Chiang Mai is beautiful – it is located, some 12 hours bus ride from Bangkok, among the highest mountains in Thailand. It is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, having everything that Bangkok as (more or less), but cheaper than Bangkok and a much more relaxed atmosphere.
When I first went to Chiang Mai I arrived around 3am and I had already found a hotel, that I planned to stay in- “Our House”, but the tuk-tuk man told me it was closed so he took me to prove that it was closed. I must admit I was a bit scared because it was pitch black and he was taking me down some very dark soi’s and I didn’t have a clue where I was. I was ready to practice some Muay Thai on him if he tried anything. But there was nothing to worry about because after he had showed me that the hotel was closed he took me to another one called “Plaza Inn”, which, despite appearances, was a lovely little place to stay, near to a good selection of restaurants, bars, and markets.
Today I was feeling very lost and lonely without my friends, especially Tri, who I had become very close to in a short space of time and spent most of the previous two months with. So finding myself alone I felt pretty miserable as I walked around, but during lunch I decided that I would cheer myself up by booking myself onto a tour for the next day.
So the next morning at 8am I got myself ready for a tour to Doi Ithanon National Park. There was just me and two other people from China. The guy picked me up from my hotel and we drove to the first part of the tour, which was an elephant ride. Me and said elephant had a slow walk through the forest and then splashed our way along a river, with a mahout sitting up front of course- I have no experience of controlling an elephant so didn’t think it wise to try. The elephant kept putting his trunk back towards me because he knew that I had bought some bananas for him. I thought he was just being friendly but I soon realised that it wasn’t me he was interested in, just the bananas- he didn’t stop until they had all gone. Along the forest track there were little bamboo huts in case you wanted to buy some more bananas, so I thought it polite to oblige the animal who was carting me around in the heat of the day.
The next part of the tour was bamboo rafting- literally a raft made from bamboo poles around twelve feet long, tied together with some sturdy rope. The others in my tour group were not interested in this bit so I was the only one on the raft and the guy, who was steering the thing like how you would steer a gondola but with a bamboo pole (am sure steering is not the right word but for one who knows nothing about sea or river faring vessels, that’s all I got!) every so often kept slapping the water with the pole and shouting crocodile! Hence I got very wet, even more so by a group of kids playing in the water who promptly chucked a load more water over me. In the end I thought sod this and retaliated, splashing water over the guy at the back of the raft, and over the boys in the water. It was actually really funny and had a lovely time rafting down the lazy river. Afterwards I met up with my tour friends and our driver took us to a nice little restaurant where we had lunch of veggies and rice.
After lunch we made our way up into the surrounding mountains of Chiang Mai and arrived at Doi Ithanon, which is the highest point in Thailand, some 2521 metres above sea level. The drive up to the summit was off road and quite bumpy in the 4×4 but when we got to the top it was worth the pain, because it was so beautiful and had stunning views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside.
At certain times during the year parts of this countryside are covered in beautifully coloured flowers. On the main road to the summit of Doi Inthanon stand two Chedis against each other; one called Naphamethinidon (นภเมทินีดล), meaning ‘by the strength of the land and air’, and the other, Naphaphonphumisiri (นภพลภูมิสิริ), meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’. These temples were built to honour the 60th birthday anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987, and the 60th birthday anniversary of Queen Sirikit in 1992, respectively.
On the way back our guide, whose name was Aood, asked if I wanted to sample the local Thai culture with him and I thought why the hell not- again another random night in Thailand. So later on he picked me up from my hotel again at 7pm and we went to a little roadside bar where we had a few drinks with the locals. I even had an arm wrestle with one of them after I had told him that I had been doing Muay Thai boxing for the previous two months. Silly me thinking I could possibly win- he gave me a chance but he still won. I ended up having such a great couple of days in Chiang Mai, ending with a night out with Aood, and it made me realise that, as a solo traveller, you might feel lost or lonely sometimes, but things happen that always have a way of making you feel good again.