Sunday, 22 December 2013

Adventures in PAIradise

On top of having the hippest food, drink and social scene, Pai also offered a huge variety of outdoor activities to keep you busy. One important thing to note about this place was that EVERYONE rides scooters. For about 5 bucks  a day you can do this and visit all the gorgeous natural sites that surround the city. I was at first pretty hesitant about renting one, as i've heard a number of horror stories and had seen a number of people hobbling through the streets or with legs all bandaged up. Our friend Jon convinced me to rent one with him and after my initial crash into his leg and bike (no need to go into to much detail here...) it turned out to be pretty fun. I won't pretend like i ever really felt comfortable however, Danielle ended up mostly driving the one i rented and i would hop on the back of Jon's. Better safe than sorry? Let's go with that.

The first day we rented them Danielle, Jon and myself rode about 25 minutes past fields of flowers, elephants and crazy Thai drivers, to the Pai Hot Springs. For 200TB ( 100 TB if you have a student card, or only 20 if you are a Thai citizen) you could go boil an egg in the 80 + celsius hot spring, or have a soak in the cooler but not-at-all cool spring pools. The hot springs are insanely mineral rich and your skin felt fantastic after just 20 minutes. 

The next day, i hopped on the back of Danielle's scooter and we drove about 30 minutes to the Mo Paeng  Waterfalls. I have to give a huge shoutout to Stringer for maneuvering this ride with me on the back. We ended up on the highway which was pretty frightening, but she killed it. This waterfall had free entry  and was hardly busy, we practically had the entire park to ourselves at some points. We had heard of people sliding down the rocksides into the ponds of water at the bottom, but had also heard of a death of a backpacker that had occurred this past may so decided to just enjoy the scenic views and squeeze in a little tanning time. 

On Jon's last day in Pai, the two of us drove out about 40 minutes (after two pretty big detours) to the Pam Bok waterfalls. These were also practically empty and just as stunning. This waterfall was more of a canyon that flowed between two rock faces right through the jungle. We went for a pretty chilly dip then hopped back on the scooter and stopped for lunch at a local resort that had perhaps the most gorgeous view of the rolling hills in Pai. 

Myself and Danielle's next two days in Pai were spent just chilling with friends at the hostel, playing with puppies at the pool, and getting tattoo's (so casually) before our 27 hour journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It was pretty sad saying goodbye to this place and to all the cool backpackers we met. Pai will always have a little spot in our hearts, and now also on our fingers ;). 

Amazing PAI

Bright and early a small bus arrived to pick the five of us up from Thailandwow.  The three hour minibus ride was an experience in itself. This route is famous among motorcyclists, three hours of what must have been over 100 tight turns up and down the rolling hills of northern Thailand. Something we are still adjusting to is the real lack of law-abiding drivers. There seems to also be a serious lack of patience amongst the drivers, it was pretty terrifying watching our driver weave around scooters and other busses with at times over 100 foot drops just a couple feet from the edge of the road.

We arrived safely then parted ways to our separate hostels. Thrilled to say that we for sure chose the better place to stay, Spicy Pai Hostel! This place was AMAZING. Only a couple years old, it had new amenities amongst a truly old Thai country feel. Set amidst a rice paddy field about a 10 minute walk from Pai's city center, we felt like we were back at summercamp in 4 story tiered bunk beds in a bamboo bungalow, hay-thatched roof and all! There was a fabulous common area with hammocks to chill in and meet other travelers.  We had only booked 2 nights here but loved it so much that we decided to stay for 5. Oh and should probably note that we also got Chili Pepper tattoo's to remember what an amazing time we had.

The city itself is quite small and super bohemian. Ton's of small restaurants and bars with people from all over the world working there. There is a market street that bustles in the evening and is a must to walk up and down, try the food and make some small purchases. Our favorites were the grilled corn and these mini coconut pancakes. Along the river there are some lively bars like The Sunset View, Bamboo Bar and Don't Cry. Everynight we had here was fantastic. One night, after meeting some mutual friends from Canada at Spicy, we staked out along the river, ate some special champignons, and  shared travel stories, lit fireworks and sent our wishes into the night sky with paper lanterns. 

The food here was also fantastic. Myself and Danielle have been making a relatively good effort to eat healthy, so we often seek out Vegetarian/Vegan joints. Pai had an amazing selection of fresh and healthy restaurant options. We found our favorite place was called "The Good Life". I think we came here 4 times, fresh salads, juices, wheatgrass shots, amazing curry, gluten free cookies... the list goes on and on. The atmosphere here was so cool as well- shelves upon shelves filled with wheatgrass plants and books you could swap with your own. 

Pai was the type of place you could plan on coming to for a few days and end up staying for months ( we met so many people who had done just this!) We feel so lucky to have had such a great experience here and could both totally see ourselves going back one day.

Mountain Trekkin' in Northern Thailand

There certainly are no shortages of activities in Chiang Mai to keep you occupied. While we were there we visited a number of Wats (Temples), sat and talked to a young monk about his religion and practice, wandered the markets and ate local dishes, had thai massages and explored the quieter less touristy neighborhoods. Many backpackers will do a day at the Tiger Kingdom, the Elephant Sanctuary, the Cobra Show or spend a night watching Muay Thai Boxing. We decided to do a two day trek into the mountains where we would ride elephants, visit a local village, swim in waterfalls and go white water rafting. Oh, i should mention that to do all of this only cost us 1100 (approximately $40)

The first stop on our little adventure was to an Elephant farm. Both Danielle and myself were pretty eager to sit on the elephants necks, while the others in our group sat in seats on their backs. Such gorgeous creatures, they carried us into the jungle stopping just about every other minute to grab some leaves to eat or throw their trunk back into our faces in hopes of being fed some bananas. My elephant was pretty stubborn and if i didn't give him a banana, he would blow his stinky snot from his trunk all over my legs- luckily i had a massive bag of bananas to satiate his demanding appetite.

Our group separated after and myself, Danielle, two Aussies named Mel & Troy, and a Brit named Julian, were left to wait for another truck to come pick us up. We ended up being forgotten about and left with an FM radio and a deck of cards for almost 3 hours. To look on the bright side of the situation (which you so often have to do while traveling) we really bonded with our forgotten comrades and it made for a pretty hilarious story.

From the elephant farm, we met up with the rest of our trekking group - a brother sister duo from Germany, two young Swedish guys, and an incredible 75 year old Belgian man and his Nepalese wife. We spent about 3 hours climbing up stopping to take in the majestic views. Once we got to the small village of Lahu, we were taken to our raised bungalow that overlooked a massive valley of flowing green hills.  We played with the local children, had massages from the local women, then had a massive DELICIOUS dinner together. The small village children came and sang to us, and despite their relentless badgering for money, we still found them endearing and pretty damn cute.

After a night under the stars and our mosquito nets, we trekked on. The morning fog that flowed through the hills in the distance was stunning and made our early hike all the more enjoyable. After a steep decline, where i fell a few times scraping up my knees, we made it to a massive waterfall. We all went for a refreshing dip then continued on to our white water rafting adventure. All of us managed to stay inside the raft and didn't have to do much paddling- our thai guide was insistent on steering us practically alone. Where the river calmed down, we came upon some bamboo rafts which our guide made us hop on. It was a pretty big joke as we sat chest deep in the water, moving as slow as molasses. Just another experience to look back at and laugh about, great memories. 

We said our goodbyes to the trekkers staying on another day, then drove back to chiang mai for one final night before our trip to Pai. We were definitely sad to be leaving chiang mai, our experiences there and on the trek were amazing and such an incredible start to our trip. 

Chiang Mai

Both Stringer and i have quite a few friends who have travelled, lived and worked throughout south east asia. One consistent complaint we had heard about traveling here was how horrendous the busses can be. Maybe we have just been lucky, but so far we have had relatively enjoyable experiences! The bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was overnight and took about 12 hours. We had AC, reclining chairs, and a man who brought us food, water and coffee if we so desired. Many of the busses here even have wifi. 

We arrived in Chiang Mai around 9:30 am and hopped in a small  bus to take us to our guest house ( really just a pick-up truck with two benches in the bed of the truck with a tent over it). Danielle found what turned out to be an AWESOME guest house called Thailand Wow. It was a little outside the main hub of hostels in Chiang Mai on a small side street. The guy who ran it, Khai, was so unbelievably nice and helpful. The common area had such a great bohemian vibe- chairs to swing in, a tented ceiling and pillows all over the floor to relax, read a book or chat with other travelers.  

Sunday nights in Thailand are the best for markets, and the market in Chiang Mai was nothing short of spectacular. On our way to the market as we were walking down an alley, we noticed a black bmw slowly following behind us.  Initially a bit nervous about this, it approached closer ( when i say  close, i mean a literal arms reach away) the window was rolled down and Owen Wilson was sitting staring right at us! We exchanged some confused and pretty surprised stares and smiles. Turns out he was filming a movie called "The Coup" a stones throw away from our guest house. We hung around the set for a bit (we are pretty sure the security thought we were part of the crew as everyone else who walked by was asked to keep moving on). Got to watch Lake Bell, Owen, and the little girls from  "Inception" act a street scene with gun shots and all. I don't believe many can say they had that kind of experience their first night in Chiang Mai.

After we wandered around the market for a couple of hours tasting the small tapas sized bites you could buy from the vendors. Danielle loved the sushi and i was particularly fond of the street meat. We returned to our hostel and ended up meeting another Canadian , Brad, and a Norwegian named Eneo. We shared stories over some Changs, the local cheap and pretty tasty beer, then decided to head out for a night at Zoe's Yellow bar, probably the most popular of the backpacker haunts. Buckets, new friendship bracelets and some drunken tuk tuk rides later, our first real "night out" in Thailand was a blast.

The next morning both of us woke up at 7 am in a bit of a drunken haze, went  down to chill in the common area, and met three British guys- Ben, Callum and Jon, who had just arrived from Laos. They had been to chiang mai a few weeks earlier but returned to visit the small town of Pai, about 3 hours North of Chiang Mai , as they had heard such awesome things. They're excitement coupled with our own interest was enough to convince us to book a bus with them a few days later and see the place for ourselves.  Before we went to Pai however, we decided to do a two day overnight Trek to the small mountain village of Lahu, about 90 minutes from Chiang Mai...

12 hours in bangkok

After a 30+ hour journey ( toronto->vancouver->sydney->kuala lumpur->bangkok) i arrived in bangkok early saturday morning. Quickly hopping in a cab (which proceeded to get lost and cost me about twice what it should have- the first of many small scams perhaps ?) i arrived at the Hi sukhumvit hostel to meet up with stringer! 

After our reunion we quickly packed her up and decided to trek into the city, backpacks and all. We took the skytrain froom sukhumvit to as close as we could get to Khao San  road, then were convinced (tricked) by a tuk tuk driver to hop on his cart. He explained to us that because of the protests that were going on, he had the best route for us. Long story short, his route involved taking us way down the river to a woman who was selling boat tours for 1800 TB. After quickly realizing the situation we had predictably put ourselves in, we walked back to the main road and hopped on a local transit bus.

We walked to the Grand Palace, snapped some pics with the stoic guards then grabbed a coconut and hung out with some pigeons in a park. I hadn't slept for more than a couple hours in almost 4 days now, so was in desperate need of somewhere to comfortably hang until our night bus to chiang mai at 10 pm. 

We grabbed some street food on khao san road ( pad thai and spring rolls of course) then found a small hostel called "Chill out Bangkok" where the Australian owner let us do just as the name suggests, chill out. The guy running this place was super hospitable, let us just hang out with some much needed AC and wifi for the entire day. He warned us about a ton of different scams the locals will try on you, taught us some lingo, and shared insight on some of his favorite thai destinations. Oh and also conveniently had some kittens to entertain us. 

We headed from here to the Mo Chi bus station then hopped on our 12 hour bus north to chiang mai. We were both pretty relieved to be leaving Bangkok, even after only 12 hours. I'm sure we will have to give Bangkok another chance at some point on our travels, but a sleeper bus and tales of a quieter more relaxed northern thailand were all we wanted at this point.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Adios , Canada

What a gorgeous ( & truly canadian ) day to be leaving. Who knows the next time we will be seeing snow ! India ? Nepal? Or maybe not until we're back in Canada.   Can't say I'm particularly looking forward to my 40+ hour series of flights across the world ,  but knowing I get to see Stringer when I touch down in Bangkok makes it all worth while ! 

Thank you to my Toronto family & friends for a great last week in my hometown, you're the greatest. 

- Somers

Monday, 25 November 2013

Welcome friends, family and like-minded travel junkies! We've decided to start this blog to document our backpacking adventures, allow our friends and family to keep up to date on what we're up to and connect with other travel lovers. We are two 20- something Toronto natives who went to University together in Canada then parted ways in the summer of 2012. We will be reunited for the first time in almost 17 months in Bangkok, Thailand, this saturday November 30th, 2013!  Somers spent the past year working in Paris, France, and traveling throughout Europe. Stringer has been living and working in Melbourne, Australia, and traveling throughout the country as well. Two VERY different experiences, we are both wanderlust and possess an insatiable desire to keep moving, learning, experiencing new cultures- to travel! We couldn't be more excited to now have the opportunity to do this together, first stop ... Thailand! We're excited to share our experiences with you, so stay tuned and check back soon for new posts. 

Cheers & Namaste, 

Somers & Stringer