The journey was an absolute doddle - the new airport is about a 25/30 minute taxi ride from our apartment (well it was at that time in the morning - god alone knows how long it would take in rush hour) and the flight was only about an hour long. The hotel we were staying at was called Baan Gong Kham and was absolutely beautiful (The only downside was that it wasn't very central so we had a taxi or tuk tuk ride to get into the city). It was a small hotel complex (only about 8 houses) that was decorated in the traditional Lanna style - the houses were made of wood, had huge beds in them, doors that opened out onto a balcony and the bathrooms had a jacuzzi in them. The bathrooms also had no tiles on the roof above the jacuzzi (I can only assume that the idea behind this was that you had your jacuzzi under the stars - in reality it means that there is a bloody big hole in the roof that the mosquitoes get in through!!).
Chiang Mai is really stunning - very different to Bangkok - the air was clean, the pace of life more laid back, it was cool in the evenings and mornings and there was no humidity so it was easy to go out and about all day - we had a ball (even me - who by this time was on antibiotics to get rid of the horrific throat infection I had - Tom and Chris reckoned I looked like Biggles with my scarf on). On the Saturday we checked into the hotel then headed into the old city where we had a very late lunch. We discovered that after 6pm traffic is not allowed through the main street of the old town and the whole street, as well as the side streets, are turned into one huge market (On Saturday evening it is run by the local Wualai Community which is known for it's silver and lacquer wares and on Sunday evening it has everything from unique local handicrafts to portrait paintings and is less touristy) - We watched people setting up their stalls then went and had a coffee (Tom didn't like the cake very much - sorry Tom....I can resist everything but temptation!!) whilst the vendors got themselves organised. One of the really nice things about this was that all the Wat's were still open, and most had stalls in their grounds, so you could do some shopping then have a look round. (To the left is Chris and I doing an impression of a Thai getting their photo taken - we have no idea why they do this but they ALL do it!!). We shopped till we dropped. Actually I nearly did drop so we headed back to the hotel where I hit the sack and left Tom and Chris to find somewhere to get something to eat. They found a local watering hole and, once Tom worked out that the woman trying to talk to him was actually a waitress trying to show him to a table and not a hooker trying to pick him up (Chris said the look on his face was a picture....I'm sorry I missed it), they had the hottest meal Chris has ever had (He was apparently bright red in the face and grinning from ear to ear). Chris informed me the next day that at one point in the evening he thought that the waitress was going to swing for Tom - every time she came over to top up his glass (They had a pitcher of beer) Tom lifted it up....sometimes he had a drink and other times he just held it (Obviously he was concerned that she was going to run away with his glass when it still had beer in it!!). Chris had to keep dunting him so she could give him a refill!!
On Sunday we got up early (this had more to do with Tom doing a very bad ghost impression outside our door than the fact that we were full of the joys of life) and headed back to the old city where we hired a Song Tao (They are like vans turned into buses) and went up the mountain to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. According to legend, a Buddha relic, magically replicated iteself just before it was about to be enshrined in a Stupa (this is a bell-shaped tower which usually contains a relic of the Buddha or the ashes of a king or important monk). The relic was placed on the back of a sacred white elephant, which was allowed to roam where-ever it wanted. The elephant eventually climbed to the top of Suthep Mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down and died. This was taken as a sign that this was the spot where the relic wanted to be, so King Ku Na built Wat Prathat Doi Suthep at the end of 14th century. To reach it requires a climb up 309 steps (who's idea was this??) but all the puffing and panting was worth it - the Wat is stunning and, because it was such a beautiful day, we had an amazing view of Chiang Mai. We then jumped back in our Song Tao and headed to Mon Tha Falls which were beautiful (as you can see from the photo's) - there is another waterfall which is bigger but to see that would have required a five mile walk...hmmm....I think I'll pass!! We wound our way back down the mountain, past the tree that was growing in the middle of the road (???), and then had a lovely lunch in an Irish Pub in town (Chris and Tom had Steak and Ale pie with their Guinness). Our evening was spent wondering through the Sunday night market, we had to get another bag so we could get all the stuff we had bought back to Bangkok. We found a great little bar called the Cat Bar that was right on the edge of the walking street so we sat and had a couple of beers (well, Chris and tom did - I was still on water) and watched groups of people congregating round the bug stall goading each other into trying the various bugs. After about five minutes (and close inspection to make sure no-one had vomited) Tom and I decided to go for it.....I told you I was running a temperature. We ate bamboo worms - which had the consistency of those weird diet crisps you get in Marks & Spencers that are like eating cardboard and don't taste of much, silk worms - I really don't recommend these....they were squishy inside eeeeuuuu and, last but not least, crickets - which, once i had got over the fact that i was eating crickets, tasted quite nice (even Chris tried the crickets and bamboo worms). I think this photo is great - there is a lot to be said for care in the community!! (Not very PC I know but I do have a point!!)
The following day, no ill effects from the bugs, we hired a taxi for the day and went to the well-preserved and rarely visited ruins of the ancient city Wiang Kum Kam which is traditionally regarded as the prototype for Chiang Mai. They were built around 1281 and have only fairly recently been uncovered - some were more impressive than others but you go round them in a horse drawn carriage and it is a lovely way to spend a morning. After that we went to the Mae Sa Elephant Camp which is a fantastic place - they have won awards for the care and welfare of the elephants and are actually in the Guinness Book of Records for their 2.40 meters wide and 12 meters long painting entitled 'Cold Wind, Swirling Mist, Charming Lanna' which was created by a group of eight elephant artists. We watched a brilliant show - the elephants took hats off their Mahout's then put them back on again, played football, demonstrated log pulling and did some painting. (We bought a lovely one of flowers in a vase which we are currently having framed). Then, despite Chris saying he was never going to get on another elephant, we went on a 30 minute ride through jungle - don't think Tom was entirely convinced...he looks very unsure doesn't he!! (I think Chris made his boss's day - Phil called to ask him a question and said 'Where are you?' to which Chris replied 'Currently sitting on top of an elephant' - Phil burst out laughing....obviously not the answer he was expecting!!). After we left the elephant camp we were persuaded by our taxi driver to go to a small settlement of the Karen, Long Neck (they are the tribe that wear the bronze rings round their necks) and Long Ear (they insert large and heavy silver objects in their ears) hill tribes - it was fascinating to see them but I would never go there again and will never take anyone who comes to visit. It had the feel of an open air prison - I'm not going to rant on the subject but have to ask the question - When modern tourism policies and western ideas meet ancient cultures, who wins and who loses? (I think the answer is obvious). Anyway, we went back to the hotel and decided that since it was our last night we would push the boat out and have a special meal. Our hotel was opposite a very classy French Restaurant called Le Crystal - we sat outside on the garden balcony with views of the Ping River and had a divine meal (It was the first time in nearly a week that I had any appetite so I particularly enjoyed it) which was about seven courses with a different wine matched to each course. When we got back to the hotel Tom decided to try out a new type of yoga - he called it Yogic Flying (No we don't know why he did this either but doesn't he look happy!!). It was a great holiday.