After a night of drinking with an Irishman, a couple of Bostonians and a Belgian, needless to say I was quite hungover in the morning. One of the Bostonian had scrawled his email address across the copy of my passport I was supposed to be carrying around as a legit form of identification. Oops. I also had an email indicating that we had made plans the night before to meet up and take a scooter ride to Chiang Dao to see a temple in a cave. Sounds cool, so why the fuck not?
Of course, as I have earlier mentioned, there’s an unspoken rule that whenever you get to Southeast Asia, you will get on a scooter and you will die – or fall off or crash or get a nice little burn on the lower portion of your right leg where you hit the tail pipe, Accordingly, I gave the Bostonians the third degree about who was the better driver. GI Boston said this was a return trip to Thailand and he hadn’t killed anyone so far. Mr. Boston stated that he had just learned last week. Well that solves that. They also both mentioned that they might still be residually drunk from the night before but not to worry, it would turn into a hangover soon enough. Fabulous.
Hopping on the back of GI Boston’s bike I was designated as the map reader since I was the only passenger aka the only person who didn’t have to pay attention to the chaotic Chiang Mai traffic. What they didn’t know is that I am absolutely horrible at reading maps. Particularly when the names of the streets are in Thai. After driving in circles for a while we ended up passing my hotel which was on the way out of the city, and getting pulled over by the cops.
Between the time I had left my place and come back half an hour later they had set up a checkpoint for the thousands of tourists who had come to Chiang Mai to celebrate Songkran, the Thai New Year. The cop approached me and started speaking to me in Thai. That’s what I get for being a young Asian female in shorts on the back of a white guy’s bike – immediate local prostitute assumption. Sorry dude, no speaky Thai. After much gesticulating and broken English the cop finally expressed that he was giving GI Boston and I a ticket for not wearing a helmet. I guess I have inconsistent safety concerns. The cop vaguely expressed that we had to go to the local police station and pay a fine of 900 baht (roughly $30 USD). Being a master traveler and negotiator GI Boston asked if he could just pay here to simplify things. No. How about we pay you and you let me go. No. What if we pay you 300 baht and you let us go. Ok. Bribing will get you everywhere.
Both of us pulled out 300 baht at which point the cop started vehemently shaking his head. He pointed at me and said, “You no pay, only he no wear helmet.” I’ll give it to you Thai cops, while you may accept bribes apparently there’s some kind of honor code to it. Whether it be because passengers aren’t required to wear a helmets or because you still thought I was a local prostitute, thank you for saving me $10.
That being out of the way, and us having our helmets in place we finally found the road out of the city and started our hungover trip on the road to Chiang Dao. Unfortunately with us all hungover, me navigating and Mr. Boston only being able to intermittently check the map while we were at the rare stop light every 10 kilometers or so we got lost. And by lost I mean we went an hour and a half south east when we should have been going Kanye’s baby. Shit we suck. As we pulled over to try and figure out the map, the pain of my sleeping butt cheeks was eclipsed by my need to hunch over and take deep breaths to avoid puking. I didn’t though. Just felt like shit. GI Boston said not to worry and that I should’ve stayed out drinking so I would still be drunk like him instead of hungover. Clearly my life was in good hands.
Not feeling well enough to function I just got back on the back of the bike and blindly accepted whatever plan the two guys had decided on. As the wind in my face started to sober me up I realized something. What the fuck was I doing on a scooter, going into the Thai countryside with two people I didn’t know. They could be taking me to a cave to kill me. On the other hand, I was now in the middle of nowhere with no alternate method of transportation and no other option but to stay on the back of the bike. Fortunately GI Boston was ex-army and for some inexplicable reason I have an innate trust in alcoholic ex-armed forces dudes. Luckily that trust was not misplaced in this case.
By some miracle, half an hour later we saw a sign for Chiang Dao and followed the signs through the beautiful and picturesque Thai countryside towards the mountains. We passed through small farming towns, patches of tropical forests, little villages with food stall markets and even a military training area. It was also the day before Songkran, the water festival of Northern Thailand, and accordingly anytime we passed through a town trigger happy children, teenagers, adults and grandparents all shot us with water guns and heaved buckets of water at us. Oh and there were trucks. As in on the road pick up trucks with the beds full of people wielding water guns and buckets shot at us while we were driving up mountain roads. Being lost is always an adventure when you’re traveling.
As the sun started setting we started seeing signs for the Cave Temple. As the haze hanging over the region obscured the sun and created a beautiful image of a blazing sun going down behind the mountains I started to not mind having been on the back of a scooter for the past five hours. And it’s a good thing too because once we got to the cave temple a sign indicated that it had closed half an hour earlier. Fuck my life.
On the other hand at least the grounds were open so we spent half an hour walking around to shake off our “wooden butt” and see some shrines in the rocks and a Naga temple. So, after five hours of driving we stayed for half an hour then turned around and went home. Only to realize scootering home in the dark is kind of scary and dangerous especially when bugs are flying at your face and getting stuck in your eyes. On the bright side dumb hipster glasses with prescriptionless plastic lenses actually have a use as a bug shield.
Two or three hours later we got back into Chiang Mai only to realize we had no idea how to get back to my hotel. Another hour of driving aimlessly eventually landed us in the center of town where all the backpackers were also starting an early Songkran celebration. As we rounded a corner a herd of maybe two-hundred was lining the street armed with water guns and buckets. Fuck you guys, we’re on a scooter this shit is dangerous. Of course, drunk people didn’t see it that way so as we dodged most of the buckets and came to the end of the crowd relieved, the Worst Tour Guide Ever ran out of nowhere and dumped a bucket over our heads. Worst Tour Guide Ever indeed.