A is for… Alice’s Tea Party. The village of Mae Salong is surrounded by tea plantations. We decided to trek up to one where we thought we might get to do some tea tasting. When we arrived, we found a bizarre and abandoned area that felt like it was straight out of Lewis Caroll’s mind: floating teapots, giant teapot houses and two lions guarding the entrance. And not a tea tasting in sight… (additional information on this trek is under G is for… and Q is for…) B is for… Basket. We trekked from a large village called Doi Angkhang to a smaller one nearby. A website told us the locals still believe in ghosts, so we headed off to uncover this unusual village. In reality, there was little evidence of these beliefs on show (beyond their stilted houses). However, the local area did have field upon field of ripe strawberries, and we picked up a load from this lady’s basket for almost no money at all. C is for… Child’s Play. In the same village, we came across this group of kids playing a version of hopscotch. It’s a much more dramatic backdrop to the days when we used to play it in primary school… D is for… Dusky Football. In Doi Ang Khang, we spent the day exploring the Royal Agricultural Station – a huge research site designed to educate the local tribes of crops they can grow other than poppies (i.e. to stamp out the opium trade). It was a surprisingly interesting and engaging day out. As we left, we stopped to watch this group of locals having a game of football in the gathering dusk. E is for… Eccentric. In Chiang Rai is Wat Rong Khun, more commonly referred to as the White Temple. Some parts of it are rather… eccentric. See W is for… to learn more! F is for… Free the Birds. A part of the Songkran festivities (see S is for…) involves buying a group of caged birds and releasing them. We couldn’t help but feel the birds would then just be recaptured, recaged and resold… G is for… Gathering Tea. Before we arrived at the odd “Alice’s tea part” plantation (see A is for…), we spotted a group of tea pickers from distance. Every 500m or so, we turned a corner in the path to find ourselves growing ever closer. Finally, we were able to scramble right up to them and watch them in action. This woman seemed to be the foreman of the group, keeping her troupes going with stories that she found hilarious. They mainly focussed on the tea leaves. H is for… Hitchhiking. Tom experienced hitchhiking for the first time, and utterly loved it. It’s often a more convenient way to travel (though not always) and connects you more directly with the local people. Plus, most of the rides we picked up turned out to be the flatbed of a truck. Travel with the wind in your hair! I is for… Imbibe. Walking through the Royal Agricultural project in Doi Angkhang, we came across this old married couple. They stopped by the same water spout as us for three reasons. Firstly, to drink the waters and slake their thirsts. Secondly, to wash out the wormlike creatures from their bucket (that look wholly unappetising but were almost certainly on the menu that night). Finally, they stopped to have a playful exchange whereby she would hold one of the washed worms in front of his face and encourage him to eat it whilst cackling. He just sat there giggling. It was true love! J is for… Jazz Club. Tom’s first couchsurfing experience ended up in a night of a wine bar that served wine from boxes and a jazz club, all at the hands of our amiable host Nathan. The jazz was a tad too experimental, and pushed our tipsy brains over the edge. We didn’t last long. K is for… Kung Fu Monk. No matter what the circumstance, if you put young boys together and allow them to get bored, they WILL try to Kung Fu kick each other. Many other fights broke out among the minimonks (see M is for…) L is for… Laughing Pig. This pig died with a smile on his face. Perhaps he knew he’d end up in this A to Z… M is for… Minimonks. After a trek up to see a temple on top of a hill (that turned out to be under renovation, and so not quite worth the effort to get up to), we spotted a crowd of children dressed as monks at a temple further down the hill. When we got there, we discovered there were around 50 ten year-olds who were spending their school holiday experiencing various aspects of being monks (or nuns). A local referred to them as “Minimonks” in Thai. The kicker was that their evening chanting was going to be broadcast live on TV. We hung around and witnessed something incredible. The kind of experience you’d never read about in a guidebook, you just have to stumble upon them by chance. N is for… Nail. Another feature of the White Temple (see W is for…), this sea of hands features one solitary painted nail. It either represents the vanity of the world, that a hand in hell would still take the time to paint its nails despite the eternity of suffering… or it just looks good visually. Not sure which. O is for… Onslaught. And this statue, also at the White Temple (see W is for…) seems primed for an onslaught against selfie-taking tourists. P is for… Pyromania. The whole of Northern Thailand seemed to be burning whilst we were there – on purpose. This woman was busily setting fire to a large patch of land. Traveller’s theories as to why the burning was happening ranged from snake culling to soil preparation. Whatever the reason, it lead to some hazy skies (and annoyingly misty photographs) Q is for… Quench. Once we had trekked past the group of people gathering tea and through the strange floating teapots, we found ourselves in a resort. A friendly man who was a guest there poured us some free tea and gave us a (very basic…) map of the area. We chose a route that would take us through local villages and back to our accommodation. We ended up off the beaten track, at midday, with no water. We both began to feel the effects of the harsh sun, and regretted our choice. We finally stumbled upon this village, and whilst Tom sat up by the road (suffering), Martina headed down to ask if they had water. They did, and we quenched our thirst whilst sitting with the family. They then insisted on feeding us rice and lukewarm pumpkin. It was a kind gesture, though we weren’t all that hungry. I whispered out of the side of my mouth “how much do we need to eat so it does not appear rude?!” and began shovelling food in to quickly make an exit. One of the women took this to mean that I was particularly hungry and, despite our protestations, dumped twice as much again onto the plates. We soon made our excuses, thanked them profusely for their hospitality, and returned to the road in a much happier mood. R is for… Ridge. Pai is a small village in Thailand that has become an essential party of backpacker’s itineraries. One of the local features is Pai Canyon – nowhere near as grand as the canyon in Arizona, it is nevertheless a fun morning’s excursion. This photo involves standing on a very narrow ridge. Martina managed to stay cool calm and collected, whilst Tom’s legs turned to jelly at the 50m drop on either side. S is for… Songkran. We. Love. Songkran. For 4 days, Chiang Mai turns into the world’s biggest water fight. The city’s moat is drained as people fill up plastic water guns and spray absolutely anyone in range. If you are out and about, you’re fair game, regardless of race, gender or age (see Y is for…). And nobody minds – it’s totally expected (and welcomed – it’s over 40 degrees Celsius). It’s all in honour of welcoming in the new year and washing away one’s sins and bad luck. But mostly it’s about having great fun. Turn to April in next year’s diary and add in a trip to Chiang Mai. It’s worth it! T is for… Tham Lot Cave. There is a superb complex of caves in the Mae Hong Son region of Thailand. We spent a couple of nights near the main cave, Tham Lot. At dusk, the cave mouth features an influx of swallows returning to roost for the night. The caves also feature log coffins that are 2000 years old. You also get to float through a river inside the cave on a bamboo raft. However, none of these impressive spectacles photograph particularly well, so here is a nice shot of the cave mouth during the day. U is for… Up Yours!. Sometimes whilst trekking, one can reach the brow of a hill only to discover the road is a hell of a lot longer than you thought. On such occasions, the road needs to be told exactly how you feel about the situation… V is for… Viewpoint. Martina checking out the landscape of tea plantations before we embarked on our trek. The scenery was stunning, though lead to quite an adventurous day (See A is for… followed by Q is for…) W is for… White Temple. Picture the scene. A monumental white temple glitters in the sun before you. You stroll over to the beginning of a bridge, then notice a sea of hands. How unusual! Then you look a little more closely at the surrounding statues. You notice such carved treats as snakes crawling through skull’s eyes, thorns growing through the palms of hands and one-eyed space monsters. Not your typical temple fare…! Then, you head into the main hall, where photography is not allowed. You begin to take in the painted scene on the wall. It seems to depict the destruction of Earth, as an almighty fireball is unleashed and all manor of religious looking demons fly out. Then you notice Buzz Lightyear. And Spiderman. And Michael Jackson, Freddy Kruger and Hello Kitty. Very off-message for a Buddhist temple… until you research deeper and discover this isn’t a temple at all. It’s an art gallery owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat that is in the STYLE of a temple. It’s completely bonkers and utterly brilliant. X is for… Ex-Chicken. A chicken no more, spotted on a grill in a market between two hitchhike rides. They were obviously worried it might still fly away, so tied a rubber band round its neck to ensure it stayed on the grill. Y is for… Youngsters. Proof that Songkran (see S is for…) is for anyone and everyone. Kids have the best fun – just imagine being 5, then being handed a water gun and told “shoot that at anyone you like.” Their tiny minds must explode! Z is for… Zany Sleeping Arrangements. In Chiang Rai, we found a hostel that offered the unusual option of sleeping in a tent on the rooftop. We were the only guests, and had free choice over every single bed in the building. Of course – we chose the tent. However, later that night, as every insect on Earth began to feast on us, we quickly snuck down and took to one of the empty dorm rooms. The woman still charged us the tent price, so it goes down as a win.