Guest Poster: Alice Teacake is an English gal traveling the world and blogging about it on TeacakeTravels.com. Her stories are extremely honest and entertaining. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Tiny beads of water, which had been slowly simmering under the layers of my lobster sun-attacked skin for the last couple of hours were finally reaching their boiling crescendo and at that optimum moment, BOOM! The threshold had been hit and I was giving myself my own sweaty power shower. The beads of salty heat slowly crawled down my face, reflecting the speed at which I was moving myself. I let out a long ‘uuuuuuuurgh’ and craned my neck towards my best friend Michaela in the thick of the stuffy heat, searching for a hint of sympathy…empathy…at the situation we had willingly stuck ourselves into. Like a mosquito navigating continuous circles around you to get just one sip of your blood, the overpowering stench of the stale urine soaked toilet was refusing to disappear under my nose and make its mark. I always get the seat near the toilet. Always. The corners of the wooden, rigid, upright structure beneath me were poking deep into my thighs, getting right in there and the air outside was doing its best to get in but this structure we were locked into couldn’t give a damn about that. The design specification was ‘Get from A to B’. The aims ‘comfortable’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘bearable’ were not making an appearance here.
The lady trapped in her own little hot box back in Bangkok had informed us that the journey would take around 12 hours. Being the baht-scrimping fresh-faced adventurists we were back then in 2010, we wanted to get from A to B with enough dough left over to tuck into a juicy papaya salad and a glistening glass of wet beer at the end of it all. I can’t remember who had decided daylight hours to undertake this maneuver was a sane plan but right now, with my clammy, yoga-position locked knees against my chest and little room to move into anything other than this with all the luggage beneath, I wanted to break out into and unleash the caged tiger deep within my microwaved tummy. Alas, being the British lady I am, one must be cool as a cucumber, keep calm and carry on.
I sunk my head between my slippery knees and peered at the ground. From time to time, my torso jiggled left and right as we rumbled along the uneven tracks. I held on to my legs and willed the hands of time to get it over and done with. Twelve hours had been and gone and there was no relief in sight. I watched the cockroaches go back and forth, on their hourly food shopping run. Food. God I’m hungry. I’d kill for some rice right now, some mango sticky rice with that sugary sweet syrup you slowly trickle on it back and forth. I kept popping my head up when I sensed a commotion in the aisles with a childlike anticipation that a lovely lady was coming, bearing local delicacies. We halted at sporadic stops along the way, sucking in more locals onto the train from hell but this lady wasn’t coming. Michaela was beginning to slowly unravel her positive outer layer and show her discomfort underneath. Water. Water would be so good right now. ‘Get me off this thing’ I repeatedly said to myself. ‘Enough of this. Enough’.
18 hours later, we thought we’d never see the end of that journey but as me and Michaela stepped off that platform into the darkness of Chiang Mai, we vowed to get ourselves some 21st century steeds. Sticking to our guns, we ate our words and jumped onto the ultimate Thai ticket to freedom in Pai: a Scoopy. What could easily be mistaken for a scooter designed by a 5 year old who had won the ‘design me and you will be on every bike we make’ competition, it was perfect in every way. With blocks of deep pink and blue across it’s body and the cutest circular ‘mod’ mirrors on either side, the molecules of air we had begged to touch our skin back in the hot box were there in force. Rushing through our hair, jumping along our skin, whizzing past our ears… driving a moped in Thailand was the best decision we had ever made.
Fast-forward two years. I’m back in Chiang Mai and have swiftly swooped into this magical city, hugged from all sides by temples and mountains, by taking a flight from London. Progressing from a ‘baby’ traveller to ‘let’s kick some ass and explore’ traveller, this time me and Scoopy are riding solo. I want to prove to myself that I can do ‘stuff’ alone. I want to smell, hear, touch, see, feel…alone. An undeniable step that needs to be taken. An adventure just for me and my mind, soul and character to see what I am fully capable of and can achieve. I set off with a bike I’ve rented and head straight for the northern hills of the infamous Mae Hong Son loop: a land known for its steamy jungles, notorious roads and copious amounts of opium. Even with the royal project coming in to encourage the tribes to grow fruit and vegetables rather than chase the dragon, this is Thailand. Enough said. The first couple of days whizz past without any troubles. I meet all kinds of characters, like Paul for example; tattooed head to toe with crunchy sporadic bleached blonde hair sprouting from his head. He’s clearly been behind bars at some point in his life. Chugging away at his Changs, he’s refusing to divulge much about his past. I turn on the psychological charm I possess but understandably, he’s an incredibly hard nut to crack.
I speed on and on. Passing red trucks with local Thai tourists within, they pull out their cameras to have a right old laugh at me, the blonde Farang on a goddamn Scoopy along the Mae Hong Son Loop. I soak up the chortles because, well, it is kinda funny! I breeze through local checkpoints and take the time to check my directions with the local army guys. They look harmless but Thais will go from 0 to 100 in no time if need be. Trouble certainly isn’t unheard of up here.
It comes to the fourth day in my trip and as the sun is beginning to retire, I have one particular place in mind that I know I’m going to sleep in, deep within the mountains. There’s just this one place mind you. There’s nothing else around for miles and for my first scooter trip, I don’t want to be that foreigner cruising through the roads at night and getting eaten by wolves or something (OK, I’m exaggerating but you catch my drift). I tug the map out from my pocket and check it. ‘OK. It’s here. Keep going Alice. You must nearly be there’. It really isn’t there though. I pull out the crumpled map again. ‘Where is this goddamn hostel?’ I think to myself. Promises of the best sunset ever seen whilst sipping a cup of 6am coffee in a ‘rustic’ hostel keeps me pressing on. Tripadvisor said it was THE place to be. Unprepared without a tent for these kind of mini dramas, the sun is starting to frantically wave goodbye to me and I’m not ready to let go of its safe presence. Urgency starts to kick and I find myself getting deeper and deeper into the jungle. I start to become disorientated. I’m driving back and forth, unsure whether I’ve passed the safe haven or not even reached it yet.
Darkness sets in. It’s black. Really black. I start talking to myself like a coach would before his team throws themselves out on the field to win the ultimate championship. ‘Keep it together chick. You don’t like spiders, you don’t like the dark, you’ve don’t like imaginary wolves but it’s OK, just one night of this and the sun will be back’. I’m driving and driving and suddenly, in the distance, I see a dim light. ‘Hell yeah!’ I shout out. I squeeze the accelerator and brake outside the door to see what’s going down.
The most random objects are spread across the ground. Broken parts of unidentifiable mechanisms, dirty torn rags in random piles, rusty tools left to become one with mother earth and leftover rubbish no one is coming to collect. I can hear a commotion inside. They clearly heard the rumble of Scoopy and are wandering who has come for tea. I slowly walk towards the door. This doesn’t look like the Google images I’d been perusing this morning. I knock on the door and it swings open. An old toothless man is standing there, holding the handle, covered in dirt with five children standing behind him…no wait six, seven, eight children?! They’re equally mud-covered and clothed in tatty cloth. ‘Eeerrrrr…….I need somewhere to sleep’ I say smiling as best I can. They look at me, completely bewildered. ‘Umm, I need somewhere to sleep’. The game of charades starts. It’s clearly not the hostel but I’d rather this than an impromptu hang out with Thai soil tonight. Trying to be as nice as possible but essentially determined to get my ass in the door I finally say, ‘I’m staying here tonight’. I step in and the kids start squealing with laughter. They’re beside themselves and Grandpa is probably wondering what past life he had led to get himself into this situation with a white chick under his roof. I’m bricking it. These antics would never go down in England. Can you imagine: Knock Knock. ‘Hello?’ ‘Oh hi there, can I stay here? Um yeah, I’m staying here, let me in’. You’d be down the nick in 5 minutes flat. Nonetheless, 90% of people in this world rock. A bowl of rice later and a spot on the floor with all of their 5 chickens, 4 dogs, 8 puppies, 7 cats and the odd spider no doubt, I was getting the all-inclusive Thai treatment with 3 kids jumping on top of me before they were finally shoved into their own corner of the room with all the rest of them.
I slept with pretty much one eye open, clutching onto my belongings in case the family decided to go for the kill during witching hour but I arose intact, alive and that little bit stronger for going it alone. Stinking of god knows what, I jumped back on Scoopy as the sun returned for another day of adventures and knew I’d made the right decision getting off the tracks and onto my own random path, stopping where I wanted, when I wanted with the wind forever in my hair.