23 Sep The Sticky Waterfall, Freedom and Motorbikes
The wind battered my face as the city streets disappeared and we zoomed towards the mountains. Slowly, familiar motorbike-riding aches started to set into my body and I tried not to think about the purple scar on my knee and the crash in Vietnam that had caused it. After over a year, we were back on a motorbike embracing the freedom of being able to take a random Wednesday off work to explore. Destination: The Sticky Waterfall.
The most Precious Commodity of all: Freedom
I almost take freedom for granted these days because for years we’ve spoiled ourselves with it. Since we left the UK in 2013, Monday mornings haven’t been accompanied by the sinking dread of having to haul ourselves to work and everyday has felt like a weekend. When you travel, the days of the week become largely irrelevant, you don’t wish the time away until you have a holiday or a day off, because you’re filling your life with the things you really want to do.
This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt from travel, that this kind of freedom really matters to me. Having control over my time and how, when and where I work is part of the key to my happiness. This doesn’t mean that we’re lazy; untold hours of work have gone into running this blog, making money online and teaching abroad since we left the UK. In fact, right now we’re putting in longer hours than ever on our digital work, but it’s worth it because we hope it will lead us to a future life of location and work independence.
Still, after too many days inside in front of our laptops, we decided to take advantage of our lifestyle perks and head out of Chiang Mai to explore the Thai countryside, and what better way to embrace our freedom than on a motorbike trip?
Renting a Motorbike in Chiang Mai
When we lived in Hanoi, riding a motorbike was part of the fabric of our daily life. We relied on our battered Little Cub scooter to take us everywhere and Andrew became a pro at navigating his way around the city and obeying the crazy unspoken Vietnamese driving rules. Despite this, I never felt quite as safe after our motorbike crash in Tam Coc and I’m definitely more wary of a bike’s power now I know what it feels like to fall off and I’ve experienced the agony of road rash.
Still, motorbikes are second nature in Asia and there’s an unmistakable joy in the freedom of being able to hop on and whiz away on an independent adventure. To minimise the risks involved, we made sure to research the most reputable motorbike companies in Chiang Mai and we found out that one of the best places to rent a bike from was Mr Mechanic. The company has good reviews, well-maintained bikes and they supply insurance and helmets. We met up with fellow British travel bloggers James and Sarah and decided to rent one bike per couple from Mr Mechanic.
To rent a motorbike in Chiang Mai from Mr Mechanic you’ll need your passport, or a copy plus 3,000 TBH (£70). we chose 125cc bikes which cost 200 THB (£4.50) per day plus 50 THB (£1.10) per bike for insurance. The insurance policy covered breakdowns within the city between 8am and 6pm; if you’re outside the city they’ll fully reimburse you for repairs. There’s a 3,000 THB excess for accidents on a 125cc bike and a 10,000 THB capped fee if the bike is stolen. We have our own private travel and medical insurance, but the Mr Mechanic policy also covered medical expenses of up to 30,000 THB (£660) for the driver and 50,000 (£1,100) for passengers and third parties.
Exploring Bua Thong, the Sticky Waterfall
Getting back on a bike after over a year felt strangely normal and after we’d left the traffic of Chiang Mai behind we relaxed onto long, relatively-quiet stretches of road. Officially known as Bua Thong, the Sticky Waterfall is located around 55 kilometres away from Chiang Mai near Sri Lanna National Park and it took us nearly two hours and a couple of wrong turns to get there.
Are you wondering why the waterfalls are known as Sticky? Well, mineral deposits in the water have given the rocks a grippy surface, so your skin can easily latch on, despite the cascading water. This makes Bua Thong one of the most unique waterfalls we’ve visited in South-East Asia because you can actually walk up it, Spiderman-style, without slipping over. Well, supposedly.
Perhaps the waterfall’s famous non-slip reputation lulled us into a false sense of security, but we’d barely been there 10 minutes before Andrew slipped over, banana-skin style, and landed hard on his lower back on the rocks. Shortly after, I did exactly the same thing. We weren’t the only klutzes around either, as we saw several other people take a tumble during our visit.
Before you start thinking that the waterfall isn’t so sticky after all, I should point out that the rocks were extremely grippy in most places under the main water flow. From the bottom level of the falls, Andrew grabbed a guide rope and effortlessly scaled the steepest section of the waterfall; it seemed to be the rocks in shallower areas which had developed a slight algae coating and become perilous. So, be warned!
Rediscovering Doi Suthep
On our way back to Chiang Mai we took a detour up Doi Suthep mountain to the famous temple, which we can just spot from our apartment. As the road spiralled upwards the air cooled and I begged Andrew to brake harder at each turn until we finally reached the familiar dragon statue steps leading up to the golden pagoda.
It was late afternoon as we made our way around the edge of the ornate cluster of buildings. Of all the visits we’ve made to Doi Suthep over the years, I think this was the least crowded and most peaceful. Although covered by a typical Chiang Mai mist, the view of the city below still looked immense as the sun faded from the sky and lights blinked on in Thailand’s second-largest metropolis below us.
We slipped off our shoes to enter the main part of the temple, which you should circle quietly three times in an anti-clockwise direction to show respect. The focal point is a golden peak, which is surrounded by dozens of gold, stone and jade Buddha statues. Buddhist worshippers carried prayer cards and flowers as they circled, while others lit incense and kneeled to pray. Monks in orange robes and temple dogs padded softly by.
As our visit drew to an end, the sound of a gong broke the peace, calling the monks to their evening chant. We couldn’t stay to watch as we had to make our way down the hair-raising bends back to the city before darkness completely set in. As we spiralled our way back down I caught glimpses of Chiang Mai’s glittering lights below us and felt a wave of exhausted gratitude to be here, living this life of freedom in Thailand.