CHIANG MAI AND THE TREK….. – Caroline

I have grouped these two things together as I feel that the trek that we did really was the highlight of our time in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is a lovely place, it is very different from Bangkok in that it is much quieter. There is nowhere near as much traffic, noise or people. There is however many more tourists and about the same number of western fast food joints. There is a Burger king, McDonalds and KFC all within walking distance of each other. I shouldn’t complain too much as Burger King saved our hangover bacon when nothing else was open to soak up our alcohol after a few to many bottles of Chang. It wasn’t chips and cheese but it did the job.

We got picked up the morning after arriving in Chiang Mai by a pick-up truck with a roof. We were the last to be picked up and there were already 8 people aboard (2 in the back seat and 6 in the open pick up) so there was just enough room for me and Ben to squeeze on. We were introduced to our guide who was called Sam and seemed like a funny fellow. He told us the plan for the day and that first we would drive for 40 mins to a market outside town and buy some things and we could use the toilet (another score for toilets of the world probably).Before we knew it we were off, all the people on the truck seemed really nice. There was a father and a daughter from Belgium, two German girls, two French girls and a French man and his Portuguese wife. We got chatting to the French man and Portuguese woman and they told me they lived in Scotland, Perth to be precise! I couldn’t believe it! They owned a restaurant that I had been to and knew some of the same people that I did, It really is a small world. True to Sam’s word after 40 mins we arrived at a local market, it was a quick stop for Sam to buy some things for our dinner and we were back on the truck again. It was an hour’s drive up windy roads into the mountains until we reached the elephants.

We arrived at the first part of our trip, elephant riding. I had been excited to do this even before I got to Thailand. Not realising that in practise it wasn’t exciting, just pretty cruel and damn right scary. We waited for about 45 mins watching lots of  excited people get on the elephants and trundle away with big smiles, cameras and bags of Banana and sugar canes (you could buy these for 40TB {80p} from a lady before you get on). The elephants looked tired and dusty but in not bad condition considering the circumstances. We both decided that it could be a lot worse, it wasn’t until we saw an elephant playing with barbed wire that we had great cause for concern. There was no time to ponder as in a flash we were ushered to the front and guided on to our elephant. Once on Ben say’s in a loud voice “ooooh it feels a bit like a testicle” before I had time to shush him the elephant was going mad! He was trumpeting and stomping around (I think we was expecting to have a break and instead was lumbered with Ben and me). The elephant handler started shouting at him but with no avail the elephant was pretty adamant. Meanwhile we are holding on for dear life and wishing we had paid the lady 80TB for some Bananas. We look down and the man is hacking at the elephants legs with a pick axe, and the poor elephant was making the most awful noise. We were not enjoying it at all and we had barely left the starting point. We spent the next half an hour clinging on and feeding the elephant bananas (we bought some from the lady as soon as we could) while the man hacked and used stones in a sling shot to keep the elephant moving. It was not enjoyable and I wouldn’t recommend it. Once our feet were firmly on the ground we fed our elephant all the bananas and sugar cane he could eat. He did have a break after us and went to the water and sprayed himself, he looked as happy as he could be when we left him. Still, what a life eh!Our very unhappy elephant eating some tasty snacks

After lunch we started the hard bit, the trek. Our guide was at the front, handed us all a long stick and said we would probably need it as the first bit is steep. Boy was he right, it was very steep and in 30 degree heat was a total killer. We were all put through our paces, it was very hard. Poor Ben had been complaining of stomach pains since we left the elephants and the steep climb wasn’t helping. Back in the Uk Ben suffers from a bad tummy from time to time. This can be brought on by spicy food, rich food, oily food, battered food, nerves, a change of diet…basically there is no rhyme nor reason for it but when it happens he really shouldn’t be far from a toilet. So being half way up a mountain in Thailand is absolutely not where he wants to be when having his stomach problems. He holds out for a long way and I become increasing worried about him as the colour drains from his face and he looks like he might pass out. He signals to me to wait and we let everyone else pass ,making excuses that I need to get something out of my bag. I do need to get something out of my bag, toilet roll. Ben has disappeared behind a tree and I only have face wipes to give him. He uses them ad tells me he is being bitted alive by ants as he has disturbed an ant hill. This really couldn’t get any worse. Ben eventually appears looking shaken. He has the bites the size of Britain but he is feeling much better. Phew, time to catch up with the others and make our excuses.

We walked for 3 and a half hours (uphill) before we reached our next place. We stopped outside some houses on stilts and our guide Sam told us it was his village and he grew up here. The tribe was called the Karen tribe and was made up of about 40 families of Buddhist, Christian and animist. Everyone here was Burmese and illegal immigrants of Thailand, their land was borrowed from the Thai government. We were greeted by the people with waves and smiles, Sam lead us to his house and told us we were to stay with him tonight. He introduced us to his wife and family and showed us pictures of his eldest son who had gone off to train as a monk (a very proud moment thing for his family). We were all very tired and were happy of the chilled out vibes and ice box of beer we were to enjoy as his wife and him cooked us dinner. It was children’s day in Thailand, and we had seen children celebrating this in the city. Like mothers and father’s day at home, children’s day is a day that kids get gifts and celebrated. Here in the Karen tribe was no different, after our dinner we were to join the children at a fire and they would be singing songs and dancing. Sam had bought a few balloons for the children in the market so we blew them up so they were ready to handed out. Dinner was amazing and we ate with the group by candlelight. It was very humbling to see how the tribe lived, no electricity only fire, no real toilet or shower only a hole in the ground no bed as such and only a mosquito net to sleep under. For tonight we would be the same, we were all more than happy for these small luxuries. RIMG0203

After dinner the children all came down and built the fire, soon the whole village was there was we were listening to the children’s songs and entertainment, It was pretty amazing. when we gave the balloons their faces lit up. They were so happy and thanked us with a handshake and some a high five. It seemed like such a small offering but it was very much appreciated. We all went to bed feeling very tired after our long walk and slept like babies till the cockerel woke us at 5am.

Once we were all up and ate our breakfast of egg and fruit it was time to go back down the mountain and say goodbye to the friendly Karen tribe. The walk today was much easier and more beautiful, we seemed to be half way down in no time. We stopped at a waterfall to swim which was lovely as we had not had a shower and in the heat was very refreshing. Once we were at the bottom we were to do the last part of our trip, bamboo rafting. We got on the rafts in groups of 4 (we were with the German Girls which was nice as we had made good friends with them). I was at the front and ben was at the back and there was a 14 year old boy driving it. As soon as we got on we were soaked and were steered through small rapids down the river, It was a lot of fun. We were very wet by the end so we were glad to be getting in the truck to be going home (back to Chiang Mai). We arrived back to our hostel about 5pm and had a beer, we were exhausted but very happy. We had an amazing time and felt we really became part of Sam’s life, if even for a short time.

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