After a short stop at immigration to be stamped out of Laos a five minute river crossing puts you on the Thai side of the river and after a five minute encounter I have my visa and a motor bike takes me to the hotel where I will be picked up in an air conditioned 12 seater mini van and taken to Chiang Mai as part of the ticket arranged by Tripthala Travel.
I must just mention one draw back to this method of entry to Thailand, a visitors visa into Thailand is valid for 30 days if you arrive by Air, however, if you enter overland (or by boat) the visa is only valid for 15 days.
The Mini Bus left the border town of Chiang Khong (Thailand) at 10.30 am and made one stop for lunch between 1.30 pm & 2 pm and arrived in Chiang Mai at 4 pm and sets down in the old town which is pretty central to most backpackers hostels and Budget Hotels.
I paid 100 Baht in a Tuk Tuk to my chosen place of stay"Spicythai" Backpackers Hostel via Hostelbookers.com at the princely sum of $5 per night in a 10 bed mixed dorm and when I checked in it was full of 20-30 somethings. Being hungry I went out for a walk to familiarise myself with the area where I found a local temple and a Tesco - Yes ,Tesco Really
I wish someone would tell the weather the rainy season has ended because the heavens opened I got soaked but ended up eating a very tasty Pad Thai by the side of the road under a shop awning with a bunch of locals for the amazing price of 25 Baht (50p)
The next day I spent just wandering around Chiang Mai taking in the sights and looking for a replacement laptop which did not turn out successful, but I was the proud owner of a new pair of flip flops. When I arrived back at the Hostel, apparently, the activity arranged by the hostel for that evening had not taken place due to lack of numbers and there were about a dozen people sitting around the table in the common room just chatting and I was invited to join them and after a while, as no one was going out, a drinking game was suggested and two hours later a little worse for wear and in my new flip flop casuals I was bundled into a mini van with others and driven to Zoes in Zoe Square (make a note anyone visiting Chiang Mai) this is a square of bars and music which is very good and I am pleased to say we all stayed together and had a very good time however the nightclub we progressed to called Spicy is not for the fainthearted and whilst a good club with reasonable priced drinks and a dance floor I am not too sure about the gender of the majority of people there oh and did I mention my new casuals broke and I ended up going home in a Tuk Tuk barefoot but happy.
The moral is how a day where everything seems to go wrong can still end up very enjoyable.
Now I know I am old enough to know better than to stay out until 4.30 am when you have something planned for the next day, but did I mention that the day before I had arranged a tour that meant I had to be up at 7.30 am for an 8 am pick up.
I was dragged out of bed by some of my new found friends the next morning, and half asleep, packing necessary items required for the day into my day bag as I went, sporting one of the most throbbing heads ever, I clambered aboard the tuk tuk and greeted my fellow travellers with a grunt.
The first stop was at a Butterfly and Orchid farm which I believe is very romantic but I didn't leave the Tuk Tuk drinking a couple of bottles of water and a Glucose drink supplied by a kind American Lady on the tour who thought I could do with it.
The next stop found us climbing aboard a Bamboo Raft for a leisurely float down the river which with the sun coming up was just what the doctor ordered and this I enjoyed so much I even took a turn on the bamboo pole pushing us downstream.
Feeling better after an hour on the raft we got back into the transport and were driven to an Elephant Training Camp we passed on the river, where we enjoyed a lunch of rice and Thai food with a drink all included in the price while watching the elephants being groomed.
After lunch we all paired off for a ride on an Elephant and I was with Emili the nice American Lady with the glucose drink after a walk along the field and in the river one of us was invited to sit up front on Mr Jumbos head and as she gave me the glucose I let her drive - Great fun.
Ok, The day still isn't over so we are back in the transporter and off to the middle of no-wheresville half way up a mountain and it's everybody out and off for a trek.
Now everybody consisted of, myself and Emili, a newly married couple from New Zealand, an Italian and his girlfriend (no English but still joined in) and a couple from USA and at the end of the trek we found ourselves at the base of a waterfall where we all enjoyed a well earned swim for half an hour.
To finish the day we were driven to a village inhabited by the Karen Tribe who are known as the long neck tribe as the woman elongate their necks by means of rings that are added over years to stretch them. I have to confess gawping at people up close and personal is not for me so while half went to have a look I enjoyed a cold bottle of Sangha Beer with three of the group in a very nice setting.
The minibus set me back down where I was collected at the hostel at 5.30 pm and the cost for this full on day was 1000 Baht (20-00 UK)
That evening four of us from the day trip met up in a restaurant called "Spirit House" which I cannot recommend enough - the decor is unique and the host is very friendly and when it comes to the food he comes and sits with you explaining how he cooks the food and what is in it and won't let you order too much in case you waste money not eating it all - the food was delicious and I urge you to try if you are in Chiang Mai.
The next day saw me on the road again this time picked up from the hostel in a 12 seater mini van to Pai a small town to the North West a five hour drive which can be achieved at a cost of 200 Baht (4-00 UK).
The drive north is through winding mountain roads very scenic and again enjoyable - set down in the town centre I shared a Tuk Tuk with an Aussie Couple and it cost 150 Baht (3-00 UK) in total
I had decided to stay at the sister hostel to SpicyThai called SpicyPai which is again dorms but in open plan stilt houses that are an experience and again at only 250 Baht (5-00 UK) a night.
The reason to go to Pai may be to do a course (cooking or massage) but predominantly it is for the scenery and to relax - I and the couple from the Tuk Tuk (Darcy and Samantha) hired motor bikes from a girl in town called Fern who delivers them to you and charges you 140 Baht (under 3-00 UK) a day oh and 100 baht fills the tank and lasts about a day depending on how you ride.
There are waterfalls to visit where you can swim in the pools at the base free of charge There are caves to visit which is a two hour ride where you are transported into the caves on bamboo rafts and then given a walking guided tour this costs about 300 baht going up to 400 baht if you do all three caves but good fun if you have 2 hours to do all three caves - we only did the one as we wanted to ride part of The Mae Hong Son Loop which covers 600 km and needs a few days we managed some of it until the heavens opened up again and soaked us all while we limped home.
In the evening I can recommend "Yellow Sun" bar that has a free pool table where winner stays on rules apply and a good place to meet and make friends - the music is reggae as I think the owner is Jamaican after the bar closes (late) head down the street to The Bamboo House" Fern (she of the motorbike hire) works there and free shots on entry and if she likes you a free shot every time you buy a drink.
I wish I could give the next guy a bigger plug but I can't, anyway two doors away from Yellow Sun is a bar not much to look at but run by a big, friendly, White South African called Marius and during one of the nights we had a couple of drinks in his bar and had a good time - well on my last night in Pai and not having been drinking in his bar I was doing my best (which wasn't so good) to get back to my hostel at 3am when I hear "Hello Mr John how are you" The next minute Marius who is on the back of a motorbike being driven by his Thai wife who is three months pregnant, is placing me on the bike behind his wife who takes me to my hostel before returning to pick up her husband and take him home.
I have met some really good people on this trip but that takes the biscuit so far - Thank you Marius.
The last day the bus was picking up at 2pm so as I had the bike for the morning (when you hire it is for 24 hours so if you get bike at 2 pm it goes to 2 pm next day) and one of the guys and I drove out to a place called the crack in the land and when you see it you see why - you feel as if you are standing on a ridge and the land on either side has just fallen away as if in an earthquake - awesome.
The return trip by minibus to Chiang Mai was quicker and was cheaper by 50 baht at only 150 baht when I asked I was told more downhill - less petrol ??? You go figure.
Back in Chiang Mai I stayed at the same hostel and that night I went to The Northern Gate Jazz Club which meets only on a Tuesday night where if you like Jazz you can sit and listen free of charge to a group that get together and Jam between 7.30 pm and go on until 11 pm - if you decide to sit inside and buy a beer they are cheap at about 65 baht a bottle and there are deals if you buy three you save a few baht.
My last day in Chiang Mai and I hired a motor bike from a company called Bikky at a cost of 250 baht (5-00 UK) and I set off to Doi Inthanou National Park and the highest mountain in Thailand with waterfalls wildlife and Tribes and of course the obligatory temples.
Unfortunately there was no fantastic views as the top of the mountain was covered in cloud but I got to visit two authentic villages and meet the locals.
I climbed to the top of Doi Suithep and survived the steps to the temple (100 Baht entry) there are a lot of street traders and stalls with some fantastic food at the bottom of the steps to the temple so in all it can be a great day out.
That evening the Hostel had organised a minivan to take anyone wanting to go to a Thai B-B-Q night I am afraid I don't know where it was held but I am sure if you enquire in Chiang Mai someone will know as it is an enormous great outside area with loads of tables and chairs set out with Thai table top Bar-B-Q on every table and an abundance of either cooked or uncooked meat that you cooked yourself vegetables fish cakes fruit sweets puddings in fact you name it and it was there
Cost :- 199 Baht eat as much as you like. Beer was extra (still cheap) we stayed about 2-3 hours and had our moneys worth, oh, I forgot, there was a stage with a group singing throughout - not bad eh.