24.12.2011 - 25.12.2011
The road between Chiang Mai and Pai was bendier than the curls in Soph’s hair.
At first it started as a scenic drive up into the hills and soon became the journey of hell! The driver felt no need to break at any point and sped into each hairpin bend, one after another and another, at full speed. After a few swerves to avoid oncoming minibuses employing the same driving methods, we started to regret the seat near the back of the bus and wondered if we would really make it to Christmas, given the steep drop to one side. About an hour into the journey and still spiralling up and through the hills, we both felt really sick, shaking and unbearably hot. So, this is what travel sickness feels like. The other passengers around us were having a similarly bad time, with white faces and white knuckles, we continued on. About two hours into the journey the driver pulled over for a throwing up break – it seemed some were suffering even more than us. Luckily we were spared as Sully procured some ginger tea and Sophia negotiated a seat exchange to the front of the bus. The last two hours of the journey were better but we arrived in Pai feeling like we’d been on a runaway rollercoaster.
Pai is a small town by a river in the hills of North West Thailand, surrounded by beautiful countryside and has a very relaxed, chilled-out atmosphere. Our accommodation was a nice little wooden hut (complete with hammock) by the riverside, which we reached by crossing a rickety bamboo bridge. It was just what we needed to recover from the journey.
Unfortunately, on Christmas Eve, Sully experienced a ‘Thailand Kiss’. (No, not what you think it is….) Basically, he was burnt on the ankle by the exposed red-hot exhaust pipe on our bike. It was very painful. It is such a common occurrence here; most backpackers are walking around with the same shaped mark on their ankle! We had to take a brief trip to the hospital where Sully was patched up. We were impressed with the service we received, given that we were in a relatively remote town and don’t speak Thai. As we walked (or limped, in Sully’s case) back out of the hospital we noted that we would have waited 5 hours in A&E in the UK before we were seen. We were glad it did not take that long or Sully would not have been the only one that was ‘exhausted’. (Apologies, Sully’s bad joke, he insisted)
After this incident we jumped back on the bike and went exploring the countryside around Pai. It was a very pretty place and we stopped for photos of small villages, the river, the hills and the green fields that stretched for as far as we could see. As we drove through small villages we shouted hello to the people we passed, it was so peaceful and we could really feel how fresh the air was up there. We also called by a place with a small private lake where they do piranha fishing!
We arrived back in Pai as the sun was setting and chilled our in the little wooden house listening to Christmas songs. The bathroom was at the back and had a thin wooden roof, even though it was completely enclosed, it still felt like we were showering outdoors, strange!
That evening we walked around the vast night bazaar that was almost as good as the stalls in Chiang Mai. Instead of going for dinner, we just kept sampling food from different stalls through the market until we were completely full on a variety of tasty treats. We really liked the pumpkin spring rolls and the Chinese steamed buns. We also stopped at a stall where a man was selling various hot liquids out of mini cauldrons. We had a hot lemon and honey drink served in a bamboo tube cup. It was delicious and we kept going back for a top up!
For the first time in Thailand we started to feel a little cold whilst in Pai. We didn’t mind too much since the cold made it feel slightly more like Christmas and we had our Santa hats (bought in Kuala Lumpur) that we wore around the town that evening. The Thai people also celebrate Christmas and we saw plenty of locals also wearing Santa hats, so we didn’t get too many strange looks.
As we walked back to our hut, across the bamboo bridge over the river, we saw fireworks and Chinese lanterns being released into the dark starry sky. It felt really quite festive even if not in the usual way and we stood for ages on the bridge enjoying the view. We finished our Christmas Eve by watching an old Christmas special of Only Fools n Horses; the one where they make Peckham spring water. How did backpackers cope before the days of You Tube and free Wifi!?!
We woke up feeling frosty and festive on Christmas morning. And Santa had been. Sully went to collect us a steaming hot tea each, we watched a bit more of Del boy and Rodney and then got dressed in our finest backpacker garments! Ha! Since we were 7 hours ahead, everyone in the UK was still fast asleep. We spent some time chilling in the pretty gardens where we were staying, laying in the hammock and listening to some hippy guy playing Indian drums. After we went for a HUGE breakfast, it was a real treat and Sully even had smoked salmon!
During the day we went for another ride out into the countryside around Pai. The roads don’t seem so bad at sensible speeds and without the bumpy bus. Our first stop was Pai canyon where the walking route was certainly not for the faint hearted, with sheer drops on both sides. Sophia’s feet became glued to the spot on ‘safe ground’ and even then she felt slightly dizzy. Sully hobbled around the whole site on his one good leg, daredevil. The views were amazing from up there.
Next we passed across the World War II memorial bridge, built by the Japanese occupiers in their quest to reach and capture Burma. We learned that many Thai people had died in this area during the war.
Our next stop was Tha Pai hot springs where we saw flowing water that was so hot there was steam rising off it, it was too hot to touch in some parts. Tourists and locals go there to relax in the water and ease their aches and pains, like an outdoor sauna. We saw the bubbles where the hot water was bursting out of the ground with a sulphurous smell and some people were cooking eggs in the water too!
As we headed back towards Pai, on a small road through the forest we saw some elephants! We stopped for a look and to take some photos and a lady appeared and convinced us to take an hour’s jungle trek on one of the elephants. It was soooo much fun and definitely not what we were expecting to be doing on Christmas day! We had to climb a big ladder to get up onto the elephant and then climbed on, with our bare feet on his wrinkly grey skin. We gave him plenty of bananas but during the trek he stopped a few times to snap a fallen tree trunk in half and have a good munch on it. We really enjoyed riding high up above the trees with amazing views all around us.
On Christmas evening we went to a nice restaurant by the river that was decorated for Christmas and was complete with Christmas music too. The only thing missing was the Christmas dinner and yes, we did miss it. Imagine, Christmas without the roasties! To console ourselves we feasted on fish n chips, as English as we could find. We had a delicious meal and there was a great atmosphere by the riverside. After, we went to another café where we had carrot cake and hot apple crumble with ice-cream.
After dinner, we spent some time on Skype talking to family in England, watched them open some presents and spoke to Josie on her new ipad. It was great to see the house decorated and everyone smiling back at us on the screen!
We finished the evening with another walk around the festive night bazaar, we watched more fireworks going off in the distance and then we released a huge giant lantern up towards the stars.
It wasn’t the Christmas we were used to, but it is one we will never forget!
- **Merry Christmas to you all, have a fantastic festive break and eat some roasties for us!***