I can hardly believe that I have actually made it to Chiang Mai. Though it may not have been as physically or mentally challenging as cycling to Turkey from the UK it presented a few of its own along the way. Arriving into Thailand was not the easiest of journeys.
After a full day of travelling on the boat, crossing the border into Thailand and then a few hours in a minivan we finally arrived in Chiang Rai at 11pm. The last thing we wanted was to be traipsing round in the dark with nowhere to stay. Almost everywhere was closed or full and the few places we found that were open wanted to charge $50 a night…far too much money! Thankfully I was not alone, having met people on route, and sure enough, with some perseverance we found a bed for $5 instead of $50. I was very grateful to Carlos, the internet on his phone and his map reading skills.
The next morning was New Year’s Eve and we were headed to Chiang Mai…or so we hoped. We turned up at the bus station at 8am expecting to jump on the bus straight to Chiang Mai for New Year. No such luck. It seemed we weren’t the only ones with this idea and everybody was headed in the same direction. Thankfully there were some seats left on the 12.30 bus so we finally arrived into the city at 4.30pm.
I headed straight into town to meet Maddy. She is also going to be volunteering with The Karen Hilltribes Trust, in a school 50km away from me. It was great to meet her and we spent the early part of New Year’s Eve eating good food in a local cafe and drinking a few beers, before hitting the Mango Shakes.
We spent a long time after wandering around the city enjoying the celebrations, and watching as couples and groups of friends released their lanterns into the sky. We both agreed we didn’t want to send one up as they are notoriously bad for the local wildlife and environment (sure enough we saw plenty of the remnants today) but it was undoubtedly beautiful to watch them drifting across the sky.
All was well until we left the little local’s bar we were in at 11.55 to see if there would be any fireworks in the sky. Sure enough there were fireworks, but not as I’d imagined. Nothing was organised. Instead, random people poured out of the bars and into the streets carrying random fireworks that they had bought and lighting them outside on the road.
It was crazy. Drunk people dancing, partying and whooping as fireworks exploded all around. Between the fireworks, tuktuks and motorbikes would weave along the road avoiding the debris and people would be lighting lanterns. This too avoided all health and safety, with many getting caught on bunting, tree branches or worst of all, electric cables…
It was certainly an experience and I won’t be forgetting it any time soon, but I’m not sure its the kind of risks I usually enjoy taking. Having said that, I think we picked the worst spot in Chiang Mai, as elsewhere was apparently much more civilised!
After 3 months and 15,000km or more of travelling, it is hard to believe I am finally here. I am in Thailand!
It felt good to arrive Chiang Mai on the last day of 2015 although it feels somewhat surreal that I have actually reached my planned destination. Celebrating the New Year here was a poignant way to start the next stage, and perhaps most challenging part so far, of my adventure.
Though they may not be the most wildlife friendly, the skies above Chiang Mai looked beautiful last night, with hundreds of Lanterns released into the sky.