The Land of Smiles

Day 250: 24/11/19
Location: Chan Chwa Tai, Thailand
Miles Driven: 131

Our entry into Thailand went better than expected. Despite only having a one day permit, we were given Temporary Import Papers for the car that lasted 30 days. We checked with multiple different border guards, and confirmed that this meant we could keep our car in Thailand for 30 days, and did not have to leave when our permit expired in 24 hours time.

For a detailed description of this crossing, and all of the border crossings we have experienced on our trip, take a look here

Whilst waiting for the last piece of paperwork before we could leave the border, someone who we had been told was an off-duty customs officer went over to Chris and started questioning him about the car. We’d already been “approved” by the on-duty customs, so Chris reluctantly started answering the man’s questions, hoping that he wouldn’t suddenly find a “problem” that would stop us getting through.

It quickly transpired that the guy was not asking questions relating to customs, but that he was also a Land Rover Discovery owner, and as he proudly showed us photos of his car, he also wanted to know more about ours. He had the same awning, and he wanted recommendations for roof tents as that was the next item on his shopping list. He invited us to meet some other Land Rover enthusiasts with him the following day. We hadn’t even truly entered the country yet, and already we’d experienced the kind and welcoming nature of the Thais.

Finding somewhere to camp just as the sun was setting on our first night in Thailand

Settling down on our first evening in Thailand we were beyond relieved. We were finally through what we hoped to be the hardest part of our journey. Throughout the rest of our trip, we would be in countries where spare parts should be more easily accessible, language barriers less of an issue, road conditions closer to European standards, improved quality of driving, camping possible once again, and no longer restricted by needing permits, guides, or special visas. Still not fully recovered from our food poisoning, we had a small dinner, and an early night.

Day 251: 25/11/19
Location: Chiang Rai, Thailand
Miles Driven: 31

We drove into Chiang Rai, to meet our Land Rover friend from the previous day. Not really sure where we were going, it became very obvious when we turned a corner and saw a large open workshop/driveway absolutely filled with Land Rover Discoverys! Between Kazakhstan and Thailand, we had seen a grand total of two Land Rovers on the road. Many of the guards at the borders we had crossed had never even heard of our car, convinced that we were driving a Toyota Land Cruiser and had just got the name wrong when we wrote it on the customs paperwork. Now we were suddenly surrounded by them! We were introduced to the Bison family, founders of the Land Rover Discovery 1 Thailand group. Mr Bison was chief car mechanic, supported by his assistant Mr Top. Chris was like a child in a sweet shop, ducking his head under all of the bonnets. Die hard Land Rover fans might be saddened to know that very few had their original engines, and that most had been swapped to some sort of Japanese engine from Toyota, Nissan or Isuzu, although not all of them diesel. It turns out that some Land Rover engine parts are very difficult or expensive to buy in Thailand, and its often more cost effective to swap the complete engine. Another way of looking at it, is that most of these Land Rovers have probably been saved from the scrap yard by the ingenious Thai engineering.

The Bison workshop
Mr Bison immediately got to work helping us with all the little bits and pieces that needed fixing on the car – a new wing mirror, a washer for the back door hinge, fixing our tent foot that had broken in Nepal, and taking us to a garage to top up our air conditioning gas
We were sent away with stickers, t-shirts, and even a new knife when Mrs Bison discovered that we have been using just one very blunt kitchen knife to do all of our cooking with!
Making our mark on the Bison wall of fame!
The wonderful Bison family

Lucky for us, the Discovery 1 has the same wing mirror as the Discovery 2, so we were able to replace our mirror that had been smashed in one of our crashes in Nepal. We were there for a couple of hours. By the time we got back to our guest house, our photos had been shared on the Land Rover Discovery 1 Facebook page and suddenly we were inundated with messages inviting us to stay at people’s houses and to a Land Rover weekend in a few weeks time.

Days 252-256: 26-30/11/19
Location: Chiang Rai, Thailand
Miles Driven: 20

We had found a lovely little guest house to stay in, and at less than £4 a night for a private en-suite room, it hadn’t been a difficult decision to stay in Chiang Rai longer than we’d initially planned. We spent a few days catching up on jobs including laundry, re-attaching the number plate that had fallen off of the back door, filling the water tank and repacking the back of the car. We also forced ourselves to take a bit of time off doing absolutely nothing – since we had picked up our new back door in Delhi a month ago, we hadn’t had a single day “off”, and we needed a break.

Our guesthouse in Chiang Rai
Our guesthouse in Chiang Rai

There was nothing particularly special about Chiang Rai, however walking around the town was an absolute joy. It felt so unbelievably safe in comparison to India. We could cross the road without seriously risking our lives, and simple tasks like shopping, or laundry became so much easier. The town was scattered with foreigners – a mixture of tourists and expats. As a result, our white skin did not make us stand out like sore thumbs. We could walk through the streets and feel invisible, a luxury that we had taken for granted during the first couple of months of our trip. Chris, having been to Thailand previously, introduced me to the wonderful haven that is Thai 7-Eleven. To many, just a simple convenience shop, but to us, being able to buy a hot toasted sandwich, some chocolate, and an ice cream was as good as lunch at a five star restaurant.

Chiang Rai clock tower

After a few days of catching up on sleep, jobs, and relaxing, we went back to Bison’s to get a couple more jobs done on the car. Mr Bison fixed our tent foot that had broken in Nepal, as well as the earth wire for our 240v electrical hook up. Rather than accepting payment for his work, he invited us back to his house later that evening for dinner with his family. So, a few hours later, armed with a big box of beer, we were back again. Crammed around the small table, we had a delicious Korean BBQ. The food just kept coming. Throughout the night, more and more people arrived in their Land Rovers, another chair was squeezed around the table and more food brought out from the kitchen.

Korean BBQ
This was at the start of the evening when there was only 7 of us around the table, by the time we left a few hours later at least 4 or 5 more people had joined

Days 257-258: 01-02/12/19
Location: Pai, Thailand
Miles Driven: 196

Leaving Chiang Rai, we drove to Pai, a little town in the mountains. It was full to the brim of tourists – easily the most touristy place we had been to. However, after months of being the only foreigners in sight, it made a refreshing change. We spent a couple of days soaking in the relaxed atmosphere, walking through the small town of souvenir shops, craft shops, cafes, and restaurants. We had traditional Thai massages – a meagre £3.70 each for hour long massages! We were pulled, prodded, stretched and cracked. It was far from relaxing and enjoyable, but traditional is what we asked for, and traditional is what we got!

Before leaving Chiang Rai we went to the White Temple – not actually a Buddhist temple but a strange art exhibit. We didn’t go inside, and regretted that decision when we read about it on Wikipedia after we had driven away. We read that the inside is decorated in fiery colours and has statues of Western idols and characters such as Michael Jackson, Harry Potter and Hello Kitty – not what we expected from the outside!
Outside the White Temple: The most extravagant no-smoking sign we’ve ever seen
On the road to Pai we stopped when we spotted some elephants being washed in the river
The back of our hostel in Pai led onto the beautiful and peaceful river
The same view a couple of hours later as the sun was setting

In the evening we strolled down Walking Street. Closed off to vehicles (apart from the occasional moped that somehow made its way through), it was full of market stalls and street food vendors.

Street food in Pai
Not quite traditional Thai food, but delicious all the same!

Needless to say, our first few days in Thailand were brilliant. We felt like we were on holiday again! Before arriving, we had hoped that we would enjoy Thailand, but had been concerned that the last few months had worn us down so much that our mojo, and enjoyment of the trip had all gone. Thankfully we were wrong. Thailand had already exceeded our expectations, and we were enjoying every minute of it.

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