Eager as I was to hop back in the Tuk Tuk (who said driving was a man’s world?) I started the day in the back seat, as we set off in three Tuk Tuks to our next destination.
Today we were climbing the hills on the route to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, in all our three-wheeled glory.
The fantastic sights of the countryside still hadn’t sunk in and I laughed as the locals would wave and smile at our mad mode of transport. I took some time to soak it up before I swapped with Dad after a quick drinks break at a pretty roadside cafe. Little did I know that yesterday’s drive had been just a taster.
But hey, going in at the deep end always works, right? I kept telling myself that this was the quickest way to improve, as I tried to work out the best gears to creep up the inclining hair-pin bends.
Our Tuk Tuks may have been loud, moaning at the hard work, but they made every bend without fail. Much more ease, actually, than some of the over-filled lorries that chugged their way along.
Caught behind a large truck on one of our steepest inclines yet, I stalled. My mind raced. Hill-start. Truck. Incline. Cars. Hair-pin bend.
“HANDBREAK!” Mum clucked.
Needless to say, we made it. I redeemed my stalling with a more than decent hill-start, but struggled on the immediate next bend. It curved up the hill so suddenly and so steeply that it took me by surprise.
“It’s fine, just go into second gear.” Dad had recommended. He was right. I pushed Flo up and up the snaking roads until the next coffee break, where I really needed a rest from the driver’s seat. Note: don’t lose weight for this holiday, you need the booty cushioning when you drive.
Stretching my arms out uncomfortably along the backseat, I got into tan mode, contorting to try and get both legs out of the side and into the sun. Sometimes, I would lay down with my head on mum’s lap and rest my feet up on the roof of the Tuk Tuk. At lunch, Graham joked at the acrobatics show. Anything for tanning.
Finally parked up at Ban Mae Klang Luang, I was stunned. Our wooden hut bedrooms had verandas that looked out onto an open rice field. A huge blanket laid out before us. Buffalos strolled in the distance until the land met the sky. On either side, the dark green of the forest.
The day wasn’t over yet, though. The highest point in Thailand was only a short trip away (a steep and challenging drive that, thankfully, the tour guides did for us). Feeling the cold already as our Tuk Tuks climbed more than a thousand metres, we shivered in the breeze of the backseat and took in the stunning surroundings.
After a tasty steamed bun from the souvenir shop, we set off into the trees and up the stairs, to a hidden temple in the trees. Behind it, an understated monument that Smithy explained was the highest point.
Pictures taken and mosquitoes at our ankles, we headed out and across the road, to complete a short boardwalk before heading back down to our hotel.
I’m glad we didn’t drive, as even Smithy got into a little trouble, overheating the brakes a tad as we crept downhill. Dad and I, having moved to the car for ease, explained to me how to simply go downhill using your gears.
Dinner, cooked fresh in the ‘restaurant’ next to our huts, was eventful and hilarious. Considering it was only our third night together, I was surprised how much we had got to know each other. Graham had revealed that he turned down the offer of being a professional drummer, and Bruce had presented my dad with a fetching black, furry, horned hat that he sneakily bought from a little shop at lunch. My mum pulled on an awful cream pom-pom number that covered her ears.
Smithy reappeared from the darkness with his guitar, and what followed was the strangest rendition of Wonderwall I have and will ever see. Maybe the cold makes you mad?
If it had just been my parents, I may have died of embarrassment, but Smithy and Graham’s willingness to get stuck in for a laugh made the whole thing quite bearable. Bruce, Mark and I sat back and… enjoyed the show: a crazy-hatted band.
Having got to sleep later than planned due to an adorable litter of puppies underneath my cabin, the sun creeping in through the wooden shack woke me up earlier than I planned.
But heck, you can’t be mad when you have a view like that.
Bruce had bid us farewell the previous night, but the rest of us reconvened at breakfast, again cooked fresh where we had eaten dinner. Afterwards, I slipped on my cap and my trainers, ready for our mountain trek.
We met with local guide Lung Dee, his face wise and weathered, who Smithy would translate to tell us his knowledge about different trees, plants and animals around.
It was a simple trek, with the sun breaking through the tall trees and the sounds of the waterfall getting gradually louder. When we found it, it was beautiful. Clear waters rushing over the rocks.
Further down, where the waterfall opened up into an ever so slightly calmer pool, Graham, Mark and I went in for a dip. Have you ever been to a spa with a plunge pool? It was that kind of feeling. Bloody cold, but worth it.
We got out and dressed, truly revitalized, before carrying on through the trees. We came across a bamboo bridge that crossed in front of a larger waterfall, which was a perfect photoshoot area. Smith explained that the bridge was somewhat famous, from a scene in a Thai film.
Have you ever seen a green viper snake? It took us a while. Our guide pointed at a branch of bright green leaves and Smithy explained that there was a viper, who had been there for two weeks. After a few minutes, I could distinguish its body from the trees. Dad managed to zoom in on camera, where we could see it’s little red eyes.
Kudos to you, green viper. Your camouflage is working.
At the end of our trail, we rested in a small Karen Hill coffee ‘shop’, where freshly hand-ground coffee was made for us all. Mum had a go at grinding the beans, before buying a bag to take home.
Tanning mission? It had definitely begun, now. Although everyone looks browner in the shower, don’t they…
I slept well that night (even on such a hard bed) with a belly full of Thai barbeque, which we had cooked ourselves, traditionally. The others complained of the cold, but I was fine under my blankets.
Doi Inthanon. What a lovely place you are.