On arriving back in Houayxai we gathered our stuff and with Richard, Ryan and Katie (American honeymooners) headed down to the Mekong, after hundreds of miles on the Laos side finally to cross it and enter Thailand. We piled into a longboat to ferry us across the river as we waved a sad goodbye to Laos.
The Thai border guard was the chirpiest we have ever seen, he dished out sweets to us all, had a broad smile on his face and even called Richard back to give him 2 bananas. It was a promising start. For all his sweet and fruity gifts, however, the border guard was the unfortunate bearer of bad news - land border crossings in Thailand are now only authorised to give out 15 day visas which would not be sufficient for our stay.
Upon arriving late in Chiang Mai we had a tuk-tuk take us and Richard to a guesthouse that came recommended inside the old town.
The original building was indeed very nice - a courtyard with a swimming pool in the centre. Unfortunately that bit was full and we were put up across the road in a concrete tourist-warren building crammed full of tiny, uninspiring rooms. Too tired to find somewhere else we crashed for the night and resolved to find somewhere better in the morning. Over (proper) bacon sandwiches and with Chris Moyles blaring over the radio we searched t'internet and found the Banilah, slightly out of town across the northern moat. Good job we did as this revolutionised our stay in Chiang Mai. We arrived and the charming girls that run the guesthouse and its associated coffee shop (Cat Cafe) immediately sorted us out with the lowdown on where to go, what to do, where to be seen etc.
They had two shiny motorbikes waiting for us outside in the blink of an eye and sent us on our way up the mountain that looms large over the city to see Soi Duthep, the monastery that is perched atop it.
We arrived back, and the girls pointed out a restaurant on the map and handed us a post-it note covered in Thai writing. "Just give them this". That was dinner sorted - still have no idea what it was that we had. After dinner we were on Nimminhemin road, according to the Banilah girls this was way cooler than the centre of the old town where most farangs go out,
and sure enough we found ourselves in Warm Up bar with Chiang Mai's local hip kids, where we proceeded to drink quite a lot. At kicking out time we jumped in a tuk-tuk and were taken to a real late-night bar which was basically just a van parked up next to the moat with a few chairs outside, but it did the trick.
Jie bought half a dozen roses from a little Thai girl in the bar purportedly so that the kid could go to bed, and we made our way back to Banilah, leaving the roses on the reception door handle as a gift to the staff.
Our last day in Chiang Mai was also coordinated by the Banilah girls - to cure our hangovers it was some of their special ice cold pink water,
and then they sent us for khao soi noodles at a local stall followed by ice-cream and coffee at iBerry which turned out to be a very funky joint just off Nimminhemin Road with Banksy-esque graffiti art on the walls and a massive sculpture of a dog with the owner's face in the garden outside.
Before we knew it we had been out all day and we had to hurry to the train station for the overnight to Bangkok. An administrative error almost cost us: we had to wait around at the hotel for Ritchie's driving license to come back from the motorbike hire shop.
It was only due to some top-drawer tuk-tuk handling and a frantic dash through the train station in flip-flops, loaded down with bags, and frantically waving Raj's cushion that we made our train just as it was pulling out.