This post will only be a short one as our time in Thailand was pretty short and fairly focused on a rather exciting reunion!
Day 232 t0 238
We bid Selmat Tinggal (goodbye) and Terima Kasih (thank you) to Malaysia and hopped on a plane to Chiang Mai, Thailand with my excitement levels for seeing mum through the roof. We arrived a fair few hours before them and arrived at the U Chiang Mai to a beautiful swimming pool, friendly staff and a nice cold pineapple juice. After a short wait (and a nap on a sun lounger), we were shown to our rooms where we leapt on the big, squishy bed and enjoyed a much needed shower. After eight months of travelling, this was pure and utter luxury which we enjoyed every single minute of!
As an apology for our room not being ready on arrival, we were treated to a free, three course meal which was absolutely delicious and really rather beautiful. Enjoying the food meant we didn’t have time to head to the airport to meet mum and Ron so we sat on the sofas by the entrance waiting. We may have sat down too early because we had about an hours wait and anytime anyone walked or drove past I jumped up thinking it was them.
Finally it WAS them and mum and I ran to each other had a huge hug and a little cry while Ron and Phil left us to our emotions. We pulled ourselves together and let them check in before taking a stroll to assess our surroundings. The rest of the day passed in a blur of storytelling, catching up and lots of delicious food.
New Years Eve and we ended the year as we meant to go on with a workout in the gym. Phil put mum and I through our paces leaving us ready for breakfast and looking like this…
Unsurprisingly, as we were staying somewhere so nice, breakfast was amazing and in true buffet style, Phil really got his / mums moneys worth. That day, we walked around town on foot, visiting lots of temples and seeing their preparations for new year, some of which included a lot of rope. We worked out that all of the rope lead back to the giant Buddha statue and was to go around the heads of those that came to pray ensuring a physical and mental connection which was interesting.
Although we were taking in some lovely culture, the highlight of mum’s day was finding somewhere that did our laundry, in her own words “it made my day”! Dinner was at a very sweet place called Peppermint which was down a side alley and slightly away from the mayhem.
We had a table by the edge which meant we could watch the first lanterns being released up into the sky. It was so magical seeing the sky full of hundreds of lanterns and then Ron appeared with two for us to release ourselves.
Then it was time for the main event, we headed back to the main street and joined in all the festivities. After attempting to get into the square for countdown and realising there was a very real chance of suffocation due to crowds, we chose to stay the other side of the main gate for the countdown.
It was brilliant as hundreds if not thousands of lanterns were released but then we had the most amazing fireworks display as well. Rather than having a few and dragging it out for twenty minutes, we saw a solid five minutes of everything going off which was insane. The fireworks heading into a sky fill of lanterns was just incredible and to be able to see the new year in with mum was even more special. Once the fireworks were over, we came across a stall selling drinks by the side of the road and next to a band so we pitched up for the night and watched the crowds, danced and sang the night away. A particular highlight was a small flash mob of people starting to country dance, mum joined in and it was hilarious.
Unsurprisingly, the following day was spent “relaxing” (napping) by the side of the pool and playing cards. During one round of cards, an incident of indecent exposure occurred but unfortunately there is a press injunction in place which means I cannot report on this. As expected, we taught Mum & Ron Shaniqwa and so the addiction began (after they left us they carried on playing even teaching Ben & Jas once they were home – so proud). We had a delicious dinner at Kanjana which is very much a local family run restaurant. As such the restaurant (plastic chairs outside) isn’t much to shout about but the food was delicious and the family who run it were a delight. It also came with an added bonus that because we have eaten there, we will never die, so that’s always good.
It was time to work off some of the never ending food we were consuming and so we hired bikes and took a cycle around the city. We went into temples and past markets, we saw tuk tuks full of people both inside and hanging off the back and of course we got a good look at the river. Lunch was a great hawker market affair which took mum back to her travelling days and gave Ron an insight into how we’ve been eating when we aren’t with them! In the evening, we took a walk down a different road and stumbled upon another of the many, many temples of Chiang Mai but this one had a difference. This one was gorgeously lit up with fairy lights and lanterns and we happened to arrive just as the monks were coming to pray for the evening. After this oasis of calm, we headed to the night market which was the busiest place I have ever experienced. It was chock-a-block with people and our calm temple seemed a million miles away. We eventually escaped and found a small bar for the boys to play pool and for mum and I to chat to the lady that owned it. We learnt about her divorce, her two daughters, how worried she is about one of them and her worries about the bar as not so many people visit any more. Eventually after Phil won at pool and Ron had sufficient beer, we grabbed some dinner before heading to bed for our early start the next morning.
Up early, we bundled into a minivan and headed to the Elephant Retirement Park to spend the morning with eight gorgeous elephants including baby Lana who climbed in and out of her enclosure and generally ran round causing mayhem. She and her mahout obviously had a strong connection because when he arrived back to the camp after heading out for half an hour she came bundling up to him. Lana had been born at the retirement park which is a good sign that the animals are happy. With our two weeks volunteering at the elephant nature park in the forefront of our minds we had been sure to check that the retirement park did not offer elephant rides nor use any form of bull hooks for discipline. Is the retirement park perfect? No, of course not, the only perfect place for an elephant is in the wild away from humans but they’re doing a good job and they are trying to improve as fast as they can. Their main problem at the moment is too many elephants have been donated/dumped on them and they don’t have as much space for the elephants as they would like. Because of this they spend longer in their enclosures than the park would like but they are buying land and building larger enclosures to make the elephants as comfortable as possible and most importantly the elephants are able to interact with each other and not work or perform for humans.
Our morning there consisted of making “medicine” for the elephants out of rice, bananas and tamarind and feeding it to them along with bananas and sugar cane. Elephants consume a whopping 250kg of food per day (Phil had finally met his match) so any worries we had of overfeeding them were soon swallowed up! After the feeding, we bathed Willie, one of the younger male elephants in the lake, then gave him a mud bath and then washed it off back in the lake. He seemed to enjoy this, so much so that he shared a couple of floaters with us!
It was an amazing few hours and made Phil and I even more excited for our volunteering at the end of our trip. If anyone wants any more information on why riding elephants is such a bad idea I would point you in the direction of D’Travels an excellent blogger who spent two years working with the Elephant Nature Park and explains the crux of the problem in the article I’ve linked to.
In keeping with our “holiday from travelling” vibe, we spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool before tackling the Sunday market. This market takes over pretty much the whole town but thankfully during the first hour or two when we ventured out, it wasn’t too busy. Our highlight of the market was witnessing the entire market come to a standstill when the national anthem was played, it was brilliant. With Chelsea on TV that evening and Ron having made some Chelsea friends by the pool, he went with them to watch the match and Phil, Mum & I went for some dinner. Our usual haunt at the Writers Club & Wine Bar was packed but a sweet French lady let us share her table. We spent the evening listening to mum’s stories from her travels which was really interesting and which we could now appreciate in a new light having been on our own adventure.
Our last day together was spent by the pool in the morning and then, with some excellent haggling from Ron, we jumped aboard a tuk tuk to Lake Huay Tung Tao. With the exception of maybe five local people, we were the only ones there and it was picturesque. There were loads of bamboo huts and mountains all around. We had some food and drinks and sat and played Shaniqwa whilst watching the sun set, it was a perfect last evening together.
All too quickly it was time to say farewell but having had the best time it was considerably less teary than the welcome had been. Mum and Ron boarded a plane to a beautiful Thai beach and we went to the gym for another work out.
As most people will know, we booked a round the world ticket with STA Travel, issued by Qantas. We also payed for a multiplex pass which would allow us three free date changes to our flights. The first change from NZ to Australia was hard work, our second change from Melbourne to Malaysia was even harder and we chose this day to tackle our final change – our home coming. As expected, this was a massive ball ache not helped by either party in a never ending cycle of frustration. After being promised a call back from Qantas which we did not receive, we eventually got this sorted the next day but all the stress from it meant we treated ourselves to a delightful two hour massage.
The two hours comprised of a foot bath and scrub, a foot massage, a Thai full body massage and finally an oil back and neck massage. It was pure bliss and dirt cheap! Eventually however, the time came to check out, leave our life of luxury and head back to the travellers reality – a night bus. Luckily for us, Bangkok Buslines was the nicest night bus we have travelled on to date (this includes the future ones in Vietnam and Laos) and we enjoyed the awful Thai music videos, perfect temperature air con and our free snacks. We arrived in Bangkok at some silly time (4am) in the morning and went straight to the airport to catch our plain to Vietnam and the mayhem that is Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, the mayhem of HCMC was preceded by the mayhem that is the Air Asia section of Bangkok airport at 4am. I won’t go into details because it irritates me so much but needless to say I was thrilled to get on the plane and fall asleep and Phil was less than thrilled to be sat next to a chap with bad breath who hated backpackers, people who use lonely planet and anyone who does anything vaguely main stream. Back to travelling with a bump!
And that my friends is where we will leave this story. Sorry there isn’t much detail about Chiang Mai as a place but our time was primarily focused on the reunion and anything else was an added bonus!
Until next time…