Chiang Mai, Thailand
We woke to monks ringing bells, but all we could think about was the free buffet breakfast we were entitled to at the hotel. We shouldn't have had such high expectations. The buffet contained tea/coffee, sugary toast, butter, marmalade and bananas. That was it. It was the most uninspiring buffet I had ever seen. I guess we should have been thankful there was no sticky rice.
We spent the morning meandering around Chiang Rai but there wasn't a whole lot to see. The highlight was the cheapest bakery in the world: a baguette and 2 giant cookies cost us 70 cents. So with no reason to linger, we jumped on a first class bus for three hours to reach Chiang Mai. I was glad we spent the extra couple of dollars for first class: the seats were comfortable, there was heaps of leg room, free water and biscuits on board and an attendant that we could call at any time by pressing a button. I wasn't sure why I would need to call the attendant, but it was nice to have the option.
Chiang Mai was considerably hotter than Chiang Rai, which made for an uncomfortable trek around town looking for accommodation. It took us about 30 minutes to find somewhere to stay; everywhere seemed to be booked out. We ended up in a place that looked like an abandoned school. It didn't have any blankets, sheets, towels or a cable for the TV in the room, but it did have air con, so we were happy.
Every second shop in Chiang Mai appeared to be a travel agency offering a multitude of tours. Many of these were hiking trips, but after our three day trek through the jungle in Laos we weren't up for another walking tour. Instead we booked a white water rafting trip for the next day, then wandered aimlessly around town to pass the time. Other than travel agents, the only shops we passed on the streets were massage parlours, used book stores and restaurants. We ended up buying a few books that were relatively expensive, so they might have actually been genuine.
At night we grabbed dinner (which came with rice - ugh) in a restaurant where every dish was under $1.50. Great value but average food. After that we stumbled upon the Saturday night market (called the Saturday walking street), which easily outdid the Luang Prabang market in terms of length. We walked for 45 minutes and still did not reach the end. It sold everything you could imagine except stubby holders - no one in Asia sold stubby holders. We were a little over the souvenirs, having bought so many throughout Asia, so we skipped over most of it.
Later on we stopped at a bar to meet up with the Aussie (Bart) from our Gibbon tour, who we had been travelling with since finishing the trek. A couple of hours later the Asian cup final came on the TV (Australia vs. Japan). With Danny and Bart being soccer fans, there was no chance of us leaving (no matter how many dirty looks I gave Danny). So I sat and endured the rivalry with the Japanese supporters in the bar for the next two hours, watching Australia lose. It was after 1 a.m. before we made it back to the hotel, the latest night we've had in a while. I'm not sure I'm made for late nights.