A second lockdown was looming, Covid cases were ramping up and somehow our already downsized holiday plans seemed to be on the cusp of being broken. As Thailand braced for its second wave the timing seems less than desirable with a holiday already, heartbreakingly, adjusted to stay in Bangkok, safe and assured we knew we couldn’t complain at the least with all that is going on in the world, for we have had a life so close to normal at times.
With the 3 week duration of school holiday time we knew this was our opportunity to complete a visit to Chiang Mai, a long awaited and highly anticipated trip it was. Pete and I keeping it on our travel list for years for the “right time”. There never is a right time we know and even amidst talk of a lockdown and massive outbreak we decided to be optimistic. The cool weather was calling us, strawberries and culture and history alike.
We researched and organised our very first Thailand road trip, the boys overjoyed with the idea. We had hashed over the pros and cons of taking the train or a plane, the final decision based on the idea of something we had not done before. The Lazada packages containing a new organisational holder for the back seat, a crisp new map of Thailand to unfold and mark and the roof rack on the car caused more uproar than Santa’s impending arrival.
Each day closer we had adjustments in place if travel with ease and safety due to the second wave of outbreaks strained us. We had a roll with the punches approach, one we have come to know and love and decided to focus on our first stop only and make the next move from there.
The car was packed, seat assignments in place and the adrenaline was pumping as we took our first road trip selfie, how could we not? We drove 7.5 hours to Khao Kho straight on Day 1. I won’t share every detail, but let’s say during those 7.5 hours I lost my title as copilot, due to a little hiccup with Google Maps. We stopped for a roadside lunch that was packed the morning of, an American family staple of Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, fruit and veggies and leftover Christmas cookies was on the menu.
The further away from Bangkok we drove the further away from reality we felt. It was a different vibe than driving through the city streets or island towns in Thailand, the landscape shades of brown that stretched for miles and miles, the cars drove faster and buses and lorries were dodged more than motorbikes. The farther we got from home, the closer I felt our family becoming, less reliant on others and more on each other. While I had worries it would be stressful (and at times it was) it became more peaceful each kilometre we drove away.
At dusk we arrived at the mountain house in Khao Kho, after driving on an incline for quite some time we found a little house set out in the middle of nowhere, with views our eyes had never set upon in Thailand. The connection to nature and smell and sight overtook our bodies and the view alone offered us hope, in a time when we needed it the most. A glance into Pete’s eyes, showing relief and pride that we had made it to stop 1 and our journey was safe thus far.
Khao Kho is an area near Phetchabun, it is nicknamed “The Thailand Alps”. The comparison is the hilly, windy roads with little campsites and lodging along the road with cafes and landmarks. It is quaint and picturesque. We swerved around each corner to find strawberry fields and stands selling the biggest, juiciest berries, which soon brought on a challenge of finding the best strawberries roadside, red stained fingers and sweet mouths agreed they were all delicious in the end.
The tourist attractions were slightly grim with very few tourists in sight, the harsh reality again as to the pandemics impact. Temples, waterfalls, markets and top rated cafe’s empty and yearning for much more than a few cars and visitors.
Once settled in at the “mountain house” and the sense of how close we were to Chaing Mai was felt. We decided to forge on. On day 3, we packed the car, organised our spaces, shifted some seating arrangements; which offered me in particular a new view and a little more interaction with the boys whose company I was missing as copilot. The drive to Chaing Mai was different, intense at times. The roads and turns and fast driving cars gave me the understanding of the accident prone area and how quickly one can happen. We use the term “white knuckling” and Pete behind the wheel for that many hours has my utmost respect and trust, it was not easy roads to navigate or feel safe on.
We arrived to Chiang Mai, just after 4pm, the old town and history instantly felt, smallish buildings, old lettering, as we drove up the hotel driveway there was a little holiday charm and relaxation in store for the afternoon, a swim, poolside smoothie and room service and we called it a day.
The art of travelling with young boys who have opinions and interests too is important to Pete and I to nourish and pay attention to. The balance of making them happy and enjoying the sightseeing of historical sights and temples was matched with a day at the Grand Canyon Water Park. They enjoyed 8 hours of jumping, sliding, zip lining on aqua inflatables and rope swings. It was empty, normally 400 people, today just 20 guests on our visit. That lack of people making it safer for our young children and no queues to have a tantrum in.
During our days in Chiang Mai, we toured the Arts District and took in the history of the town square. The New Year’s Eve celebrations were cancelled and we decided on a Game Night to mix things up and were awoken to fireworks lighting the night sky at midnight, as not one little boy, made it past 10:30pm.
On January 1st we drove to DoI Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. A quest we were all excited to take on. After much research and preparation we felt safest driving in sunlight and even though we’d miss the sunrise, our comfort level eventually won the matter. Dressed in two layers with one more to don once we arrived, the view from the top was breathtaking. To breath in, at the highest point in Thailand on New Year’s Day in a year like no other brought tears to my eyes, as I watched the boys marvel as they were standing above the clouds.
With cool air in our lungs, new experiences had, visions of Northern Thailand and history in our minds, and a bond unexpected by taking to the roads of The Land of Smiles, our ‘roady’, (as my Australian friend calls it) was drawing to an end. The lockdown getting closer and our obligations to home calling us. The journey back to Bangkok made a little easier by the practice we had gotten on the way out, and the stories we know had tucked inside our seats, keeping us entertained and full, along with 4 boxes of roadside strawberries to keep us sweet and satisfied.