Jim’s turn to navigate a waist-high window, drinking local coffee that’s not very local, and a candlelit evening at the village bar.

Day 173: Chiang Mai & Chiang Dao, Thailand. This morning we packed up, said our goodbyes to the lovely guesthouse owner in Chiang Mai, then walked to the local bus station to catch a bus to Chiang Dao, about 75km away.

We arrived at the bus station and bought two tickets to Chiang Dao. This time it was Jim’s turn to have an uncomfortable conversation through the tiny little waist-height ticket window.

The hour and a half journey whizzed by with no delays, and when we climbed off the bus in Chiang Dao, a yellow songthaew taxi was already waiting at the kerbside – perfect timing.

We were whisked along quiet country roads, and ten minutes later arrived at our accommodation – a fabulous collection of small wooden lodges in amazing gardens, about 7km west of Chiang Dao in a small village called Ban Tham. The accommodation is owned by a lovely couple called Malee and Som.

We got settled in, had a look around the great gardens, which include a large collection of orchids and ferns, and studied maps for the local area.

Malee warned us that some of the local trails are very overgrown. Another couple had tried to bash their way through one of them this morning, but had to give up. We’ll just have to see how we go.

Then Malee invited us in to her kitchen to try her wonderful homemade wholemeal bread, which was fresh out of the oven an hour ago, along with her divine home produced honey. Happy days indeed.

By now it was early afternoon, and too late to start any major activities for the day. So we wandered to the Tham Pha Plong wat, which is accessed by walking up 510 steps, with sensational views to the top of Chiang Dao mountain and the surrounding valleys. The wat houses a meditation centre that can accommodate up to 200 people.

There was also a first aid cabinet nailed to a post, with a sign inviting visitors to use whatever medication they wish. It seemed to be mostly tiger balm and smelling salts with a couple of dehydration powders, so if you faint, get dehydrated from walking up the steps, or find your muscles aching from the climb, you’re all set.

We headed back down and as we were walking through the car park by the entrance way, we spotted a stall holder had a sign saying ‘enjoy local coffee’, which sounded rather good. We sat at one of the plastic tables and asked for two coffees with milk. A jar of Moccona instant coffee, a flask of hot water and a tin of condensed milk were plonked in front of us. Either they were out of local coffee, perhaps they never had any to start with, or maybe the ‘local’ bit is the water in the flask. Regardless, the caffeine was welcome and the lovely lady gave us some oranges as we left.

Afterwards, we walked along country roads to another wat called Tham Pakpiang – a fairly large complex including a couple of shrines built into the rock. All the signs were in Thai, and all we could find online is it that it’s a sacred place where Buddhist saints went to die. Walking down steps into the cave underneath the rocks was pretty fascinating.

We also checked out the start of one of the walking trails – the one the couple had failed to bash through this morning. It looks horribly overgrown, but we’re wondering if we can maybe approach it from the other side and get through that way. That’s a challenge for another day.

We headed home, had cold beers from Malee’s fridge, and sat reading our books in the garden. Then early evening we wandered down to the village and had food in one of the handful of small restaurants. The food was great, but we had to bat off monster mosquitoes that were the size of small helicopters.

Afterwards we went for a post-dinner drink at a small fun place called the Cave Bar. We tried out their home made herbal whisky, served with roasted broad beans, which was all rather good.

Only 10 minutes after we arrived, the power went out – apparently a tree had fallen onto the local power substation. There was a flurry of activity to light candles, then the evening continued on.

A young girl from Austria and her Italian boyfriend came in and sang and played guitar in the candlelit bar, which was unexpected but fabulous. They’re staying at the guesthouse next door, and apparently are happy to pop in and sing and play guitar whenever asked – presumably they get free drinks in return.

And then we got chatting to a lovely English couple who are on holiday in Thailand for a couple of weeks. They told us all about their motorbike ride to some local villages today, which sounded great, though they were a little rattled to have encountered two large snakes along the way.

We wandered home along the dark roads, with all sorts of wildlife moving around in the trees and bushes along the roadside, and a trillion stars glittering overhead. Thankfully we remembered to bring a torch with us or it would have been just a tad scary.

Tomorrow we’ll either try to bash our way through one of the walking trails, or we might hire bikes and pedal around the local area. Whatever we decide, hopefully we won’t see too many snakes along the way.

More then.

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