At the train station in Chiang Mai, there were guys holding hotel pictures, we looked at 2 and chose one. They provided free transport, and we didn't have to stay there if we didn't like it. The hotel was good though, big room for $13 with swimming pool, nice reception area, friendly staff and 4 thick books filled with positive comments :)
There is a women's prison in Chiang Mai. Normally no one would want to hire people playing with the law, and most of them return to previous habits due to lack of other options. The director of the prison made a program for these women. They study Thai massage, and half a year before their release, they can already practice on live patients :) This massage by prisoners is very famous and we decided to try it out, of course to support a good cause, but we weren't the only kind hearted people, and the place was full :( We went for a walk, ended up in a very posh area of Chiang Mai where we shopped till we dropped (for me it doesn't take that long, as I hate shopping), and I bought myself 3 pieces of jewellry, compliments of my father who passed me the money for my birthday :)
Walked around the town, saw a temple where there were tons of monks praying, the kids were so bored, and I think they were happy for our presence and picture taking to distract them from monotone brain washing. Then we did a massage by women who exited prison already, best massage ever, they're really professional the spa looks very nice, it costs less than a massage in other places and the money goes for a good cause, what else can be better? :)
Mom wanted to ride elephants, so we took a traditional Thai tour. We stopped at a village where they make local alcoholic drinks and knit scarves. The price of a 3 day hand knitted scarf is $4 before bargaining! Then we walked around traditional countryside of rice fields and small huts. I shot from the bow, and got 2 arrows very close to the center while the guys shot the trees around the target :) Saw some not very interesting waterfalls, then went on a bamboo rafting trip. Our drivers were so bad, I think they were drunk. They were just laughing when go swam through the trees or ended up on rocks. Once we even crashed on a waterfall. That's good that mom didn't understand the seriousness of the situation and actually had fun crashing and evacuating the raft :) Then was elephant riding, but I didn't like it as much as the time in India. There we sat on the back of the elephant, here we sat on a bench that was mounted on the back of the elephant. The trail also went up and down, and it was not comfortable to hang on. So much better when you can feel that massive animal moving below you and forming body to body connection, than doing a workout by trying to hang on to the bench in order not to fall off of it. We bought bananas to feed the elephant, and it was so cute, it would stop every minute and put it's trunk up to demand more bananas before it would start moving again :) I fed it one banana at a time to prolong the experience :) I'm sure it wasn't much fun for him though :)
Every day I'm not getting enough sleep, and I'm falling asleep since I open my eyes every morning, all day wishing for the night to come. Next week made the situation even worse. Poor mom agreed to my idea of doing a loop around Northern Thailand mountains on a scooter. The loop should've taken at least 10 days, preferably even 2 weeks, and since we didn't have that much time and mom wanted to see the famous Thailand beaches, we did it in one week, and man what a week that was! First day we rode for 130 kms which somehow took us 7 hours, though with breaks. The roads are in terrible conditions too, too many potholes and too many turns. This loop is also called the 1864 curves road. Turn after turn. A lot of times 180 degree turns done on a 45 degree inclinations. Sometimes it's so steep up that the scooter barely makes it, and I'm hoping that it would have enough energy to take us through the next turn without falling. "Sharp turn ahead!" ... wait a minute, if there'll be a sharp turn ahead, what was the turn that I just made now?? I'm making a right turn when in the middle of it there is already a sign for a left turn. "Use low gear", "Signal on corners" didn't make my mom happy, I'm not even talking about a bunch of bruises that somehow appeared on her legs. Oh, and did I forget to mention that it rained almost every day and we almost constantly arrived soaking wet. I put fuel in at every station even if I just refueled an hour ago, cause the fuel stations are never to be found. Always had a dilemma in the evening if to go faster and arrive while it's still light outside, or go slower, save fuel, and arrive after dark... if at all.
Arrived at Pai, which is a very cute little touristic town. I think everybody who's been in Pai fell in love in it. How can you not love a little cute town, right in the middle of mountains surrounded by traditional villages, beautiful landscape of rice fields, flowers, waterfalls and hot springs? In the town there was a market where they sell a bunch of stuff on the street, which is very typical of SE Asia, but too bad that almost everything they sell is identical to the next stall.
Next day scooter-ed around Pai, there are no signs, no directions, I have no idea if some streets are on the map or not. We climbed 2 waterfalls, sat at a very nice "Coffee in Love" cafe which sits right on the edge of a mountain overlooking a valley and mountains behind it. On the way to the 2nd waterfall, stopped at a "crack" cafe on the road. These people had a farm in that place until a few years earlier a crack has appeared in the earth and every year it's taking more and more of their farm land. So now they opened a restaurant where they serve yummy, fresh home made food by donation. We even tried yet another unknown fuit "Roselle" which I haven't seen sold neither at stores not on farmers markets.
Next day we went to a cave. If I was there alone, I'd stay in the region for 4 days maybe as it's rich with caves, and the hostel was way too nice. This cave wasn't that great though. The guides take you on a raft which they pull while walking in front of it. We saw some stalactite formations and 1000-2400 year old coffins with no mummies or other dead bodies :( No other activities for the day and we drove for our nightcap. Passed a village which I loved (mom hated). Very poor, no cars, no bikes, a bunch of children and chickens and an amazing view of the cloud covered valley. But it turned out not to be our village :( While I was searching for it, another tourist started driving beside us and told us to follow him. That's how we found our village which was very scenic too, but it sat in a valley instead of on the mountain. The guest house was very green and flowery and looked like it came out of a fairy tale There were 2 guys there who stayed for over 2 weeks ... too bad we only had 1 night. 8pm, time to sleep! :) Driving takes a lot of energy to look after all the uphill turns, passing cars, directions, scenery and potholes.
Woke up at 7 to leave early, but as always left around 9 (hoteli kak lutshe, poluchilos' kak vsegda - a Russian saying which means that we wanted to do it better, but turned out to be the same). That day we stopped at a waterfall, just to give our butt some rest and then drove to a very nice Chinese village a few kms from Burma. It started raining and we hid in a tea shop. We haven't even noticed and were served different kinds of tea, dried fruits and nuts. This was the best tea I've ever had in my life, absolutely incomparable to anything else I tried before ... forget about Darjeeling, come to Thailand! It's without any additives, just pure leaves. I haven't seen it sold anywhere, I guess the production is not that big to hit the market. We ate in a restaurant where we ordered 3 dishes, and were served elephant size portions. Tea leaf salad, some soup, and a 3 flavour fish which was the best fish ever. It was big, and I ate it all :) We ate overlooking a picturous lake with village huts on the opposite side. Then we drove to a nearby lake, 6kms took forever on these up down, left right, barely paved road. I think it took me about half an hour to cover that distance. The lake was peaceful and beautiful, but we only had 20 minutes left, most of which was spent looking for a washroom :) I wish we had one day longer so that we could stay in the bangalows overlooking the lake. On the way back it was getting dark and rainy and the mountains turned different shades of grey and dark blue. Every day I try to get to our night cap town at 6, but it's much better by 5:15 because all the mosquitoes and small bugs start to come out and I have a very good protein filled dinner :) 5kms till the town and it started to rain hard. I got all soaked, not good because I have a limited supply of cloths. Mom - "I feel uncomfortable on the bike. First 20 minutes are ok, but then I can't fell my butt, after 20 minutes my legs, 20 more minutes my back. But when it starts raining and those drops feel like 1000s of needles piercing through my body then I understand that everything I felt before was heaven compared to how I feel right now."
In the morning we went to a long neck village. It was an interesting experience, but it's pretty much a touristy thing. They knit scarves and sell souvenirs and you even have to pay to enter the village which consists of this souvenir street. Some of women's necks are really long, but apparently it doesn't deform their necks, and they can take out the rings freely without any adverse effects. It was nice, but would've been much cooler if you'd walk in the middle of the jungle and suddenly bump into them :)
We have a long journey ahead of us. First day we barely covered 130 kms, now we have 160, and the long necks don't count. At least the first 70 kms I went really really fast cause it was a straight road, so I took advantage of it and we covered it in a bit over an hour. I'm surprised mom didn't say anything when I was going that fast, maybe she wanted to finish sooner as much as I did. We did another detour to see the sunflowers. They're not really sunflowers, just yellow flowers that we see constantly on the road, but there, there were many many of them covering the whole hill, with a beautiful view of the mountains in the distance. It started to rain, and we got soaked and cold :( Couldn't go fast, too many potholes, we were running out of gas again, and scooter started making weird noises, running over a huge pothole that somehow camouflaged itself didn't help at all. It was the first time in my life when I exercised emergency breaking and mom almost flew off the scooter. My back starts hurting and my left hand is numb from pressing the breaks so much. We didn't make it to our town, stopped at the guest house on the road pretty much dead. Happy birthday to me :) 1 extra day would've been perfect!
The whole night it's raining, hopefully it will stop in the morning. We ascended the highest mountain in Thailand 2654 meters. On the way there were signs to honk on the corners and mom immediately got scared. On our final day of scooting around, she finally admitted that she wasn't built for that kind of adventure :) Well, at least now, some months later, she still remembers our trip, so that was worth it! (Though I'm sure she thinks otherwise ... an extra week on the beach would've definitely worth more :) )
On the top of the highest mountain was nothing special, and we didn't have time to go for nature trails. Also it was chilly, the clouds looked scary and there were no views. We drank coffee and drove away. When we got on the highway on the way back to Chiang Mai, the road signs showed 60 kms. It took 3 hours to cover it, much longer than on mountain roads. On approach to Chiang Mai there was so much traffic, 3 scooters in one lane, people driving with no rules, it was pretty scary playing these millimeter games and it was the first time during our trip when I actually started to feel nervous driving. In the city there is an old town 1x1 km where our hotel's at, and we got lost in it for an hour. The map sucks, it missed half of the street names, what's the point of the map then??? and I could've killed the person who invented it!
In the evening we finished our trip in a nice restaurant for my birthday.