Song of the day: Over The Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin
It’s been a while. How are you? Well, I hope.
I didn’t write yesterday because we spent the whole day drinking fruit juices, eating and sleeping, which doesn’t always make for the best reading – I can’t give you death-defying bus journeys, mind-bending temples and anecdotes about my own stupidity every day now, can I?
Last night after pottering about around the various bars and street food stalls, we paid to be driven up to Pai canyon to watch the sunset. We were chauffered up there in the back of a Toyota Hilux truck, which is by far the most popular of a very limited variations of cars on the road here. We were seated in the cab of the truck whilst two German lads sat in the trailer, downing cans of Chang and allowing the wind to ruffle their long locks. It was a short journey and as we hopped out the driver pointed us in the general direction of the canyon. I asked “What time shall we meet you back here?” He shook his head and said “When sun goes down”. Obviously Tommy!
Pai canyon is impressive. Narrow red sandstone ridges give way to sheer drops of fifty feet or more. The ridges snake their way round in random patterns for about a mile in distance, whilst in the basin of the canyon thick jungle vegetation thrives. Because of the drop I imagine that it’s a tall order for people to get down there, and I could picture all kinds of creepy-crawlies scuttling about on the forest floor, far from the greedy grasp of the tourist.
Unfortunately, we had no such luck and as we sat as close to the precipice as we could safely manage, sightseers of every creed and colour came and stood in front of us to take selfies with the sun going down over the mountain behind them. A swish of my outstretched ankle could have cleared our view very quickly and provided the aforementioned creepy-crawlies with a tasty treat, but there were too many witnesses.
Today we have taken the biggest leap yet into Thai culture . What did they do? I hear you ask. Did they eat a selection of Thai delicacies? convert to Buddhism? spend an evening in the home of a local family? No, my friends. We hired a scooter. Nothing in Thailand says “I belong here” like an underpowered, glorified hair-dryer on two wheels. I would not be at all surprised if there was a movement to have the scooter emblazoned on the national flag. For 250 baht (£5) it was ours for the day. We paid a bit of a premium to rent one off Connor, our hostel owner, but it was worth the extra dosh to have an English-worded lesson in how to ride the thing.
Just to allay the fears of our parents (who will be reading this bit through gritted teeth) I had a very thorough lesson in how to go, and how to stop. Turning was something that I picked up on my own by driving the bike round the quiet backstreets until I had the hang of it, and by the time I returned to Hollie, I felt like Steve Mcqueen. She sent me off on my first official errand to pick up some water and toasties from the 7/11 down the road. As I roared along at ten miles an hour, being overtaken by stray dogs and scuttling chickens, I could hear Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run playing along in my head. When I dismounted at my destination I walked up to the automatic doors of the 7/11 and caught a glimpse of my reflection in my egg-shaped helmet. Born to Run was quickly taken off the turntable of my mind and replaced by the Benny Hill theme tune – I looked like one of the aliens from the film Mars Attacks, only with a pair of fake raybans on. Still, I’d rather have an egg-shaped helmet than an egg-shaped lump on my head.
The sense of freedom from being able to get to places under your own steam is a fantastic feeling, and I’m glad that I feel confident enough to drive us around a bit now as it could potentially save us some money. Hollie is a nervous passenger but has seen me tootle up and down the road at a snail’s pace enough times today to know that she has nothing to fear with me at the wheel. Who knows, maybe she’ll even squire me around town at some point.
In order to practice being on the road, I went out first without Hollie on the back to Wat Pra Tat Mae Yen temple, more commonly known as the White Buddha. Halfway up the mountain and above the temple itself is a huge white statue of Buddha. He sits cross-legged with one palm open in his lap, casting his gaze over the entire valley. I parked the scooter up at the temple and climbed approximately one million steps until I reached the base of this great monument. The sun was brutal and like all places of religious significance in Thailand, you are asked to take off your shoes as a mark of respect. I regained my breath from ascending the stairs and slipped my shandals off. For the next five minutes I danced around the monument like Fred Astaire because the tiled floor was too hot for me to put my feet down, before giving up and heading back down the stairs. Nonetheless, it was very impressive! I had a walk around the temple itself and I was struck by the tranquility of the place. Most of the temples we have visited so far have been in the middle of the city and although the ornate beauty of each one is remarkable, I’ve not considered them to be especially peaceful places. I have no religious views in any direction but I don’t think it matters in a place like Wat Pra Tat Mae Yen – it’s just a beautiful place that gives you an exceptional sense of serenity.
I was too knackered to go straight back so I went to buy some orange from a family shop that was situated under an awning. The lady asked for 15 baht for it but having no change, I gave her 20 and asked if I could sit in the shade under her awning a while. Just then a fat kid sitting up a short set of steps said “Hey you, farang!” (Literal translation: pale skin) “Who, me?” “Yes you. I am watching Muay Thai boxing. Come sit with me!” And so for the time it took me to drink my orange juice I sat with this friendly yet casually racist fat kid and pretended to know what was happening as he shouted at a tiny little telly. Muay Thai is chivalrous as it is brutal, and I am desperate to catch some live when we return to Chiang Mai.
When I returned to the hostel I was full of beans and ready to show Hollie the landmark that I’d found. We made ready for the off but Reg, (the genius dog I described on Friday), had other ideas. As soon as I started the moped engine she jumped on the scooter inbetween my legs. This was hilarious and made for a great photo opportunity, but then she wouldn’t get off, no matter how much I pleaded. Hollie hopped on the back and we managed to rev off down the road a bit, before Reg caught up with us and leapt on the bike whilst it was still moving. This process was repeated for about half an hour, each time with Reg hopping on the moving vehicle. I was nervous enough with Hollie as a passenger, without having a canine companion riding shotgun with me. In the end we gave up and wheeled the scooter back to the hostel. Reg seemed to become distracted by a rustle in the bushes and Hollie’s eyes met mine. Quick as a flash, she hopped back on the back and we tore off down the road. Of course, Reg wasn’t going to be outsmarted that easily and as I looked in the mirror I could see her tear-arsing after us like a bat out of hell. As luck would have it, a poodle came running out of it’s hiding place in the bushes and acosted Reg into a round of the usual anus-sniffing that dogs seem to enjoy. We turned the corner out onto the main street and finally extracated ourselves from this lovable but very needy hound.
We returned to the White Buddha and climbed the steps together. The sun had just set and the climb was a lot less intense than earlier in the day. The evening sky is always hazy at this time of year because it is what the Thais refer to as “burning season”, when farmers burn off the remainder of the crops in their fields. It’s not unusual to look out and see areas the size of a football pitch awash with flame. As we descended the steps a party of Chinese tourists, about twenty of them all clad in the same blue-t-shirt design, were walking up the other way. Two of the ladies began making a fuss of Hollie and asked to have their photo taken with us, a request which we granted. As they were walking away one of them looked incredulously at Hollie and stroked her arm. We read about this strange occurrance before we started travelling – people in certain parts of Asia are obsessed with having smooth, pale skin, considering it to be a sign of purity and classiness. I think this comes from the fact that outdoor work is considered to be carried out by peasants whose skin is exposed to the harsh sun. It seems that these ladies must not have seen people like “us” in the flesh before. Their fascination was genuine and harmless, but it was really strange to be such an object of curiosity, and made us feel for the first time since we’ve been here that people were looking at us through a lens, rather than vice versa. It was also upsetting to think that whilst we consider ourselves to have the best tan that we’ve had in years, to the trained eye we must still be extremely pasty looking!
We returned the scooter to the hostel and walked into town for dinner. I fancied a beverage and I’ve seen enough black eyes and split chins whilst we’ve been walking round to know that it’s not a good idea to drink and drive in a country where you don’t know what you’re doing at the best of times. We ate tuna spring rolls with plum sauce (much better than they sound), battered shitake mushrooms with satay dip, chicken stir-fried with cashews and a northern ginger curry. It came to the scandalous total of ten quid with drinks included. We then went to a very hippy kind of cafe called Edible Jazz, where I lay in a hammock drinking beerlao whilst Hollie gently rocked me with her foot. I offered her a go, but she refused, probably after seeing the difficulty I had in getting out of it when getting up to go to the toilet. We returned to the hostel to find Reg chained up on the porch – Connor and his wife had gone out and knew better than to let her chase after them into town.
It seems I’ve caught verbal diarrhoea again so I’ll leave it there for tonight.
Have a good one, whatever your endeavour.
Tommy and Hollie x