Cambodia to Bangkok – Let the Journey Begin! :)
In a previous post I mentioned the bus trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Like I mentioned, the trip was relatively painless and easy which led to our decision to bus back to Bangkok at the end of our stay in Cambodia. This trip costs $28 and the ticket is bought at the Nattakan Cambodia Company in town – which is also the final destination when arriving in Siem Reap. The bus leaves from Bangkok at 8AM daily, with a free pick up service from your hostel/hotel on the morning of your departure.
Our trip back to Bangkok was definitely more draining and complicated than our trip to Siem Reap – primarily due to the long and tedious border crossing into Thailand. We were made to offload all our luggage off the bus, carry it across the border, up and down a steep flight of stairs to passport control. Lack of signage and incredibly difficult border officials who spoke minimal English, meant that people were reaching the front of an hour long queue, only to be sent to the back of another – with little or no reasonable explanation… My mom decided to bus back with us, rather than fly and I am extremely grateful that we were with her to guide her through the mixed hand signals, abrupt officials and offer a little bit of support. I, once again, felt incredibly sorry for the many young travellers (particularly females) who were left to edure this crossing alone. We arrived back at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok just before 5PM. (We were told the bus journey back would be 7 hours – but bank on 8/9 hours to be safe!) With 5 and a half hours to spare before our 9:40PM bus departed for Chiang Mai, we headed off to our favourite little coffee shop to relax and get ready for our next journey….
Double Decker Cruising, Local Living, Elephant Riding and Ranting Roosters
Our first class bus tickets to Chiang Mai were booked on the top level of our extremely comfortable double decker bus. Having not travelled such a far distance by bus in Thailand, we were slightly unsure of what exactly to expect of our chosen mode of transport. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Ample leg room, reclining sets, a complimentary blanket and clean toilets on board – resulted in one very easy trip to the North! I highly recommend catching the bus at night if you do not want to spend an entire day travelling – you arrive at your final destination (although a bit tired) with a full day ahead of you, so you can choose whether you want to recover or get exploring!
When looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai – I will admit that I was completely overwhelmed by the number of options and entirely confused of my bearings and figuring out where the best place to stay, proved a little challenging for me. Many an hour on TripAdvisor had me follow some trusty reviews and book 3 nights at a home stay… I’m one of those people that likes to plan, compare options, ask for advice and book accommodation in advance – especially since I knew we would be arriving at 7AM after more than 24 hours of traveling from Cambodia. So, what’s a home stay? A home stay is a type of accommodation which allows you to rent a room/bungalow from a local family. I booked the Rice Field Hut at the Ban Chunsongsang Home Stay – located a fair bit outside of the main town of Chiang Mai. I thought it would be nice to try something different and having received a Certificate of Excellence in 2012 and 2013 from the trusty TripAdvisor site, I was pretty confident we would be happy with our stay! Miss Nong (the owner of the home stay) and her family are some of the most lovely people we have had the privilege of spending time with in Thailand. Always willing to offer advice, help out where she can and converse in excellent English – made us feel so welcome and happy with our decision to stay.
Our first night was filled with amusement… Just as we were about to fall asleep, a round of shots exploded outside of our bungalow! Our terror was mounted by the fact that we suddenly realised that no-one actually knows where exactly we are! After we awkwardly managed to reassure each other that we were not under attack in a tiny Thai village in the middle of nowhere – we dozed off to sleep. Only to be woken up by the loudest rooster I have ever heard in my life. There must be daily meeting at dawn where every cockerel in Chiang Mai meets in the fields alongside our bungalow – because never ever have I heard such a racket!! Anyway, on a lighter note – we were informed at breakfast that in Thai culture – when a member of the village passes away, fire crackers are let off momentarily in order to lift and aid the deceased’s spirit to the Gods.
With the intention of staying in Chiang Mai for only 3 nights, we decided to book a Tour Package – which was recommended at our home stay. The three of us decided to take the complete package which included a little bit of everything… Elephant trekking, bamboo rafting and walking through the mountains to experience a local village and tribe. So, once we joined the rest of the group, we were off. Our first stop was at the elephant trekking………….
This experience left the 3 of us quiet and – quite honestly – ashamed to be taking part in such an activity. These poor elephants, who looked completely sedated, were made to walk laps all day – just to impress a bunch of ignorant tourists who had little comprehension of the absolute beauty, power and elegance that these incredible creatures inherently possess in the wild. We stood back for a few moments – reflecting on just how blessed we are to come from South Africa, to have seen these majestic beasts roam free. I managed to put my feelings aside (either that or I was going to tell the guide how I really felt – which probably would not have been the best idea…) and enjoy as much of the experience that I could. After a 40 minute mountain trek on the back of one of these beasts, my blood sugar dropping, my heart racing and my ‘expressive’ face displaying my unease, I was more that ecstatic to have my feet on the ground and move onto the next stop.
After the elephant experience, we were off Bamboo River Rafting down the Mae Wang River. We were told by the guide that we would get “97% wet…” so we were half expecting some extreme water rafting and rapids. Once we made ourselves comfortable on the long bamboo raft – and after not a single safety rule was given to the group, even though a large sign loomed in the car park declaring all guests must wear life jackets – we began our decent downstream. Well, the trip down the river was very relaxed and we all enjoyed the scenery around us. The best way to describe the bamboo river rafting, is to compare it to the Thai type of supping – the increasingly popular water sport.
Oh yes, I must add – I was highly unimpressed with the water snakes which kept popping their heads up and down along the way – but Jecket (our raftsman) got the drift pretty quickly that I’m not a snake lover and trying to toss them onto the raft with his bamboo oar, was not a good idea… Once the river cruise was over, we headed off for lunch – which was lovely and located on the side of the road en route to our next activity.
The final activity for the day was trekking and visiting the Karen Village. If you are expecting to visit a tribe filled with locals and see first hand the way in which these people live – then change your expectations. The walking was lovely and stopping off at a powerful waterfall along the way was wonderful, but the village did not appear to be lived in by anyone – with a few tables set up, selling souvenirs for the many tourists passing through.
All in all, we were exhausted by the end of the day but content with our decision to do the tour. Chiang Mai is difficult to navigate on your own and with an abundant amount of tour operators and guiding services on offer – it is not easy to decide which package is the best. Personally, I am no fan of the elephant trekking, but I do understand that we are extremely privileged to come from South Africa and have a different understanding and respect for these animals. Next time, I will definitely opt to spend a bit more money and go on a tour which is governed by environmentally friendly, Eco, motives.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog – I really do appreciate it! Have a happy day everyone! :)