Saturday, August 26, 2006

20th - 24th August (Changmai internet cafe)

Maybe i should have booked something with the travel agent a bit earlier. I could have taken a coach for about 300B or a cheaper train option for about 600B but because i left it until the day i wanted to travel my only option is the 1000B sleeper train. I checked out of my hotel and spent a lot of time putting new photos on the blog to keep you lot happy. Arranged vietnam visa (i only remembered that i needed to do it when i heard someone discussing it in the travel agent) which will be sent to me in Changmai, this cost 2000B. I was killing time all afternoon until at the last hour i found a bloke who could put albums on to any mp3 player for 50B - I only had enough time and memory to put the new muse album on but next time I'm in Bangkok i will find him again. My taxi to the train station cost 250B (should have got a tuk tuk). Met Sally and Rachael from Loughborough uni in my carriage, about 20 and quite chatty then slept very well in my comfortable bed (much more spacious than in India). On arrival in Chiang Mai, i took a tuk tuk to Sarah guesthouse which i found in the lonely planet. Clean and basic for 200B, just what i needed. There are 3 obese dogs that live here, most dogs in Thailand look scabby and malnourished. After getting some tourist information i visited a tribal museum which was fairly interesting and then booked a 3 day trek for tomorrow which should take me to some hill tribe villages. There is a huge street market every evening in Chiang Mai so i spent some time looking around that; there is everything from fake designer gear to local handmade ornaments, there are even massage stalls so i had my first massage, half an hour, head, shoulders and arms for 60B, about half the price of Bangkok. The massage was a little painful at times but quite nice. Looked for a nice bar but i only managed to find the seedy looking ones so went to bed.

The Trek:
Just my luck, met the rest of the group, 10 Irish 19-20 year old lads, nice guys, big drinkers and quite entertaining but obviously as they are all friends travelling together i am often sat listening to conversations about school friends, teachers,etc. A group made from smaller groups and individuals would have been better for me socially.

Joe, our 62 year old guide likes to sing Elvis songs and play the harmonica (not all that well), he's a bit of a character and the lads call him 'crazy belly'!!!

There was a two hour drive into the jungle and then we were trekking. We all set off up the hills too quickly for Joe who told us we needed to pace ourselves, he was probably right, it was very humid and the sweat was pouring off of us. We walked for four hours up and down slippery muddy tracks - i didn't have too much trouble keping up with the young'uns who didn't have an ounce of fat between them but i struggled with the slippery downhills where my ankle was still feeling less than 100%. We finished up at a hill tribe village next to the river where we swam and washed (it was brown with muddy sand but seemed fresh), then we had a lovely dinner played poker and drank warm Chang. I had pictured something much more 'tribal', the village was quite basic but the people didn't appear to be any different to any other part of Thailand (I think we were expecting a little bonfire and people in bizarre costumes dancing around it or something). It was pitch black by 19.00 and all we had was candles and our little torches. At the end of the night us 11 lads all shared a big room.

The second day was more walking only this time we had a young guide called Sang who set off at lightning pace. Joe stayed at the village to take Care of one of the Irish lads who was really sick (the 8 whiskies the night before last plus the heat may have been a factor!) and the plan changed so that we would be staying in the same village again that night. The upside of this was that we were carrying less stuff than yesterday. We visited another village of a different tribe and again it was not what i had expected, they had solar panels and satellite dishes (apparently supplied by the government to all villages) and we never saw anyone in any of the tribal dress that i had seen at the museum. Sang calls me Rambo because i am the biggest in the group (that tells you how skinny these Irish guys are!) and i managed to snap a rotten chunk of wood in two to use as stepping stones. He has singled me out as the raft driver for tomorrow! We walked at quick pace for about 4 hours altogether before getting Elephant rides back to the village.
The Elephants looked healthy and well looked after so i didn't feel guilty about riding them. We were sat two to an elephant on a wooden seat with a thai driver sat just behind the elephants ears stearing with his knees. It lasted about an hour and wasn't too comfy, most of the journey was along the river but it's amazing how they can walk up steep narrow paths when they need to. Good food again and plenty of it followed by a Chang session that went late into the night.

Day three was no trekking. We were on bamboo rafts - 5 on one, 6 on another with a Thai driver at the front and one of us steering the back of each using a bamboo pole as a punting stick - it was a lot harder than it looked and at one point we nearly went upside down on the white water ( all our bags with cameras etc were suspended in the center of the raft). It was excellent fun. We went to a snake farm with an entertaining snake show on the way back to Chiang Mai

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