The Unscheduled Pearls #7
Bangkok – where to start? What a city. What I’m starting to realize is that Thailand has two faces. When I walk around in the tourist part of Amsterdam I see that it doesn’t (fortunately) represent the whole of the Netherlands. It would be a disgrace if the whole of the Netherlands would have red light in front of the windows and people would roll through the streets drunk in the middle of the night. I think you have to look at Bangkok the same way. You just have to let it happen to you for 2 or 3 days, laugh about it, drink 3 beers too much and then you should quickly go on to a more peaceful part of Thailand. That’s exactly what I did. Immediately after I had landed and wrung out my t-shirt twice, I quickly proceeded to the taxi rank. Just to wait for some young people there. About 99.9% of the youngsters are going to celebrate a party in the party area of Bangkok “Koa San Road”… and I just booked my hotel there. If I can find some youngsters we can share a taxi, that saves 66% of the price – you’re either a backpacker or you’re not… less than 5 minutes later I’m in the taxi with 2 German insect gurus. They just returned from some kind of bug hunt in the jungle… Later, when we exchanged Instagram to have a beer later that night, I understand their story better. Those guys have 100,000+ followers on Instagram and post about insects. Their work, apparently.
About sightseeing: I made a real boat trip on the river! Don’t judge me! The sightseeing adventure in Bangladesh just had to sink in and although I know Bangkok from its beautiful temples I have seen it all a few years ago. So: thanks Bangkok for welcoming me to the country, but I am off again!
``Slove U House - a super nice small green hostel with the best coconut or orange coffee ever``
Knock knock… crisis..! The skeleton of a mammoth has a softer feel than the chair I apparently booked in the train from Bangkok to Khon Kaen. Now I understand better how it is possible that an 8 hour ride only costs EUR6. This is pretty hardcore! Fine for the first hour, but the next 7 hours are a bit uncomfortable… the confinement in Bangladesh felt more comfortable. Although it is not comfortable I notice that it can be even more uncomfortable. On the cold ground sits a mother with her 2 daughters of, I estimate 2 years and 10 years old. I recognize the woman from the platform just before I had boarded the train. I had wondered why she -and everyone on the platform suddenly seemed frozen. Right at 6pm the (I think) national anthem resounded through the station’s speakers and everyone abruptly stopped walking, talking and moving. Immediately after, the people thawed out and everyone had continued their way. Later I understand that this is out of respect for the royal family. I don’t know why, but the smallest daughter intrigues me.. Amazing how relaxed and calm she is, as if she has total peace with the situation. I, on the other hand, aren’t okay with this situation and offer the mother my seat as my backpack can also serve as a seat, but she refuses.
Okay. So Khon Kean… North-East Thailand. Most of the travelers go to the southern islands or to the Northern Chiang Mai and skip this city. All the more reason to go there and get to know the other face of Thailand. At 2 a.m. the train arrives and the TukTuk drops me off at the hostel for the 2nd time, as the first time both of us simply hadn’t identified the hostel as a hostel among all the greenery in the front yard. Pretty hilarious to cruise around a dormant city with a TukTuk making a lot of noise while looking for a hostel you already found.
``few tourists will be able to find this charming restaurant; completely retro and delicious dishes``
Nice city with, like everywhere in Thailand, a number of beautiful temples. But one is my absolute favorite. The Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon. One where you can climb up about 11 floors and overlook the city. Since I don’t want to tire anyone by describing every temple, funny street dog and restaurant I’ll wrap it together as: ‘worth to go’. In the hostel, which by the way is a super nice small green hostel – with the best coconut or orange coffee ever – I hook up with a lady who runs a pizzeria down the street. Who could show you the city better than someone who comes from there? A nice silk festival, nice Jazz-bars, hip dance spots follow… and just before departure a great restaurant where I get the best Thai food so far! No tourist will be able to find that spot; totally hidden along a train track. Well yeah; except for the one who reads this [check here the location.]
``monks who traditionally come out of the mountains at 6 am sharp in the morning to get food from the villagers.``
Stop!! I see the bus lady chasing another bus while she makes unprecedented hand gestures! Apparently she knows the system well and knows that I have to continue the last hour of the already 10 hour journey with that van. The van, well… the truck with the loading floor at the back made for people, responds immediately and activates the emergency brake. No idea if it’s the right truck, but fine.. trust the bus lady; it seems she knows what she’s doing. When the people in the the cargo bed have recovered after that emergency stop and they give me the stare -as if I pulled the emergency brake- they can take their seat again and we’re off to my next destination Chiang Khan. I get a “cold” welcome from the local TukTuk drivers with local beer. An offer you can’t refuse of course. Because my navigation indicates that the homestay where I’ll be staying is 3.5KM from the taxi stand, and the TukTuk guy offers me to drive it for 40Bath (=1.5 euro)… yeah… TukTuk then. A little 350 meters further the TukTuk driver stops and shows me the homestay?! What? Okay, my Google Maps really got me. The TukTuk gentleman is completely in his element and shows his big grin behind his TukTuk steering wheel.. Well, I’d do the same if I could get 40Bath for 350 meters… But deal=deal. Just smile back – beer tasted good.
``Chiang Khan borders this river and on the other side you can see Laos``
The most charming fishing village on the Mekong River I could wish for! Chiang Khan borders this river and on the other side you can see Laos. As I stroll through the walkingstreet lanes that evening I sink into deep thoughts. The dozens of lanterns at the old authentic wooden houses, the small cosy restaurants and bars, the stalls, the peace, the friendly nodding people.. it has a nice soothing effect on you. What a nice place! Some window shutters start to close at 9:15pm, so I really have to hurry. I have been told that the village will really go to sleep by 10pm. I have to go get some rice and chicken somewhere and then join in with the rhythm of the village. Sleep nice and early. Lovely. On the way back to the homestay, I suddenly hear music. No idea what it is, I can only describe it as a kind of Asian piano, but different. No clue. What I can do is just search where the music comes from.. Soon, I see a young woman playing the instrument in the dark of her ground floor with the windows open. It fascinates me but I don’t want to disturb her, so out of her sight I stay for a while and listen. Complete silence and her playings. Praiseworthy.
The older lady from the homestay is a real treasure as well! Traditional breakfast comes out in the morning and with hands, feet and a dictionary – no google translate! – we have nice conversations. After a while I understand the reason for the dictionary; the lady has been a teacher until her retirement. They do books there. So in the homestay as well. Just oldskool. The village “feels” too well. I can’ t just leave yet.. the beautiful sunrise at the top of the mountain in Phu Thok, the beautiful surroundings for your rental motorbike to ride through, the monks who come out of the mountains at 6 a.m. to get food from the villagers, the walking street that lights up in the evening through dimmed yellow lanterns… my visit to the village does not feel finished. So I extend my stay. Why wouldn’t I? That’s the freedom of backpacking!
``a mountain with all these little temples with phenomenal views and ringing bells in the background``
Cold! Cold! Cold! After some internal cursing I get on my bike and start the bitter journey back home. 94KM to be exact. I was sure that morning I had stuffed long pants and a sweater in the ‘buddy’ of the bike! Well; I didn’t! The day before I had said goodbye to the homestay lady and the lovely town of Chiang Khan with pain in my heart and had travelled to Lampang by bus. I came across the place on the internet as “a mix of cultures” and that had attracted me. Late in the evening the train had reached the town and I had walked myself to the hostel. On the door hung a note with my name+welcome+ring the bell. Checking in the hostel after 9pm is also late in Lampang so the bell had awakened someone who had sleepily opened the door and pointed me to the bedroom door. Do we check in the next day? Too late; the lady was already in bed again. Renting a motorbike had gave me the opportunity to go to a local waterfall and hot springs that morning. Way too relaxed! The water was egg-boiling-warm | literally! In bamboo nets dozens of eggs were slow-cooked and a little further on I had cooked myself in super relaxed natural heat baths. Something I dream about during the bitter journey back home. Wearing my flip-flops, a t-shirt and swimming trunks only, it is damn-cold on the motorbike where I got on after sunset. I had planned the sunset on top of the Wat Chalermprakiat. One of the most special and stunning temples I visited during my trip! A steep climb of 700 meters to the top with my motorbike, a jeep ride and the last part on foot over a lot of steps gave me access to the temples-in-the-clouds. Literally. A mountain with a bunch of little temples above the clouds with a phenomenal view! Boah! But all I’m thinking about right now is the hot shower I’m going to take when I get back to the hotel. During the 1,5 hour trip I discover 2 things: the temperature fluctuates when driving through the mountains in a t-shirt -and the hairpin bends are not lit in Thailand.
``Too relaxed! The water is egg-boiling-warm``
Not on the road to Pai either. The driver of the minibus tears through the hairpin bends like a madman with fogged up windows and overtakes other drivers on the inside of the bend. I googled that road and it turns out the road to Pai has 700 bends and in at least 33% of those bends this kamikaze pilot gives me a heart attack. Dude! My Safety-mind can’t handle that kind of crap! It’s a lot more relaxed in Pai itself. “I’m incredibly hungry, but I’m too lazy to take my bike downtown.” That’s the kind of level the travelers stranded in Pai are on. They even invented a word for it: if you haven’t done anything all day, you had a “Pai day”. Aight, so it’s super on-trend to do nothing here! The village, high up in the mountains, is really like a little laid-back hippy paradise. Exactly what I was looking for: doing nothing for a while! My hostel is perfect for it.. wake up in the morning with coffee and yoga, sleep under the sun in the afternoon -or in the hammock, and in the evening stay warm with winter hat, long trousers, scarf and woolen cardigan – all in a big circle around the campfire- because it’s cold! Very cold in the evening and night. The temperature drops to 3 degrees! A reason why people sleep under the 25 degrees sun during the day, as you are awake every half hour at night due the coldness. Also the reason that the highlight of the day is a visit to the hot springs and that, while warming up with coffee in the morning, the most talked about topic during the first half hour is the cold of that night. Or about a silent retreat of 14 days. You don’t seem to get higher in the hippy caste if you haven’t gone to a monastery once for at least 2 weeks to experience 14 days of silence during the silent retraite in which it is forbidden to talk to each other. You refine your soul with 2 small meals a day after which you think about your life during 4 daily 1,5 hour meditations. Yeah. I’m not hippie enough for that right now, I guess. But who knows, the journey is still a long one. Let’s start with another beer with the, meanwhile, close-knit group.. Beer refines the soul too. Surprisingly there are two other Dutch guys among them.. nice to be able to communicate in your own language for a moment. Pai also feels too good to leave again. Why is the north of Thailand so relaxed? What a good choice… and that with the knowledge that I still have one week left to enjoy the hospitality of this country and its inhabitants.