My Style of Travelling
My personal planning -- or lack thereof:
This was one of my most enjoyable vacations in a long time. Along the way, I didn't see any foreigners doing what I was doing, nor any travel guide suggesting to do this kind of thing, so I hope this travel story may be a good guide for some kinds of people who like this kind of thing.
I don't do much planning of vacations to far away places, nor do I book hotels in advance in Thailand (but other countries, I do!), because I can speak the language, read it well enough for travelling and finding accomodation, and I like to go see places before I choose where to stay and more specifically what to do.
I've been doing this for 13 years here. The one and only time I couldn't find accomodation was when I went to an island unknowingly on a public holiday making for a long weekend. I was with my girlfriend, and we just slept on the beach facing a constant breeze and woke up smiling to a nice sunrise. On land, never a problem, even during New Years. I book basic places, with just a quiet room not on the main road and a warm water shower, that's all, since I spend nearly all my time out and about. Shortly before I left, I had received an email from my brother's friend, a professional in Seattle who wanted to go relax in Thailand but was worried about where to book places on her itinerary.
I just thought about taking a break in northern Thailand, dreaming of motorcycling thru the mountains, so I looked up on AirAsia.com and saw I could fly to Chiang Rai for 1800 baht ($55) one-way, and take a bus to Mae Sai, mountain country. I would also venture into Myanmar / Burma for a few hours, or maybe more if I found it interesting.
Doing a little research on the web, information was spotty and seemed quite inadequate, but no problem, I'd go rent a motorcycle and take it from there. I already knew about the various touristy places where you go buy hilltribe things and see song & dance, but that's not my cup of tea. I like just free time by myself in a nice environment to relax, on my own schedule and pace at the moment.
As I work by internet, waking up and sitting at the same desk at home had gotten old, as had my two offices. I was up for a change in scenery. I sometimes go to my favorite places in town which have True WiFi, and sometimes places without WiFi if I don't need an internet connection, or if my slow mobile phone link to my notebook is fast enough for what I'm doing.
The Initial Itinerary Vision
My vision started with a motorcycle vacation in the mountains among the hilltribes, starting at Mae Sai. However, I'd venture into Myanmar first and check that out. Also, pass thru the Golden Triangle briefly. On the way back I'd go thru Chiang Mai to visit a business associate, and from there go to Sukhothai to see the 700 year old ruins there, and maybe some other places along the way.
The Golden Triangle is where Thailand, Myanmar (previously Burma) and Laos meet. About 150 km north is China.
However, there are no immigration posts there, so you cannot venture into Myanmar or Laos there. (Well, you can, somewhat unofficially, for a short distance, but there's nothing there except river banks, forest, a few tourist traps, and I think a casino.)
If you want to enter Myanmar, then you go to a small Thai border town about 30 minutes away by motorcycle. The Thai border town is Mae Sai.
I had never before gone to the Mae Sai region in my 13 years here because I had thought it was a place for drugatics, young Burmese ladies pressed into prostitution, and frictions over the drug trade. However, I had heard from travellers that it's actually not like that now, and is a sleepy Thai town that closes at around 10pm and doesn't have a night life except a few restaurants on the river where some backpackers hang out a little later. The relative lawlessness of the past has been swept away. The Myanmar border post is friendly and Myanmar is opening up a little bit.
A friend of mine had driven a motorcycle in the mountains and said this was a most magnificent place and his best recommendation, glowingly, so I took a look on my ThinkNet map. The more I looked at that map, the more I longed to go there. It's the cool season, so this was the time to go.
Some of the best times of my life were on a motorcycle in the Arkansas Ozark mountains near my university, all day trips going thru the National Forest, following topographic maps and the roads designated on them, stopping to hike, and sitting on rocks to ponder. That was ages ago, but it's one of the few things I miss about the USA. I had no topo maps of northern Thailand, but the tight zig-zag roads show where to go, and when I got there I'd just look at the mountains and head that way.
The closest airport is Chiang Rai, which actually has a large international runway. I landed a little after 9pm on Wednesday the 24th. Big runway, very small airport building.
I had no hotel booking, but I found a friendly and seemingly genuine taxi driver. When you arrive at Chiang Rai, you find that the taxis are controlled for standard fares similar to Bangkok but cheaper. You must go buy a ticket, as there are no freelance taxis outside. I chose my taxi driver first, one of those lounging in front of the taxi booth.
From the internet, I had an approximate idea of where the hotel concentration was, and with some difficulty found out the location of the bus terminal, so I said the name of a well known hotel in the area and off I went for 200 baht. Notably, the "best" hotels recommended on the internet were either full or expensive. Talking with the taxi driver, I got a quiet 400 baht hotel with internet (and hot water) within walking distance of the bus terminal. It was actually just a row of ecclectic teepee looking mini-houses. The internet was wireless, and while I got a strong signal in the lobby, the signal was still adequate in my teepee.
There are attractions like the Night Bazaar but I've been to enough of these in Thailand over the years as to skip it. I just headed to bed to charge my brain and body batteries for the next day.
Thursday morning, after checking for any pressing business email and answering it all, I walked to the bus terminal. The VIP buses were not full, so I booked one at 85 baht departing less than an hour later. These are most comfortable with just 3 seats per row, lots of knee room, and reclining seats. I was prepared to take any bus. It's only about an hour and a half to Mae Sai, a little less than 100km (60 miles) (including a couple of stops by the police to inspect the bus occupants looking for Burmese, as the Thais must show their ID cards).
It's flat in Chiang Rai city and most of the way, but then big mountains spring up on the horizon and your spirits lift with them.
The bus arrives at the Mae Sai bus terminal a few kilometers out of town, and you take a sawng tao bus to the town on the border for 10 baht, getting off right in front of the Thai immigration post.
It was 1pm when I arrived at the border (after waking up at 9am and spending some time on business email at the hotel), so I had just about 4 hours before the immigration posts would start to close, in case I decided to come back to Thailand. (I have a multiple entry visa.)
(The Thailand tour part resumes after the Myanmar part.)
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