After flying back to Bangkok from Vietnam we headed straight to the train station for the sleeper to Chiang Mai. The sleeper was certainly an authentic Thai travel experience, we were actually really cold for the first time in ages because the air con was so effective and the 2 guys in the (seperate) bunks above us snored! Best bit was the breakfast which Ann had selected for us both the night before. To be fair she only looked quickly and orange juice and coffee seemed a decent bet with whatever came with it. Now I’m not sure if the phrase ‘cooked breakfast ‘ had lost something in translation and become ‘cookie breakfast’ because along with our drinks we had 6 Oreo cookies and 4 chocolate chip cookies each!
We had a bit of a disappointment when we got to our hotel. Having booked it before we left for Vietnam, and with being so busy while we were there, we hadn’t really looked closely at where we were going since we booked it. When we arrived it was okay but not familiar at all. I did some digging and discovered that the great deal I thought I had got at the Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel was in fact a fairly ordinary deal for the Nakara Boutique Hotel. I was aware that sometimes hotels copied popular names but I had booked through TripAdvisor and they had actually directed wrongly from the review link, lesson learned to check even more carefully in future!
Chiang Mai is in northern Thailand surrounded by very green mountains. The city has an old town surrounded in the most part by a wall and a moat. Originally built to keep out marauders it would now seem largely to be used to keep in backpackers. The old town has literally hundreds of temples along with the hotels, bars and yoga schools. It is an interesting city to walk around and has a much more peaceful feel to it than Bangkok.
Massage is very much a part of life in Thailand and although there are some dodgy places, most are fine. We visited 2 of the more unusual ones in Chiang Mai. First we went to one which only employs blind masseurs, as well as allowing them to earn a living it is thought that their lack of vision is compensated for by their sensitivity of touch. Not sure my guy got the memo as it was one of the roughest massages I’ve had! Later in the week we went to a massage centre set up by the women’s prison, which trains them up to give them a trade when they leave. It’s part of a really innovative rehabilitation program which also includes setting up cafes along with a chain of very successful massage centres. The place was incredibly busy and in fact we had to go back the following day because they only take bookings on the day and by about 11 am they are fully booked. The centre was very well organised and had a very calming atmosphere. The massages we had there were probably among the best so far, in our time in Thailand.
We needed the massages as in between them we experienced the Flight of the Gibbon. This is a series of zip lines, abseiling and rope walks located in the rainforest about an hour outside Chiang Mai. It takes about 3 hours to get round. The zip wires are the longest in Asia and go up to 800 metres in length. However when you are up there you are more concerned about the height! Probably the scariest one was where they hooked you on at the back, so you were jumping off without anything to hold on to. Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure!