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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

28 November 2010

Theme of laid-back

It’s night-time at Cave Lodge, the lights are surrounded by swarms of incredibly stupid flying bugs and a huge gecko just jumped from the lampshade to the table with a thud like a dropped bag of sugar. So what have we been up to since Loy Krathong?

We spent four days in Chiang Mai eventually, no hardcore sightseeing but a lot of late breakfasts. In part simply because it was nice to be in a place where we didn’t have to push any salad or raw veg aside on our plate or think twice about ice cream. But also because Chiang Mai is a genuinely laid-back city. From what we’ve heard, skipping Bangkok and coming straight to Thailand’s second city was an inspired choice. And it’s not Nepal! There are art galleries and designer shops, there are no cows in the street, no crap dumped everywhere, there are actual pavements, road signs that are (mostly) obeyed, consistent hot water and electricity. Wow.

The best sight in Chiang Mai is the gloriously shiny wat (temple) atop Doi Suthep hill. But almost better than the temple was the grilled sweetcorn on the cob we had for brunch, along with a dish of eight fried quails eggs with soy sauce. Thai street food is as good as everyone says, and we’ve already munched through a selection: sweetcorn, fried quails eggs, grilled chicken livers, spicy fried potato, fried grubs, sticky coconut sweets, pickled fruit, dried longans, grilled chicken and lemongrass, fishcakes with lime leaf, black sesame chewy stuff, steamed buns stuffed with pork, grilled fat balls. Okay, not much but it’s a start. : )

Now we’ve hired a car and are touring the far north-west, right up by the Burmese border. Did I mention that unlike Nepal the roads are all paved and usually have a line down the middle? Our first stop was the Pong Dueat hot springs, with a rather pathetic geyser but some satisfyingly hot mineral pools built further down the hill. We spent the night in the town of Pai, which has loads of guesthouses… except we arrived late, on a long weekend, when the “Pai half-marathon” is held… so we only found somewhere when a guesthouse owner (good ol’ Mr Jan!) took pity and led us through the darkness to a lady who has a simple bungalow-for-two in her yard. Pai is also very laid back, much beloved of Thai weekend-breakers (did I mention that unlike Nepal, in Thailand lots of the tourists are locals), with a bit of a Burford or Stow-on-the-Wold vibe; totally touristy but pleasing anyway.

And now we are at Cave Lodge, a laid-back jumble of wooden buildings scattered on a foresty hillside miles from anywhere, in utterly beguiling karst country. We have just finished an exhausting day exploring three caves in the area with a local guide and six other assorted folks. The trek between caves was sweaty, slippery and clogged with man-high vegetation that grabbed, tripped, snagged, scratched and deposited burrs all over us. The caves were well worth it, a few kms from the Burmese border and visited by no-one except the odd expedition from Cave Lodge. Unanimously voted “best cave” was Waterfall Cave, but only because we had to crawl on our bellies for a few hundred metres through foot-deep water. Great fun!

Okay, perhaps you had to be there.


3 Responses to “Theme of laid-back”

  1. Jane says:

    I actually do think crawling thru water to get into a cave does sound fun…

    • shortclaws says:

      Then you’d have loved it. : )

      I’ve heard of Mammoth Cave – we’ll definitely have to get ourselves there sometime. Although, impressive though the Tham Lod cave was, it was even more exciting to “discover” beautiful cave formations ourselves with hard-hats and headlamps rather than going through a showcave on a tour.

      This is something we probably already knew about ourselves but have confirmed on this trip – we get more out of finding something by ourselves and exploring it alone, even if it isn’t anywhere near as impressive as the equivalent big tourist site that is visited by coachloads.

  2. Jane says:

    There are parts of Mammoth Cave that have been left ‘wild’… tours are of all sorts…

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