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Gina, Joe and Justin's Backpacking Experience

Chiang Mai

THAILAND | Tuesday, 17 February 2009 | Views [1077] | Comments [4]

Chiang Mai

(warning this is super long...if you want just the funny part skip the the very bottom )

Well, we've had our first official airline problem, and for the first time in the history of problems JOE was the recipient!  Its kinda weak as far as stories go (and there are MUUUCCCHH better ones from Chiang Mai), but the 2 second version is that the Bangkok airport lost his bag.  Explaining that to people that speak basically zero English makes for a bit of a hassle, but all's well that ends well and the next day Joe got his bag back...

On to the good stuff!  We've had about 7 days in Chiang Mai so there its a ton of stuff to talk about and I need to save my typing stamina for the good stuff, so I’m gonna stick mainly to the big stuff ;).  Chiang Mai city is in the far northwest part of Thailand, complete opposite end of the country as Phuket.  Aesthetically it’s an analog of Bangkok except on a 1:64 scale, all the same stuff except nowhere NEAR the same number of people.  We all liked it here much more than the big brother city for that very reason.

Right off the git go we were able to secure an awesome travel agent (a rarity for this country we've learned) that gave us lots of good information about her city, even in pretty decent English!  While we were at odds trying to decide exactly how to plan our adventure she suggested that instead of booking a tour to do the “city stuff” we liked, that instead her son would drive us around to all the good stuff in the family car!  Well ya can’t beat that idea so off we went.  We stopped at a ton of different places (I think the guy put 150 miles on his car that day), the first of which was the “Model Village.”  More or less the village was replica of some of the mountain tribes in northern Thailand.  For a multitude of reason (lack of roads being the main one) it is difficult to get tourists to the real villages.  So instead they import the villagers and pay them a few bucks to let tourists watch them do what they do.  The highlight of the village was the Karen tribe, aka long-neck tribe, where the girls wear the brass rings around their neck to make it ridiculously looonng.  Apparently, it’s supposed to make them more attractive?!?! 

It is amazing how these people live in such a vastly different way than not only the western world, but also there non-city dwelling counterparts.  The lifestyle is so amazingly simple that you have to be in awe of what they're capable of and how our world has left them behind.  I would say it’s sad, but for the most part everyone in these villages is happy.  It puts certain aspects of life in perspective when you see people striving by living off the land and being content.  Everything they need is right in their little community from chickens and pigs to rice and bananas.  They even grow all the bamboo to build their huts...defiantly amazing stuff.

Another stop was the Monkey show which was kinda cute.  They had monkeys doing tricks like playing basketball and riding bikes, who doesn't like that???  You could also feed the monkeys bananas and peanuts which made for some good laughs and pictures.  They even had a little baby monkey that you could actually play with (although it bit Gina lol). 

One last notable stop on this adventure was the Tiger Kingdom.  We thought it might be like the tiger temple (Bangkok), but this one was all tiger and no monks, goats, camels, peacocks, et al.  In this one they actually let you play with the baby tigers for 15 minutes while a guy takes pictures of you.  Kind of fun getting to “play” with a tiger.  The guy took like 200 pictures of me playing with the beast; I felt like I was in a fashion show photo shoot...lol...save the jokes everyone!

Our next Chiang Mai adventure was the big trek!!  This is the monster 3 day walk in the jungle that we've been psyched about for a looong time.  Three days of elephants, hiking, tribes, and rafting who wouldn't be excited?  So let get started.  The trip started with a super long smog infested ride in the back of a pickup truck with 12 people... isn’t that how all good trips start??  I have my doubts.  So after 2 hours of lung clogging fun we end up at the elephant station (I think station would be a good word choice??), where we were loaded with grub and strapped to the back of an elephant.  If our elephants were the seven dwarves the one I was riding would have been Sneezy.  If you didn’t think elephants could sneeze...you are wrong and the big long schnowser on their face is just like a shotgun barrel, one with a great affinity for me!  He was also a hungry little bugger.  I bought him a stack of sugar cane for the ride, but once he found my stash he refused to go more than 2 steps without more food.  Which was good because that way the sneeze snot was always fresh and sugary for me...gross ;).  For the record here, Joe was terrified of his elephant (which was very tame).  I never did get a reason besides “he's unstable,” but again for the record, Joe is scarred of elephants.  Feel free to use that one liberally Ray and Chris.

After the elephants, we started our voyage through the jungle!  Its funny how pieces of the puzzle only come together as the picture unfolds.  Not one person in our group managed to piece together that “hilltop tribe” meant that we might have to climb to the TOP of a HILL...ohhh I get it...Hilltop tribe…ugh.  Four grueling hours of mountain hiking later we reached the summit of Mt. What-the-hell-was-I-thinking.  Luckily it was 95 degrees outside which made it that much nicer ;), I was smart enough to bring 4 liters of water (which I drank all of) others were not so lucky and we were a very thirsty and tired group once we reached our bamboo hut aka hotel de' hilltribe.  The village (Lahu) was much more authentic than our previous encounter, but still had that feel that lots of tourists went through there.  They sold supplies (like water thank god...we still have 2 more days and we all drank all our water) and trinkets the villagers make.  The bamboo hut thing was pretty cool and I learned three important lessons that night:  1) Hilltop village with no electricity + mountain water = coldest shower on earth, 2) Bamboo is probably one of the most uncomfortable surfaces one could pick to try and sleep on...do not attempt, the result will only end up as a sore back and no sleep, 3) Thailand in the middle of the night on top of a hill in a “wind permeable hut” becomes the Antarctic...dress appropriately...shorts are a bad choice. 

Day two.  Today we did about 6-7 total hours of hiking and hit a bunch of great stops.  There were a whole bunch of little villages and waterfalls along the way to keep us well in awe and defiantly entertained.  By far the best part of this hike was lunch, it was as authentic as you could possibly want.  For plates the guide cut up some big banana tree leaves and for silverware he made chopsticks out of little bamboo shoots.  So we had our jungle lunch at a waterfall miles from no where on our brand new jungle Tupperware.  How cool is that!  One of the villages we stopped at I bought a slingshot from a lady (how could you not buy a $1 slingshot in the middle of the jungle?!?) which provided for hours of fun.  The best of which came from when a little jungle boy who decided to steal it from me and then spend the next hour having all of us follow (and carry) him around while he showed us all the different things he could shoot at.  I should also mention that he was an amazing shot for a 3-4 year old...10 times better than any of us white folk.  These tribal/jungle kids are all this cute by the way.  I don't know where they pick it up, but they've got the cute kid act down pat.  This same kid found Joe by the waterfall and demanded that Joe take his picture...and then that Joe let him take pictures with his camera.  Take a look at the picture of this I post up its priceless.

Day three was more hiking and more villages, but we ended the day with a little white water rafting (didn't expect that, but hey!).  Not quite up to New Zealand standards, but not too shabby.  After that we did some bamboo rafting, which is basically impossible.  We managed to sink ours on multiple occasions with ease.  Then it was off to home for an early bedtime to make up for bamboo back, frozen toes, and 4 hours of cumulative sleep!

So it’s on to our last and final Chiang Mai adventure and actually our last adventure for the whole trip...how sad :(.  We decided that it would be fun to rent dirt bikes for a day and explore the jungle in a little different style than the hiking variety.  There was a guy in town that would do the tour, but it was a bit expensive and you went with a big group.  Our wonderful travel agent decided to make something a little better for us.  In hindsight we probably should have just paid the extra coin and follow the beaten path...but what fun is that?  So anyway, she arranged for us (me, Joe, and a Canadian guy named Sean that we befriended on our trekking excursion) to rent some bikes from a local rental agency and she found us a private guide for the day to show us around and make sure we didn’t get lost or hurt. 

This adventure has two parts: the really good and super fun part, and then the part where things start going wrong and “the fecal matter hits the air circulation device.”  The good part was that we got to see some AMAZING country.  Much better than what we saw on our hiking trip, probably mostly because we traveled 140 miles on those bikes that day on everything from roads, to logging trails, to full-on extreme dirt bike trails.  We even crossed a few rivers over log bridges.  We saw amazing waterfalls and some serious back woods country.  In one of the towns we went to we were most defiantly the only white people there and its probably been awhile since the last white people where there also.  What a great authentic perspective on the country.  And speaking of authentic we had and even better experience where we stopped for lunch.  This ended up being at a small village (REALLY SMALL like 6 total people).  This place was really something, our guide told us that they hardly ever get visitors and even rarer from white people.  As a peace offering we brought extra lunch (fried chicken) and some candy for the kiddos so of course they took us in with open arms.  According to our guide they eat rice and chillies every day...every day that’s all they eat!!!  I couldn't imagine what that would be like.  These people made all of there own clothing too.  All the way down to growing the cotton plants, dying it with local plants that produce dyes, and weaving the fabric!  That’s absolutely amazing.  We did learn that there is some issues getting medicine and other occasional necessities as one could imagine, so we decided to buy a few little bracelets and clothing from them to put some money in their pocket.  They were as gracious as I've ever seen anyone...and I was so happy to have been given the opportunity to meet them.

Now on to the bad part.  It turns out that the bikes we rented were pretty cruddy and cheap, and every time you brushed up against a tree something bent or broke.  Which when coupled with a first-time motorcycle rider and a few crashes, makes for some serious problems with the equipment.  To make a super long story short, Sean's bike puked out about 90km (60 miles) from home...ugh.  We were able to find a repair shop and they took it all apart only to find that some of the internals were trashed..argh.  So the owners decided to bring us a replacement bike to get us home...only they were 2 and a half hours away and we had already been out of commission for 3 hours!!!!  Sooooo, we waited!  Eventually we got our bikes squared away and make the LOOONG journey home in the middle of the dark Thailand wilderness!  Which in hindsight worked out pretty good, because the drive through the mountains in the darkest of dark was beautiful and peaceful...I loved it!

When we finally got home at 10:45 pm (it was supposed to be 5 pm) we were exhausted and needed sleep.  So we decided to take the bikes back to the rental agency in the morning.  Now THIS IS WHERE LIFE GOT INTERESTING. 

When we rented the bikes they took our passports for “insurance” which they were going to return once we returned the bikes (which is fine because they need to ensure that you don't sell the bike and flee the country).  They decided to just keep one passport for the entire group...mine.  This was fine and dandy as we had no intention of stealing the bikes.  As we were told by the renal agency we had “insurance” on the motorcycles and we interpreted that damage to the motorcycle would be covered by the “insurance” we paid extra for.  Apparently they had a different definition of insurance.  They said that Sean was liable for all of the problems that were wrong with his bike, most of which were his fault, but was exponentially compounded by they fact that these bikes were compete garbage.  Well, Joe's and my bikes were returned fine and Sean's was “returned”...I want my passport back! 

Well I didn't get my passport back like I wanted and this is where things got ugly.  The shop owners took Sean to the motorcycle repair shop to discuss what they were going to do with the bike and we were told to wait a few minutes until they got back to sort out the passport issue.  I reluctantly said “fine” and waited.  After about 45 minutes I had enough and told him that holding my passport ransom for a person that I didn't even know other than inviting him along on the trip was absolutely preposterous and I demanded my passport immediately or else I was going to call the US Embassy and start making problems for everybody.  Well at this indictment the guy at the shop conveniently forgot how to speak his broken English...Enter stage left Justin's super temper when he's getting hassled.  The line had been crossed, I was mad.  I decided to forcibly take my passport.  I saw it sitting behind the desk so when the guy got up I made a dash for it.  Unfortunately for me, my anger prevented me from preparing a suitable escape route and in hindsight I shouldn't have even tried to leave the shop right away.  Anyway, the way I decided to leave was a dead end which meant I had to reverse track and go back through the store and out the other side...ahhh crap they're gonna catch me lol.  Well...they caught me.  It turns out that little Thai guys are much faster runners than I am, haha...who would have though!  

This is where things got super funny.  In an effort to try and stop me one of the little Thai guys decided to do a super jumping ninja kick, like the perfect form kind with the tucked leg and everything.  In his credit, he planned it really well and managed to actually hit me in the shoulder area.  Unfortunately for him (and the other guys) he forgot to take into account that I am 3 times his size and weight.  Lol...seriously this guy hit me and stopped dead in his tracks...ninja move over.  I didn't even so much as budge and he went down to the ground! (in retrospect this is actually quite surprising especially considering it didn't hurt, i though it would hurt a little at least).  He landed somewhat gracefully considering and gave me his full-on “I'm serious” ninja face and stance and I couldn't take it...I started laughing at him.  I mean seriously I just took his best move without even a hiccup did he expect me to be scarred?  He didn’t appreciate the laughing.

So at this point the game was up they had other people there so I couldn't leave without a huge problem, and luckily the motorcycle guide's buddy showed up and could translate my intentions.  At this point they told me that I had to give them my passport back and wait for Sean and their crew to get back to the store.  I decided that my version would be that I would wait for Sean to return, but the only way there were getting the passport back was to try and take it from me.  I think at that point they realized that ninja moves were not gonna fly and a fist fight with a couple of 225 lb American boys probably wasn't going end in their favor.  I got to keep my passport without any attempt to take it away.  Shortly after this we just left...

Talk finishing our big trip with a bang :)




You did a great job telling us all the stories during your 3 month hiatus - thanks for sharing Justin. The ninja story is awesome - and now we all know that Joe is afraid of elephants :-)

  Tim Feb 19, 2009 12:40 AM


Oh my goodness you's all sound so adventurous and so very lucky to be experiencing this once in a lifetime trip. Love the details and the pix's. Gina we are gonna miss you at Britt's wedding! Lots to talk about when you get back to visit. Love Ya

  aunt Linda Feb 19, 2009 1:39 AM


"Afraid of elephants" is slightly inaccurate. I like elephants and enjoyed being around them, petting them and feeding them. However, sitting in a wicker basket that sways around and feels like it is going to fall off while walking along cliffs going up and down hills is a little unsettling. Add to that the elephants general reluctance to do anything the guide wanted and you have a slightly stressful experience. I just don't think everyone else was aware of the incredible amount of danger we were in.

The passport experience was funny. Watching Justin run away with his passport with two people chasing him, them doubling back through the same spot to run out to the road was funny. I don't think there was any real danger for us at any point but I do know the guy working the desk was the angriest person in Thailand at that moment. Funny. The even got a police officer about 2 minutes after Justin returned with the passport and he basically talked to them, saw us just standing there and gave them a "what's your point" look and walked away. This all sped up the process and the end result was the Canadian had to pay for the damages which were a small fortune in Thailand, 6000 Baht or about $180 USA. Not to bad for smashing up the bike, it would have been a lot more in the states.


  gborchers3 Feb 20, 2009 12:10 AM


Your tale of woe and hijinks brightened my SNOW-LADEN day at the lake.


Uncle Tom

  Uncle Tom Mar 6, 2009 2:11 AM

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