Song of the day: Sleep on the Left Side by Cornershop – “Sleep on the left side leave the right side free, whatever’s gonna be is gonna be”
We’re sat in the hostel at Chiang Mai. Absolutey knackered, but we’re going to power through and go for a few drinks tonight. Chiang Mai is the biggest city we’ve been to since Bangkok, but the contrast between the two is already apparent. Personal space is respected, a smile is a get-out-of-jail free card for not understanding something, and the general atmosphere is so much more relaxed. The hostel is located in a very hippy/traveller sort of area, I suppose a little like Bangkok’s Khao San road but like I say, a lot more laid back.
The journey here was made less arduous by the beauty of the scenery around us. We climbed winding roads through forest-lined hills, crossing deep ravines and dusty plateaus where roadside vendors sold exotic fruit and homemade Thai snacks. We were woken early this morning by what we are 99% certain were monkeys jumping up and down on the roof of the bungalow. They sounded heavier on the roof and their calls were more high-pitched and manic than the usual birds. We were both in that stage halfway between being asleep and awake and neither of us could be bothered to go out and have a look. Plus, I had visions of the monkeys entering the bungalow and chucking all our stuff about, like a scene of chaos that I recall from the film Jumanji. Instead we left them to it and as a consequence have probably been awake since about half five.
Apart from the scenery the bus journey was notable for something that happened about an hour in to the drive. We had just ascended a particularly gruelling hill coming out of Sukhothai when we pulled over to the side of the road. Out the window I could see an armoured car and a very mean-looking Thai soldier with an even meaner-looking assault rifle held across his chest. The next thing we knew a middle-aged officer with a beret and his mouth covered by a dust mask climbed onboard. He indicated for all of us to get our passports out which we did, immediately. He glanced over a few of them before poking around in a few of the overhead storage compartments. As he was inspecting our passports a soldier who looked about fifteen climbed on board and took some photos of us on a tablet from the front of the bus. Neither Hollie nor I were particularly happy with our appearance at that time in the morning but we both felt it better not to object to having our picture taken. Apparently satisfied, the officer wandered back down the corridor and off the bus. As he passed my seat I could see his pistol in its holster and I had a strange daydream about what would happen if I grabbed it off him and shouted “Stick em’ up!” But I don’t think the Thai army do jokes. At no point did this inspection feel anything other than routine, but it is an interesting reminder of the very different way things are done around here. The military are not an uncommon sight in any town and they seem to take quite an active role in assisting the police – I assume that this unit was looking for smuggled drugs, which is obviously big business in Thailand but carries the highest penalty you can imagine if you’re caught doing it. Later in the journey we pulled over and the driver got out to place what looked like a cardboard box full of crisps on a table outside a grotty little house. He grabbed a piece of paper that was attached to it, then got back on the bus, leaving the box there. We were not sure whether there was anything significant in this but it did make us wonder whether it was a common practice for drivers to make a bit on the side by making special deliveries on these longer routes.
We arrived about half four and took a rapid tuk-tuk to the hostel, a distance of about two miles. If I was working for a motor-racing team and looking to recruit raw, talented drivers, I would look up and down the tuk-tuk pools across Thailand. Their skill at weaving in and out of traffic to get to their destination is not to be underestimated, and for what they would demand in pay, they’d be well worth the gamble! By the time we’d chucked the stuff in the room we were starving, so we went straight out to get some fodder. We were confronted with about thirty restaurants selling authentic Thai, Indian, Vietnamese and Indian cuisine. And what did we opt for readers? That’s right, a burger. There was a faux-American diner sort of place that appealed to our rampant hunger, and I’ll be honest it was amazing. I had some greasy tower of beef whilst Hollie had chicken parmigiana. Much as we’re enjoying sampling Thai cuisine, I don’t think it makes you any less of a “traveller” to have the odd toastie and burger every now and again. In some backpacking circles I think there’s probably a bit of a competition to see who can eat pad thai the longest without caving in to western cravings for a bit of stodge. But the way I look at it, would you expect a Thai tourist coming to England to eat roast beef, or sausages and mash every day? They’d be the size of a house by the time their stay was over. I love the Thai attitude to meal times which is to eat when you’re hungry – whatever time that may be. Their days are not built around meal times and often they eat on the go, shovelling dumplings into their mouths from a carrier bag dangling off the handlebars of their moped at a red light. To an extent this works for me, as I tend to graze whenever I feel like it (about ten times a day). But because of their reluctance to be pinned down, the Thais don’t have an acknowledged breakfast, and it’s morning meals when I feel the strongest longing for a bowl of cereal or a boiled egg rather than say, Tom Yum soup.
I’m about to crack open my first Beer Lao – lager imported from the neighbouring country of Laos. It’s a country which we intend to spend a good deal of time in, but I couldn’t wait until March to sample the delights of a highly recommended beer, so cheers! I wish there was a girl’s equivalent of Beer Lao for Hollie so she could join me in my exotic journey of beer-tasting, but for now her bacardi breezers will have to do!
Up the Rams.
Tommy and Hollie x