Day 12: Chiang Mai

Well here we are in the ancient Lanna capital of Chiang Mai. We’re exhausted with very little sleep from a busy previous day followed by a sleepless bus ride. The plan is to go to this guest house we were recommended by a pair of German girls in Ayutthaya where we drop off our gear and try to arrange a elephant trek or something, then at the end of the day we will fly to Phuket, this feels like the final sprint before the cool down lap for Danny and Elmar but for me a climb in the middle of a long ride. The guest house room ends up costing 600 baht or about $20, totally worth it when split 3 ways to give us a shower and a good place to leave our stuff until we fly out. I’m embarrassed at how stinky we must be, such an unpleasant feeling.

Arriving we’re told there is an elephant trek with a river raft and hiking to a water fall leaving in an hour. We quickly clean up and get ready and set off.

The bus is full of friendly faces. A Chilean, 3 Spaniards, 4 Frenchmen, and 2 German women. We quickly hit it off with the German ladies who speak English very well and are happy  to chat in English. Susanne, a shorter blonde with a friendly smile and bright blue eyes is especially outgoing and fun to talk with.

Arriving first at the elephant trek start point we exchange cameras (no SLR on this day) so we can get photos of ourselves from one another later when we change cameras back. Because we have an odd number Elmar has to sit on the neck of the elephant bareback which makes things even more interesting. Once everyone is on their mounts our parade of elephants march out into the forest mostly single file, the babies following their mothers. Unlike China there is quite a lot of lush jungle not far outside of the cities and we are in the thick of it bugs and snakes and all. The Elephant ride is rougher than expected, and when we go up and down hills we have to hold on tightly to our seats to not go sliding off under it’s feet. It’s kind of like a living moving slow moving roller coaster with no seat belts. It’s a lot of fun. The elephants snack along the way and clearly still somewhat wild with their willful nature. They know where they’re supposed to go, and they’ll get there because they get fed, but sometimes they’re happy to walk a little off the path to get a snack along the way. Near the end of the trail we cross through the river, the babies are over 4′ tall and can barely keep their heads above the water. We start to notice the scars on the heads of the elephants left by their handlers. I feel guilty because I’m helping support and encourage this industry that’s clearly not all that great for the animals, though I’m sure it’s better than being killed for their tusks and they’re fed well. We’re horrible creatures aren’t we when that’s the justification?

We dismount our elephants and one of the babies is close by. One of the French ladies walks up to pet it and is quickly reminded that it’s a wild creature when it pushes her to the ground, and turns around to charge at her again. The mother lets out a call and the trainer raises his club. The French woman’s eyes are wide open but shes not scared of the elephant so much as not wanting it to get hit for her actions as she screams at the trainer not to hit it. The baby comes back around and pushes her again and she quickly scrambles up out of the way. The fun smiles and laughter quickly disappear. Shes alright, sort of no harm no foul I guess? Everyone is much more weary of the baby elephant now as it walks around us, people move to put a tree trunk between it and them. Some of us are in agreement it was a cool experience, but that we would probably not be riding elephants again.

Next up is the river rafting on bamboo rafts. When we were in Yangshuo Danny and Elmar wouldn’t go with me on the Li River cruise because they didn’t know how to swim, and definitely were scared of going on the Yulong River cruise because it goes down a patch of rapids. Here we’re told we will get wet and to not bring our cameras if they aren’t water proof. Danny’s camera is already damaged and so he doesn’t care if it gets wet so we bring his trying to keep it dry. It eventually gets wet but he got some good photos I hope. I haven’t been able to get them from him yet, so those will likely have to come in a later post along with the photos from the German girls when I receive those as well. Danny and Elmar are clearly nervous about this as we get on these pretty simple rafts, but now there are pretty girls watching and I think that helps them get past their fears. Once we get going and get all the bugs out of the rafts things start to lighten up. Our pilot splashes the water yelling snake, but it’s all a joke. He asks us if we can swim, and when Danny and Elmar say no, he says don’t worry he can’t either with a rye smile. Most of the ride is really quite pleasant as we drift along. At one point he asks if they want to steer and Danny and Elmar first take turns standing up on the raft steering with the long pole. All the while the pilot is discretely controlling things from the stern. The boys both nearly fall into the water, but they seem to have conquered any fears they had and no one is watching now. When I get up to steer the pilot tips the raft, but I’m immediately comfortable standing on it, all those years on the water. As the ride comes to an end it builds into a crescendo as we’re asked to sit down as we shoot through some rapids. In America you would never be allowed to do this, and there would be endless forms to fill out, but here I am sitting on a strapped together bamboo raft going down rapids with a jester at the wheel. Once we’re through no worse for wear, drenched and with big grins on our faces our pilot says to look behind and see how many the next raft lost. It comes around the corner with just the pilot and 1 guy instead of the 3 Spaniards. We all laugh but apparently they were asked to get off and walk around the rapids as were the German girls. We feel lucky to have been able to go down the rapids, it was pretty damn cool.

We’re left to wait at a shop, it’s Thailand, what else would happen? Old ladies with platters full of “hand made” jewelry. They’re incredibly persistent standing inches from your face even if you say no. At first I can’t believe that helps sales at all. I mean it just makes me not want to buy anything even more, Susanne expresses the same thoughts to me. Then the French women go and drop a good $40 on random trinkets clearly not from the village. I guess it’s there for them.

But now it’s lunch time. We stop at a little open air place that’s clearly there for all the tour groups going through. They serve us food as one big group and it’s the worst Thai food we’ve had. Our curry was clearly left over from the previous group, it’s cold and all the chicken has been picked out. We get some other dishes but they’re equally horrible. Danny Elmar and I are sat at our own table and we feel a bit isolated from the Europeans all sitting together chatting away. Whatever, it’s just lunch.

Next up is a trip to a “Hill Tribe”. God this post is filled with too many sarcastic quotes. Here in this remote village women are weaving tapestries, but they don’t look like anything on the walls for sale, those are all poorly made out of cheap materials and stitched together and not woven. It’s clearly put on and our tour guide gives us this story about this group of hill people and how they are good because they don’t grow opium and he just wants to help them out. God I hate all this insincerity in Thailand. We’re invited to take photos of her weaving but our skepticism gets the best of us and no one does. The French women go off and buy a ton more junk and we’re all made to wait for 30 minutes while they buy the wares. They’re why these shops exist and Susanne’s friend curses them under her breath as we all get a chuckle.

Then from here we’re off to hike to a waterfall. I’m excited, I get to see more of the wilds and can swim in a waterfall which should be nice. The hike is great, we chat away the entire time stopping to look at brightly colored bugs and plants. Our little clique of us and the German girls quickly get ahead of everyone else and we arrive at the water fall first stopping for a photo op. Sadly because of the rainney season the water fall is running too quick to really swim, but we can take a quick dip in a protected area. All the same I’m enjoying myself. The weather is good, we have good company, and I love to hike.

Again we’re left at another “village” of the Mon people from China with more things to buy. Jesus Christ. And the French women buy yet more junk. Now they have about as much as they can carry. There is a crossbow setup with a target 25 feet away, and we’re invited to shoot it once each. We form up a bit of a competition with me and the Chilean guy getting closest to the mark. The French are still shopping. The tour is over though.

Back in Chaing Mai we shower again and pack up a bit. We finish making our reservations in Phuket booking a hotel, arranging airport pickup, and buying our flights back to Bangkok. I’ve decided I don’t want to spend any more time in Bangkok than I have to so my flight will return landing at 10:30 before I go to my hotel near the airport and sleeping for the night before my early early morning flight to Bhutan. We also find out where we can have some more Roti – Mutaba and try some out before heading to the airport. It’s not as good as the ones we had in Ayutthaya though. The Banana Roti is very good though, it’s kind of like a fluffy crepe in flavor.

Our super long day ends with us flying to Phuket arriving at our hotel at 2am without incident exhausted.

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