It’s our second day on a motorbike around Pai – a few hours north of Chiang Mai – Renate in front and me taking in the scenery on the back, trying not to think too much about the fact that I have absolutely no control over the bike and that makes it feel like we’re driving too fast, too far towards the edge of the road and that all those lines in the roads seems like they’re wide enough to make the bike skid across the asphalt and us end our journey in a Thai hospital.
The day before we went to a little canyon where it was too hot to walk, and then a small waterfall with water too cold to swim in, but today we have no plan; we just drive aimlessly, letting the passing wind cool us down.
Renate is the one to notice first, obviously, but there’s no hurry or urgency, the tank is still almost half full and we did drive a lot more yesterday, didn’t we? We keep on going, up, up, on windy roads, and the tank meter keeps dropping. I think the closest gas station is in Pai, Renate think there has to be another one closer ahead so we stop to ask someone. He’s sitting on an unfinished structure, hammering nails into wood, he speaks no English, and we speak no Thai, I could just as well have spoken Norwegian, but in the end, we think we come to the conclusion that he says that there is a place to fill our tank on the other side of the hill, up, and then down. Only problem is, we have no idea of how far it is, and no matter how much we try, we don’t reach a body language understanding on that question.
I’m not quite sure what I expected, but it was definitely not this. We’re having jet another rest, a mere ten minutes easy (flat terrain on a well trodden path) walk after the last one, but still people are lagging far, far behind. It was supposed to be a trekking trip, don’t people know that trekking means that you have to walk? You just don’t miraculously get from point A to point B without breaking a sweat. Well, on this walk I guess you could (except for one steep 15-20 minute part, and yes, that one was a bit hard, you were allowed to be tired after that part – maybe not so tired as to throw up though…) – without breaking a sweat I mean, you still have to walk – if it hadn’t been for the overpowering humid heat. Especially in the tempo we’re going, or not going as it turns out most of the time.
But okay, let’s be a little bit fair here, I’ve done tons of trekking in Norway, I did the Salkantay-trek in Peru a few years ago, and right before I came to Thailand I did some trekking in New Zealand (like the Tongariro crossing, a trek on Franz Josef glacier and in Mt Cook National Park), I’m used to walking in mountains and on uneven terrain, I know what my body can handle and what I can expect of a trek, and not everyone can have that experience yet, they have to gain it at some point. Some people are slower than others (I have often been the slow one on many a hike in my life), I understand and respect that perfectly well. But still, please, please don’t sign up for a two day or three day trek if you’ve barely even taken a Sunday stroll in the park before.
We’d somehow taken to the travel agency’s advice of doing the Chiang Mai jungle flight early in the morning, to avoid the terrible midday heat, and at precisely 6.30 the driver is waiting outside our guesthouse door to pick us up. Almost one bumpy hour later we arrive in a small village where our little zip-lining adventure will begin. No one else seems to think the morning tour is a good idea though (we’re the only ones there – just like when I did caving and tubing in Waitomo, New Zealand), not even the staff we soon discover, as one of our two guides keep asking us why we’re so early.
After our initial disappointment of not meeting any new people, we suddenly realize that it’s actually quite nice (though I wouldn’t have minded one or two more persons), since we’re only two, there’s barely no waiting on the platforms to do the zip-lines or abseiling, and we have loads of space. The setting is really serene, and we fly from platform to platform through a beautiful forest in a almost slightly chilly morning temperature, with wonderful views. By the time we reach the canopy walk though, it’s starting to get hot and we’re really, really happy we didn’t have to do it at even higher temperatures.
I had my first encounter with South-East Asia in Ho Chi Minh when I was 17. I remember the chaos of scooters and motorbikes, everyone going intertwined in different directions, seemingly without any rules. Crossing the street seemed impossible, and the first time we had to do it (right out of the taxi from the airport) was absolutely horrifying. We couldn’t walk a few steps without someone trying to sell us something, even in the restaurants women and children would address us with big staples of copied books, trying to get their share of the tourist money. It was all just plain crazy (and it made my little brother wish we’d never gone to Vietnam in the first place – though he’d end up changing his mind later).
Five years later I arrived in Bangkok and expected the same chaos – except I didn’t quite find it. Sure, there were tons of touts, and tuk-tuk drivers all screaming for your attention, the craziness probably was there, I just couldn’t feel it the same way I did in Ho Chi Minh. No part of me wanted to just lock myself into a room and stay there in a seemingly safe cocoon, nothing seemed too crazy. The traffic wasn’t as crazy as in Vietnam, there were no groping and sellers actually do take a no for a no, more or less, unlike the Medina in Marrakech. Even after chilled out New Zealand, Bangkok actually seemed quite manageable. Except for the heat. And the humidity.
So what do you do when you have got just 36 hours in Sydney? I guess there are tons of what-to-do’s on the web and in travel magazines, but I ended up just walking around, taking pictures and talking to crazy people (okay the really old Italian guy with the umbrella (I had been talking with him for a short while – or rather he’d been hitting on me, using the oldest line in the book; that I should be a model – when I said I should be get going because of the rain he said he had an umbrella big enough for both of us) probably was just lonely. The Lebanese guy fishing near the harbor bridge seemed a bit more dubious though. After a short “interrogation” about what I really thought about Sydney, and what my mom would have thought if she had seen us talking together, he offered to drive me all around Sydney for just 100 dollars – I politely declined and were really glad that I had to meet up with my imaginary friend).
The first time I slept at an airport I was around 12. We – my mother, my two oldest brothers and I – had been island hopping in Greece for a few weeks and our plane from Athens was leaving in the morning on our last day. Instead of using money on accommodation in the city, get up really, really early, pay a lot for a taxi, and maybe get stuck in the morning traffic, my mom decided that we should spend the night at the airport.
The night was pretty long, uneventful and boring, the airside of the new and shining airport (it was shortly after Greece became a part of the European Union and got some fresh money sprouted into its economy) had armrests on all the benches, and the floor was hard, so I didn’t get much sleep (even though I could fall asleep pretty much everywhere at the time). It had never really occurred to me that that was something you could do, even though our way of travelling was pretty unconventional for a family at the time, especially by Norwegian standards.
A lot of you probably have this image of hanging on to a fin through the water, getting kisses and loads of interactions while swimming with dolphins, but that’s in a pool with a tamed one. Swimming with wild dolphins is something completely different whatsoever and a truly amazing experience.
Because it was my last day in New Zealand, and I would have to head back to Christchurch airport later that day, I signed up for the morning trip. I got up around 4.30 and by 5am, after a short walk in the pitch black of the night, I was at the headquarters of Dolphin Encounters. Everyone got fitted out with wetsuits and snorkeling equipment and we got a little briefing before we went to the boats.
We headed out to more dolphin filled waters while the sun rose on the horizon, and it was absolutely beautiful. After about half an hour, they had spotted a nice little group of dolphins so we went for our first swim. The water was really cold at first, but as soon as you started moving (and the moment you spotted your first dolphin) it didn’t feel too bad. Our first swim was the longest one, and it was really nice. We were a bunch of people splashing around in the water with our heads down, singing through our snorkels, probably looking ridiculous, but having so much fun. Read More