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Wight Backpacker — Exploring Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 13:16

Follow former County Press employee Zoe Adler as she explores South East Asia and New Zealand with her partner, Jason Moore.
Chiang Mai, our first destination in Northern Thailand.
A charming city home to over 300 temples, the most grand of course being The Doi Suthep, as well as an enchanting walled old quarter, a night bazaar and a whole host of activities that could keep you busy for weeks.
We stayed in a cheap backpackers' hostel where we met lots of fellow travellers and took part in the mandatory exchange of travel tales — who has been to the most beautiful place or who has tried the weirdest thing etc.
It becomes quite competitive, everybody wants to have had the most authentic experience when in reality they are just one of thousands of other people doing the same thing.
However we did get lucky and met a good group of Europeans — having others to spend the day with us was a welcome change. 
Six of us shared a taxi for the day to keep costs down and visited The Doi Suthep.
An embellished dragon leads you up a steep stairway to the top of the mountain and you cannot miss the bright gold architecture and panoramic views.
In the last few weeks we have visited a fair few temples but this one is definitely the most famous and dramatic, so therefore busiest. Jam packed full of tourists and locals alike, it was difficult to get any decent photographs, but the view in its own right  was a sight to behold.
On our way back down the mountain, we were advised by the manager of our hostel to stop at Huay Tueng Thao Lake for lunch and a swim — this sounded like heaven after a sweaty morning worming our way through crowds.
The vast lake was lined with stilted bamboo huts where you could order food from the restaurant, before standing up and jumping straight in for a swim when you got too hot. Being one of only a few groups of tourists at the lake, joined by many locals, we felt as though we had found a hidden gem. 
A nightly food market was held in the old quarter which meant delicious, cheap, local street food.
The night markets in Thailand are famous for some of the most delicious flavours in the world, so we were very happy to find one in our first destination.
Apart from the occasional curry-out-a-jar , this was my first taste of real Thai food.
It was so delicious and inspiring that we booked a cooking class for the next evening.
Clad in a pink apron, large wicker hat and basket, they took us around their vegetable garden to pick our ingredients.
On the menu was fried rice, Pad Thai, red curry, spring rolls (my favourite) and chicken with coconut soup. Yum.
The dishes were all surprisingly easy to make with simple ingredients and quick. So quick that I was a bit apprehensive the chicken wouldn’t be cooked through.
We learnt how to wrap a spring roll properly before deep frying and make our own curry paste in a pestle and mortar.
After the dishes were made, the whole class sat down together to devour the feast. Tummy’s full, we were each handed a Thai cook book that had all the recipes in, as well as some more we could try ourselves, our teacher had even inscribed our name in Thai on the first page which was a very nice touch. 
Seeking some adventure we decided to go white water rafting in the Mae Taeng river as this also came recommended. Quite naive of us, as neither had done this before and had no experience as to what we were getting ourselves into. We drove for an hour and a half past hundreds of ‘Elephant Sanctuaries’ to get to our location.
The majority of tourists do not feel that their visit to this part of the world is complete without a walk, wash or ride experience with an elephant, so we did look into this as they are marketed as sanctuary’s that have saved the elephants from exploitation.
However upon further research we found that they aren’t as ethical as they may appear.
For us, if they are still kept in enclosures waiting for tourists to pay to see them, they are still being exploited.
We made the decision not to fund this attraction — but each to their own. 
Donning life jackets and paddles, we clambered into the raft with our instructor and two others.
We were told to listen for commands such as forward, back and get down when we were heading for a drop.
The course was 20 kilometres long and took one adrenaline filled hour!
The calmer parts allowed you to take in the stunning scenery of the surrounding  jungle. Then, every so often, came an invigorated paddle along with the words GET DOWN, which made you cling on so you weren’t the one to fall out.
I definitely recommend it, even for us complete beginners it was extremely fun and now considered a new hobby! 
After some Pad Thai for lunch our tour guide took us for a walk up to a waterfall. He said that it was safe to slide down as the rock was smooth and the pool at the bottom was deep — like a natural water slide.
Once standing at the top it looked higher than at first, but still I slid down and embraced the splash after a hike in the sun.
Deciding to leave Chiang Mai for a few days, we took a trip further north to Pai.
If you are brave enough, it is recommended to do this trip by motorbike so that you can really take in the superb views as you get further up the mountain.
It is a very windy, steep road notorious for accidents, so not being too experienced on a scooter we opted for the minivan, and could still definitely appreciate the view.
Pai is a small village, on the bank of Pai river, that feels like it hasn’t left 1970’s.
It had a true hippie-vibe with one of the best street markets I have ever been to. Three streets long with an abundance of bohemian crafts to buy and foods to taste — we ate our way from one end to the other switching between sweet and savoury and it was divine.
In a place like Pai it is impossible not to feel laid back and relaxed. Chilling out on the hostels deck, which was kitted out with hammocks and cushions, facing a backdrop of clouds and green mountains. Pure bliss.
We rented a scooter and checked off some of the must sees, such as Pam Bok waterfall, Boon Ko Ku So bamboo bridge, many of the cafe viewpoints that let you sip a cold beverage whilst on a swing looking out to the mountains, and of course Pai Canyon.
Unfortunately the weather did not allow for us to visit the last one, which was such a shame, but I feel that I still got to see all the beauty of Pai.
I would definitely visit the north of Thailand again, the jungle, waterfalls, rivers or food did not disappoint and the hospitality of the people is unrivaled. It's definitely not a place to be overlooked should you plan a trip over this way.
For now though, I am headed for some relaxation on the many white sand beaches of the South, hoping that the rest of the country compares. 
Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

Northern Thailand. Photo by Jason Moore.

 


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