I left Nicolas in Tonsai and took a minibus down into Malaysia, to Penang, for a flight back to Bangkok. The reason for this rather roundabout route was to get a 30 day entry visa for Thailand, automatically available to arrivals on international flights; this would give me a visa that expired about the same time that my wife Bev’s visa – she arrived the following night.
The minibus drive was uneventful and uncomfortable but easier than taking the bus to Haad Yai, finding my way to the Malaysian border, going through immigration and then arranging onward transport to Penang. I swapped travel stories with a French girl I sat next to for part of the trip. She recounted a tale she had heard from a fellow traveller in Laos who had been on a sleeper bus (a bus with bunks, not seats) with a drunken driver. The passengers awoke to find their driver asleep, some prodded him awake and told him to continue driving. Other passengers agreed that if he needed to sleep again, they would let him ‘sleep it off’ since he was weaving all over the road. But it never came to that: there was an accident and the driver (presumably at fault) was killed. As was one passenger. A few hours later the police arrived, then ambulances to take away the bodies lying in the road and the badly injured. Eight hours later the bus company provided a new bus, and the official story was that nothing had happened.
I had a room for two nights in Georgetown (Penang is an island, Georgetown is on the mainland over the bridge) and a day to kill. But Tonsai had caught up with me and I was sick, although not seriously. A day in bed, close to a nice (!) bathroom had me feeling better for my flight up to Bangkok.
I picked Bev up at the airport on the night of the 28th; it’s wonderful to see her after these months apart. We had a couple of days wandering around, including a trip up the river on the ferry to Nonthaburi.
When Nicolas arrived from Tonsai, we went to pick up his passport from the Canadian embassy, then on to the Immigration Department for his documentation that would let him out of the country. The Immigration Department is a long way from the center, in a government building with a huge air-conditioned atrium larger than a football field. It was a pleasant, quiet and cool place to spend the few hours required.
But getting back to our hotel from this complex in the middle of nowhere was an adventure. It involved a bus in one direction, then a change of plan for a bus in the opposite direction (it was now evening rush hour and the first bus was at a virtual standstill) to the metro station where we got a train to the main railway station, where we could get a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. We only managed this because we had teamed up with a Thai lady (now an Austrian resident) who was going in roughly the same direction; without her help, we’d still be wandering around lost.
We’re in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, now. We came up from Bangkok on the day train – a very pleasant change from bus travel. Now Nicolas is waiting for his Indian visa and then he will be ready to continue his interrupted travels, approximately one month and a half behind schedule.
Chiang Mai is delightful, but tame. There are beautiful wats everywhere with golden Buddhas and golden stupas. The climate is better, still hot but less humid than Bangkok. Every other building in the city seems to be a guesthouse, a restaurant or a massage parlour all catering to the desires of the omnipresent foreign tourist.
There is climbing here, too, and it is excellent! :) The rock is good, the climbing good. And the area is very well managed, with good signage, bolted protection and trails. Some climbers rent motorcycles for the 40 minute drive out to the area but we have been using the service provided by Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures: transport to and from the crags in a songtaew (a pickup truck with a canopy on the back with two benches, good for ten people comfortably) and a reasonable lunch for 250 baht (about $9). In the three days I’ve had out there so far, I’ve done a couple of routes of average quality; everything else has been excellent climbing.
One particularly memorable climb involves going through a narrow entrance in the ground and through some passages into a large cave with a small skylight opening at the top. The climb heads towards this opening. As the sun moves overhead, it lights up the wall opposite the climb and the reflection of this light fills the cave. Nicolas did the climb first; by the time it was my turn, the light was much better so my old eyes could find the holds without a problem.