CHIANG MAI SERIES : BEYOND BOUNDARIES

You will never understand how a solitary backpacking feels like unless you experienced it yourself.  It might be dangerous and risky but you won’t learn your abilities to hurdle what seems like challenges until you take the first step.

December 26 -30, 2012. Words are unnecessary to explain why I left Tina & Gabby in our current home in Penang for 5 days and traveled alone to Chiang Mai. There’s no selfishness in the intent but gratitude for understanding. I initially asked my wife if she’s interested in going with all three of us; the casual response I got was a verbal permit to travel solo. She knew I wanted to experience solo backpacking. Sweet! While I have been used to going to places with my own family for 9 years now, it’s a uniquely beautiful gift when people you love most provide you the wings to explore new grounds, discover new cultures and appreciate your own days.

Map Docgelo's Backpacking Trip 2012

Travelers and tourists may take a train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai and Bangkok on a single journey. Then transfer to another train or bus to Chiang Mai (or any parts of Thailand). I didn’t take the train; here’s my route :

From Point A : Penang Sentral Bus Station in Butterworth to Point B : Hat Yai  Bus Terminal was about 4 hour trip via mini-van including the Immigration procedures of exit from Malaysian border and entry to Thailand border.

From Point B : Hat Yai Bus Terminal to Point C : Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok was 14 hour-night-trip on a VIP bus.

Point C : Mo Chit Station to Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok to Point D : Chiang Mai International Airport was around 1 hour flight.

This was my very first solo backpacking trip and God knows if it will be the last.

December 26, 2012, Wednesday. At 7.30AM via Rapid Penang Bus, I left our 11th floor apartment in Butterworth, Penang with my laptop bag, DSLR camera and a backpack in tow. The public bus that usually takes Tina and I to work took me to Penang Sentral Bus Station after 10 minutes. Barely an hour after, I asked the dispatcher of the busliner where I bought my ticket to Hat Yai about the arrival of the mini-van; she said, it’ll come in a while. True enough, I found myself inside a 10-seater-van with 4 other passengers en route to the borders of two Southeast Asian Countries.

Although my family and I miss everything about our country, the Philippines, I personally consider myself lucky to be based for more than two years now in Northern part of Malaysia where Thailand is so accessible (not to mention we also enjoyed going to Singapore which is at Malaysian’s Southern tip via bus from Penang). My family and I crossed the borders and return more than a couple of times. However, this post-Christmas trip was so different for I was lone but not lonely.

Penang to Hat Yai City proper is roughly 4 hours. The mini-vans that take passengers from Penang to Hat Yai usually have an obligatory few-minute-stopover at a food-toilet-forex-complex in a place so near the Malaysia border called Changloon and this trip was not an exception. In Changloon, driver asked our passports for him to prepare and type-write our Departure-Arrival cards. This service was included in the 32 ringgit or USD 10.51 mini-van fare. While he was doing that, I was busy stuffing my tummy with brunch. I ordered two plates for I left home without having breakfast. It was carbohydrate-loading for me that late morning; I had my favorites although I dare say Penang’s versions of these dishes are incomparably delicious, Changloon’s don’t even come close.

Nasi Goreng Cina.
nasi goreng cina
Char Koay Teow.
char koay teow

Exiting Malaysia was a breeze.

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Likewsie entering Thailand for someone like me who’s a holder of Philippine passport stamped with Employment Pass in Malaysia was hassle-free, as my country of origin and these nations are all members of ASEAN, simply putting it – No Visa required.

Drizzle greeted me on the road to Hat Yai.

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I reminded myself that Thailand is an hour late than Malaysian and Philippine times. Literally that is. I didn’t need to adjust my wrist watch but I had efforts to be conscious.

At 11:29AM Thailand time, I purchased my bus ticket directly from this counter at the Hat Yai Bus Terminal.  My ticket from Hat Yai to Bangkok cost me THB 1,162 or USD 38.19 because I opted to take the VIP bus where dinner and other stuffs are included in the fare. It was the same bus liner my family and I rode from Bangkok to Hat Yai last August 2012.

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The VIP bus was schedule to leave Hat Yai at 4PM, Thailand time. So it was 4 hours of waiting for me. There goes my backpack that doubles as a duffel bag too and my laptop bag sitting pretty on a bench with that tame street dog on the floor.

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Wifi’s free at Hat Yai Bus Station. Must update facebook status.

I checked in and shouted on facebook :
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The pink double-decker-Hat Yai-Bangkok bus arrived early than expected.
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I was seated at B1 -located on the first seat at the upper deck. It provided me more leg room and comfort for a good night sleep.

I told you it’s a VIP bus, so on my seat, I found the same things that amused Tina, Gabby and I last year when we all revisited Bangkok. There were bottled water, guava juice in tetra pack, 2 pastries, wet ones and pack of coffee, creamer and sugar in a box and a laundried and sealed blanket.
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The seal’s more like a security for me.

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I was ready to sleep in the middle of my 14 hour-trip from 4PM to 6 the following morning when the bus made a mandatory stop for dinner at this familiar Thai restaurant at around 9PM.

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Passengers only needed to present the bus ticket for the dinner (included in the fare). As mentioned, it was not my first time to take this route but my main concern remained the same. I was worried about sanitation, food preparation and handling. You cannot blame me of course but thank goodness, I didn’t suffer from Traveller’s Diarrhea or any infections yet. God is alive! 😀
Six of us sat in one table and dishes with rice were served. There were many choices and I sampled them all. Brought my feet to the toilet for bladder break and brushed my teeth after.

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Highways from Hat Yai to Bangkok weren’t bumpy so I had a restful sleep with hyperextended legs under the sheets.

December 27, 2012. Thursday. 6AM. I arrived in one piece at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok. Rise and shine, Bangkok!!! We meet again!

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What I shouted in facebook was partly wrong; it should’ve been 14-hour-trip instead of 11. I miscalculated; a proof I hate numbers!

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Immediately, I hailed a taxi cab and reached Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok after 20 minute-ride.
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After observing my morning rituals, I managed to freshen up and change my clothes. Have I told you that I only traveled with no shoes but a pair of 3-year-old-dependable slippers? Comfort at its best!

I ate the pack of pastries as my first bites that morning and looked for a spot to while away time until my 1:30PM flight to Chiang Mai. I first sat on one of the waiting lounges and since I did not have anyone to rely on, I went several times to the toilet to void with all my bags and all. It’s an inevitable downside of solo traveling, of course.

I was smiling widely after I found my feet on this tranquil area of the terminal. It’s the Observation deck located at the 2nd floor of the Departure area. It was too perfect for me to kill time as it also has its own toilet. I spent hours of waiting here then I realized I should have brought a good read! I promised myself never to leave home for a travel without a good book; nevertheless I savored my quiet time here.

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At around 11AM, I went down, checked the monitor for the flight updates and decided to go to the Boarding Area.
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Thank God for airports with good food!

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The traditional me chose Starbucks Coffee for my brunch.
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This is the eye-catching huge monitor that puts images of passers-by into various famous spots in the globe from Paris to New York to London. I saw a lot of passengers stop to take photo-ops.  I found watching people more fun than watching myself on the screen.
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Boarding time was few minutes past 1PM at Gate 31. Air Asia flight Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

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Seat belt fastened.
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And up we went! It has been years since I last sat by the window. I was like a kid again enjoying the sea of clouds!
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Less than an hour later, we safely arrived in this Thai City called The Rose of the North.

My first glimpse of the arrival area of Chiang Mai International Airport was not roses but orchids. Lots of them!

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So many varieties of orchids from the airport to the streets of Chiang Mai; what a lovely sight!

Maps are essential I know. I took two copies but funny I didn’t bother to scan at least during the entire trip. I also didn’t bring any guidebook with me. It was more like carefree adventure!
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Chiang Mai is truly inviting!
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No airport pick up/transfer for me as I went on this backpacking trip on a budget.
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Upon exiting the airport, I took a taxi cab for 20 minutes and THB 150 (USD 4.90) to my guesthouse.

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Drum roll, please! 😀 Welcome everyone to where I stayed for 4D3N in Chiang Mai! This backpackers’ paradise is called A Little Bird Guesthouse. I became one of their “birdies” for few nights, lol! 😀

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Tucked within the city center in Chiang Mai where travel agencies, pharmacies, restaurants, hawker stalls, night markets, massage parlors and spas, internet shops and a volume of temples that spring like mushrooms, A Little Bird Guesthouse is one of the favorites among backpackers who troop to this part of Thailand. I discovered it by googling and reading reviews on Tripadvisor. It’s location isn’t only accessible to almost everything but a secured and safe place too.
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After hopping off the taxi cab, I entered the reception office and checked in. Since I made a reservation via their website but was not issued a voucher, the young and friendly lady at the counter named, Fai asked me to show their email-confirmation about my booking and so I did.

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I was given a key to the dormitory and was led to my designated room at A Little Bird Guesthouse 2 (yes, the front building is named, ALBG 1, and I was assigned to a room at the newer building called ALBG 2; they expanded, business must have been good!).

On my way to my dorm, I saw bikes rented from shops outside this guesthouse.
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Almost all corners of this compound serve as interaction-areas for backpackers.  I noted nice and quiet atmosphere amongst guests.
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Universe, meet my bed. This was my name tag and my Thai name is “AngeRo”  instead of Angelo, *kidding*. No harm done actually.

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I was assigned at the upper deck of this double-decker bed. Good luck to the bed! In all fairness, it remained intact the entire time I was there, climbing up and down! My weight wasn’t enough to break it! Yay!!! 😀 It was built for heavier foreigners, I guess. 😀  The bed below was occupied by German backpacker named, Katya.
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I shared a room with 5 backpackers. So there’s Katya- the German lady, Amber the American lady, Jason the American guy, Andre the British guy and another German-long-haired backpacker guy whose name slipped my memory! Sorry.
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I forgot to bring a key for the lockers, I needed to buy on the streets.  No airconditioning units but wall fans which were good enough! At 100 baht per night, I wasn’t expecting a 5-star-accomodation of course! Toilet and shower with heater, mind you, is located after that open space near the sink.
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Wifi was fast and more importantly free or included in the 100 THB  or USD 3.28 per night accomodation. I could not complain! I chose to stay at this 6 pax per dormitory instead of their 10 pax per room.

After buying small pair of padlock & keys, I kept my laptop, passport, camera (during sleep) and other things inside a locker that was perfectly built to store them!
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My 4D3N stay amounting to 300 baht or USD 9.85 only was all in all, safe and pleasant.  I got a long well with my roommates; managed  conversations before retiring after a day’s wandering.
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Checked in and shouted on facebook again…
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It was a great first-time-experience staying at this backpackers’ favorite! I highly recommend it if you’re traveling to Chiang Mai on a budget.

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Few minutes after check-in, I began exploring Chiang Mai.
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Last facebook check in and shout for the day :
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*Map sourced from www.maps.google.com

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33 thoughts on “CHIANG MAI SERIES : BEYOND BOUNDARIES

  1. Such detail! This write up if fit for a travel brochure! I haven’t done hiking solo, but I could suggest to get a GPS just in case.

    Looking forward to the series!

  2. Take two – I don’t know where my comment go. As I have written earlier, this write up is fit for a travel brochure. My suggestion is to get a GPS, if traveling alone. (Unless, you call this urban back packing)

    Looking forward to the series!

    1. your comment was not lost; it was only queue for moderation. thank you, ms. ebie!
      there’s a lot to share on this adventure! i enjoyed it a lot myself, hopefully the readers would do too!
      stay tuned! 😀

      1. Just got back from tent camp in Death Valley and sure did enjoy even in freezing temps. I will be off again on Thursday till Sunday for the Elephant Seals photo trip.

  3. I haven’t gone solo backpacking yet…although how do you really define “solo backpacking” ba? does my paris-lourdes-paris trip by train count? he he!

    1. hi grace, glad to read something from you again!
      i really don’t know if there’s a hardcore definition for solo-backpacking.
      my backpack wasn’t even at par with my roommates’.
      of course, it’s not on the tool but on the techniques that count (imbento ko lang iyon, lol)
      i guess it’s up to person who does his own adventure if he consider it at such!
      teka, na-miss out ko ata ang paris-lourdes-paris train trip mo! got to find time to read your backposts.

  4. something that i look forward doing in the future, though it may not exactly a backpacking adventure I want to spend a week alone in a city far-off from manila to hibernate hehehe, actually i want to experience on your own as it would teach me more the real core of independence and responsibility.

    i salute you for this first backpacking trip docgelo! 🙂

    1. happy new year, joey! this may not be a backpacking trip to some and just merely a tourist’s post but what is important to me was the fact that i had fun and the whole experience made me a better one.

    1. thanks, haha! this might not be a traveller’s post and just a tourist’s but no one can tell that i didn’t learn anything from the experience. each minute of this trip was a learning experience for me. terima kasih! enjoy EUROPE!!! regards to everyone who remembers me! 😀

  5. congrats on you first solo backpacking trip Doc! What I like best about Chiang Mai is that even in the cheapest guesthouses, you have fast WiFi access! Kulang ang 10 days ko dun. dami kong maaccomplish and I don’t stress about slow internet. can’t wait to read the rest of your stories about Chiang Mai! para mapressure din ako. lol.

    hanep ka! bilib talaga ako sa blogging powers mo! haha

    1. hi ed! nakupo, dami na atang nagrereact at hindi daw ito solo backpacking o turista lang ako at hindi traveler.
      deadma lang bai, hahahaha! mahalaga sa akin, i had fun and i learned a lot about traveling (o kundi daw ako traveler, going to places na lang!).
      thanks for the visit here! i just posted my second of this series.

  6. kudos on your first solo trip! This is surely a milestone for your blog after always traveling with Tina & Gabby – hope they don’t mind if you get addicted hahaha!
    now you know what it feels like to stay in hostels or guesthouses – more often, it’s the social atmosphere there that makes it worthwhile than staying in impersonal hotels.

    1. it’s a totally different world inside a guesthouse; and you’re absolutely right in saying the social atmosphere there makes the cut.

      i had no apprehensions prior to this trip despite i’ve read a few horror stories of solo-traveling and staying in cheap accomodation but i’m just glad and proud i experienced it myself and got no unpleasant stories to share.

      it’s fun to travel with family of course but now that i know the feeling of exploring places when not in a training, work or business, i could only wish for a follow up trip!

      thanks, dennis!

  7. .. now you’ve had the sweet taste of solo travel! everything you have experienced is worth the personal effort you gave doc!

    .. i don’t mind waiting for long hours at airports for i always find somethng to keep me occupied (pwera lang sa naia terminal 1, hehe!). and yes, having a good book to read is a great help.

    .. i have this fear of falling down on a bunk bed if i sleep on the top deck that ‘s why if i sleep in one i make sure i get the bottom one.

    1. i didn’t have a choice but to get the top deck for all beds at the bottom were occupied at the time of my arrival.
      at least di ako nahulog at di nasira ang kama! 🙂

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