The bus ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai is a mere three and a half hours long. I actually find it fairly amusing that a year or two ago I would have considered a three and a half hour journey a long one - then Australia happened - and now I tend to consider anything less than 10 hours as short. Regardless - three and a half hours is more than enough time to become absolutely fit to burst with desperation for the toilet, and as we pulled into our destination, I practically fell off the bus into the streets of Chiang Rai.
"Toilet?" I asked every single person in sight. The reply each time was a blank stare and I ended up pushing my way through the crowds in a desperate search.
As well as eventually managing to find somewhere to relieve myself, (literally just in time,) my quest to not wet myself in the middle of the street also led me to (what I believe to be) my greatest Thai discovery yet. A cat cafe.
A cat cafe with free wifi to be precise...
Of course, if somebody who is destined to become a crazy cat lady needs wifi, and there happens to be free wifi available in a room filled with cats, that is exactly where said lady will remain, and also explains exactly how I came to be sat in a feline filled room, trying my hardest to make plans for the next few days.
Even with the distractions that come whilst you're surrounded by plenty of little noses and plenty of little paws, I managed to decide on a spontaneous trip to Phu Chi Fah, leaving the next afternoon. Phu Chi Fah is a mountain area and National Forest Park in North Eastern Thailand, and according to several online sources has an absolutely spectacular sunrise. I love a good sunrise, so had to go and check it out for myself.
The following afternoon, the bus ambled along until we reached Thoeng Station. Normally there is a bus which takes you right up to the small village of Phu Chi Fah, but of course, the day I decide to take it, it breaks down and I have to take the bus to Thoeng, and then get a much more expensive Songthaew truck (400 baht) up to the village. It was just myself and two others in the truck that wound its way up to mountain and dropped us at a guesthouse, arranging to pick us up the next day. The lady at the guesthouse greeted us enthusiastically and tried to charge us 600 baht each for a room. 600 baht is my entire daily budget and I must have recoiled in horror. The two people I'd shared the truck with also didn't seem happy with this price, and together we agreed to have a look around the village and try to find somewhere cheaper. (The guesthouse lady shouting reduced prices at us as we left!)
Turns out that luck was on my side. Mhee and Puk were from Bangkok, on holiday in Northern Thailand, and could obviously speak Thai, as well as being able to speak English. Which was handy for me as I definitely can't speak Thai, (and it turns out that practically nobody that lives on Phu Chi Fah can speak English.) Mhee managed to find a guesthouse that would allow the three of us to share a room for 500 baht total. Result!
There's actually not too much to do in a little mountainside village, so we decided to walk up to the peak of the mountain to watch sunrise. All three of us panting and dripping with sweat, we eventually made it to the top in time for some spectacular views!
Our alarms rang at 4am the following morning and the guesthouse owner gave us a lift as far as he could up the mountain. (Thank god.) We found ourselves a good spot and eagerly awaited the sunrise.
Now, you can't always be lucky, and although the sunrise started out well, clouds from near and far soon gathered and turned the sky a dingy shade of grey. It was still well worth going to see, but I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed at having the sunrise cut short.
What made up for the disappointment, however, was the hill tribe children who were wandering the mountains. They were extremely cute, and quite possibly a better sight than any sunrise I've ever seen, as well as being more than willing to pose for photos.
We had to make our way back down Phu Chi Fah to meet the Songthaew driver who was due to pick us up for another 400 baht each. When we got back to the village, Mhee and Puk were speaking to one of the villagers who offered us a lift back down to the bus station in Thoeng for just 100 baht each. We phoned the driver to cancel our pick up and he told us that cancellations were not possible. After lots of arguing on the phone, it ended up being a mad rush down the mountain to avoid bumping into the angry driver who said he was coming to get us anyway.
How a quiet few days in Chiang Rai turned into an escape in the back of a truck, I'll never know....