countin' the days

Monday, October 29, 2007

... Do It!

It's been a long time since my last post, but for good reason: upon arrival back in Thailand, I headed straight for Chiang Mai, a fantastic Northern Thai city and longtime favorite with expats and weary backpackers like myself. And there I stayed for the better part of the last month. Chiang Mai is the kind of place that sneaks up on you. At first, it seems like a fairly busy Thai city, full of motorbikes and shops and markets. But within days, you find yourself awfully comfortable... wowed at the gorgeous wats hiding in every block, smiling at your new tuk-tuk driver friends on the corner, shaking your booty to the live music going on all over town, and practically in love with the lady who makes your out-of-this-world som tam every night at the market for 20 baht. Not to mention, paying only $1.75 a night to stay in a room up on the rooftop of the best guesthouse in town, with hammocks lined up right outside your door.

There's also absolutely fantastic climbing just outside of town, at the Crazy Horse Buttress. I spent a good two weeks alone heading out to this crag with Joe and various climber friends we met along the way, steadily improving my own climbing ability and helping teach a few new friends the ropes (literally). We'd heard a lot about this crag from climber friends in Ton Sai, but it far surpassed both of our expectations. In addition to having loads of great, fun routes on high quality rock, the area itself was exceptionally well-maintained, complete with manicured trails, signs, route & crag information, and comfortable belay areas. I've never seen anything like it! In Chiang Mai, we met back up with two friends from our Laos trek, Taylor & Brandon, and brought them out to the crag to teach them how to get up the rock. We also made sure to take plenty of rest time away from the rock, playing games of 98, asshole, and drinking buckets of booze at the reggae bars.

Due to the arrival of two lovely ladies from my Davis days -- Jen & Caitlin -- I left the North of Thailand for one last hurrah amongst the limestone cliffs of Railay. This was my third visit of the year, but my only one not centered around climbing everyday. Fortunately, there were no lack of ways in which to spend my time with the girls, and our days & nights were full of wine drinking on the beach, beer drinking in bamboo bars, watching Jen completely rock out her first day of climbing ever, eating delicious Thai food, and talking sh... errr... catching up. Caitlin's friend Brooke, currently a resident of Bangkok, also joined us on this excursion along with her new interest Jeff, and the three of us spent many an hour enjoying playing the role of the intoxicated, not-so-subtle, raucous cupid. This is where Jen also christened the theme of the trip (and the title of this posting): DO IT! Such an apt phrase for so many reasons... but, I've also discovered, a good little mantra to repeat to yourself when trying to make decisions while traveling.

This week down in the south taught me an important lesson: nothing is ever the same as you remember it. And especially true for Thailand is: things change mighty fast. Railay, only 2 months after my last visit, was full of tourists and steadily increasing. Worse still, my beloved Ton Sai was not only full of tourists -- a strange thing to see after spending 10 days there with about 10 other people -- but my one and only Chill Out Bar had been torn down (gasp!) and moved to a big, totally non-chill-out structure next door. Farewell to the beautiful longtail boat/driftwood/treehouse/lost-at-sea Chill Out Bar of the past. Then, after saying a somewhat bittersweet goodbye to Krabi, I stopped over at Koh Lanta. I'd spent a week on this little island on my last trip to Thailand, nearly 2 years ago. I was horrified to discover that the quaint, quiet little travel haven that used to be Koh Lanta was quite literally bulldozed, and in its place are piles of rubbish, construction sites, concrete buildings, frighteningly overpriced bungalows, and bad vibes. Bummertown.

So, after a few moments of consideration, I turned around and headed back up north to spend my final week in Thailand back in Chiang Mai. Jen & Caitlin were cruising that way anyway, so I had a good excuse to go back (as if I needed one). Once again, I spent a pleasant week eating, climbing, partying, and chilling in the lovely Northern capital of the lovely Asian country that I love so much. And I don't care what all the stuck-up so-called backpackers have to say lately about Thailand becoming too touristy; it's still wonderful Thailand, full of Thai people, Thai food, and Thai culture. Sadly, it's also full of Thai immigration laws that don't allow a foreigner like myself to acquire more than 3 months per year of free 30-day visas, so I had to leave and can't go back for a while. And it's okay, because it's time to move on anyway. Time to just... you guessed it... DO IT.

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