A Race Across Northern Thailand

A couple weeks ago Lil’ Nat & E-$auce enjoyed their last adventure together for the next little while. Erin is currently travelling East Asia with her sister and will go back to the States in less than two weeks. I’m so thankful for the wacky friend I found in Erin and equally grateful that our cities are only separated by a day’s drive.

The Faces of Chiang Mai (and Rai, and Mae Sai)

Throughout our travels we likened our adventure to The Amazing Race as it related to our sleeping conditions, the intense heat, and experiencing new, uh…cuisine!

The “adventure” began with a 14 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on a super hot Saturday in the early evening. We bought tickets for an air conditioned sleeper train but upon boarding were horrified to learn that there was no a/c, only fans. We also wondered how on earth our seats were supposed to fold into beds. We were convinced that we had been assigned the wrong seats and weren’t too keen on 14 hours of sweating and sitting upright.

“Let’s just pretend we’re on The Amazing Race!” I said to Erin, and we got all hyped up about enduring the “elements.” Shortly after the train departed, the fans were turned off, and the a/c was turned on. About an hour later someone came around, magically folding down our seats and making up two very comfy looking beds. Not so bad after all! In fact, quite nice!

My Ears!

We arrived in Chiang Mai without booking any accommodations, but lucked out when we stumbled upon a beautiful and affordable hotel in the city centre. It wasn’t until that night at 11:30pm when we learned why it was so affordable – the hotel was located directly beside an open-air karaoke bar, meaning that we were graced with awful renditions of “Summer of 69” and “Highway to Hell” until 2am. Around 12:30am we stumbled downstairs to reception to ask if they could move us to a different part of the hotel, but unfortunately everything on the other side was booked! We were less than pleased, especially since we had to be up at 6am the next day for our trip to Chiang Rai, but we chose to chalk it up to yet another Amazing Race experience!

Feed Me!

When I’m tired and my blood sugar is low is generally about the time Little Miss Nasty starts to emerge. We left for Chiang Rai at 7am – before the hotel began serving breakfast. There was some miscommunication about our time of departure and as a result that bagged breakfast we were promised never came. “This is The Amazing Race!” I said resolutely. After all, sometimes teams have to go hours at a time without food. We can too!

“You know,” said Erin, her enthusiasm dwindling. “I’ve never actually seen The Amazing Race.”

My vigour for the race wore off rapidly as a hunger headache began to set in.

Our travels to Chiang Rai first took us to a hot spring, which was less than spectacular. “So what do we do here?” we asked our tour guide.

“Some people go to the bathroom.” he replied.

Our next stop was The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). The white is supposed to represent purity and wisdom. The temple was beautiful!

Wat Rong Khun

But also a little bit eerie. Outstretched hands rise from Hell as you step onto the bridge:

Our next stop was the Golden Triangle, the point at which Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet (also one of Asia’s illicit opium-producing areas). Once at the triangle we hopped on board a boat for a cruise along the Mekong River, where we learned a great deal about the casinos in Laos and Myanmar – but not in Thailand, where they’re illegal! We were able to dock in Laos without a passport or visa to walk around and look at the market.

Living Large in Laos

So what do you do when you’re hungry, tired, and dehydrated? Drink some Snake Whiskey!

That’s right. Probably not the greatest idea on an empty stomach, but when in Rome… (Eating/drinking nasty things is all a part of the Amazing Race!)

(For the record, it did nothing for my libido – thankfully).

By the time we got back to Thailand we were ravenously hungry and eternally grateful for the buffet lunch provided. We rolled back into the van and headed to Mae Sai, the border of Myanmar, where we of course took more jumping pictures.

Erin Jumps

Natalie Jumps

In Summary

Our time in Chiang Mai also took us to Wat Phrathat atop Doi Suthep, a mountain 15km from the city.

Monks on Doi Suthep

We also tried to visit the Zoo for an afternoon but when it got too hot we came to an agreement that neither of us really cared that much about seeing the animals. We opted to take a hop-on, hop-off tram ride around the park (and refrained from hopping-off) and then headed back into the city for ice cream.

Surprise Encounter

The sweetest part about this trip for me would have to be the surprise encounter that took place one evening while Erin and I were wandering up the street looking for the night bazaar.

I used to work for a holistic church planting organization (www.mbmission.org) in the Vancouver area as the writer and magazine editor, and while there I interviewed plenty of missionaries and got to know some of the families working in Thailand while they were on furlough in British Columbia.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man that looked like Rob Griffioen, but then I quickly dismissed this idea. Why would Rob be here? The Griffioens work in Phuket! I kept walking but then decided to look over my shoulder again, and that’s when I saw Rob’s wife, Judy, walk up behind him.

“I know them!” I told Erin, as I bolted across the road. I chatted with Judy, who was equally surprised to see me, and learned that she and Rob had recently moved to Chiang Mai to work with children at risk – those living in the slums and selling flowers on the streets. Erin and I checked out the centre a couple days later and had a fun time interacting with the kids!

Strangely enough…this was not the first surprise encounter I had! Just two weeks prior I was standing outside of my church after the Easter service when I saw Karen Sanchez and her entire family file through the doors. Ricky and Karen work in Chonburi (about 90min from Bangkok) where they are involved with the Abundant Life Home, an orphanage that takes care of HIV affected children. I had emailed Karen literally a week earlier to find out when I could come visit. Both the stories that I covered from ALH and Ricky and Karen themselves have had a personal impact on me, encouraging me to live a life of risk. I was amazed and blessed by both of these encounters – definitely what I would call a “Kissed by God” moment!

Still Running

The Race across northern Thailand might be over but the race in Bangkok continues! I intend to live these last two months to the fullest, embracing and engaging in friendships and opportunities, and running with purpose in every step. And if I ever do get the chance to be on The Amazing Race, I think that Erin and I would make a great team!


3 thoughts on “A Race Across Northern Thailand

  1. Sounds like you had an amazing race adventure :) I can’t believe you drank snake whisky, so gross! I love the detail on the white temple, it’s incredible.

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