Our time in Haad Salad was short-lived. Two of my old roommates were teaching English in Chiang Mai and we had booked plane tickets to visit them a few days earlier. Chiang Mai is basically on the opposite side of Thailand, but we lucked out since there was an airport on a neighboring island with affordable airfare.
[Side note on my history of travel]
I’m cheap and I’ll admit it. The amount of time I devote to looking for the best prices on plane tickets is unreal and I’ve sacrificed convenience for a good price more than once. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some pretty “interesting” travel experiences – missed flights because I didn’t leave enough time for a layover, rebooking without refund… you get the picture. The fact that we made it from Chicago to Bangkok without any major issues was really exciting and I pointed this out to Alli on our taxi ride from the airport in Bangkok. She told me to shut up so I didn’t jinx any future travel. Yep, I think we all know what’s about to happen here. #foreshadowing
[Back to the story]
Our flight left from Koh Samui at 11 a.m., which required us to catch the 7 a.m. ferry from the pier in Koh Phangan. There weren’t any taxis out this early so Radu agreed to take us to the pier on his Bella (that’s what he calls motorcycles). We finally made it to the Koh Samui airport after a 1 hour ferry and 1 hour bus ride. As we were wandering around the airport, we realized there were no signs for Air Asia. We asked several people where Air Asia was and every one of them responded with a blank stare or a look of confusion. It turns out that Air Asia doesn’t even operate out of the Samui airport! When we booked our tickets online, they were kind enough to book us a FERRY from Samui to Surat Thani airport (which was four hours away).
We shrugged it off as an expensive lesson learned and caught a taxi to the pier to try our luck with the overnight trains. Our next few legs of travel were well-timed. We were able to catch a ferry, bus, and overnight train to Bangkok all within 30 minutes of arriving in each point of departure. Since it was 12 hours from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, we decided to spend a day shopping in Bangkok and then take another overnight train to Chiang Mai. In the end, we really only wasted one day on travel since we were able to travel by night.
An Austrian Hangover
We missed the Austrians again. We started comparing everyone we met to Radu and Mike and no one really measured up. We called it our Austrian hangover. We finally decided to try to convince them to join us again as we were boarding our overnight train to Chiang Mai. Our new German friends across the isle were kind enough to let me use their phone (which had internet somehow) to Facebook message them. I honestly didn’t think they would come. They had plans of their own and weren’t very interested in the north since there weren’t any beaches (“bitches”). 12 hours later, when we arrived in Chiang Mai, we had a message from Radu saying they had purchased flights and would arrive later that afternoon. Sweet!!
We headed to Wat Ched Yot, where we were meeting my friend Daytona. Our train was three hours late thanks to Thai time (apparently this is normal), and part of me wondered if she had given up on us coming at all. We wandered around the temple for a bit until we finally saw Daytona. She stood out because she was the only other white person there and the only one wearing pajamas pants in a temple.
Daytona’s apartment was a ten minute walk from the temple. She lived in an area a bit outside of the city where seeing a foreigner was like seeing a shooting star. I didn’t think things could get any cheaper than the islands, but since we were in a local area, it did. Daytona took us to her favorite restaurant, where we each paid about 40 baht ($1.33 USD) for a plate full of pad thai. After that, I stocked up on my favorite ice cream, Cornetto’s, for 10 baht. Alli and I had budgeted $10 each on food per day which was clearly more than enough. This was a huge relief since we were running short on cash after our travel mishap and retail therapy shopping session in Bangkok.
With our new-found excess cash, we started making plans with the Austrians on our adventures in Chiang Mai. We settled on bungy-jumping and elephant trekking, leaving plenty of time to visit all of the wats.
Daytona is convinced that Chiang Mai is one of the most underrated backpacker destinations, and I would agree. Not only is it beautiful, but there is so much to do. While we were happy with bungy jumping and elephant trekking, there were so many other things we wished we had time for. Melissa, another friend who lives in Chiang Mai, recommended a waterfall and cliff jumping area, while some other travelers recommended a cooking class and zip-lining. On top of all that, Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (or wats). You can literally walk down the street and walk into wat after wat, all of which are completely different and beautiful.
Final thoughts: It was awesome seeing Melissa and Daytona and I’m so glad we included them in our travel plans. They live incredible lives! Daytona and her boyfriend travel to a new place in Thailand every weekend they are off work. By the time they come back to the U.S. (if they ever do), they will have seen the entire country. Shout out to Daytona and Ryan for letting us shack on the couch for a few days.