Like many travellers who have passed through Thailand; I was struck down like a fly (or mosquito...) by a bout of sickness in my first few hours of arriving which, subsequently, took me a few days to shake off before I fully acclimatised to the intense heat within Bangkok.
Our first few days in Thailand were spent exploring the immense and crazy City that is Bangkok. We delved straight into the historical and cultural sites and visited: The Grand Palace; The Reclining Buddha (this was by far my favourite place it was just magnificent. I loved the location and all the intricate, pretty surrounding temples; just wandering around for a short while you truly felt immersed within the foundations of Thai culture and spirituality); felt like sardines packed together as we travelled along the river Chao Phraya by express boat with the locals; browsed the extensive shops and market stalls in China Town, sampling various fruits, spring rolls; and trawled through endless rails of clothes and jewellery along Khao San Road - the most popular item, amongst both tourists and locals, being t-shirts sporting various iconic phrases such as "Same Same, but Different". My only wish, whilst shopping out there, was that there could be at least one top sporting: "Lovely Jubly", as this was a frequent phrase I heard whenever I told someone I was British and it amused me every time!
The following day we all packed up and eagerly awaited our minibus journey to Kanchanaburi. Our next stop on the trail was a town just west of Bangkok, and was only a short drive (three hours) away so we arrived by lunchtime. As soon as we stepped foot in Kanchanaburi and lugged our huge backpacks down a small road, we reached the reception to our new hostel which acted like a verander and overlooked tree-huts just casually perched above a small river with above average sized fish swimming around below; we were all blown away to say the least. Like scavengers who'd been presented with a feast, we raced down the stairway and along the wooden pathway, also suspended above the water, to our huts. The inner child getting the better of us all as we fought for the best one and claiming it through the territorial "I put my bag on it first!"
The other side of the River Kwai bridge looked empty, on the cusp of the forest it housed a newly built temple (we believed to be of Chinese origin) and several huts selling tourist artifacts and an intriguing tent with the words 'GIANT AMAZON FISH'. Naturally, we were drawn in. To our amazement they really were giant; Miri, feeling daring, bought a tin of fish food and proceeded to feed them... to our surprise, the giant slabs with metalic murky scales leapt out of the water and almost snatched it out of her hand! We were all taken aback and swiftly exited, clambering on our bikes and exploring more of the town.
One of the many things I love about travelling is the wonderful people you encounter. We reached the river running just outside the main centre of town, and were watching the boats glide up and down as the sun began to set when we were all approached by an elderly gentleman carrying a young baby (presumably his grandson). He seemed so full of pride, joy and happiness at carrying his grandson and simply wanted to share this and the special moment with others. It was so touching to see and naturally all the females in the group were drawn to how adorable and cute the baby was!
Our evening progressed into drunken antics at a Reggae bar and ended with a lovely girly conversation with Miri and Cat on the wooden pathway between the huts at 3am.
Another early morning rise and our voyage back to Bangkok and onwards to Chaing Mai and then further north into the quaint, hippy, mountainous town of Pai began. All in all, I believe it took us around 19/20 hours to get there by various buses. But eventually we arrived and wandered just off the main road and reached our hostel. Although all of us were well and truly shattered we didn't want to miss a day and began exploring at once! Pai struck a cord with everyone and we each fell in love with different aspects of the place; for me, I loved the mountainous surroundings and the general chill, relaxed, hip vibe to the place. You can really see why it's the sort of place people come to and just never leave, but why would you want to? It's so serene it's intoxic - 'Pai Forever'.
In Pai we experienced the delights of: Elephant riding and swam (or were thrown into the water) with them; tubing with beer down the river rapids (I sped past the turn off point and had to wad, rubber ring and beer bottle in tow, through broken fencing and rocks to reach the others!); a two day trek through the jungle and swam in a waterfall, including an overnight stay with a local Hill-tribe - who fed us a feast (the best pumpkin soup - ever) of delights and whom we drank their own specially brewed whiskey with from bamboo cups; took a yoga and meditation class followed by an oil massage; rented bicycles and mopeds and cycled/ drove to the hot springs before cruising around the town.
Unfortunately, we had to keep to a schedule in order to fit all the places and countries that we planned to visit in the short amount of time we were in South East Asia that we had to move on from Pai and travel south back to Chaing Mai. Here, we explored the City and immersed ourselves once again in temples and Buddhism; attending a 'monk chat' and then watching a monk chant as well as visiting the Tiger Kingdom and hugging and cuddling the biggest tigers they had. Although I speak about it with ease now, I was really apprehensive and scared at the time! I mean, IT'S A FREAKIN' TIGER!?!?!