Thailand's No. 1 catch-phrase sums up the country perfectly. Same same... but different. To be honest, I thought (for some strange reason) that I already knew pretty much what to expect before I arrived, and that Thailand would hold no great surprises for me. Boy, was I wrong! Thailand is in many ways the "same same" as what I imagine other parts of Asia are like (not that I know — I haven't been anywhere else in Asia): it has similar cuisine; similar government and economic problems; similar mass-produced goods and shopping opportunities (thanks to similar illegal sweatshops); similar amusing (but still impressive) command of the English language; and a similar attitude towards Westerners (i.e. "we think you're weird, but you and your money are welcome nonetheless"). And yet, in so many other ways, it's completely unique from all of its neighbours, and its status as the world's top tourist destination is more than deserved. Thailand has been the perfect end to an incredible and epic trip — I'm very glad I stopped by; and I don't regret shirking on the rest of Asia, because doing otherwise would only have robbed me of precious Thai time.
After a quick brekkie, this morning I jumped on the 8:30am minibus out of Pai, and headed back to Chiang Mai. For the third time. I'm getting to know this city quite well: too well, in fact. But what can you do? It's the gateway to northern Thailand — there's simply no avoiding it. I was pleased to find, upon my return, that all my old haunts are still alive and well in this city: I found the same good-value guesthouse that I stayed in last time; and I returned to the same cheap Internet joint that I previously frequented. There wasn't much left for me to see here: although I did meet Adi and Maria, so I spent a bit of time with them today. I also booked the package ticket, which as of tomorrow night will get me started on my long journey south, direct from here to Ko Tao. Chiang Mai's a nice enough place; but I think I'm just about over it.