I was again able to enjoy the fast paced urban chic of Bangkok while I stayed with my sister for the weekend before taking the train up north. The train was different compared to the one in Vietnam, packed with tourists instead of locals. I was headed to Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand. On first impression, it feels minuscule in comparison. But the pleasant old town where most travelers can be found is only a small portion of Chiang Mai. The vastness of the city was revealed on a motorbike up the mountain where the lookouts offered a view of the expanse of city and suburbs.
Chiang Mai is a city that combines the urban bustle of Bangkok with the tranquility of the northern towns like Pai. I tried to channel that tranquility by signing up for a yoga class. The class was the most difficult I'd experienced and left me drenched in sweat and serenity after two hours of pushing my body to the limits.
The following afternoon I challenged by sore muscles with an unexpectedly difficult trek up into the mountains with a group of other backpackers and a local guide that offered more comic relief than information" "I'm not crazy, I'm spicy. No jokes no fun, no fun no babies, no honey no money," were a few of his one liners that were repeated throughout the night. On the trek I befriended another duo of French girls (they're everywhere here!) and shared the experience of the breathtaking (I mean literally - gasping for air) hike up, and mudslide down.
We also had about an hour of white water rafting which looked absolutely terrifying from outside the lake where the water crashed at peak heights due to the recent storming and flooding in the region. But it looked scarier then it was and after a few rapids we were allowed to swim along side the boat. It was fun enough until our boat guide refused to let me back in the water, pulling me under by my life vest! I think I managed to swallow enough dirty water there that has since settled in my stomach making me feel a bit off the last couple of days.
Overall Chiang Mai was a really nice city with a great mix of farang (foreigners) and locals. Despite it's size, the city maintains a small town kind of vibe that is welcoming and refreshing. I enjoyed my time there. I only wish I'd had more time to stay so I could venture up to Pai for a few days and over to Chiang Rai where the White Temple is supposed to put all surrounding temples to shame.
But instead after a couple of days I took the multi bus trek and ferry ride to Koh Tao. It was somewhere in the beginning of this two day journey that I experienced my worst luck on the trip. Somehow on the bus while I was asleep, someone managed to go into my backpack (which was right next to me!) and steal half my Baht from one wallet and from another $50. The thief got away with nearly $200 total which put a huge dent in my wallet and my mood. But that's been the only misfortune on this trip that I've experienced so far so I certainly can't complain much.
Besides nothing that a little sun, sand, and sea can't make up for. I arrived to Koh Tao last Tuesday and apparently brought some good weather with me. the whole week before it had done nothing but rain. Fortunately, since my arrival it's been all sunshine. My first day on the island was a bit of an off day that I think most solo travelers experience. After limited social interaction during the 48 hours of my travel and then spending the entire day alone on Koh Tao, I was desperate for some company. For some reason it just wasn't happening that day. The next morning I went and found another hostel a bit away from the water but filled with backpackers, many also traveling alone. This changed my experience and within my first few hours there, a group of them went on a trek to a known cliff-jumping area. It was fantastic!! I think this is a year of facing my fears because a few years ago you would've never seen me jumping of a rock 30 feet (9 meters) into the ocean. But I did it! And I'm extremely glad I did.
The next day a few of us braved the infamously treacherous roads of Koh Tao on rented motor bikes and went beach hopping with snorkel gear. The fish were everywhere and their rainbow colors sparkled under the water.
Overall Koh Tao has been a nice place for a bit of adventure and relaxation too. Though I think I could grow tired of it quickly. A lot of Koh Tao and the islands revolve around partying with wasted nights equaling wasted days. It's not really my scene, and while I've met some great people, not really my place. But these few days have allowed for plenty of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation before I board another bus back to Bangkok where I'll catch my flight to India. I'm excited for what lies ahead but sad to leave South East Asia. Overall, I feel like I have left a huge amount of the region left uncovered and I look forward to returning someday soon.