Where do I begin with this?
First of all, I’m happy to announce that I’M BACK, WOOOT!!!! I have been working a lot on the new changes of this site and I hope it has livened up to your expectations. Do you like the banner site? The new logo? The new look?
I’ve been meaning to do a site revamp after many months and it took me some time. I did a few tests here and there, with the logo and banner site. I found a few themes here and there but they were horrible for my site. Finally, it’s done! It’s here… it’s brand new. Well, not quite new exactly. But I do hope you like it. Leave your comments below and let me know what you think.
Now on to the subject.
I’ve been apologizing lately because this is so long overdue. Really, I’m truly very sorry. I have a lot on my plate at the moment – juggling two jobs (full time and part time), plus I just started a new relationship with a new guy (does 3 months still count as new? haha). Really, he is a nice guy!
To be honest, I’m having mixed feelings while writing this one. I have reasons – valid reasons. For starters, this short holiday was not what I expected it to be. This trip was supposed to be a duo trip. Last March, my ex and I planned a “couple holiday trip” and like most couples, we were not thinking about splitting up – until it happened. Three months later, we finally decided to part ways… for good.
In the end, I went backpacking alone for 12 days.
At first, I wasn’t looking forward to this trip. I usually go giddy and plan everything ahead – like months ahead – so I never panic during my trips. This one though was different. I was completely uninterested and uninspired. The excitement wasn’t there. At one point, I almost thought of not going. But if I don’t go, the ticket would go to waste and I cannot even refund my money.
My enthusiasm went back a month before the trip. My original route was to visit Chiang Mai, then go Siem Reap, then back to Bangkok for my last few days before heading back home. My mind was all set until a friend suggested I go to Pai – a small town way up north from Chiang Mai. After mulling about it, I added Pai to my list and scratched off Siem Reap.
I started making reservations to a few hostels and booked my train, bus and plane tickets. This was how I planned it:
- Bangkok – Chiang Mai = train trip
- Chiang Mai – Pai – Chiang Mai = mini van trip
- Chiang Mai – Bangkok = plane trip
Since I visited Bangkok last year (you can read my blog post here), I opted for a two night stay then head straight to Chiang Mai. I couchsurfed at a friend’s place, then met a college buddy and my cousin during my short stay there.
On a cool Sunday evening, I hopped on a train bound for Chiang Mai.
In love with Chiang Mai!
I arrived in Chiang Mai not knowing what to expect. Another train passenger, a Japanese guy, was also on his backpacking trip and was clueless about what to do. So after exchanging a few pleasantries, we decided to share the Songthaew, a red taxi, to our hostel destinations. The fare was 40 Bhat each. Since our hostels were within the Old City, it was very easy for the taxi driver to drop us off. After the Japanese guy was dropped off, I was next.
After settling down to my hostel (which by the way, was a bit empty due to slow season), I went out and started exploring the place.
Over the years, a lot of my friends have told me amazing stories of their trip to Chiang Mai. They warned me that once I step foot in that place, I may not want to leave it.
THEY WERE RIGHT!!!
The Old City was amazing! The streets were clean. There were many tiny shops…. from small cafes to restaurants and massage salons. I also found a few thrifty shops that sold keychains, ref magnets, silk scarves, colorful harem pants, and more. Also, I couldn’t forget the delicious food that I tasted, especially Chiang Mai’s version of Pad Thai, and other cheap local food!
During my short stay, I met a few travelers through spontaneous Couchsurfing meetups. Together with that Japanese passenger on the train, we spent one night getting to know each other and traded traveling stories/recommendations, eating, and drinking Thai beers. One of the Couchsurfers decided to join for a trip to Pai, which I will share later on this blog.
Since it was the slow season, accommodation was cheap and available everywhere. I stayed at Le Loftel Hostel Chiang Mai, which is a great location (within Old City area). It’s clean and it’s close to a few temples, laundry shop, convenient stores, and ATM machines. Also, public transportation is available. The staff was also kind and very helpful. I highly recommend this place!
I’ve also been to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – a temple in the mountain which was 15 kilometers away from Chiang Mai and it took an hour drive to get there. Although it was crowded with tourists, I didn’t mind. I witnessed the amazing city view of downtown Chiang Mai. I also roamed around the temple, snapped a few photos, and headed back to the city.
Sadly though, I didn’t get to discover more of this city because of a few reasons that I’ll share later on. Read more and you’ll understand why!
The charming, small-town Pai… and that “Thai tattoo”
If you wanted to explore a place that was far off the beaten path, then this tiny town would be it. Truth be told, I never heard of this small town until my new boyfriend told me how amazing it was. Curiosity got the best of me so I started searching online about this place. So I immersed myself by watching Youtube vlogs and reading blogs of Pai. I still wasn’t sure if going there was worth it since it was a three-hour road trip from Chiang Mai; but thanks to a few Couchsurfers that I contacted prior to the trip, I was convinced that a trip there should be worth exploring.
Anyway, during that Chiang Mai Couchsurfing meet-up, a Spanish guy was among the travelers that I met that day. After mentioning to the group that I was heading to Pai as my last destination, he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to join me and stay only for a night. “Count me in,” he said.
Days later, we met up at the bus station and found ourselves not liking our transportation – the minibus. After mulling for a while, we decided to buy new tickets for a minivan, then hopped on to our ride. I’ve heard stories from people that the road going to Pai is very unpleasant because of its zigzag road – 700 turns overall! If you’re that kind of person who gets motion sickness easily, you’ll probably end up vomiting, so get some meds, guys! For me personally though, the road trip wasn’t all that bad and I even dozed off during the whole ride.
We got ecstatic when we arrived to our destination – we were greeted with mountain views, green scenery and a breath of fresh air. The place reminds me of a tiny Filipino town – like a barrio. The roads were small but so clean. We found the hostel that a fellow Couchsurfer recommended and booked our dorm stay there.
After leaving our stuff, we had a late lunch at a local restaurant, then started exploring the town. It wasn’t that hard to figure out where to go because of the small place. We rented one motorbike to share for 24 hours and drove to nearby places like the Pai Canyon. I tell you, the scenery was breathtaking and amazing! The canyon was also filled with many tourists but it wasn’t that overly crowded. Also, you’ll need to hike for a bit to get to the top.
The nightlife in Pai was buzzing with activity. The streets were filled with tourists (farangs and Asians), local and western street food, and other stalls that sold souvenirs. We had dinner in a nice restaurant, then went barhopping for a few drinks. We also bumped into a few tourists, the majority of them were Spanish (I was later told that it was their summer season so everyone was out and traveling).
The highlight of that night was a spontaneous trip to a bamboo tattoo shop because my friend wanted a tattoo with the words “thank you” in Thai. It was a quick job and it only lasted for less than 10 minutes.
The next day was a bit more… I don’t know how to put it in words. Eventful, I guess?
Well, our morning started off fine. We had breakfast near the hostel and planned a trip to Tham Lod Cave, which was 49.3 kilometers away from the small town. With our rented motorbike, we rode for an hour or maybe more. We forgot our jackets so you could imagine two idiots on the motorbike, whining and shivering about the cold weather. We made a quick stop to a small store along the way and bought disposable raincoats. It wasn’t that much but we had no choice.
An hour later, we reached our destination. Because of the high tide, the tour guides explained that we’re only allowed to have one short tour due to high tide. If you’ve read the news way back, the Thai soccer team were trapped in the caves because the water levels were high. My guess was that the tour guides don’t want to risk going deeper to the cave so they insisted on not going further. That didn’t leave us much with a choice so we went along with it.
After that short, yet, unsatisfied tour, we drove back… and things started to go haywire. My friend was driving too fast and we didn’t see a few tiny potholes until it was too late. We skid over the road and everything went really fast.
I don’t really want to bore you with all those tiny details, but the short version was we both had a motorcycle accident. It was a painful memory for me and I could still remember that anguished look on my friend’s face when he saw me bleeding, my reaction when I saw all my bruises and how painful everything was, that I was confused for a moment (probably because my head hit the ground) but glad we had our helmets on or else things could have gotten worse. I also remembered that kind, lovely family who stopped to help us with everything.
Riding in an ambulance was a first so it was still a scary moment for me. Everything felt like a blur but when we reached the local hospital, it finally dawned on me that yes, I was in an accident, and yes, I’ll have to cut my Pai trip very short for this unfortunate event. After the nurses dressed our wounds and paid for our hospital bills, we were instructed to visit 6 more days for the dressing of wounds.
Our mood then was sullen because we now have opened wounds that needed mending, our bodies were all bruised up and sore, and we’re painfully aware of what’s going to happen in the next few days – we’ll mostly be cooped up in our rooms instead of enjoying our trip. Worse, we’ll have more money to shell out for the hospital bills.
But on the other side of things, we were thankful and most grateful to be alive. If not for our helmets, the course of that day would have been different. Totally different. I couldn’t imagine someone breaking the news to our families of what happened (a worst case scenario). We knew that we were both lucky. We decided to keep our spirits up and be optimistic.
We later learned that many tourists (mostly backpackers) get into motorcycle accidents because they didn’t know the terrain like the locals do. Some are lucky, some are not. Others died. It was a chilling moment for us when we heard someone died the same day we were in an accident. I also guessed that locals were not surprised anymore whenever they see someone with a bandaged knee or arms because it’s every day (or every week) occurrence. Now I understood why people have this running joke about “Thai tattoos” – it’s because of those motorcycle accidents!
The next day after the accident, we decided to pack our bags and went straight back to Chiang Mai. It was easier there to rest because of our limited mobility. Also, we could access local restaurants and convenient stores without problems. We felt better going to a private hospital with more facilities than in Pai (a bit pricey but we had no choice).
We stayed for three more days in Chiang Mai and didn’t leave the hostel most of the time except for hospital visits, meal times, and a quick trip to 7/11. I felt bad for my friend who had to cancel the rest of his holiday trip but with the way things were going, he couldn’t continue the trip any longer.
When we parted ways at the airport, it was kind of bittersweet, yet relieved that we’ll be home sooner to our own countries. He was a first-time traveler in Asia and despite what happened to us in Pai, I admired his spirit and his positive attitude. I hope he will continue his thirst for travel and this experience won’t stop him from exploring and trying new things.
My trip was kind of short but it was definitely something I’ll remember for a long time. Traveling does make me feel exhilarated and free, but at the same time, I’m fully aware now of the risks once I travel overseas. Bad things do happen to anyone, including myself. Tourists get robbed, they get into accidents or in situations where we cannot be in control.
Still, this experience still taught me that there are still good people out there who are willing to lend a hand no matter what. For me, it was that nice Irish-Thai family. When they came to our rescue, mended our wounds, called the ambulance, and even took care of our beaten scooter, I was floored with emotion. I didn’t know who or what their names were and I wished I could thank them a million times over.
I broke the news to my family and they were worried, shocked, but relieved that I was alive. I received many kind thoughts and prayers from my friends and loved ones who knew the accident after I made a personal Facebook post. I was thankful that a lot of people sent in positive vibes and wished that I come home back safely. Lastly, my new boyfriend became my “knight in shining armor” and made sure that I was comfortable when he picked me up from Cebu and brought me back home.
My backpacking experience this time gave me a wake-up call and I should be prepared the next time around. Really, was lucky to be alive. It allowed me to re-think the good things in life and for that, I’m thankful. I learned more about myself throughout this whole ordeal.
Good and bad, I won’t stop traveling and explore more places. I’ll leave you with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain, also a traveler himself:
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
Please leave me some comments below and some thoughts about your recent trips lately. I’ll be happy to read and share some thoughts with you!
And here are some photos that I took on my iPhone – sorry, all low quality!