Having unexpectedly spent over a week in Mae Hong Son, I was forced to rush through the areas further north, where I would definitely like to spend more time some day. Due to it being part of a conservation area, it was better protected from those factors, such as heavy deforestation and slash and burn agriculture, that had made the mountains south of Mae Hong Son so sparse and drab. As a result its mountains and valleys were dense with many species of tree and shrub, creating a canopy of various shades of green that shone under the ever-scorching sun.
The reason for the rush was that I had to be in Chiang Mai to meet my Mum!
I entered the city several hours before her flight was due to arrive and, covered in sweat and donning dirty, several hundred kilometre-old clothes, I checked into Mum’s pre-booked hotel. As I made my way across the expansive foyer, in the middle of which sat an enormous arrangement of fresh flowers that rose to the height of the intricately carved teak banisters on the mezzanine level, I felt that at any moment, an authoritative-looking guy in a suit was going to usher me back outside with a, “Sorry sir, we don’t allow your type in here.”
Mum had chosen well.
When she first entered the arrivals lounge, I had trouble recognising her with her short, blonde ‘do, but one smile and there was no doubting it; it was my Mum.
We had a kiss and a long, firm hug and it was not long before the tears started to roll down her cheeks. When I recounted this to Alice, she was not surprised, “Oh I knew she would. She just can’t help it.”
Mum was as equally impressed with our hotel room as I had been, which was worlds apart from the $4 shoebox i would usually be residing in. Upon exiting the elevator, I had stepped onto a foreign surface. It was soft, spongy and seemed to hug my feet warmly. Carpet! How luxurious. Upon opening the door to our twelfth storey room, my eyes had passed over the fairly standard, though immaculate, hotel set-up, through the floor to ceiling windows and taken in the glorious views of the sprawling city below and the majestic mountain ranges beyond.
Over the following week, each day would begin in the hotel dining room for the included buffet breakfast during which I would attempt to cram as much cereal, toast, juice, grilled tomatoes, fruit, bacon, coffee, pastries as well as a delicious omelette with the lot, into my pie-hole, before the clock struck 10am. All the while Mum would just be looking at me astonished, “This is not your last meal, you know? There will be lunch.”
The icing on the cake was the fresh flower and note wishing us a good nights sleep that was lying on our pillow when we returned each evening.
As the baby sister to Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a bustling, busy city, but due to its much smaller area and population, it is far more manageable than the capital. Thanks to the simple layout of the old city with its surrounding moat and walls that date back to the 13th century when Chiang Mai the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, it is easy to navigate on motorbike. This is just how Mum and I did it as we explored but a few of the city’s 300 Buddhist temples. Mum had tentatively climbed on to the back with me while I assured her that I was an excellent rider.
As it turns out, her reluctance was somewhat well-founded.
While pulling away from one temple, travelling at a maximum speed of 1km/hr, the bike suddenly skewed sideways, tipping Mum oh so slowly off the back. As shocking as it was at the time to see my Mum ‘thrown,’ as she describes it, onto the roadway, I will always recall with a laugh, the memory of her laying on her back, feet and arms up in the air, wearing a backpack, looking remarkably like an upturned tortoise, with a shocked look on her face as if it say, “How did I get down here?”
The Thai men sitting nearby sipping their tea watched on expressionless, as though this happens all the time.
As it turns out, someone (not mentioning any names) had forgotten to remove the lock from the front wheel – a simple mistake that anybody could make, but one that I assure you, one will not make twice while their poor, old mother is sitting on the back.
The rest of the week was not so action-packed as we were shot through the city in the famous Thai tuk tuks. After going through the same negotiations with the same drivers every single day;
”Bai Riverside. Tow rai khrap?” (“To Riverside. How much?”)
”Baat sip baht” (“80 baht”)
”Paang bai. An sorng kilomet” (”That’s too much. It’s only 2km”)
”Jet sip baht” (“70 baht”)
”Hah sip baht” (“50 baht”)
”Hok sip baht” (”60 baht”)
Mum would excitedly climb onto the bench seat like a little kid preparing to ride the choo choo train.
We spent our time undertaking a mixture of; sightseeing; chilling out with cocktails by the pool; shopping at the famous night bazaar; and enjoying several divine steak dinners, including one that was had on a beautiful night cruising along the Nam Ping. This gave the two of us the chance to do what it was that we had really come together to do; enjoy one another’s company and catch up.
We managed a lot of both and when Mum’s taxi pulled out of the hotel driveway, I felt an instant emptiness somewhere deep inside my chest. After ten months apart, we had been reunited all too briefly and I had no idea how long it would be until we had the opportunity to be together once more.
The good thing about mothers though is that no matter how far you have gone or for how long, they will always be ready and waiting to welcome you back with open arms. So in a sense, I am never too far from my Mum.