Chaing Mai

Here’s another attempt at the failed post.  After my last Chiang Mai post we headed back to the good old Supreme House to chill out with some cold Chang Beer’s.  We looked through the trekking tours offered for a bit.  All seemed to include bamboo rafting and elephant riding.  We already saw the chained up elephants at Angkor and didn’t really want to contribute/partake in that unethical form of tourism.  Add in the fact we wanted to do more trekking, and it boiled down to us going with the one trip offered that was exclusive trekking.

After heading out for dinner we decided that night would be the night we would check out the infamous Thai go-go bars.  Basically it was a go-go bar, not a “go-go bar” (AKA strip club).  Beers were 95 Baht )(small bottle of tiger).  The atmosphere was really shady so we headed out after the 1 beer.  It’s a bunch of dirty-old men enjoying a chat with the Thai dancers.  Soon one of the dancers started having a jab at us on stage by calling us babies “so young, me show you lots,” while rocking her hands (the baby gesture) on stage…she persisted even after telling us she was younger than us (21).  So we promptly downed the beers and headed to a legit bar street side to finish out the night.

BEST DAY OF TRIP: Aug 4.

So August 4th would ranks as my personal best day of the trip: our scheduled trekking tour.  We were early to rise with a 07:00 wakeup.  I immediately knew I was in for trouble if it was going to be the least bit physically demanding, with aches all over my body from a limited sleep.  we had a rished breakfast where I could barely finish half of my banana+chocolate pancake.

Then things got really weird.  First the guy out front of the hotel who sold us our tour tickets came to inform us there would be a 30 minute delay because the passenger cab on the back of the truck fell off on the way to pick us up, so they were bolting a new one on before picking us up (thanks…very reassuring).  I then went back to working on my pancake when I heard the clicking of a bicycle.  I turned my head to see this big kid (I suspect with downs-syndrome) coming towards us wearing a cloth with his face covered in large patches of white powder.  It was really an odd sight.  As quickly as he appeared he was gone.  This threw me and Duncan into discussion as to what the heck was all over his face (note: turns out Thais prefer white skin and believe this powder when rubbed in helps give them whiter appearing skin *cough*WTF*cough*).  Less than 5 minutes after riding off this little old lady who we had seen before (all 4 feet of her) wandered in.  The tour guy then turned to us and pointed to the lady and said “my son.”  I didn’t know what to say.  I figured he was having a jab at me, so I simply said “Oh, your son?” and went back to my pancake…then I did an about face…It wasn’t an old lady afterall! It was a dude!!! (albeit a “runt of the litter” as they say).  The son (like 30-35) then tried chatting with us and started high-fiving us.  After making friends he whipped out a bottle of iced-tea from his back pocked half-full of a clear liquid (booze).  Not even 08:00 and this dude was well on his way to being piss drunk.  No wonder why he looked so haggard.  He then joked around with his father, who smacked him across the head a few times.  After another 5 minutes of awkwardness our ride finally pulled up.

There were another 7 people to pick up before we finally headed out of the city.  There were 3 Frenchies (one who wouldn’t shut his piehole for any longer than 1 minute), a couple from NYC, and this one weird couple: a balding Scandinavian guy who blinked a lot and looked like some psychotic serial killer along with a really ugly looking Thai farmer/peasant lady missing the greater portion of her teeth).  15 minutes out of the city we made our first stop (not even listed on our itinerary) at an orchid farm.  Me and Dunc not being ones too big into flowers or butterflies breezed through this in 8 minutes (5 minutes of which were spend admiring the framed scorpions for sale in the gift shop) before sitting and waiting for the others while speculating on whether the lady would kill only his lady companion, or the entire tour.

We were off again for 10 minutes before stopping at another unscheduled place: a market.  We had already wasted 1/2 a day and hadn’t even got trekking yet (pessimism creeping into our bones).  Finally we were off, and started driving through the jungle.  We stopped for lunch at a roadside shelter (given rice).  We enjoyed a convo with the NYC couple (Chinese backgrounds) before being told we were the only 2 people on the 1-day exclusive trekking tour.  Everyone else was doing elephants and 2nights.  We loved this for 2 reasons:

1 – If the serial killer decided to kill the entire camp and not just that Thai farmer lady, we wouldn’t be part of the death toll.

2 – We were getting our own private tour guide.

So our guide was about our age and spoke pretty damn good English.  We left the others behind at the lunch shelter and headed out up a dirt road.

Having the ability to go at our own past (over 2 hours faster than a regular tour) a and the scenery all to ourselves made us feel like we were on a VIP trip.  Nice and peaceful.  Turns out the guide does the hikes 7 days a week…good in the fact he knew the route to a T, but bad for the fact his physical conditioning was deceiving.  He was really skinny, wore jeans and a hat.  Turns out he didn’t even break a sweat out whole trek, whereas me and Dunc were sweating balls.  Anyways the trek:

Our first real sight was up a gradual slope that had an amazing view of a lush-green farmers hillside.  The road was lined by banana trees.  Once at the summit we hit the end of the road and the start of the trail.  Our guide was telling us about the previous days trek and the excessive amount of wipeouts on the downhill portions of the mud-trail.  We lucked out with some dry weather, so for the most part it was a dirt trail for us.

Our second stop was an amazing looking cave.  We didn’t have torches so we couldn’t venture too deep.  Even if we wanted to we were warned there were lots of snakes in there, some of which were venomous.  So we rested, admired the bates, snapped some pictures and continues on down the hillside.

The path was dugout dirt steps, with scattered rocks and bamboo handrails on some really steep places.  I bailed a couple times here, but managed to save my camera.  In the next valley we stopped at the local village.  We were able to relax on the porch of a stilted house.  A kettle emerged from overtop an interior fireplace, and we were poured some tea to drink out of bamboo shoots.

After this we saw a deformed chicken (bald with its wings upside-down) running around town.  Once out of the village we started hiking the steep dirt steps of a mountainside.  here I really started falling behind Duncan and the guide.  After much struggle I emerged at the plateau to catch up with the others to rest in the farmers field.  For 15 minutes we admired the view before heading off.  Out guide was happy to inform me that was the last uphill part of the trek.  We walked another 20 minutes along this hilltop to snap a few pictures in a ricefield.  We then started down a gradually-sloped trail that took us further into the jungle.  After a while we passed through a long bamboo Forrest which was pretty cool.  The bad part was this was a rather wet path.  On one downhill part I grabbed a large bamboo shoot to brace myself, which promptly fell from a tree and narrowly missed Duncan and the guides heads.  We then walked through a creek and it started raining making the rock-infested mud slopes all the more dangerous.  We weren’t the only ones falling either.  Once our guide began falling we knew we were in for an uphill battle.  Finally we emerged in a grassy field to hear the bells of oxen ringing.  We walked through some thick bamboo trees before hitting a trail alongside some pace paddies.  Our guide pointed out the camp and hammocks where the 2 day tour people would be sleeping (the side of a massacre on the part of the Scandinavian psycho?).  It turns out those tours take the same route and see most of the same things we do.  We finally emerged to a road (early/fast for tour standards) which we cross to get to the waterfall.  We were literally soaked in sweat (but not our guide), so seeing this was like seeing a mirage in the Sahara.  Even better we were the only ones there.  It was a multiple-staged waterfall with a bunch of rocks at the top and various pools at different levels.  We rinsed off our clothes before jumping in. At the top  we climbed among the rocks to nab the massage-like feeling of rushing water over our aching muscles.  Our guide then showed us the rock to jump from in the deep pool.  I found that pretty fun as it was a tricky narrow jump point which you had to get good distance on to hit the deep spot…Although even the deep spot had a giant rock in it, so you had to tuck in your knees once you hit the water to avoid a broken leg.

After this refreshing experience we were told we were really fast on the walk, so our guide was going to take us to see the elephants. A 15 minute walk along the road brought us to the roadside elephant place.  First we were able to pet the baby (2 year old) elephant named Bobo.  I actually found this quite depressing.  The little guy was basically chained to one of the building columns under the house and away from the other elephants.  You could tell he was tugging at the chain trying to get away.  The other elephants (roughly 10?) were 50 m away in a sort of clearing-all chained up.  I’m glad we didn’t ride these poor animals.  There was a walkway to the river for the elephants where one of the handlers took an elephant for a wash.  There was a wooden bridge across the river that led to another area where the elephants could go (I presume taking people for a ride).  After being warned I was too close to an unchained feeding bull we were soon picked up and driven to a longneck village.

The longnecks are the people who put metallic rings around the necks of females at an early age.  The weight sinks down their collarbones giving them the appearance of having long necks.  They are not actually Thai’s but rather refugees from Burma.  The village was a bit of a letdown.  They have sold themselves to the tourist industry, and you don’t sense any real authenticity in them…It just seems like people dressed up in costumes.  Kind of like those people who dress up as superheroes outside that theater in L.A.  The village was basically a bunch of stalls selling trinkets to tourists.  After 5 mins we were out of there.  They kept asking if I wanted to take pictures, but I shrugged them off only snapping one of a skipping young girl (who already had the rings/stretched out neck!)

Our private shuttlebus back to Chiang Mai ended up picking up another couple on the way back. Their tour was an ATV’ing one and included Tiger Kingdom (something we planned on doing the following day).  So on the way back we ended up stopping there thanks to them (not originally on our itenerary) to see the tigers.  At Tiger Kingdfom you get to go in the cages and pet the tigers for 15 minutes.  There were 4 options: babies (most expensive), small, medium, and large tigers.  We opted for the medium-sized tigers for 350 bath (after our guide mistranslated, telling us there was only 1 large tiger in the large tiger cage if we selected that option.  None the less, we got in the cage with the mediums.  The cage has 2 tigers out at a time (another 2 caged away from the tourists).  They alternated the 4 tigers throughout the day to avoid putting too much stress on the tigers.  Two Thai handlers are in the cage with the guests along with two english-speaking volunteers (for us a Dutch couple).  Rules were simple: slow movements, don’t step on their tails, approach from behind, and pet them firmly (a light petting tickles them and they think it’s playtime and may bite).  Wo we were in there for a good 20 minutes.  The only close call was when me and Duncan posed for a picture together and the tiger got a bit crankey.  I was pinned between the tiger, it’s taiul and the electric fence, so I had to do a quick jump over to avoid trouble.  After this we walked over to the baby cage.  The babies didn’t have their stripes yet.  Nobody else was around so the handler let us get up and close with the 2 babies.  We then looked at the other sizes before checking our their pet camel and heading back to Chiang Mai.

After unexpectedly knocking off our final “to do” item in Chiand Mai we decided to catch the next days (Aug 5) noon bus to the old historial Thai Capital of Sukothai.

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