Sundays to get business from the market go-ers. A lot of them are vintage clothing shops, which are fun to look at but the shoes are SO tiny.

We walk into a store (not a market stall but an actual, in the wall, store) that was similar to American apparel in the sense that it just had SO many different colours in a small variety of styles of clothing. I buy a pink t-shirt and while I’m paying, the store employees ask us if they can get a picture of me holding the shopping bag and of course I say yes. One of them runs to the back, which I assume he is doing to get a camera, but no, he comes back with two purple slushy texture “shots”. We ask what’s in them and he tells us it’s vodka, blueberries and raspberries. We pose with the shots and the bag for a picture, and then drink the shots. He comes back out with the blender full of slushy drink, and pours us two more. We drink them quickly say thank you, and get out of the store before they try to get us totally hammered with a mystery purple drink. In hind sight we should NEVER have drunk it at all because I do not know these people… But a) it was a legitimate store not a random market stall, and b) they were like the cutest and friendliest Asian people, who were just REALLY happy that I bought a shirt.

We walk home (slightly buzzed from the slushy shots) and go to sleep.

Elephants, Long Necks, and Tigers

This is a post I wrote when I was on my first backpacking trip. I was young, naive, and didn’t understand the terrible consequences of participating in tours like these.
I struggled with wether to remove this or not, but to erase this post and pretend I never went would do no good. I had to learn from this mistake, but as I look back I am embarrassed and full of shame for being so blind to the treatment of these poor animals.

I in no way support animal tourism, and now do my best to be a “woke” traveller wherever I go in the world.

Old City – Chiang Mai

It’s 6:45am before our train pulls into the Chiang Mai station. This is a bad thing, because it means our 16 hour train ride has turned into an 18 hour train ride, but kinda a good thing because it means we are not going to be roaming around the city looking for a place to stay in the dark.

Train to Chiang Mai

We wake up at noon to a phone call from the front desk asking us if we will be checking out. Shit. We slept in WAY too late and now we’re not only late for check out, but late for our train to Chiang Mai!

Thai Halloween

I wake up to the sound of rain falling against the rusty rooftops just outside my window. It’s a beautiful sort of rain. The kind that comes crashing, refreshes the air, and then leaves. I fall back to sleep, but when I wake up the air is as hot, sticky, and humid as it had been yesterday. The rain gave a false sense of hope.

Ilona and I plan our day around figuring out how and when to go to north. We visit a travel office by our hotel and find two tickets for an over-night train to Chiang Mai. The trip is 14 hours long and we leave at 12:45 tomorrow, which has us scheduled for a 4:30am arrival. What we are going to do in Chiang Mai at 4:30am is a mystery to me, but we have our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook so hopefully it will offer some suggestions…

After booking our tickets we walk around the streets of Bangkok through markets and down busy streets with lots of shops and tailors. I buy some fresh watermelon from a portable cart on the sidewalk as a snack while we’re walking around. We find two costume masks for 100 baht ($3ish) and each get one because tonight is Halloween!

We go back to our hotel and get ready to go out to a celebration at a nearby bar. Obviously Halloween isn’t big in Thailand but we’re on Khaosan Road with a bunch of backpackers. There was bound to be something going on.
When we leave our hotel wearing our masks, we can’t help but notice that we are the only people in any form of costume. It’s still early though, so we continue onto the bar, being stopped a couple of times by people taking photos of us and our “costumes”. Even when we arrive at the bar our server asks if she can take a photo of us on her cell phone to print out and post in the restaurant, which I think is pretty adorable.

We run into the same guys we met last night and sit down to have a beer. We all leave the bar when we get hungry, and walk down a couple streets over to a pizza place. I am more than happy to agree to eat something as boring as pizza for dinner tonight, if my other options are anything like the fried crickets yesterday. The menu has many Asian-influenced pizzas with seafood toppings, and I consider ordering one of these because I am in Thailand after all, but can’t bring myself to do it. I am still too mentally scarred from the bad experience I had with seafood pizza in Hong Kong so many years ago (ie. got so sick I thought I had SARS). Instead, I order a Hawaiian pizza, which takes forever to get to the table, but exceeds expectations taste-wise. After dinner we go for a walk around the area where the Halloween festivities are now in full swing. Lots of people have gotten their faces painted, or are wearing masks but I don’t see a lot of full-on costumes. We pass countless massage places that have chairs set up outside on the sidewalk so you can people watch as you get a massage, so we do it. A half-hour massage in Thailand costs 150 baht (5 dollars), and it is SO relaxing that I think I might fall asleep. Ilona and I manage to stay awake, but the boys start to feel tired afterwards and go home.

The night is still young, so we sit down at another outdoor bar while huge crowds of people flow past us through the busy street. They have blocked the road from use for cars, (I’m not sure if this is just for the Halloween festivities or all the time) though the odd motorbike will crawl by, stuck behind groups of slow moving people. We meet two more guys, this time from Ireland, not Scotland, while we are sitting at our table. They have been to Thailand a few times before and have also lived in Australia, so they give us lots of suggestions for where to stay, where to go, and what to do. They invite us to come with them to a nightclub that is just a short tuk-tuk ride away. On the way there our driver is popping wheelies, at the request of one of the Irish boys. It’s slightly terrifying…but no one dies so it’s fine. We get to the club and it’s… well… it’s a club. Colourful lights, flashy bar, top 40 remixes, sweaty people, the usual. I’m not usually a club goer, but it’s fun all the same.

People here party until 6am on a regular night, and I don’t dare stay up long enough to find out if it’s longer on special occasions, so when Ilona and I get tired we leave the club and go back to our hotel. We have a train to catch to Chiang Mai tomorrow at 12:45, and my bag is still half unpacked and all over the room, so I need to get up early enough to pack everything back up. Living out of a backpack is not as easy as it looks! But I’m loving the challenge to keep myself more organized, and so far, I haven’t left anything behind!