THAILAND - OUR WAY NORTH
It was June 30th when we crossed the border back into Thailand and made use of our second entry on our tourist visas, only Hansi had to get a new visa on arrival to cover the rest of his stay with us in Thailand. Contrary to our expectations but in line with some rumours we had heard the entry into Thailand caused a few issues. First and despite of our valid visas border police wanted to see 20’000 Baht in cash which we hadn’t on us. Only after the arrival of a higher ranking officer this requirement was nixed and we were stamped in. Second, the visa on arrival that was granted for Hansi allowed him to stay only 15 days in Thailand (unlike in Mae Sod - coming from Myanmar - where they also granted 30 days on land entry) and he also had to show a substantial amount of cash that we were only able to collect using all sorts of currencies. No harm done, after 2.5 hours the exit and entry procedures were finished and we headed north towards Tamot. We found a nice place at Phrai Wan Waterfall where we stayed for 2 nights, hiked, bathed and simply enjoyed the nature. We headed further north on the 4122 through beautiful landscapes and wild forests, passed through Trang and stopped in Krabi at the animal hospital to get more medicine against Mutlu’s ticks. Next stop Chong Pli, the place were we already had stayed for 2 months (thanks again Mike & Jan). It was again time to climb and enjoy the sea.
The weather was significantly cooler than in April or May with sometimes strong westerly winds and short but heavy showers. The sea was rough so that many times the boats couldn’t leave Ao Nang or even anchor in Railey west which changed our logistics a little bit. We started to use the boats from Ao Nam pier towards Railey east and hiked to Tonsai or even hiked back from Railey to Ao Nam at low tide. At this time of the year Tonsai is a deserted place but the climbing is great as ever with very few routes being wet. We spent several days climbing at Chong Pli's Heart Cave which has some really nice routes protected from wind and rain. With Hansi’s help we also continued with the
improvements on Rouletout, extended our customs exception in Krabi and - surprisingly - got Hansi’s visa on arrival extended by 30 days (thing that was impossible till a short while ago as visas on arrival could only be extended by 7 days). We also met a few times with fellow long time travellers Verena & Wolfgang from Austria (and their dog Apollo) and Gisela & Lorenz from Switzerland who had parked their trucks like 15km away at the beach.
Both couples are on the road since many years so that there were more than enough stories to be told for the short time we spent together. Towards the second half of July we decided to move north. It was a tough decision to leave this place after having spent more than two and a half months in Chong Pli but we still had a few things we wanted to do together before Hansi’s departure from Bangkok end of July. Our first stop was Phuket where we met again with Daling and collected all the stuff we had sent to her over the last few months ranging from credit cards and a repaired camera to spare parts and guide books (thanks a lot Daling!!).
Further north we wanted to visit Kao Sok National Park. We stopped at Art’s camp near the river and they were friendly enough to let us stay with Rouletout on their premises and even took care of Mutlu for the 2 days we were gone into the national park. After a bus ride we jumped on a long tail boat and headed for more than an hour into breathtaking scenery located around a big lake. Steep cliffs, wild forests and pure nature waited for us.
We took some short hikes and spent the night in floating bungalows - our first night outside Rouletout since almost a year. Back at Art’s camp Mutlu welcomed us with extensive tail wagging and we decided to stay a bit longer and enjoy the clear river. On the way to the east coast and further north we encountered working elephants pulling down trees from a hill and saw coconut collecting monkeys. We ate Durian (Hansi still didn’t like it) and Tamarindand stopped at one or the other forgotten fisher village for the night before hitting Bangkok the buzzing capital. It was late when we arrived at the Asia Truck workshop in the southeast of the city and luckily the guards remembered us and opened the barriers for our city base. Applying for Chinese visa, collecting some pre-ordered spare parts and shopping stood on the list for the next two days, of course all this is not possible without a taste of Bangkok’s nightlife.
An early morning taxi ride to the Chinese embassy proved it again: things often turn out to be different from what we might have expected. Instead of accepting our visa application that included Chinese government approved invitations and itineraries the friendly lady behind the counter made it clear that they will not issue any visa longer than 30 days for Austrians and that they don’t treat Turkish applications at all.
Shocked we started to evaluate alternatives, we still had a little more than one month before entering China, not too much time but enough. A few phone calls later it seemed clear, the best thing would be to send the passports off to our respective home countries and apply for the visas there. This meant new invitation letters from China and a lot of organising - nevertheless we decided for a short break in Nam Pha Pa Yai climbing camp north of Bangkok to think that through and to recover from noisy Bangkok. Nam Pha Pa Yai was again a perfect retreat. Not only did we meet Jonas & Ellen with their Landrover again for a few hours but we climbed, barbecued and relaxed in the beautiful and quiet setting. Hansi was highly motivated and finished his hardest routes so far and we were able to climb a few beautiful ones that were off limits last time due to wasps.
After just three days it was goodbye again and we headed back to Bangkok, we had to collect some items we had ordered, enjoy the nightlife againand drop off Hansi at the airport. We decided to stay near the Royal Palace where we had found a reasonable place for Rouletout and dived into the crazy tourist nightlife of Khao San road - a short stretch of road full of bars, loud music, shops for fake ID’s and all sorts of crazy stuff. After a short night we said goodbye to Hansi who took an evening flight to Vienna carrying my passport and Chinese visa application with him and continued further north towards Tak; for the first time since 2 months “alone” and still unclear on what to do with Berna’s visa for China.
Our road took us west towards the border with Myanmar and then north along the border through small villages, steep hills and mountains and along full rivers. The effects of the heavy monsoon that hit Myanmar could also be seen here and our road was also blocked by one or the other mud slide. It was also on this road through sparsely populated areas somewhere before Mae Sariang where we made first contact with the red mud. We tried to drive up a dirt road on a little hill for the night when we started to slide backwards and sideways into deep mud.
We tried to dig ourselves free but the heavy rain just brought more mud and made us sink deeper into it. It was then when a small motorbike stopped, claimed to be police and promised to organise help. Half an hour later the Royal Thai Army came to our help and pulled us out of our miserable situation with a tractor. We continued to the next village where police stopped us to offer us coffee, helped cleaning Rouletout and provided washing powder to clean our clothes from the mud. When we wanted to offer something for their help they only pointed on a sign that said “tourist service center” and refused to accept anything but or thank you. Here in the far north of Thailand the language problem is even more prominent than in the south and it is very rare that communication in English is possible at all.
We continued further north, through Mae Hong Son and on winding and mountainous roads with perfect views onwards to Pai, the first outpost of touristy civilisation since Bangkok. Pai developed into the latest backpacker destination and offers the same set of bars and adventure activities as so many other places. Still it is small enough and placed in a nice and open valley that it merits a short stay. The area is also full of hot springs and even geysers which make a welcoming diversion from digging in the mud.
On the visa front we also had news: the Chinese consul in Vienna decided that he wanted to see me before issuing a visa and we finally found an agency in Istanbul that was willing to work on Berna’s application which meant that we could finally ship the passport. One reason more to head to Chiang Mai, the “capital” of northern Thailand. Once the paperwork was done we moved to Mae On, or more precise we put Rouletout directly at the Crazy Horse Buttress, a medium sized climbing spot 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai and our home for the next three weeks.
We met lots of (foreign) local people, climbed a lot and on our rest days visited Chiang Mai, went to the movies or Baanpong Lodge in nearby San Kamphaeng, a place that we discovered with the help of Hans and Ben, 2 American tourists that toured northern Thailand with motorbikes and filled our stomachs with delicious food from northern Thailand.
After a few visits I also managed to get a Chinese visa from the consulate in Chiang Mai, not the one I wished for but still better than flying to Vienna. 3 weeks passed quickly, Berna’s passport arrived back from Istanbul with a 90 day tourist visa and we decided to move on. Our road took us further north east via Chiang Rai to the border town of Chiang Khong on the shores of the Mekong.
Shortly before our Thai visa expired we crossed over into Laos using the new and oversized Friendship Bridge 4 to reach Huay Xai.
For us it didn’t only mean goodbye to Thailand after a total of 5 months in this warm hearted country, it also meant switching back to right hand traffic. However, as you will read soon, northern Thailand and Laos have one thing in common: the red mud!