Oh Chiang Mai Goodness

A 26 hour Tuk-Tuk, boat, bus, train and van ride was all that separated Koh Tao from Thailands second city Chiang Mai. We headed north to see off the drinking as our livers were becoming as weak Monty Burns after a workout. Instead we saw off our drinks and found ourselves entering a smart Thai Nightclub in nothing more than a t-shirt, shorts and (as a result of full moon party anticts) odd pairs of flip-flops.Although initially unsure about our presence in the seemingly Thai only nightclub, the locals soon changed attitude and they were shooting glasses of Johnny Walker and frolicking with us like old friends. For me this was one of the first times I'd interacted with Thai people without them asking 'Where you go?' and trying to shove me into whatever vehicle they have at their disposal. Turns out these unexpectedly shy, reserved people are pretty kind and giving on their own turf - could have been the drink of course.The next day we felt compelled to find adventure, to find danger, to prove ourselves men. So we entered the jungle and into a kingdom of Tigers; whom we wrestled until they tapped out or were knocked out. In victory we ripped off our shirts, smeared ourselves with our own blood and sacrificed a lamb.Okay, I might have exaggerated some of that. Firstly, we were in a controlled environment with tiger trainers. Secondly, there wasn't technically any wrestling - just some casual stroking and belly rubbing. Thirdly, all that stuff about ripped shirts, blood, lambs etc. may have just been put in for effect (and the tigers were unfortunately quite sedated). But I stand by my statement about the tigers, there were definitely tigers there.After some Muay Thai training and ditching a rather Strange Girl that had tagged onto our (now somewhat smaller) group, we made like Lancastrians and headed for Pai.Pai is a small town near Chiang Mai, from where we were about to embark on a trek. The first day of which we rode elephants, swam by a small waterfall and hiked for three hours up and down mountains as sharp as teeth to a small hill tribe village. In truth, this first village was exciting, but felt quite falsified and over-visited as there was another tour group staying at the same time as us. Nevertheless, we made a fire, ate locally sourced food and ended the evening like Reeves and Mortimer and searched the sky for Shooting Stars.However, the next day this somewhat standard trek was to alter into a once in a lifetime journey.We had been getting on well with our tourguide Terry, a man who at 23 still lives in the hills and had not seen his first village until he was 17. Midway through our six hour trek, Terry decided that we could stay with his family in his village. Later we'd find out we were only the second group to visit his village and the previous group were there three years before.The hike was at times gruelling, but the destination (to quote Woolworths) was 'well worth it'. Once we arrived, we challenged the locals to a game of volleyball and spent the evening washing in rivers, killing chickens and integrating with village folk young and old over some home-made and seemingly lethal bamboo cups of rice whisky.Terry then suggested that he and his family spend another night with us treking further into the hills to hunt, make fire and sleep under the stars. Now on reflection, this may sound like the opening to a horror film as some lonely travellers get led by men with guns into an unknown forest, miles from anywhere. But as is evident from this rather lengthy blog and not simply two words stating 'help me' this was safe as wooden houses.The hunting wasn't that sucessful as the hill tribesmen left us westerners behind after a while to do it properly - they didn't catch anything. In the meantime I took a leaf out of their book and shot a tree (pun-cough). After drinking more rum than a pirate before an AA meeting, we slept fireside under stars and trees. We studied our surrounding and could do nothing but smile at each other; were quite content - again it could have been the drink of course.Down the hills, through a hilltop temple and a jump off a 10 meter high waterfall later, we drove and bamboo rafted back to Chiang Mai to see some familiar full moon faces (if any of them read this, I apologise your faces do not look moon shaped).After a couple of days I headed my own way off to Chiang Rai and my cheapest room to date at a mere 90 Baht room. Sure the lights didn't work and mosquitoes chewed me up like hubba-bubba, but at the equivalent of two pounds I couldn't really complain. Chiang Rai is further off the beaten track and so still witholds Thailands hippy past. I spent the evening sitting in a circle at Teepee Bar and singing Nirvana accompanied by a guitarist and Jools Holland's harmonicist.Heading towards Laos I stopped off for the night in Chiang Khong. A peaceful town, I made like Peter Andre and rode a bike about town. Later, peacefully listening to Belle and Sebastien, a man dressed in loose kharkis and a round flat cricket hat casually strolled up to me as I sat, book in hand, overlooking the Mekong river. He stalled, then through a strong American accent proclaimed with a knowing smile "hey, you're too relaxed man. Too relaxed."I smiled as he left. He was right. My bowls hadn't leaked, nor had I melted under the beaming sun down into the Mekong. By that merit he was quite wrong; I wasn't too relaxed. But despite the heat of the sun I was certainly chilled, very chilled.

S Fry

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