Welcome to civilization! Thailand, a place where we could finally slow down and feel like human beings again. After almost 3 months in India and an intense month in Burma, we could take our time to recover and laze around for the whole 2 weeks. As we planned to go to Laos after that and we had time only to see the north we decided to come back to the south of Thailand in August.
Leaving Burma was sad but mostly relieving. We would probably get from Hpa-an directly to the border with a guy who picked us up in the morning if he wasn’t so much in hurry… He didn’t drive Lamborgini so after 1 h of driving 150 km/h on a questionable road I started to think if we would survive this ride. On one curve the car lost control. Fortunately we didn’t hit anything, the car turned few times and we stopped on the side of the road. We were all ok but not the car, its left tire buckled under the pressure and mechanic was needed. A man was so sorry he almost killed us that he paid for our taxi to the border despite our soft refusal. Good start of the day!
Chiang Mai was our first destination. After we got visas on the border we quickly discovered a famous Thai hospitality. A couple that picked us up in Mae Sot wasn’t actually going to the east but after their offer to put us in a bus (which we refused) they decided to take us to Tak themselves. At least 80 km out of their way and a pack of apples for a goodbye, I was truly surprised! From Tak we took a bus to Chiang Mai and in the evening we were there. When we got off the bus in front of Star Avenue Mall seeing all the streets full of tourists we felt like a couple of nomads finding an oasis in the middle of the desert. “Is it real?”. It wasn’t Asia anymore, that’s for sure. First thought of a hungry, devastated European? Subway! After a first taste of “home” we knew we were in heaven.
Tuk tuk driver brought us to the cheapest guesthouse in the area where we spent about 5 days recharging our batteries and carefully observing a progress of our poo (I’ll spare you the details). Chiang Mai is a real capital of international cuisine. Everywhere you go, you see a different restaurant: Indian, Mexican, Italian…. whatever you want. That’s why we decided to forget about our budget for a while and loose ourselves in the specialties of Chiang Mai. The city itself has a nice vibe, lots of night markets and places to go out. Not much to see besides golden wats (I’ve seen only Chedi Luang and Phra Singh) and thousands of shops full of souvenirs calling you to buy something. Too many tourists for me but that’s the price you pay for a bit of civilization.
Elephant riding was one of the things I’ve always wanted to try and Thailand was the best place to do that. We booked a whole day jeep tour which we shared with two Spanish guys and few other people. Firstly we stopped in an orchid garden and had an hour trek through the jungle that ended by the waterfall where everyone was cooling themselves down. After a lunch we got into rafts ready to die in the dangerous water of Mae Taeng river. The only problem was that there was no water. Or only enough to make our bamboo rafts moving and not stuck in the river bed. It was a dry season and I heard this year has been really bad that’s why I don’t get why they still advertise themselves as “white water rafting” if it reminds more like a sightseeing ride for seniors. Later we changed rafts to river tubes which would be definitely more fun if our asses weren’t constantly hitting the river bed. Anyway, it was great to try something different and I will surely do it again. As I heard many stories about elephant camps I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived to ours. Thai guys seemed to be playful and nice for the elephants and I kinda believed that until Callum told me after our elephant ride that his guide kept punching the elephant with a nail in order to make him move. Although later on we had lots of fun playing and bathing elephants I already knew it was all about money. Karen tribe (the long neck women) lived in the camp selling themselves as a photo object which made me feel even worse about that place. Did tourism swallow completely everything?? Is there any place that remained natural, untouched and not affected by greed? I started to dislike Thailand for that.
Although I had a feeling the Tiger kingdom wouldn’t be better I couldn’t resist seeing tigers up close. We rented scooters and went to the “kingdom” which looked more like a zoo. After realizing there were no baby tigers I went to see a big tiger face to face. Scary? Not at all. The trainer is all the time with you, you can only touch the tiger from behind and, the last thing, tiger is usually sleeping. And the question is: is he really sleeping or he is drugged up? The employees kept telling us tigers grew up with humans, they are fed well so they become more sleepy. I really would like to believe that. But somehow after seeing all the tiny cages where tigers could barely walk I couldn’t believe they had a such a marvellous life there. I don’t encourage anyone to support such institutions although I’ve done it myself, which definitely made me feel ashamed I’m representing our race who, besides destroying each other, destroy everything that surrounds us. We are on this planet only for a while and we already managed to fuck up the environment, cover everything with concrete and terminate couple of species. Nice job, race.
I didn’t mention about our latest crisis. 7 months has passed since we started our journey and finally the day has come when we started to ask ourselves a question: “Why are we doing this?”. We could do something else right now, work, develop our passions, spend time with people we love, get our own place… We were tired. Tired of constant moving, planning, missing everything we knew. Even though travelling is lots of fun, it can be very exhausting and at some point you can get burnt out. I’ve never realized how important balance in your life is and balance between travelling and stability is without doubt one of the most important. That’s why we bought a ticket home. No, not one way. We just decided to have a break. A 6-weeks break when we could enjoy having “home” again and forget about the road. We booked a ticket from Bangkok to Europe and back in September so that I could attend a wedding of my best friend and a baptism ceremony of my sister’s babies. We both agreed it was the best decision we could do but… there is still 5 months to go. How to survive this? Slow down.
We started from Pai. A little mountainous town with a hippie spirit where we found a great, open-air hostel, perfect to chill out. We spent lots of time separately in order to breathe from each other and have a time to think. I met a great Polish girl who reminded me why I love Polish people so much – definitely because of their honesty and ‘down to earth’ attitude. After few days we got some more company, our old Irish friends, Sean and Doireann, who joined us in our hostel. That was a piece of familiarity we needed as after travelling with them few times we already felt like we’ve known them for ages. Sean’s foot got infected (yeah, stinger doesn’t give up!) so we spent most of our time chilling or taking Sean to the hospital. He wasn’t the only cripple in the area as the streets of Pai were full of foreigners who managed to break themselves on a bike. It didn’t stop me from renting one for myself and explore the area on my own. Pai canyon wasn’t the biggest but definitely impressive. As I was the only weirdo who came there at noon (the heat was indescribable) I could have all the views for myself and meditate in peace under a tree. A land split created during the 2008 earthquake was an interesting site but of course I managed to get lost so by the time I got to Pam bok waterfall I needed meditation again. Waterfall looked more like a brown pond where water occasionally dropped from the rock above. Drought. Have I ever complained about Polish or English weather? Probably about thousand times but it ended when I came to Asia. We haven’t seen the rain for about half a year and the constant heat really started to piss me off.
Pai was definitely not like the south of Thailand but if you looked carefully you could find some really good, secret parties. When we found a trance one we knew we were going. Together with Doireann (Sean had to stay at home) we got to the place around 11 pm and had to wait few hours for the dance floor to fill up. We used this time for getting ourselves a face painting and emptying the famous Thai “buckets”. We met few great people including two American guys who happened to stay in the same hostel like us. At 1 am everyone was dancing and if the party didn’t have to end at 3 I’d probably still be there now. Well, it’s not Goa anymore, my dear, time to go home. Did I just hear Callum? Yeah, he has this annoying job of pulling me off the dance floor and taking me home, which, I admit, is not easy. Fortunately he was the responsible one who didn’t drink and took me safely home on our motorbike. Good to have such Angel.
The last day I managed to pull my boyfriend out from the room for a short trip to Lod cave. Like always, a “short” trip took the whole day due to my wrong time estimation. 30 km became 50 and our bike wasn’t designed for mountain rides so the maximum speed was maybe 40 km/h. It was worth it though. The cave was massive and not too touristy. Partly walking, partly rafting, we had a chance to see thousands of beautiful stalagmites, hordes of bats and experience a full darkness as there was no lights inside at all. I regretted I didn’t have better torch though, in the end you want to see something, ye? That was the last night and we decided to celebrate. Magic shakes were better alternative than alcohol so together with Sean, Doireann and our American friends we spent the evening on a positive flow when I fell in love with Thai red curry and found Ben my Jewish soulmate. As I finally bought harmonica we did a mini concert at our place with Sean who played a guitar. Long way to go, Klaudia, time to start practising seriously!
That was the best ending of our Pai’s lazy week which eventually had to end. We said goodbye to the guys and slowly headed to Laos. We took an evening bus from Chiang Mai to Tak where we spent most of the night occupying comfortable wooden benches of Tak’s bus station. In the morning we hitched to Sukhotai before it got too hot. We only forgot we were not in the mountains anymore so it was hot ALL THE TIME. After finding a room we went to see the old city- a mini version of Burmese Bagan, much less interesting, to be honest. Pagoda, Buddha, pagoda, Buddha… nothing new. At least there was a lot of trees to hide from the sun. Hoping to have some shade at home we came back to, literally, a sauna. Our room made of wood, facing the sun had around 41 degrees inside (we had a thermometer). Bottled water became boiling, whatever could melt, melted, including us. There was no escape. So far I though Burma was the worst. Wrong. Sleeping in the fridge wasn’t the best option so we had to be satisfied with our barely working fan and have a lovely sleep sweating like pigs. In 2 days we were about to arrive to Vientiane where Chinese embassy waited for us. Finding an excuse to leave the room, we spent the next day preparing documents for our visa. As there was still 400 km left to the border we used our last Thai money to get a night bus from Phitsanulok to Udon Thani and then hitchhike to the border with Laos. Probably I should write how excited we were to enter a completely new, beautiful country… but the only thing we thought of was to find air condition. And we did.