Despite the inviting prospect of spending our day of rest lazing by the pool, we opt to hike a trail that leads from the back of Fern Resort. Now, the weirdest thing about the walk is our guides. As we assemble at the starting point, the owner of the resort claps his hands several times and four dogs appear before scampering off down a path, while we duly follow.
How difficult could the walk be? I ask myself, if dogs are our guides. An hour or so later as we are scrambling up and down some rocks and traversing stepping stones either over or through a stream, I have discovered the answer to my question.
In truth, I feel totally at home on the short trek. And I don't even get my feet wet – at least not accidentally; a small waterfall proving a temptation too far. As I feel the refreshing waters resurrect my soul, I realise this is the reason I fell in love with travelling in the first place. Rachael, the mother of the family from Suffolk, probably wouldn’t agree with me – at least not presently. This is her fiftieth birthday. As she slides her way down the slope we have just climbed, once we realise we are heading in the wrong direction – as our four-pawed guides rummage in the undergrowth – I think she doubts she will ever make it to fifty one.
Still, we survive to celebrate her birthday. And as the bottle of champagne that Smithy has carted around with him, is opened, all thoughts of her near-death experience are banished from our minds.
Then comes the ceremony. Rachael divvies out the white flowers and the candles, and we decamp to one of the bonfires in the resort’s grounds to light the candles and place the flowers beside them, as one of our errant guides joins us. It is actually quite a moving experience, even to a hardened travel cynic.
The following day’s drive to Pai is the most spectacular on our trip with sweeping panoramas of the verdant countryside. We arrive at the Phu Pai Art Resort, a few kilometres outside of Pai, mid-afternoon. Set in some farmland, this really is getting back to nature, and as I relax in the pool I feel that I am an intruder in a foreign land, especially as a farmer strims the now unwanted rice paddy in a neighbouring field.
In the evening, we take a minibus to Pai, a town which in truth could be anywhere on the Asian backpack circuit, and for the first time on the trip I feel disappointed, something which winning a few games of pool only partially alleviates. The next day is another one of rest for Jen, which is probably a good idea as the final day’s drive is also the longest. We will travel some 178 kilometres taking the scenic – for that read potholed – route back to Maewang, avoiding the heavy traffic that plies the road to Chiang Mai.