Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Chiang Mai Christmas

As I am sure you are aware, we were very very excited to get on the road for our much anticipated vacation from school. Friday evening, after getting back from picking up our work permits in Nan, was spent packing and prepping the apartment for our long absence. I taped over the gaping holes at the top and bottom of the doors to keep out larger creatures and also sprayed this God awful ant repellant in the holes in the bathroom wall and around all the doors. I really did not want to come home to a bug infestation and while the ant repellant is really not good to breathe, it was worth knowing it would at least keep them out. Once that was all done we headed out and about 3 minutes later ran into our first of a few unlucky events on this trip. Our rear tire was flat again. Why!?! Fortunately, we left with plenty of time to walk to the bus station, but even more fortunately the security guards offered us rides on their motorbikes. We quickly and thankfully obliged. We decided we'd deal with the flat when we got back.

We boarded the bus for Chiang Mai at 9:30 and got in around 4:30. No one was awake at the guesthouse (not surprising even though we told them we'd be there very early), but we slipped into the courtyard through an unlocked side gate and poked around on the internet while we waited. It wasn't too bad despite the fact that it might have been the coldest night Chiang Mai has ever had. I think I was wearing all the warm clothes that I brought and some of Ethan's. We got into our room around 6 and slept as much as we could. We decided that we should take it easy that day due to our lack of sleep, so we went to one of the malls and saw The Hobbit, which Ethan was dying to see. (Ethan- It was my first experience reading the book and then going to see the movie. Yeah, I don't read much... or ever. I read the whole book on the Wednesday before we left. Thanks Rane. And now I finally understand what people mean by movies not measuring up to the book. Good movie, but just not the same after reading the book. Great book!)  I was more excited about getting popcorn and just being at a movie theater than about the movie itself. We got a popcorn and a huge pepsi for less than $5, so I think going to the movies back in the states is going to be a little painful. Anyway, in typical Thai style the movie started 15 minutes late, but the movie was good and we thoroughly enjoyed our Thai movie-going experience. After the movie we got dinner at The Pizza Company, which might as well be our favorite place to eat in Thailand (sad I know). After dinner we went to check out Chiang Mai's famous Saturday Walking Street. Walking streets in Thailand are really cool and we were super excited to see Chiang Mai's, since we had heard so much about it. A walking street is a market that is set up along one or more streets that have been blocked off to traffic. They have them all over the country, but Chiang Mai's is one of the biggest. The vendors sell mainly souvenir type things, but you can seriously get so much random/awesome stuff there. We ended up with sandals, a scarf and a new wedding ring for Ethan. (E- Chiang Mai's Saturday walking street is known for their Hill Tribe silver.) Who knows if the stuff is real, but we didn't really care. 

Sunday funday. Sunday morning we hit up Doi Suthep (doi means mountain in Thai and we recently learned that it also means something scandalous...oooooo!). Doi Suthep is a mountain just outside of the city upon which a very cool temple was built, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. We decided to take the motorbike we rented up to the top, which we heard can be treacherous, but it actually wasn't that bad. We had to walk up a million stairs to get there (E- actually only around 300), but the temple was very pretty and the view of the city down below was pretty neat too.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

After that we got some lunch and headed to the zoo. I love zoos and I really didn't know what to expect from this particular zoo. We had read a bunch of reviews about it and talked to people who had been there, while we were deciding whether or not it would be worth it. The reviews proved inconclusive so obviously we decided to go. I would say that it was definitely worth it. The zoo was clean and well kept and other than some really ugly construction taking place right in the middle, I had no complaints. Most of the animals were up and moving, which we found to be a little odd, but they looked like normal, well-fed zoo animals. We paid extra to see the panda exhibit, which was really cool, even though the information about panda breeding displayed all over the walls was a little bit graphic (they showed some rather interesting close-ups of artificially inseminating a panda...unnecessary I felt). Anyway, the zoo was pretty cool and we are glad we felt our money was well spent.

Feeding an elephant some nanners
That night we went to the Sunday Walking street, which is pretty much the same as the Saturday street, except much bigger and in a different location. We didn't spend that much time there because it was just so big and they had mostly the same stuff as the other one. We went to bed early for in the morning we were headed to Doi Inthanon... Thailand's highest mountain! 

Monday not-so-fun-day. After packing up and "checking out" of our room (which just consisted of us moving the stuff we weren't taking to the mountain into the storage closet), we headed out on what was supposed to be an hours drive to the base, plus another 45ish minute drive to the top. We got all the way to the bottom of the mountain with no problems at all, but as soon as we started up it (literally about 1km uphill) we got a flat tire. Luckily, there was a helpful guy with a van who told us there was a repair shop just down the hill. Phew! We were saved! I hopped in his van (that sounds strange) and he drove me down while Ethan rode the bike down. The repair guy had the tire off and a new one on in no time all at all for a whopping 120baht ($4). Hooray! Let's try this again. We went to check out a nearby waterfall first, but noticed that there was something off with the bike. When we stopped it would just shut off, without Ethan turning the key to "off." We decided to take it back after we looked at the waterfall, but the lady at the ticket office wouldn't let us use our work permits to get the "local price" (which we were 100% positive you are allowed to do) so we just went back to the repair guy. He tuned some things and poked around and then charged us 50 baht for about 5 minutes of work. I don't think he actually did anything, but the bike was working fine.... or so we thought. 
Hopping in a strangers truck #ThaiStyle

We took off for the park head quarters where we got our tickets (& used our work permits for the local price!) and then about 5 kilometers later the tire went flat again. This time there was no one right there to help, so we had to walk until some very nice people threw the bike and us in the bed of their truck and dropped us back off at the repair place. When we pulled up there were 4 German guys on dirt bikes, who were in the same situation. We chatted with them, while the repair guy went to get more tubes or tires (we're actually not really sure why he left, but we're assuming he needed something for the work he was about to do). About 15 minutes later the guy pulls up on his motorbike and there's blood all down his leg. Apparently, he got into an accident and seriously injured himself because he couldn't fix our bike or the German guys bike. So we pushed our bike back toward town to try and find another place. On the way we hear some guy hollering at us and when we look he is motioning for us to come over. So we go over and he says he can fix the tire. Hooray! As he is working he notices that there is something wrong with the tire itself, but then decides that it's fine and leaves it (in hindsight we should have made him replace the tire right then and there, but we don't know anything about motorbikes or tires.) We pay him 120 baht for the second new tube. **This story is longer than I thought. If you want the details keep reading, if not skip to Tuesday** 

We made it probably another 5 kilometers past the last breakdown point before the tire went flat again. So we walked until some random guy on a motorbike stopped to help. Apparently, we were close to where he lived because he procured a tire (not new, but in working condition) and the tools needed to change the entire tire and put a patch over the hole in the second new tube. So that cost us 300 baht ($10) and more wasted time. At this point we were highly fed up with the situation and while we felt lucky that people were so willingly to help, we also didn't understand why neither repair guy decided to just replace the whole tire. We also were up to 590 baht in repairs, which is more than we paid to rent the bike for 3 days. So we took a minute to think about our options. We were losing daylight fast and our plans for the day were going with it. We decided to continue on to the top, check out the temples dedicated to the king and queen and then stay the night at the park, so we could check out all the waterfalls (which we planned to see that day) in the morning. The only other unfortunate thing that happen was we had to sleep in a tent because all of the rooms/bungalows had been rented. I wasn't too happy about it because it was so so so cold and I didn't bring that many warm clothes. I also wasn't too excited to sleep in a rented sleeping bag and on a very thin pad. The night didn't end up being terrible other than the cold and the people who never went to sleep (it is actually a lot easier to sleep when people are speaking a language you don't understand!). (E- Skye forgot to mention the good part of this day. We officially did get to the highest point of land in Thailand and saw an amazing dedication to the King and Queen. Also, through all of the bad luck on the motorbike, we came out unscathed and healthy. Which as you'll read in the next post, can't be said about Koh Chang.)
The Naphaphonphumisiri Chedi, dedicated to Queen Sirikit

**Tuesday/Christmas Day: We got up at the butt crack of dawn to check out some waterfalls on our way back down the mountain. (E- Some people have fallen to their death getting too close to the edge of one of the waterfalls we visited. Don't worry, there were two signs reading, "Danger Rock Slide" and "Slippery Route" so we went forward with caution. The photo below is the base of that waterfall, but we were at the top right before.) They were pretty cool and we even got a pic in our santa hats in front of one. It wasn't exactly how I pictured spending my Christmas eve/morning, but it sure did make for a good story...Right?!... and the waterfalls helped make the trip worth it.

Aforementioned waterfall - Merry Christmas
That night we went to the night bazaar, which is a nightly market type deal in the city and got some more random stuff. We planned on video messaging with my family as they had their Christmas morning activities, but we took a bit longer at the bazaar and ended up missing the blessed event of my cousin getting proposed to on our front porch. Ugh!! But everyone was still jazzed about it by the time we got to video chatting. And we got to watch them open the last round of presents. It was awesome and I'm glad we didn't have to miss Christmas with the Grandmarkersons (E- spelling changed thanks to Sam) after all :] And it was the perfect way to end a slightly stressful two days.

"Tasty American snack behind you" -Tiger handler
Wednesday shmensday - We got up pretty early to head to one of Chiang Mai's biggest tourist attractions, Tiger Kingdom. We had heard mixed things about this place, but essentially it is a zoo specifically for tigers that allows guests to enter the cage with the cuddly cats. It seems like the only way to make this safe would be to sedate the tigers so they don't randomly rip someone's face off. So at first we didn't think we wanted to support a place that drugged tigers to make a profit, but the more we looked into it, the more we had to check it out. You have the option of paying to see the big/medium/small/smallest cats or you can see combos of 2, 3 or all 4. We chose the big cats because we thought it would be more thrilling and they were the cheapest. The experience was awesome. Being that close to (literally cuddled up to) an animal that size that could kill you in the blink of an eye was so cool. I was nervous at first, but they really were just like giant house cats. They purred, yawned stretched and one even hit me with it's tail. While I was taking photos with one, the one to my right got up and started walking around, which freaked me out, but it was just finding another comfy spot to have a nap. Anyway, it was really cool and from what we saw the cats were just being cats. The keepers kept a close watch on them and made sure to respond appropriately if they misbehaved. We stayed and watched the other people get their photos with the other cats and we watched the baby cats run around and not stay still for anyone's photos. (E- We also watched one tiger completely disregard the electric fence that was set up for safety. There was one regular fence set up around the whole enclosure and then a small electric fence within that. You could literally hear it shock the tiger and it didn't flinch.)

Skye loves cuddling with "aminals" - usually stuffed though
Once we left the tigers we had to return the motorbike, which ended up going better than we expected. The lady we rented from was a middle-woman, if you will, between us and a "company" that rents bikes. So the company wouldn't give us any money for the repairs, but the lady didn't make us pay for our last day and gave us 150 baht back. She said it was her commission for the rental and then we felt bad so we tipped her 50 baht. It obviously wasn't her fault and we knew that, so it was really nice of her to help us out that way. (E- But even so, we had to pay 710 baht in repairs and returned the bike in better condition than it was rented to us. I think all parties came away happy how it ended though and as the saying goes, "All is well that ends well.") After that I needed to do some laundry, so we spent a few hours doing that, getting lunch and I got my toenails painted. We were taking the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok at 5:30 and we got to the station with just enough time to grab a bite to eat and hop on. The ride was supposed to be 15 hours overnight and we had wanted to get tickets in the sleeper car, but they were sold out. So we got second class seats, which ended up not being all that bad. The train was old, rickety, made a lot of noise  and wasn't nearly as comfy as the one we took out west a few months ago. Also, the windows opened, which was good and bad. It was good because there was no air conditioning, you get fresh air all the time and people were allowed to smoke on the train so it helped ventilate that nastiness. It was bad because it gets pretty chilly at night and some people like freezing cold air in their face all night long and the train was really loud. There was enough room to be somewhat comfy though and the chairs leaned back (but not far enough so that someone's head was in your lap like on the bus). We ended up putting our heads down on the tray tables and sleeping that way. I think we actually got a decent amount of sleep, but we were still zombies when the train pulled into dreaded Bangkok at 10am (only an hour and a half late!). Now it was time for us to figure out how to get to Koh Chang, where a beautiful island paradise awaited us!! 
Good bye, Chiang Mai! Hello, paradise!

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