It was relaxing rocking away to the rhythmic swaying of the number 1 overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. However, the upper bunk beds were very narrow, which resulted in a dutch backpacker rolling off his bed and hitting the floor with a dull thump in the middle of the night. Earlier on, the carriage was full of travellers from around the world excitedly exchanging stories.
Chiangmai was monsoonal; steamy, hot, humid, sweet and sticky. The uneven streets are heavily scented with cooking smells of fresh bananas, mangos and pineapples, fish soup and spicy dumplings, laced with chillies and mint then finished off with the lingering scent of fragrant frangipani.
Staying at a low key cheap guesthouse within the old walled city near Chang Puck (the northern) Gate provided us with easy access to the city’s attractions. We crossed the pretty canals full of giant coy and turtles, walked to numerous temples Including Wat Chadi and Wat Chang, attended the night market, the Saturday walking street market and sampled the dazzling mix of food stalls. I particularly enjoyed the Tom Kha Gai soup made with coconut milk, chicken, lime leaves, chillies, coriander and turmeric, finished off with a nest of fried noodles on top, while the inexpensive Paw Pia Thod; deep fried vegetable spring rolls were delicious.
Freshly Bandaged western tourists were sprinkled amongst the crowded tightly packed market stalls. The recent victims of motorbike accidents. No doubt inexperience, poor roads, alcohol, drugs , and bravado played a part.
After a week of walking the streets of Chiang Mai until my feet were blistered I decided it was time to move on. It’s taken a while to get used to this traveling without bicycles caper. When we started out on our cycling adventure we hadn’t really considered too many contingency plans or thought much about what we might otherwise do if we couldn’t cycle. Still, we feel quite fortunate to have other options to explore.
Trains and ferries have often featured in our travels. Earlier this year we caught ferries in Tasmania, Vancouver and Washington State, then later on we caught trains and ferries in Europe along the Rhine, the Danube, in France, in the UK and Ireland. So as much as possible we will continue to travel in this way. We have decided to take the slow boat to Laos. So found ourselves riding in a small mini bus through the mountainous countryside past banana plantations, jungle and small villages with their ramshackle pole houses and mangy stray dogs We stopped off at the famed White Temple then just before dark arrived at our guest house in Chiang Khong, where we swam in the over chlorinated pool and bought tickets for the two day Slow Boat journey to Luang Prabang
In the early morning we were woken by twin horrors , roosters crowing and howling copulating cats. It was a short Tuk Tuk ride to the Friendship Bridge where we joined a few dozen backpackers at the Thai border crossing. Waiting in line, I got chatting to Chris, a nervous young German guy who had overstayed his Thai visa.
“It’s only a couple of days.” he said
“Lucky you’re not in Australia”, I joked “you would be locked up!”
The Thai border guards, didn’t have a sense of humour. My young friend was escorted away. As we boarded the boat I was concerned about what might have happened to him, and just as we were about to move off from the dock he came running down the ramp to join us.
“I got fined $500 Baht per day!” he said smiling and relieved, that’s the quivalent of $40.