Spotting fried eggs at the caves, a dog-free climb through the forest, and homemade herbal whisky all round. 

Day 175: Chiang Dao, Thailand. We woke and had breakfast on the terrace again, while psyching ourselves up for today’s hike up the mountain and through the forest.

Neither of us were convinced that the hike would work out, or that we’d even manage to get started on it, given all the reports about overgrown trails in the area.

We walked down through the village, with two of the guesthouse dogs accompanying us part of the way (they’re adorable), then started our day with a visit to Chiang Dao cave.

The cave network is pretty spectacular, and far better than we’d anticipated. There are several Buddhist shrines, some world class geology and it’s occupied by some pretty chunky bats which flew back and forth above our heads. We paid our entrance fee and headed into the cave, then around the first bend found another ticket counter, where a guide tries to sell us a tour around an unlit part of the cave, for ten times the entrance fee.

Any caves we’ve visited in the past have, for some reason, highlighted rock formations that look like animals or birds, or in one case ‘a lady’s nipple’ (a guide in Vietnam managed to tell us that one with a straight face). Chiang Dao caves are no different – while we didn’t have a guide, there was a poster outside the caves which highlighted the rock formations we could see, including a frog hole, an elephant lung and – get this – a fried egg. Perhaps they had a gap to fill on the poster.

A little bizarrely there’s also an opportunity to rent costumes for a bit of dress-up activity towards the back of the caves. Why, we have no idea.

Beside the entrance to the caves, there’s a pond with stacks of monster carp and cat fish. Visitors can buy food to feed them. We watched a couple chucking food into the pond, with the fish completely ignoring them, so we’re guessing they may be a little overfed.

Afterwards we had a quick coffee at a cafe next to the caves, then put our brave hats on, and started our climb up through the forest. More than anything, we were nervous about dog attacks – there were dozens of dogs roaming around the grounds outside the caves, and we feared there might be lots more living up in the forest. We at least had walking sticks to help defend us from any cranky canines, but thankfully, we didn’t see a single one the entire time, which was a huge relief.

The hike was spectacular – we were the only ones walking the trail, perhaps because everyone else was put off by the thought of bashing through overgrown paths. We walked up a very steep hill and weaved our way through trees and rocks and bamboo. We had to bush-bash in parts, including a particularly tricky patch where obstinate bamboo branches had grown across the track, and it took a fair bit of time to clear a way through. Thankfully we didn’t see any snakes either, so all in all, it turned out to be a very good day.

The hike finished by crossing a small dried up river, then we climbed up a small wooden ladder which took us out of the forest and into the car park next to a local wat. We walked along the road back home, tired and muddy, but hugely happy with ourselves.

When we got back to the guesthouse, we showered and plonked ourselves in the garden with our books, before heading out early evening for dinner in the village.

This evening turned out to be a pretty big one. We got chatting to a bunch of people at the Cave Bar, including the owner Buppha, who set up her bar five years ago. We also had a fascinating chat with a guy who’s a cinematographer and has worked all over the world with lots of famous musicians. He’s now living in Thailand for a bit while he plans his next moves. He told us his favourite country is Bulgaria, so perhaps he’ll end up there. It was a fabulous evening with great company, and a really nice finish to our stay here.

Buppha rang the bell at 9pm and walked around the bar with a tray of her homemade herbal whisky. We’d already had one earlier, but she insisted we have another. A bit later, she offered us another one ‘for the road’, and after that, we decided it really was time to go. Before we left, she showed us the herbs that go into the whisky, that she steeps for days in alcohol in a huge glass container.

Tomorrow we pack up and head to Pai, which by all accounts is a bit of a hippie and backpacker town, with some interesting sights and walks. And perhaps we’ll find some more caves where we can spy fried eggs.

More then.

A jolly pedal around the countryside, encountering a pack of ferocious dogs, and Jim wins multiple pool games against himself.

Day 174: Chiang Dao, Thailand. We started the day with a leisurely breakfast on the terrace overlooking the guesthouse gardens, happily scoffing Malee’s homemade bread and jam with great freshly brewed coffee.

After breakfast, we hired two mountain bikes and set off for a pedal around the local area. The bikes were in good condition and definitely fit for purpose, though most of our day’s cycling was spent on roads and reasonably good condition tracks. After the town bikes in Sukothai and elsewhere, it was luxury to have so many gears to play with. Though sadly, Jim didn’t get a ‘special’ saddle this time around, so his delicate bum just had to put up with the bumps.

We cycled to the Pong Arng hot springs – there’s not a lot there other than a few circular concrete tubs of hot water next to a river, which not surprisingly smelt strongly of sulphur. A bunch of guys were dabbling their toes to try to reap the benefits of the mineral rich water.

Nearby was the entrance way to the Wildlife Sanctuary Research Centre. We walked through and spotted a sign for a nature trail that climbs up the hill. We started to walk towards it, but a bunch of staff shooed us away, shaking their heads vigorously. We’ve no idea why, but it’s a huge shame – we’re really struggling to find any open trails in this area.

We got back on our bikes and pedalled into Chiang Doi town – the main town in the area, about 7km from our accommodation. It was time for a coffee, though we failed to spot any cafes that were open. Eventually we ended up having instant coffee at the bus station, where Jim bought a tub of weird looking gnarly sweet fruits with a sour powder coating. Who knows what they were – and at least they weren’t insects this time.

After our caffeine break, and stares from a few hopeful bus drivers who were hoping we might fill a couple of their empty bus seats, we headed on our way to check out Phra Nares wat and meditation centre. To get there we had to pedal down a bunch of very scenic small country roads and a few dirt tracks, lined with fields packed with maize and other crops. Lots of locals were out working the fields, and waved cheerily at us as we whizzed past.

We came across a new wat under construction on the way too. There will be a new Buddhist meditation centre here at some point, one of several in the area.

The road up to the Phra Nares wat was seriously steep, so we had to get off and push (or rather drag) our bikes up the incline. There were some pretty cool multi-coloured demons along the way, looking more comical than scary.

We arrived at the top, huffing and puffing, but it was well worth the effort – some great views across the countryside and a very ornate staircase up to the wat itself. Sadly the wat at the top of the steps was closed, but it was still fabulous to visit the grounds.

Halfway up the steps we spotted a very cool stick insect on the wall, just hanging out in the afternoon sun.

We cycled around the top of the hill to reach a second wat. We heard a dog barking, then two, and next thing six large black dogs were charging up the hill towards us. They were snapping and snarling and pretty ferocious – not good at all. As they reached our bikes, we started shouting and yelling at the tops of our voices, and somehow managed to get past them without getting bitten.

Pretty shaken up, we continued up the hill to another wat, though there wasn’t a great amount to see – it looks like it’s closed except when there’s a service happening. And we had to contend with another two snappy dogs, though they were nowhere near as ferocious as the earlier pack.

We pedalled around some more serene country roads, then headed home to read our books and chill in the garden. And Lil did lots of research on how to survive an encounter with a ferocious pack of stray dogs.

We had dinner in the village again (with Christmas carols playing in the background), accompanied once more by the small-helicopter-sized mosquitoes. Then we went back to Cave Bar for a beer and more of their divine homemade herbal whisky. Jim played a few games of pool with himself, and apparently won all of them.

The lovely English couple we met the previous night were there again (we now know their names are Alison and Simon) and we had a good old chat about anything and everything. They’re heading back to England in a few days, but say we’ve inspired them – who knows, perhaps they’ll also decide to give up their routine-based lives for a bit and go travelling.

Tomorrow we’re keen to try and hike one of the local trails, though our hopes of bashing our way through the overgrown tracks don’t seem particularly high. Otherwise, we’ll go for a wander around the local area, and if we meet any dogs, at least Lil will know what to do (or what not to do).

More then.

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.

Six months since we set off from Sydney, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and a lovely lazy ending to the day.

Day 172: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Today marks a whopping 6 months since we left Sydney to start our Asian Rambles. The time has flown past, but it’s been packed with great experiences and adventures, and a whole heap of fun. Here’s to the next 6 months and beyond. 🙂

After another late night, we dragged ourselves out of bed mid-morning and inhaled several cups of caffeine to help kick start engines. We spent a bit of time booking accommodation for our next few days in Chiang Dao, then headed out for a long walk towards the west of the town.

It was another searing hot 34C afternoon. While it was a little hot for walking, it was perfect for drying chillis in the sun.

We took a short cut through a shopping centre for a free shot of air conditioning, where we stopped briefly to take in the Christmas decorations. Lots of ornate trees and a series of dancing santas, some with saxophones. As someone on Facebook reminded us earlier today, there’s only 39 days to Christmas.

Lil had spotted an online ad for a charity book sale at a fair trade cafe a few kilometres from our guesthouse. We popped in to have a dig through their tumbling piles of secondhand books. Jim has a kindle so doesn’t ‘do paper’ any more – Lil however still loves paper books but can’t carry more than two at a time. So after some extensive rummaging she bought one book, which she’ll now have to lug around until she finishes her current one.

We continued walking and exploring, with no particular place to go, which is sometimes a very good thing. We passed a very weird looking deserted waiting area – oddly placed plastic seats in a bit of a wasteland. What that’s about, we have no idea.

We stopped for coffee at a tiny cafe in a small street, watching the world go past and enjoying our last full day in Chiang Mai.

We’d originally planned to go to stand up comedy this evening, but a quick look on YouTube made us question whether the American comedian we were hoping to see was actually very funny or not. So we decided to give it a skip, and instead had a wonderful lazy evening on the sofa watching rubbish TV, eating pot noodles and generally doing not much at all.

Tomorrow we pack up again, to catch a bus to Chiang Dao. We’ll really miss Chiang Mai, it’s a happening city and we’ve had a lot of fun here. But we’re also looking forward to getting out into the countryside, and doing some more trekking.

More then.

Wrestling with prepositional phrases, travel research fuelled by 103 browser tabs, and another big fun night of music.

Day 171: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Today was a day of learning, research and planning – all necessary admin in amongst all the fun.

This morning Lil managed to complete another chunk of her Teaching English as a Foreign Language course, wrestling with prepositional phrases, gerunds and the present perfect progressive tense. Lots of grammar structures that are a very distant memory from our school days, and a little mind boggling to revisit at this stage in life.

Jim spent a few happy hours playing online scrabble – not exactly learning, research or planning. Though he did run up and down stairs to the laundry a few times, to get a very large pile of washing cleaned and dried. So top marks for that one.

The afternoon was spent planning the final two weeks of our stay in Thailand, and where to head after that. We’ve given up trying to pack too much into our travels, then finding ourselves having too little time in too many places and a lot of stressful shuffling in between. So we’ve agreed to focus on just three more places in Northern Thailand – Chiang Dao, Pai and Soppong. All of which are easy to get to from Chiang Mai, and appear to offer good hiking opportunities.

After a few hours of research, fuelled by 103 open browser tabs, we decided enough was enough and packed up and headed out for an early dinner. We couldn’t resist a final visit to the lovely lady in the laneway restaurant (we still don’t know what the restaurant is called and couldn’t spot the name today either). We had yellow chicken curry again, very spicy fish and beans, and beef noodles with cabbage – and once again, everything was sensational. The lady should probably be running a cooking school to share her impressive cooking skills, but then she’s probably very happy just keeping on doing what she’s doing.

The other good thing about the restaurant is there’s a market right outside, so Lil popped out to buy another ton of jack fruit while we were waiting for dinner to be cooked. All in the name of efficiency.

Afterwards we had another big evening of music – our third this week. This time a Friday evening open jam session at a cafe and bar in the old town. It was a long night and a lot of fun, and we recognised a few of the musicians from Monday night’s blues jam. We’re starting to feel like we fit in a bit too well here. 🙂

A young English couple set up the music jam seven months ago after they arrived in Chiang Mai, having thrown in their stressy jobs in the UK. They’re both musicians, have since set up online web businesses that cover the bills, and have grown the open jam night from nothing to a hugely successful event. Very impressive.

The venue was packed, with people spilling out onto the outdoor patio and pavement, and a chalk board full of musicians keen to get up and jam.

One of the ladies running the venue takes her dog to work; a super cute brown terrier called Luca who runs around the bar (when he’s not relaxing on ‘his’ seat) demanding pets and attention from everyone. A simply adorable canine, which we instantly fell in love with.

We chatted to a lovely elderly Canadian couple for a bit, who were having their after dinner ‘cawfee’. Like the Canadian couple last night, they leave Canada during the winter to spend six months of the year in Chiang Mai. We also chatted to an American guy who has had a late life career change. Having spent his previous working life in the US military, he’s now attending massage school for seven weeks in Chiang Mai before returning to the US to put his new skills into action. That’s quite a career change right there.

It was another very late night, which likely means another late start tomorrow. We’re hoping to pack in another walk around the town, a visit to a charity book sale (we don’t need any more books, but can never resist a rummage through a pile of secondhand paperbacks). Then we’ll head to stand up comedy in the old town tomorrow evening – our first comedy in over six months. And hopefully we’ll get to chat to some more interesting travellers over a beer or two.

More then.

A long hike to a touristy temple, packing away thousands of lanterns, and pets are the next big thing in town.

Day 170: Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were up super early to head out and hike the Monk’s Trail up to Wat Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple on the top of nearby Suthep mountain.

We could have got a taxi to the start of the hike, but decided to walk the 5.5km instead. It was a cool and overcast morning, perfect for hiking. As we walked out of town we could just about see Wat Doi Suthep through the trees, perched up on the mountain in front of us – from where we were, it looked an awfully long way up.

We walked west out through the town, eventually passing Chiang Mai Zoo, and up a steep paved road to the start of the walk.

The Monk’s trail up through the forest was fabulous. It’s a little rough and pretty steep in places, but very easy to follow, with strips of orange monks robes tied around trees at intervals. It’s a popular hike with locals too – we passed lots of other walkers, and some very keen people running up and down the trail, somehow managing to stay upright.

It’s autumn here now, and lots of fallen leaves were piling up along the way. Some nice cover for the oodles of snakes that are no doubt lurking in the forest.

Roughly half way up the trail is another temple, called Wat Pha Lat. The temple itself isn’t large or particularly ornate, but it’s very pretty and in lovely surroundings, with shrines, gardens, a rocky stream and some great views across the city.

We continued up the trail, reaching a main road where we needed to cross over to the continue the trail up the mountain. There were big signs saying ‘Construction area, do not enter’ and the route to the trail was taped off. Lil went and spoke to the workmen and asked if we could climb over the tape to access the trail. They nodded yes, and didn’t seem at all bothered – over the course of the day we realised that stacks of people were doing the same thing. The guys were laying new power lines and further up the trail we had to step precariously over the new cables and conduits before continuing up the path. Clearly OH&S isn’t much of a thing here.

The second half of the trail was even steeper than the first half. We eventually arrived at the main road again, and walked a few hundred metres to reach Wat Doi Suthep. We could see straight away we’d arrived at temple tourist land, with thousands of people milling on the streets and in the temple complex itself.

The temple definitely wasn’t our favourite place. It’s hellishly touristy, with endless opportunities for people to part with their money by buying flowers, candles, incense, having photographs taking or donating to a list of different causes. But on a positive note, there wasn’t a single monkey in sight.

As we walked up the steps to the temple, we spotted three little girls dressed in what we assume is some sort of traditional costume. They were posing for photographs with people – we guess in return for money, though we didn’t actually see any money changing hands.

When we’d finished at the temple (which didn’t take long), we walked up to a viewpoint, then retraced our steps back down to the town. The return trail was easier because it was downhill, but also tougher in parts due to the slippery mud. A little bafflingly, we saw a few girls walking the trail in flip flops and thin sandals – hopefully they managed to stay upright.

As we walked into the old town area, lanterns were being taken down and packed into the back of trucks – the end of the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival for another year. Next up is the Chiang Mai Pet Fair from 14th to 17th of November, the biggest pet event in Thailand with a theme of ‘My Pet, My Super Hero’. While we doubt it will attract many tourists, perhaps we’ll see some superman and superwoman attired moggies roaming around town.

In total we walked 22km, a decent chunk of which was uphill, so we were happy to put our feet up for a bit when we reached our guesthouse.

This evening we went for a couple of beers at the Sax Bar (though again there wasn’t any live music). We had a lovely chat with a couple from Canada who spend 6 months of the year at home, and 6 months travelling to avoid the Canadian winter. Afterwards we went to a nearby eatery for dinner, where it took forever for our food to arrive. We only got three of the five items we ordered, but couldn’t be bothered asking for the missing food, or we might well still be there now.

Tomorrow we’re having a catch up day, to do some travel planning and a large pile of washing, and Lil needs to do another chunk of her Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. Our legs will also be happy to have a rest.

More then.

A tricky trip to the insect zoo, learning all about beetle fighting, and Jim holds a venomous scorpion.

Day 169: Chiang Mai, Thailand. We were up late again, after a late night of music. Nights out on the town and early mornings just don’t mix too well.

We decided to push out our hike again, and instead visit the Siam Insect Zoo, about 20km north of Chiang Mai. Getting there proved to be a bit tricky – an online app called Moovit showed a series of buses that leaves from outside the nearby Design College, and either go right to the Insect Zoo, or drop passengers on the main road a few kilometres away.

We walked to the Design College to catch the 12 noon bus, but couldn’t find a bus stop, and a girl at the college said she’d never seen a bus pass by in all the time she’d worked there.

We waited until 12.15pm, then gave up and walked to the bus terminal, further to the north of town. The information desk has a window at waist height, so Lil crouched over and had a tricky conversation with the girl behind the desk, who pointed us to the yellow taxis around the corner.

The yellow taxis were pretty expensive, so we went back to the regular buses, and asked if one of the buses going up the main road towards Doi Luang could just drop us off. After trying to sell us tickets to a completely different town, then to the Tiger Kingdom, we eventually managed to buy the tickets we needed.

The bus trip took around 30 minutes, and after being dropped off on the main road, we walked the last 3 and a half kilometres to the Insect Zoo.

The Zoo is fabulous – a huge collection of insects and arachnids, some we’d never heard of before. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the exhibition area, peering at lots of live bugs, shining torches in the cages with tarantulas, walking through a butterfly garden, and taking the opportunity to hold some live critters.

We read about beetle fighting – a gambling sport in the north of Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai. Locals search out the large horned beetles, then feed them with sugar cane stem, train them to be more aggressive for fighting, and sell them on roadside stalls.

There was also an information stand on the nutritional value of bugs, so now Jim can check the protein and fat content when he scoffs crickets, silkwork pupae and other delicacies at street markets.

One of the staff at the zoo let us climb into a cage with three large iguanas which we were allowed to touch but not hold, then afterwards we were able to hold some smaller ones. They’re such fabulous creatures.

And for anyone who’s keen to have an iguana as a pet, there was a tank full of small ones on sale for 420 Baht each (around 20 AUD).

Jim held a small but interesting caterpillar, a huge Jungle Nymph stick insect, and then was super-brave and asked to hold a venomous scorpion. Lil was happy to just watch.

When we’d had our fill of critters, we had some great coffee in the outdoor courtyard cafe, then walked back to the main road to catch a bus home again.

The first two buses that went past were full, but then a songthaew which had a couple of seats spare pulled over and gave us a ride back to Chiang Mai.

We dropped our packs off at the guesthouse, then went straight out again for dinner, back to the restaurant from a couple of nights ago where the lovely lady cooked us some more sensational food – red chicken curry, fried chicken and cashew nuts and the great papaya salad she makes right on the spot.

Then home for a much needed chill-out evening with some rubbish TV and a couple of beers, followed by an early night.

Tomorrow we’ll walk to the base of a nature trail, then hike up through the woods to an old temple, and on to some other scenic attractions. And hopefully we won’t see any of the icky bugs we encountered at the Insect Zoo today.

More then.

A playschool moment at the post office, Jim considers getting a beer service dog, and jazzing it up at the co-op.

Day 168: Chiang Mai, Thailand. After a very late night, we had a very late start to the day. We woke to find all four wifi connections at the guesthouse internet not working – not great when you need to do a bunch of stuff online, including writing this blog post.

We headed out to a local cafe to use their wifi. While it wasn’t the strongest connection, it just about sufficed.

When we’d finished what we needed to achieve online, we headed out to take a look at a few more wats (Buddhist temples) and have another long walk. The town was noticeably quieter today; either people had headed off after yesterday’s main festival event, or they were still in bed with hangovers.

We walked to a nearby post office to post a letter. We took a ticket and sat in the waiting area. When our turn came, the lady behind the desk gave us two postage stamps, and a tube of glue. Here the stamps don’t come pre-glued – it’s a stick-it-yourself affair. We enjoyed our brief playschool moment.

Close to the post office there’s a cat cafe, similar to the ones in Sydney and Japan, where you pay a fee to play with cats and have a coffee. Interestingly this one also offers cat grooming, which we’d never heard of before. Do cats need or want to be groomed?

Next we walked through the complex of the Women’s Correctional Institute, an initiative that trains female prison inmates with skills such as massage, hospitality and customer service, so they’re equipped with skills to find a job when they leave prison. Each morning around 25 inmates leave Chiang Mai Women Prison to go to the Institute, where they work in a massage shop in a wooden house, alongside a restaurant with a small leafy courtyard. It’s a great initiative, that gets great reviews.

Further into our walk, Jim spotted a sign for a local bar with a sketch of a dog carrying a beer on its head, which he thinks is a great idea. Lil pointed out that taking a dog with us on our travels may be a little problematic, and a beer-carrying dog is unlikely to qualify as ‘a service animal’.

We stopped for a break in a park on the edge of the old town. The park shop was selling food to feed the fish in the lake. A little girl was having a heap of fun with her mum, until dozens of pigeons started descending for some free food. At which point the little girl screamed and ran away, deciding feeding the fish wasn’t such a fun thing to do after all.

We had one final wat visit to Wat Lok Moli, originally built around 1360 and long abandoned until the early 21st century when it was renovated. We watched a golden cockerel being raised and lowered on a pully, offering up a small container of holy water to the Buddha on the temple above, from a basin beneath the chedi.

In another part of the temple grounds, there was an impressive and huge display of coloured cockerels along a wall, and gathered around a shrine. Each of them had an inscription though we were unable to find out much more about the quite bizarre display.

We had dinner at an outdoor eatery, a really good red chicken curry, minced pork with green beans, and stir fried tofu and beansprouts. They mustn’t clean their woks too well in between different dishes, as Jim got a free piece of pork intestine and a prawn whisker in his. Needless to say, he scoffed the intestine.

Nearby, a guy was lighting and inflating a night lantern – the first time we’ve got close to the process – he made it look easy, but we suspect there are many singed tourists around town today.

After dinner, we went to the North Gate Jazz Co-Op for their weekly jazz jam, which was high energy and sensational. The evening started with a set from the house band, which was phenomenal, then continued with a jam which ranged from jazz through blues, rock and everything in between.

The place was packed and spilled out on to the street for the entire night. It was fabulous to see so many international musicians coming together, they hailed from all over the world including the US, Germany, Korea, Japan and Holland. Some very proficient musicians and some great singers, apart from two Koreans who introduced themselves with “we don’t sing so well, but we’re on vacation so we thought we’d give it a go”. They were right when they said they don’t sing well, my goodness. Jim’s beer service dog could probably do a better job.

We got home very late again, so tomorrow’s hiking plans may get shifted another day. Hopefully we’ll manage an early night tomorrow.

More then.

Anticipating a major festival event, lanterns and flowers everywhere, and a superb night of blues music.

Day 167: Chiang Mai, Thailand. Chiang Mai is packed full of wats (Buddhist temples) – over 300 of them to be precise(ish). After a fairly lazy start to the day, we headed out early afternoon to check out just a few of them.

There was a noticeable level of excitement building around the town, in anticipation of one of the main Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival events tonight – launching thousands of night lanterns into the sky, and floating (loy) banana leaf flower and candle boats (krathong) down the river Ping.

Hundreds of stalls around the town have been selling all sorts of krathong, from small simple flower collections to highly creative and elaborate arrangements in all sorts of shapes. Prices mostly range from 50c to about five dollars.

We visited a few different wats; Wat Phantao and Wat Chedi Luang being the oldest and largest, dating from around 1400 – all decorated with lanterns and ribbons for the festival.

At Wat Muen Tum people were buying lanterns, which the monks constructed and lit for them, before hanging them in nearby trees and around the monastery.

The town is very walkable, with decent pavements and roads, and before long we found ourselves right on the other side of town. We turned back to retrace our steps and headed back to the guesthouse for a rest. Even there, there were nightlights being placed on the railings and stairwells of the guesthouse, for lighting later in the evening.

Around 6pm we headed back into town, taking care not to ignite our trouser legs or hair as we walked down the stairs.

Our big plan tonight was a weekly blues jam at a venue above the night bazaar, called Boy Blues Bar. We’ve been starved of live music of late, so were pretty excited at the prospect of some good blues music.

As we walked across to the night bazaar, the streets were filling up with people clutching flat pack lanterns and krathong, making their way to the parks on the banks of the Ping River to set them off.

We had dinner at the night bazaar first – pretty decent pad thai, spicy minced pork and a pork, egg and rice dish – then wandered back out to take a look at the thousands of lanterns starting to be launched into the sky.

Boy Blues Bar opens at 8pm, and eager beavers that we are, we were first to arrive, keen to grab some good seats. A great band played from 8.15 to 9.45pm (a pretty diverse range of blues and rock), then the jam started.

The music venue gets excellent reviews, and the weekly jam is billed as attended with great musicians, and a lot of fun. It deserves the praise. We had a superb evening, with musicians changing every two songs and some really fun guys too. Interestingly, a lot of the musicians were either American or German, and lots must live in the town as they were well known to each other.

Boy (the owner of the place) is a huge ball of energy – he sings and plays guitar excellently, is a wise crack and a really lovely guy. He opened Boy Blues Bar in 2010, as the first venue to feature blues music in Chiang Mai.

The venue is covered with a large tin roof, with open sides, so we were able to keep an eye on the lantern launching while the evening went on. The jam finished after midnight, and we wandered back to our guesthouse, a 30 minute walk.

What goes up, must come down of course, and the streets were liberally littered with fallen deflated night lanterns. Thousands of people were still out roaming the streets, launching lanterns and fireworks, eating and drinking, and enjoying the party atmosphere.

We were impressed to see teams of cleaners out starting to clear up the mess – we suspect by tomorrow morning it will look like nothing had happened.

We reached home close to 1am, had a quick sandwich (hungry again and on a mission to try and control our already reduced weight levels), then headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.

We’d originally planned to go on a hike tomorrow, but given the late night, it’s unlikely we’ll be up and about early enough to make it worthwhile. Which is fine, as we have another 5 days in Chiang Mai. So we’ll likely head out and explore some more of the town. And we may even find some more live music later – we’re determined to pack it in while we can.

More then.

A long queue for a short journey, settling in to a bizarre apartment, and getting into festival mode.

Day 166: Lampang & Chiang Mai, Thailand. After a last coffee at the fabulous guesthouse garden cafe in Lampang, where we were treated to a Sunday morning bout of Thai yodelling music, we packed up and walked to the bus station around 11.30am.

The queues at the bus station were unexpectedly long. Presumably people were visiting Chiang Mai for a few days for the Loy Krathong and Yi Pen Festival, or returning home to Chiang Mai after a weekend spent visiting friends and family in Lampang. Who knows? What we did know was that we were going to be lucky to get any bus tickets at all, given the length of the queues.

Thankfully we managed to get two seats on the 3.30pm bus, which meant a four hour wait. A short while later, a sign was taped onto the bus ticket kiosk saying next available bus 5.50am tomorrow. So we really did get lucky.

While were were waiting, we bumped into Marjorie again, the lovely retired lady we met on the bus from Sukhothai a couple of days ago, who is travelling around Asia on her own. She said her stay in Lampang was great; she hired a bicycle and had a ball pedalling around the temples and quiet streets on her own. She was also on her way to Chiang Mai, so perhaps we’ll bump into her again there.

We had coffee at a cafe near the station, did some travel planning and some reading, and kept ourselves amused until our scheduled bus departure. It’s only an hour and a half to Chiang Mai, so a large chunk of the day was spent on going a very short distance.

We arrived in Chiang Mai just after 5pm, clambered into a red truck and headed into crazy town. The Loy Krathong and Yi Pen Festival is a massive event, with people flocking from across the country and overseas to be part of it. The streets were heaving as our driver weaved his way in and out of the traffic, towards the centre of town.

By the time we arrived in the centre, the evening festival activities were already well underway, with lanterns strung from every roof, lamp post and corner, and the streets packed with people taking in the sights.

We settled into our accommodation, which to be honest is a little bizarre. The guesthouse must have run out of standard rooms, so they assigned us an apartment on the top floor which is filled with an eclectic range of furniture, none of which matches. There are office chairs at the dining room table, old antique chairs next to the TV, and even a second sink in the living room. What the second sink is for, we have no idea. But the apartment is really clean, it’s in a great location and it’s fabulous to have so much space, so we’re very happy.

We headed out into the evening to catch a bit of the festival, starting by watching adults and kids lighting thousands and thousands of tea lights on the pathway around the moat. A spectacular sight, and very moving.

Then we stood and watched a street procession for a bit – lots of traditional costumes and huge festival floats. It was fabulous, but very, very slow.

There was lots of pushing and shoving as late comers tried to get a spot at the front. A French lady next to us growled at anyone who tried to secure a better spot and pushed them backwards again. We were almost expecting her to start a full on punch up, but thankfully she just kept growling at people. The beers she was knocking back (throwing the empty cans into her baby’s pram) probably weren’t helping.

After a while, we decided to head off and walk around the town for a bit. We spotted a bar called ‘Sax Bar’ which claims to be a music pub, though there was no sign of live music. A pavement table had just come free, so we grabbed it and sat with a couple of beers for the most excellent people watching session in a long time.

We also had the opportunity to watch some lanterns being launched into the sky. Officially, lanterns are only meant to be set off tomorrow and the next day after 7pm. Over a hundred flights into the local airport are being cancelled or rescheduled to allow this year’s mass lantern releases at out-of-town venues, which people pay hundreds of dollars to attend.

It was after 10pm when we left the Sax Bar, and lots of restaurants were already closing. We found a small eatery tucked down a laneway where the lovely lady owner cooked us a superb red chicken curry, green chicken curry and a fabulous papaya salad.

Then home to bed for a very long night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’ll explore the town a bit more, and see some more of the festival – and we may even have the chance to see some live music, which would be amazing. And perhaps we’ll bump into Marjorie again.

More then.