Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, Pai & Grand Theft Auto

I was humming and harring about where to go to after spending about 2 1/2 weeks in Chiang Mai, I’d like to be more accurate but there were some very boozy nights (shame on you Chang beer), and I can’t.  Anyway, Karen was off home to New Zealand with her brand new sparkling white smile – dentistry is very good and very cheap at the Grace Clinic (not the cheapest in Chiang Mai but it is in comparison to EVERYWHERE else – check out reviews on Trip Advisor).  So I googled it, as I do everything, and decided to do the Mae Hong Son loop.  Now I’ve read in various place how bad the local buses are compared to the touristy air conditioned ones – this is actually correct.  But it does depend on what your scale of enjoyment is.  I love the local buses, because you rattle along with the locals, and monks in the back seat, and get a fantastic view of the scenery going past at approx 25km per hour – sometimes less, less often, more. We actually booked an air conditioned bus – it’s just that they have a rather loose interpretation of air conditioned.  The windows are open, there are rotating fans every few seats that may or may not work, and the back and front doors are left open.  There was no lack of breeze, but make sure you stow your stuff carefully because as you jerk around corners and through gears, if it rolls or slides out the door, it’s pretty much tough shit.  Cost from Chiang Mai 170 Baht each.  We arrived at Mae Sariang – there was quite a rush, apparently we were the 2nd and 3rd tourist to arrive, that day.  There wasn’t a rush – in Mae Sariang there never is – I don’t know if they even have a word for it.  We found a really nice riverside room for 500 Baht per night, TV, En suite, Air Con (the proper kind with a machine that blows cold air and stuff), a fridge and, OMG, a soft bed (The Good View Guesthouse – 3 minute walk from bus terminal, most of them are, just head for the river).  We rented bicycles, we were going to rent scooters but that just seemed a little fast paced, and who would want to miss cycling up Mt Everest in the hot sun to see a temple?  That would be me.  Hills don’t look as bad as they really are until you start to walk or cycle up them, I ended up doing both.  And then I just stopped, and sweated, and puffed, and I ask you, what better time for a photo shoot from James?  A scooter with two local lads passed me three times, laughing, I was starting to get suspicious, but all my remaining energy was being spent on staying alive.  We stayed for two nights just because it was so lovely and chilled, and being off demon Chang beer drink we were teetotal.  No, just kidding, of course we weren’t, we drank the local whiskey, Hong Thong instead.  At home. In a quiet, non drunken way.  Then on to Mae Hong Son, another rattling, slow “air con” bus for five hours through the spectacular Northern Thailand scenery – 105 Baht each.  We arrived at the bus terminal which is about 1 km out of town, took a Tuk Tuk (the only one we saw in 3 days there) to the Friend Guesthouse, set just back from the lake (it’s called a lake, it’s not, it’s a large pond).  Large room with En Suite and fan 300 Baht a night – but as in all places we’ve been, there’s a huge choice of accommodation – we tend to just stay if we’re happy with first place we come to.   Because we can trash a room in about ten minutes, and it’s less hassle not to move.  This is a slow town, great for learning or practicing scooter riding if you’re not very confident, me, I’ve done rush hour in Chiang Mai round the city and I’m good to go (couple of funny stories there, but we’ll it leave at: both Karen and I are alive and unscathed). Mae Hong Son is a little cooler than Chiang Mai but still scorching in the sun during the day.  Day 1 we hired scooters, cheap as chips and by far the best way to get and about to explore.  We headed out to a National Park (100 Baht to get in) to see the cave fish pond – a spring comes out from rocks to form a natural pool which is full of some type of carp. They are considered sacred so no-one fishes there – a really pleasant spot and fun feeding the fish.  The pool empties into a small deep creek, the water’s cool, clean and clear, so I whipped my gear off and jumped in – as you do.  On the main road out there is a coffee shop, James had a Cappuccino slushy and I had an iced Cappuccino – heavenly on a hot day – go there.  Day 2 we (I) thought we’d go exploring to find a reservoir I’d found on Google – as always, it looked very straight forward on the map. Then we found the correct place on the map.  Then we found three conflicting sets of directions on how to get there, so fully armed with misinformation we set off (on a scooter each – so much better up hills).  Beautiful countryside, lots of small villages, quite a few wrong turns and then we found sheep. Seriously, we looked at each other in wonderment, got off the bikes and just stood and watched the sheep, and listened to them baa, and took photos.  In New Zealand I never look at sheep, I don’t even notice sheep,I never listen to them and I certainly would not be wasting any battery power taking photos, why would you, they are everywhere.  So go figure.  Back on the correct road we arrived at a small village with the reservoir behind it – absolutely blissfull, quiet, clean and picturesque – and a fantastic day out seeing the countryside and villages.  We were starving and found the one and only roadside food place, their English was as good as our Thai so neither of us could understand a word the other was saying.  We heard “flied lice” and nodded eagerly.  Sure enough, chicken fried rice it was!  Day 3 was spent in and around the city, we saw a large army presence on one of the main streets, a typical market, then realised, to our horror, that we hadn’t been to any temples.  I know.  What were we thinking.  Clearly, it was temple time.  It’s easy to spot Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (easier in fact, than trying to say it) because it’s on a hill, at the top of a zig zag path & stairs.  We went searching for the road – there wasn’t one – so we parked at the bottom and made the climb in the searing midday heat – always, without a doubt the best time to climb huge hills.  On the second to last set of steps we found, you guessed it, The Road.  Shit.  Great view from the top and some lovey Shan architecture.  Next we were off to Pai, another local bus, another 5 hours, more spectacular scenery.  Pai is a delightful, small town teeming with tourists & ex Pats (the Americans are always the loudest, the most hippy looking and the most opinionated – in my limited experience).  First day there we hired a scooter (we are now in complete denial of the fact that our travel insurance does not cover us for any scootering accidents) but found it had a completely bald tyre so took it back to get it fixed – we were told to return the next morning.  We returned the next morning & it was chaos.  A nice gentleman took our scooter away to get the tyre changed, but after waiting some time I asked when it would be ready, he said “too busy”, just take that one.  What wonderful service, great fat tyres and a full tank of gas – we were off.  Well we thrashed that little scooter, took it dirt bike riding into the back of beyond, nearly killed it up an unending hill which just kept getting steeper (we’d missed the waterfall about 10km back) and all in all were very impressed by this little bike.  We returned to the hire place because James had left his cap on the other one and were bemused to be greeted by everyone waving & laughing and generally quite a festive atmosphere.  One of the young workers came out and started examining the scooter whilst saying “buy bike, buy bike”.  I said, “yeah mate, you really should, it’s an awesome little bike” and then it dawned on us he was actually saying “my bike, my bike”.  We’d stolen his bike.  I told the owner that we were terribly sorry but the older gent who was here told us to take it, “Oh” she said, waving her arms around, “that old drunk whiskey man and he not work here”.  Oops.  After an in depth examination of the scooter he pointed at a scratch and asked if we’d had an accident.  Well, we may have been responsible for bottoming out several times on ruts, destroying the suspension and possibly nearly cooking the engine, but we were not responsible for the scratch!  We gave him 50 Baht for the petrol we’d used, which he refused at first, then we trotted off to feel guilty.  We felt guilty enough to go back and give him 500 Baht more – even though it wasn’t our fault.  But in reality it’s $20 to us and probably at least a week or two wages for him.  As we walked away we got a phone call – WTF?  Nobody calls us because we don’t know anybody, but it turns out our Irish mate Win (who we’d met in Chiang Mai) had spotted us going past so we met her, at a pub, of course, Irish & Kiwis, hellooooo!  That was an unexpected pleasure, and after a catch up we decided to meet the next day for some more scootering, legally, on the one we had actually hired.  We got a scooter (for 100 Baht each), decided against helmets, and zapped around the corner back to our room where James & I managed to park in an orderly fashion.  Win on the other hand, thought she would test the integrity of the brick wall to the side – the brick wall won, as brick walls versus scooter and rider tend to do.  Scraped and shaken she declared she was fine so we set off again.  James & I took off at a leisurely controlled pace.  Win on the other hand, gunned the accelerator and screamed off down the street with smoking tyres and skid marks.  Very shortly after this we reconsidered our previous stance on helmets and went and got some.  Happily that was mostly the end of  Win channelling her inner Evil Knievel and she did not kill or further maim herself for the rest of the day.  In fact, pretty competent after a whole day’s scootering – well done Win XXX.  We also found another great bar (go on, pretend to be shocked) which had an amatuer fire dancing night, well as you can imagine that turned out to be quite funny and scary at the same time.  As Win was sitting closer to them than me, I was at the ready with my whiskey just in case I needed to douse her in a hurry – there were quite a few mishaps with burning pieces of wood – but our favourite was when one of them caught his hair on fire – in a lovely fluid movement he put it out with his hand but really started to panic when the large fabric sign hanging over the bamboo wall started to go up.  What it wrong to laugh so loudly?  I think not.  Our least favourite was the girl with fire things stuck to her wrist who then just danced around with fire things stuck to her wrist – the only talent involved was not igniting her hair – although as Win did mention “I’d ah paid to see thut”, so would’ve I.  Perhaps a pole next time?  After overstaying at all of our destinations we ran ourselves short of time for Chiang Rai so decided just to spend last few days in Chiang Mai.  Again we took the local bus – it was an hour late, quite packed, and on the way it rained – inside the bus as well as out.  I got drenched, but to make the journey better, we met some lovely people and they got drenched too.


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Chiang Mai, Lady boys, Kick boxing and the loss of a loyal friend, Thailand military.

It has been a sad few days in Chiang Mai. The city itself however is beautiful and clean and the people are very friendly.  Hiring raleigh 20 style bicycles to see the town before upgrading to scooters.  Once again we have met some more awesome travellers while here and once again we have been enjoying late nights and their company.  But alas, there has been an empty void in our Chiang Mai ventures – after day three being here our loyal travel companion Haka has gone missing.  I’m not sure if he has been stolen, or just misplaced, or left behind somewhere.  But there is strong speculation that he may have been Kiwinapped (by some loud youngish lads that were two doors from us) while sitting on a table in front of our room one night during ‘a couple of quiet ones’.  We have turned our room  upside down and inside out to see if he was recovering from a hangover in our clothing,  looked for him around our accommodation guesthouse in case he was doing base jumping the night before.  Nothing.  And now, every time we are about to take a ‘Kiwi moment’ photo we go to get him from his little home in our backpack only to find an empty hole where he used to live. We miss having his long beak and cute brown eyes sticking out of his little home exploring the world with us.  We miss his photo bombs and having people come and pat him.  We miss the way he breaks the ice with conversations . So where ever you are Haka we hope you are safe and sound and bringing happiness to your new family if we have misplaced you . But if you have been Kiwinapped by the lads that stayed two doors from us then I hope you bite their nuts off.  Pricks.20140513_123705 The good news is that his lil brother is going to meet us in Bali from New Zealand with Sara’s daughters, Denella and Jamie as well as a good friend Jo!  Looking forward to that!  Now then, Chiang Mai.  What a lovely place and like every town and city, the history is amazeballs!  If you have the time look it up on wiki.  Better still, come and visit it for yourself.  Plenty of temples to visit as well as old ruins, including the old wall surrounding the old part of the city.  During the day the city is alive with street stalls, bars, trade shops and 7/11s with the harmonious sound of the traffic going full tick in the background.  At night the clubs open up adding ‘fuel to the fire’.  Depending on which street you go down (off Kotchasan Road, turn into Loi Kroh Rd and follow the party lights) you will come across lady boys, go go girls, neon signs and open bars galore with just about every one of them having a pool table, and all competing with each other’s music and volume.   Then we found an alleyway just full of mini bars all with more ladies (and men) enticing anyone walking past to come into their bar.  There was even a dwarf man enticing Sara and I.  He was very cute.  At the end was a Thai boxing ring with bars surrounding it.20140517_232821 So after a while Sara and I sat down to watch the Thai boxing!  Ever watched the American wrestling?  Silly question.  Well that was what the Thai boxing was like, but with the same four people competing.  After the match the fighters went around the crowed with a donation box to collect there…ah….winnings?  So by the 3rd fight we got out of there and went to another bar where we met a very cool Kiwi guy Nick with his wife!  It’s safe to say we had a good night.  They took us to another bar where the boss is a famous lady boy who was even in a small part on Gordon Ramsey TV show when he was here.  The following day was spent on our scooters looking 20140518_025930(while recovering from last night) for the Rock Quarry which we got told about by a young Moldovan lady we met on the night train on our way to Chiang Mai.  Cheers Anna, what a great tip!  Finally reaching the quarry (now full of water, hence why we went there and more tourists and locals) while baking in the hot MORNING sun Sara, Karen and I couldn’t wait to jump in.  You had a choice of walking around to the ramp or jumping in from a 5 meter cliff edge, or a 10 meter cliff edge.20140517_152818 The girls walked to the ramp. I jumped in the 5 meter point and survived only to be rescued by Sara after swimming three quarters of the way  towards her because I can’t float dammit (see previous Koh Tao blog) thank you my honey!  xxx!  So after splashing about a bit on the safe side and chatting to other travellers, we were entertained by the sound of thunder and lightning in the far distance. (Mental note:  Never assume mother nature does ANYTHING from a distance:  End of Mental note). Cue the massive LIGHTNING BOLT which lit the sky up and shot down bloody near us immediately followed by the loud cracking sound of thunder!  Well that was it for all of us.  We were all out of the water and scurrying to our scooters and cars and off like…lightning!  Seriously, we were out of there man, a quick goodbye to, and from, everyone and puff, gone.  This led us to another night of drinking at our accommodation place with Duncan from Ireland. Sunday was the night 20140518_204409market with Duncan, Jenna and Rhiannon (who we met at the accommodation lodge were at) Sara, Karen and myself of course.  You’re not going to guess where the girls are from….Auckland, New Zealand! The night market was very cool but we ended up at another local and spending the night laughing and having fun. However, the following morning was our (Me, Sara and Karen) tourism attraction day (with Mr. Jungle Trek Tours) involving getting up at 8am and going to do elephant rides and waterfall walk and riverbamboo rafting.  Sara was still a little intoxicated as I think we all were but it was the best day with a great host called Jackie Chan.  Wednesday was the night walking market with the kiwi girls and us. The girls were very happy looking around the stalls and sizing things up, I was happy following them around.  Eventually we came across some lady boys in cabaret outfits advertising their show for that night. Hell yeah we thought!  So after a quick beer we were off around the corner to see the show.20140521_214031 Now it’s quite funny really because we were in Bangkok looking everywhere for lady boy shows with Karen, only to get the run around (literally) by our tuk tuk driver who tuk tuk us to a ping pong and sex show instead (read previous blog) where we ended up being disapointed and paying heavily for it.  And all we had to do is come to Chiang Mai,  go to the night walk market before 9.30pm and see the best lady boy show ever, where they put on a great performance and interacted with the crowd!  The bonus was on that particular night we went, the show was free entry!  And now for the downer side ( aside from Haka being Kiwinapped. Pricks!) Over the last few days the Thai military have taken over the whole of Thailand in a ‘Coup’ and have put a curfew in place meaning no one is to be out from 10pm to 5am until further notice.  So we have been laying low and catching up on things as you do.  But that’s all good and tomorrow will be a bright new day!  So until the next blog which will be tomorrow. Cheers for reading! 20140523_151319 20140521_12183120140517_18210620140521_16022820140523_14420420120101_070047

Island Hopping and scooter runs.

20140422_174725Ko Pha Ngan, here we come! Had a great time on Koh Tao and now it was time to Island hop for a new adventure. After shuffling with the crowd and basically being almost the last lot of people to finally get on, we had no choice but to stay above deck in the hot sun for an hour and 20 minutes as inside seating was already taken and the first class tickets were too expensive. But that was ok as we had a few others with us above deck to keep us company, not that anyone really spoke to each other.So Sara and I hung our feet over the edge on the boat and watched the world go by while getting a tan on. Arriving at Ko Pha Ngan dock we soon realized that being outside was to be in our favor as we were the first ones off and enjoyed watching the rat race continue on the boat as we got our bags. NOTE: When Island hopping in Thailand, make sure you don’t have anything in your backpack that can be broken as the staff offloading the luggage just throw it off the boat….literally. (Take that all you line jumpers haha!). No sooner had we walked 20 metres than we were greeted with people offering accommodation and transportation to anywhere. Sara wasn’t sure about our booking the night before, so we decided to catch a taxi to a place after we were tempted by a lad offering accommodation near where we were booked (or so we thought).  We asked how much the taxi was – 100Baht each. I thought sweet, lead us to our car! Heading towards a very nice looking four wheel drive, i thought ‘what a beast’! As it took off before we got there I thought ‘What the f#$k?’ On the other side of where the 4×4 was were two little scooters. Yep our taxi ended up being a scooter (one each, including luggage). Now you have to picture this, a little 75cc scooter with the taxi rider in the front weighing about 89kg, me at the back weighing about 96kg with a near 20 kilo backpack wedged between the driver and the handlebars, was going to make for an interesting ride on this scooter that you could now not see, as well as a few sideways glances from people. Then I turned and looked at Sara where we both gave each other that ‘Is this for real!’ look, more commonly known as ‘What the!’ look But no, this is pretty much the norm. And it was the fastest way to get to our potentially booked accommodation. The problem is, when we got there we were at the wrong place (lost in translation). The name of the hotel they thought we said led them to a hotel that sounded similar to the one we were suppose to go to which was now 5 kilometers in the opposite direction. We paused in thought for a minute before Sara said to the taxi riders to take us to the Hotel that this nice gentleman offered us at the dock. 100 meters later we were there (hmmmm) but that’s ok as it was right next to a school that had a soccer field which made me very happy, especially when I found out there were locals playing there every evening! Game on! The hotel was real good as well, with two swimming pools, three pool tables, a restaurant, Soccer on TV every evening, and a beach bar. Our room was very cool as well, as it came with it’s own Gecko (large, 40 cm) in the bathroom during the morning and giant flying cockroaches in the evening with the odd giant beetle perched on our front door at night, but no sounds of barking dogs next door going off at all hours of the night with the odd cat fight thrown in every now and then (our experience from our last accommodation in Koh Tao). After settling in and getting our bearings with an actual map we could understand, and after having a swim and meeting two Muay Thai kick boxers (male and female from the west), it was time to hire a scooter of our own and go venturing! Scooter arrived 10 minutes after we asked for it, got a brief on the ins and outs of it and we were off to look for a food stall. We were naturally not disappointed! Found a nice food stall just out of town with the most awesome green Thai curry (hot hot) then went tiki touring around the streets and eventually ran into a food stalls street banquet! We tried as much as we dared (weight loss program thrown out the window that day) until my honey felt a bit funny in the tummy so we went home where I went to play soccer. Sadly Sara could not come due to situations of epic proportions. Thankfully we remembered the pills her doctor gave her before we left for SAE. They are miracle pills, because moments after she took them, after suffering two hours of dread (the fast and the furious), everything stopped and she was back to her normal Sara self! They are called Diamide Relief pills and I recommend them for any traveler coming to SAE. It’s a ‘must have’ in the first aid kit. Come the next day and Sara was much better! So, a swim and a shower before scooting off for breakfast and a bit of sight seeing. Breakfast was great, naturally, and after a bit of organizing we were off to see a part of the island. The ride was a blessing as it helped cool us down with the breeze, but then we started going from a flat run to a hilly run, not just small hills, but long steep hills that our poor scooter could hardly get up without the engine going full tick. It came to the point that our poor scooter was struggling that much that Sara had to get off half way up one hill so we could get the scooter up the top. This included taking a big run up before we took on the hill. (Video of this is on my Facebook Page). ‘Right’ I said, ‘we’re upgrading to a bigger scooter’.  Sara nodded in approval.

Before we did that, I gave Sara her first scooter lesson in which she did well, minus a wobble moment down the hotel’s drive due to a big 4×4 coming in the opposite direction. After that, we proceeded to go to the bike shop to upgrade, and it was bloody worth it!  Much bigger, more room, bigger engine. Bliss. Night was falling so it was time for another game of soccer (won 3 – 1), shower, swim, shower, said ‘see ya later’ to our big beetle friend on our door, then it was off on new bike for dinner and evening sight seeing. The night markets and food stalls are amazing. Then it was another lesson on new scooter for Sara before we parked up for the night to watch ‘Deadwood’. Nek morning was more venturing around as much of the Island as possible. and with new scooter, it was not a problem! Zip zapping up and down bigger hills, racing past other westerners and laughing at their weak and struggling scooters, we were having a great time! The whole day was committed to snorkeling, but each beach we went to was not very good due to the tide being out as well as having no good footwear to walk out over the sharp rocks while trying to avoid all the sea slugs and sea urchins. So we carried on with our scooter venture and saw the Island surroundings which was outstanding.  We spent four nights in Ko Pha Ngan before deciding to head back to Koh Tau for better snorkeling and to sort out our visa run (Crossing the border to extend our stay in Thailand) which involves going back to Penang Georgetown where we were two weeks ago, then heading up to Bangkok for three weeks. To be continued…..