A slow boat & our return to the land of smiles…

Sawadee-ka from Thailand (again!) Sorry for the lack of updates recently – poor WiFi + a very busy schedule has delayed this one! I don’t know how people do blogging as a job when travelling 😮

Soooo let’s start with the slow boat. After my horrible sickness we left our guesthouse in a tuk tuk to the pier (I’ll also mention here the itchy rash that I left with which I am convinced was from bed bugs munching on me – boke!) From the pier we boarded our first slow boat. Thankfully for us most people seem to do the journey from Thailand to Laos so we ended up pretty comfy with very few people on board. We were able to rearrange the furniture (old car/van seats!) so that we could lie down for the majority of the journey – score! The scenery was beautiful along the Mekong river – no surprise really as I’ve already mentioned a trillion times that Laos is beautiful!
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This leg of the journey took around 10 hours – I managed to start & finish my 15th book of this trip (and in the process have sickened myself of reading!) We arrived in Pak Beng which isn’t quite as nice as other places in Laos but we found a nice enough guesthouse (Phonemany Guesthouse for anyone ever making this trip) to get some sleep before the second day of the trip. Pak Beng is part of the Golden Triangle & is one of the world’s top drug production locations. We were offered drugs in a restaurant quicker than we were shown the food menu!!

It was an early wake up the next morning to get some breakfast & make our way back down to the pier. Unfortunately there were a lot of locals making the trip from Pak Beng to Huay Xai so this boat was much more crowded. Seeing some of the locals on board opened my eyes to how poor a lot of people in Laos are (it’s reportedly the poorest country in SE Asia!) Without going into too much depressing detail (as this has become a bit of a theme in my blog!!) there was a Laotian family on board that made me incredibly thankful to be in the position I am in. They were so filthy, the baby had no nappy on so was constantly soaked, they shared a small bit of sticky rice between the 4 of them and the mum just looked really thin & exhausted. Someone on board gave them a packet of Ritz crackers and the eldest girls face lit up like it was Christmas (she was only about 7/8). I was painting my nails to pass the time & noticed her looking back and forward at my nails and her own. I asked did she want hers done & with a massive smile she nodded. She copied everything I had done to dry the nail varnish – she blew on them for about 10 minutes, then stuck her hands out the boat window & then just sat looking at them for ages after. It took a lot for me not to cry while I was doing this! I gave them a packet of cookies when they were getting off & again the massive grins came. The eldest girl & her brother had the whole packet munched before everyone was off the boat! I left feeling very grateful for everything I have had & taken for granted throughout my life!

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It was on this leg of the journey that Jonny started to feel sick. We arrived at Huay Xai after around 9 hours on the boat & went to the first guesthouse at the pier (Phonesavitch I think it was called) I think Jonny only just made it to the bathroom!!! He wasn’t a very patient & I hope for both our sakes he doesn’t get sick again!

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The next morning we headed to the Laos side of the border to get stamped out – this was a much more pleasant experience than the one in Vietnam. Then it was onto a bus to cross the Laos-Thai Friendship bridge & we got stamped back into Thailand (again, a very smooth operation). We had been told by people along the way that we would only get 15 days in Thailand because we were travelling overland but were pleasantly surprised when our stamp showed we had 30 days! I later read that British passport holders along with a few other nationalities now get 30 days free in Thailand with air & land arrivals – good news for us! Three hours on a bus took us from the Thai border to Chiang Mai.

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WE’RE BACK IN THAILAND!!!
We really loved our time in Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos but we were so flippin’ excited to get back to Thailand. The first thing on our agenda was to go see Jurassic World in the cinema, second was to eat a 7 eleven cheese & ham toastie and third was to get a haircut (chlorine, sun damage & humidity had turned my hair into a complete mane!!) Jonny spied a Topshop on our way into Chiang Mai so a shopping spree was quickly added to that list.

Our first night in Chiang Mai was spent at Central Festival mall which is basically like a British high street – Topshop, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Zara etc. We didn’t have enough time to shop so we had some very non-thai food (KFC) & headed to the cinema. The only showing we were on time for was in the 4D screen. We didn’t really think about what this would involve & just booked it for convenience. I am SO glad we did – this was the best cinema experience of my life. Moving chairs, spurts of water, gusts of air, changes in temperature, 3D glasses…it was epic! Thailand certainly knows how to do cinema.

We went exploring in the old city of Chiang Mai the next day & when it all got a little too much we stopped off for an amazing massage (Green Bamboo) – I opted for an oil massage as the Thai massage in Koh Tao nearly broke me! I have to say I was a little scared when she pulled my pants down at the back & started massaging my bum cheeks. I was starting to think I’d brought us somewhere dodgy. Thankfully that’s where it ended – pheeeeew! Jonny’s Thai massage wasn’t quite as relaxing as mine. I would definitely recommend this place & it was really cheap – less than a tenner for two massages!

The main reason I wanted to visit Chiang Mai was for the elephants. I did SO much research into places that were ethical & of course the two we wanted to go with were booked up. I found a place called Toto’s which got really good Trip Advisor reviews so we went ahead and booked it. The next day we got picked up & after a very bumpy hour with two Scottish girls & a Kiwi girl in a tuk tuk we arrived at the camp. My first impression was not good 😦 the elephants were chained up by one foot – this seems to be common practice in most of the camps in Chiang Mai but I’m not too sure how I feel about it. The elephants definitely seemed to have a good relationship with their mahouts & we didn’t see any signs of cruelty (although the mahouts do carry bull hooks reportedly for their safety if the elephants were to turn on them…I hope this is true).

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Anyway, we got changed into our gorgeous mahout outfits on arrival. Our elephant was called Poussi & we started our interaction with him by feeding him bananas (while shouting “bon bon”). Then it was time to go for a ride. Until this point in my life I didn’t know that elephants were seriously hairy!! We took a stroll around the camp & then a pretty scary ride around the side of a mountain. I was TERRIFIED. The elephants are allowed to walk at their leisure & it seems their favourite thing to do is eat. Poussi loved nearly giving me heart failure by walking over to the side of the path (with an approximate 20ft drop at the highest point!!) to munch on some trees. Jonny’s inner mahout really surfaced here – his lack of initial enthusiasm had disappeared & he was loving life! He was shouting all these commands in elephant language..I’m not sure how much Poussi listened to him but he gave it a good go!

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When we got back to camp we had some lunch and then the best part of the day came. Bathing with the elephants! I got to hang out with the 6 year old elephant at this point. He got me onto his back & away we went to the water. He did not care that I was on his back as soon as we got in. I was thrown off & nearly had an elephant on top of me! Watching him roll about in the water was so cute even if I did nearly get stood on a few times. All the elephants loved the water which was really nice to see.

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It was time to get goodbye kisses from the elephants after this & then we went on a really long tuk tuk ride to some waterfall. All in all we had a good day..but my advice to anyone going to CM to see elephants is to do your research! And I probably wouldn’t recommend going with one that allows you to ride the elephants even though it was a lot of fun. Bathing with them is good enough! Elephant Nature Park was the place that we wanted to go to initially & it seems pretty ethical.

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We didn’t do too much else in CM other than a bit of shopping (thank you H&M for the bargains!), eating good food & visiting the night bazaar which actually had some nice stuff! We stated in a cool wee hostel in CM called Retro Lanna – the room was TINY but the bed was so comfy with the softest bed sheets (you really appreciate these things in Asia!), the decor was really quirky & the owner had the funniest laugh ever!

Oh & I also got my hair cut! I did a bit more research as I’ve read disaster stories about westerner’s getting haircuts in Asia. I found this amazing salon New York, New York Studio in a cool wee part of CM called Nimmin. They did a really good job! And all for around £10.

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We had a really good Indian meal when we were in Nimmin in a restaurant called Acchal – the butter chicken & garlic naan was the best I’ve ever had. There were two wee mice that kept running out under the table beside us – I might not have loved it so much if they were under our table!!

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Our next stop was Pai. 762 curves and 3 car accidents later we arrived safely…just about!
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We had booked into a hostel that got amazing reviews as being one of the coolest spots in Pai – Common Grounds Pai. It most definitely was not. The room was so smelly, grubby & generally hideous.  We just made sure we didn’t spend too much time in the room so it was fine.

Pai is a total chilled out hippy spot with good food, quirky coffee shops & cool bars! Jonny rented his first ever scooter as the roads in Pai are pretty quiet. That didn’t stop me from being scared to get on the back!! I left him to go explore & get used to driving.
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Later that afternoon I gave in & hopped on the back! We went to Coffee in Love which is a coffee shop with a really good view over Pai; and then to the WW2 Memorial Bridge which for some reason had random cyclo’s & scooters on it. I was clinging onto Jonny for dear life & anytime he went over 40kmph he got nipped 😂
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That night we went to a tiny wee bar called G’day Bar where a Thai man was playing some acoustic music on his guitar. We very quickly found out that he was the musician & the bar man so he had to stop playing to pour us a beer. After a quick chat about where we were from he excitedly got back to his guitar to play a song especially for us…Galway Girl haha!

We spent the next day exploring on the scooter again. Five minutes into our journey we got stopped by the police for “helmet and license checks”. Of course we hadn’t thought to bring Jonny’s driving license so we got an on the spot fine..thankfully it was only 200baht (around £4!) We went back & got Jonny’s license and on our drive back the police were gone! Bad timing for us!

Our first stop after that little run in was Pai Canyon which I didn’t see too much of because I was too scared to walk across the very narrow, very high path to get to the other side 🙈
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Then it was on to the Hot Springs, which if you are ever in Pai I wouldn’t recommend going to!! They have recently put their prices up for tourists & by Thai standards it’s a little expensive for what you actually get. They have a few springs starting at 32 degrees going all the way up to 80 degrees! There wasn’t many people about so it was quite a relaxing day.
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After this we took the back roads back to Pai & drove past loads of elephants (only in Thailand!) These elephants were chained up at the side of the road which made me quite sad 😦
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Our last stop of the day was Temple on the Hill. This is a giant Buddha sitting at the top of a hill (hence the name!) and has nice views over Pai.
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On our second night at Common Grounds we were woken around 4am by a couple having a full scale Jeremy Kyle domestic. There was a lot of shouting & the paper thin walls didn’t disguise it at all. On the off chance you’re reading this – I hope you feel you fit in a bit better in Pai & didn’t make the decision to go back to Australia and with regards to your Scottish boyfriend; dump him, he sounds like a twat.

On the third and final day with the scooter Jonny got stopped by the police again (he obviously has one of those faces!) This time it was a “drugs check” – thank goodness they didn’t do a full body search so he got away with the bag of opium stuffed up his bum. JOKES!! After this Jonny did a bit of exploring by himself – he visited a Chinese village where they have a fake Wall of China and then he climbed to a view point where he got free tea & a banana!! He said the view was unbelievable! He’s very proud of the photos he took on his adventure & has insisted they make it onto the blog…
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Later I rejoined Jonny & we took a drive to Strawberry Love @ Pai which is a place where strawberries are grown and everything is made of strawberries e.g. strawberry shakes, strawberry fried rice, strawberry cupcakes, strawberry brownies etc etc. It was quite a cool wee spot!
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Then it was back to the scooter rental shop and I breathed a sigh of relief as we survived our first scooter adventure – well done JC!

We moved accommodation on our final night in Pai to Pai Country Huts – they were basic bamboo huts with only a mattress on the floor and a bathroom which was basically outside but they were perfect! The grounds that they were in were gorgeous & the best feature was the hammock on the balcony!

We also got a visit from a little kitten – I’ve started to turn into a cat lady on this trip!! I opened the door of our hut after the kitten left & it literally bolted through our door! Jonny screamed like a girl really loudly (not for the first time..) and was a tad embarrassed when he realised it was the cat. We couldn’t get rid of it for ages!
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We spent our nights in Pai trying out a few of the cool bars. We spent a couple of nights at Edible Jazz with friends that we met while we were there. They had an open mic night on one night which was very entertaining due to Pai’s eclectic mix of people!! There’s a Thai guy called Mr Tik who thinks he’s the resurrected Bob Marley. He was hilarious to watch perform as he was deadly serious about his performance. We also went back to G’day bar where Jonny & our two friends Jordan and Mark did a little bit of open mic 😂 fair play to them for getting up there but I don’t think they’ll be getting a record deal anytime soon haha!!!
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We ate some really epic food in Pai with the majority of it being non-thai somehow! The best of the best was the sweet chilli chicken burger & homemade chips from Burger Queen 😍 A close second was the smothered burrito from Cafecito and the gluten free brownie was unreal!! I also loved a quirky wee restaurant called Pai Siam Bistro which did a delish lasagne! We also sampled a lot of the street food at the night market – it was great! The corn on the cob with a big knob of butter was my favourite 😍
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We left Pai after 4 nights & the bus back around the 762 curves to Chiang Mai was horrendous 😷 the beers the night before probably didn’t help matters but you know it’s bad when you need to take a motion sickness tablet! Again, we arrived safely at our destination. We spent one more night in CM in the strangest guesthouse ever – Funki Nimmin (which I feel the need to say to the tune of funkypigeon.com) Our room which was called ‘Area 21’ had two mattresses on the floor, glow in the dark stars on the ceiling, starry bed covers & tape stuck in random places – I felt like I was staying in a 6 year old boys room 😂  the owner told us we were the first guests to stay in this room as he only opened two weeks ago. I hope the rest of Area 21’s guests enjoy the decor as much as we did!

We flew to Bangkok the next day on a super cheap flight with Thai Lion Air (£21!!) which definitely beat getting an overnight train! We had two days to kill in Bangkok before heading back to Koh Tao. The majority of that time was spent in shopping centres – if you’re ever in Bangkok make sure to visit Terminal 21 shopping centre. It’s themed like an airport & each floor has a different country theme – it was very cool! And we found the Thai equivalent of Wagamama’s here – the katsu I’ve been craving for months was finally eaten!!

So that was our time in Chiang Mai & Pai- two really nice places that you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Thailand! We definitely could have stayed longer in Pai but my feet were itching too much to get back to the beach & my favourite island ❤

We’re having a lovely time in Koh Tao. I promise not to leave it so long before my next update..I’m sure you can’t wait to hear all about the excitement of me becoming an OPEN WATER SCUBA DIVER!!! Can you tell I’m still in shock to be able to say this?! 😂

Happy bank holiday weekend to everyone at home! I hope it’s a peaceful one ✌

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7 thoughts on “A slow boat & our return to the land of smiles…

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