A Buddhist temple in the north of Thailand, 10 p.m. Everyone is supposed to be in their beds. I’m trying to remember where we were the last two weeks, after Bangkok. So, let’s start.
Nakhon Sawan. We went there for two reasons – it was on our way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and, we found a CS host there. The town is known for…hmm, I’m not sure what it’s known for. However, we instantly grew to love it – the moment we arrived there Claire, our host, took us to have some mango & sticky rice, and it was the biggest portion we’d ever seen. We watched the sunset in the biggest and most entertaining park in the whole world: people were jogging around the lake, playing badminton, soccer, basketball, a bunch of lady boys were kicking ass at volleyball, older ladies were doing aerobics and tai chi. Simply, the park was amazing.
Suddenly, a scary moment. A loud melody started to echo through the entire town: everybody stopped with what they were doing, and stood motionless. At first, we thought it was some kind of a massive hypnosis, but Claire explained to us that it was only a national anthem. It was being played every day at the same time and everybody would stop with their activity to pay respect to the king and to their country. I’m telling you – scary.
Claire was real fun – she had been living there for a year and a half, she had a Thai boyfriend (it was the first case in which the guy was a local, and the girl was a foreigner), she was teaching English and earning a nice sum of money, and soon she would be going back to USA to carry on her education. We killed time during the evenings in the same way I did while I hosted CSers in Zagreb: playing board games. On the second day of our stay, Claire lent us a motorbike so we could visit a nearby Buddhist temple on the hill above the town. We did it in the sunset when we finally gathered some courage after the day spent in front of a fan. We took a few photos; witnessed another sunset. It was nice.
Phitsanulok. We arrived there in the back of a truck. We visited it for all the same reasons like the town before. This time our host was a local girl with a foreign name – Natty. Most of the people from Thailand have Western-like nicknames. Natty lives with her parents, two aunts and ten (10) dogs a few kilometers outside of the town.
During our stay in Phitsanulok we had the happiest day since we’d arrived in Thailand. Songkran was being celebrated – it is the New Year in that part of the world. Normally, the celebration lasts for three or four days – during the hottest period of the year. The celebration consisted of splashing water on other people. Now, it may sound quite tame and simple, but try and imagine the whole town on the streets, armed with buckets and 100-litred barrel on their trucks, water guns, water hoses – only then will you be able to have an insight of the chaos, laughter and all the fun that takes place during those days.
Accompanied by our host, her cousins and her friends, we headed straight to the main street and we rampaged around. Needless to say we didn’t arrive to the main street and we were already soaking wet. And grinning. Slowly we found our way in splashing water from the trucks at the passers-by, and the funniest moments were when two trucks stopped on the traffic lights – the war between the passengers of the trucks would last until the green light. Soon, we realized that some were leading a water war at a somewhat higher level – besides water they had huge ice cubes in their barrels so the water they splashed on others was freezing cold.
That was where things got serious. Consequently, you went to the first stand where ice was sold so you could arm yourself with ice just like your opponents. The revenge is a dish best served cold. Even better, freezing cold.
Loud music, dance, quite a lot of alcohol you’re treated with by some locals, colorful powders you get rubbed on your face – we witnessed all these things on the battle field, in the middle of the main street of the town. Everyone had a whale of a time, without much complicating – splashing water on +40°C. Chloe and I agreed that it was way more fun that decorating a Christmas tree. Moreover, all wars should end in that way – the opponents should be given buckets and plenty of water: the one who gets wetter at the end is the loser.
After a whole day of partying we returned to the home of the girls who were with us where we attended a traditional Thai lunch. Shortly after lunch our host put three chairs in the back yard and three grannies sat on them. The rest of the people carrying bucket with water got in line and each of them poured water on the grannies. We were informed that this, in fact, was the main point of Songkran – a blessing and paying respect to the elders. It is kind of opposite of Christmas when usually kids are those who are the most exciting ones.
So, that was Phitsanulok. And Songkran.
YT VIDEO – SONGKRAN:
Chiang Mai. We were also there. Even in that case it took us one ride to get there, after four minutes of hitchhiking. That time, however, we were inside the truck, with an English man called Alan, his girlfriend and her small daughter. We were finally able to communicate with the people who were giving us a ride: usually, we were in the back part of the pick-up truck or, our drivers’ English was as good as our Thai.
Alan had been working and living there for the past couple of years, and the three of them were just heading back home from the girl’s home town where they’d celebrated Songkran. The guy seemed cool, with his made in England tattoos – I didn’t ask him which football club he supported. He owned a business giving motor-tours around the north part of Thailand. He gave us his card with his phone number, just in case we needed any help. And we would need help – Chloe had forgotten her glasses and Alan would give them back a few days after that. Cool guy, I’m telling you.
Chiang Mai is, among other things, known for the chaos which is typical during the Songkran, which we, fortunately, manage to avoid it. One day of Water War was more than enough. Moreover, tourists in Chiang Mai take the whole thing too seriously so they arm themselves with water guns and they aim straight to the head. Too aggressive as far as I’m concerned, especially since they use water from the nearby dirty brook. Good luck with walking with your eyes and mouth open.
We met Trevor and Lisa, our crew from Bangkok, and we went for a stroll through the center, tried some street specialties – I didn’t try any insect. I was vegetarian. Trevor and Lisa were staying in a hostel where I met Leeland, a nice Canadian who had volunteered in Bangladesh for several months so we had plenty of things to talk about. We, on the other side, stayed in a fancy hotel with a pool, AC, a belly-boy, and a carpet in our room – that was a gift from my sponsors. I wasn’t quite sure why they treated us (besides them being good people), but it turned out that on that day it was exactly thousand days since I’d met Chloe. I simply love numbers.
The last two evenings of our stay we were at Kevin’s place, Kiwi from CS. He’s a photographer and his face is dominated by a moustache which he hadn’t shaved for more than 30 years.
I guess it was my destiny to find out just then that my uncle died: he was the man whose moustache I loved most in the whole world. For all those that keep asking me if I ever wanted to be home instead on this journey – here you go. That moment. Those days. Even though my presence wouldn’t have changed anything, it was hard being away in moments like that. Nevertheless, it would probably be even more difficult being close.
Life is short, right. For some shorter, for some longer, but I think that the quality is what matters the most. Quality, people, quality. I’m not going to play smart, although you know I could.
During our last day in Chiang Mai we took some photos of the temples as a proof that we were there. Also, for the first time we treated ourselves to a Thai massage – we were massaged by blind masseuses. It was awesome.
Pai. The ride from Chiang Mai to Pai had a lot of zigzags: approx. 110 kilometers and 762 curves. That is 7 curves per kilometer, or in other words one curve every 142 meter. I felt dizzy and I was quite rubbed since I was in the back part of the truck. However, our first part of the ride to Pai was great. A guy who owned a Japanese restaurant. He was barely speaking English, he liked my FB page on his iPhone, and gave us a ride which left us some 30 kilometers off our route where we caught a ride that span us around. 762, helloooo.
Even though Pai was a cool place and Mike, our CS host, was awesome, we only stayed there for one day. Mike earns for living as a chef on a boat, while he spends most of his time in his wooden house in Thailand the rent of which is ridiculously low. Unfortunately, he didn’t cook anything for us, but he did take us to a vegetarian restaurant where we only spend 30 bahts (approx. 1$) for a meal consisting of rice and two portions of vegetables.
We spend the afternoon walking down the streets which, by the fact, aren’t a very common sight in Pai, tried a typical Thai specialty: Mexican burrito. It was delicious. The following day we rented a scooter and simply drove around the place. We saw a couple of elephants, visited a waterfall which instantly made a top three list of all the waterfalls we’d seen. And we had only seen three of them. On our way back we stopped to try a juice we had never tried before that was being sold in a yard.
We hardly managed to pack our things when, suddenly, a guy from the yard came recommending me to park my scooter somewhere in the shadow after which, with a smile on his face, sat at our table and, with a glass of red whatsitname juice. Started serving a cooked potato, peanuts, green mango, bananas, fresh coconut and a bottle of wine made of above mentioned whatever juice. With a question marks above our heads we wished ourselves bon appétit and dug in. After a few minutes a couple approached us and sat at the table right next to ours, but we invited them to join us. They told us that, in reality, they had bumped into this place only yesterday and were back for more. It was all you can eat and drink, and you give as much money as you could. Plus, everything was vegetarian.
We had a small chit-chat, took some photos of a land crack, that is the three of them – the story is that a guy owning an estate simply woke up one morning in 2008 only to discover a huge hole where there used to be an estate next to his own. Then he made a smart move: since his estate was on the way to the waterfall he decided to use his misfortune and turn it into a successful business. Plus, they knew what they were doing – donations were paying off. The guests felt that they should leave a considerable amount of money, and they were being so friendly and kind (they would fill up your glass up to four times – that I guarantee!) so you end up leaving more money than you would pay for a meal in a restaurant with fixed prices.
With our stomachs full, we set off to visit a farm we’d found across CS, situated only 70 kilometers south-westward. Scooter, house, things, leaving Chloe on a crossroads, returning the scooter, getting back to Chloe with a help of a guy on a motorbike with a trailer where I rode next to two dogs. Lifting our thumbs, back of a pick-up, wind in our hair and stuff like that.
Once we were on a farm it felt like the time had stopped: no electricity, no warm water, no any sign of civilization. However, there was plenty of silence, interesting people who spend most of the year on the farm bathing in a small creek some one hundred meters from the farm, cooking and helping around everyday chores. That was exactly what we needed after nearly 2000 kilometers of driving mostly on the back part of the pick-ups, on +40°C. A rest from all the travelling we’d done for the past two weeks.
One does get tired from travelling a lot. The fact is that I’d started this journey with very little experience as a passenger; at least as far the duration is concerned. The longest journey I’d been before this one lasted 60 days which is 940 less than this one is supposed to last. Sometimes I can’t help wondering whether I’d overrated myself. A lot of experienced passengers warned me that I would get bored, that I would miss the comfort and safety of the home, my close ones. But – I haven’t. At least not in such a measure that I would want to go back home. All I needed to do was take a small break: a few days, a couple of weeks, a few months.
That was exactly what we did on the farm: had a small break. And even after our stay there – when we went to get some water supply in the village nearby we saw a sign by the road – Tam Wua Forest Monastery. We were informed that you could go there and try Vipassana meditation, totally for free. We had plenty of time so we decided to take a few-kilometers-long walk to a Buddhist temple in the middle of the forest.
The place turned out to be our favorite place in Thailand.