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Going Around the World

Still in Chiang Mai

THAILAND | Saturday, 27 May 2017 | Views [346]

Thursday was an early morning as I had to hurry and grab breakfast from 7-11, let me explain. Remember in previous posts that 7-11’s are everywhere, EVERYWHERE, and it is difficult to find time for breakfast when the excursions usually leave pretty early in the morning. Down in the islands, I kept hearing people talking about these things called “toasties”. Toasties are little sandwiches that are in a wrapper and the employee will warm them up for you on the George Foreman Grill, which is sitting behind the counter. They cost less than $1 and in my eyes they are super weird because how can a ham and cheese sandwich be good if it is in a wrapper for a while. There must be a lot of preservatives, obviously. My friend Claire from the hostel was telling me her stories of getting sick after eating a cheese toastie, so I had managed to hold out...until now. I decided to give them a shot, as I did not have a whole lot of time before we were off on the trip for the day. I went with the ham and cheese. They have a variety of options, pork, chicken, pizza-ish, and many others that I could not really decipher what was going on inside the package. After they warmed it up for me, it was basically a grilled ham and cheese and it was surprisingly good. I was also told by many, “if you find one that works for you, do not try the others. Stick with what you know works.” So I stuck with my ham and cheese toastie for breakfast pretty much the rest of the week. So cheap and easy.

In my previous post about the elephants, I mentioned I met the 3 french girls. At the end of the elephant trip, they were talking about how they were going on a waterfall hike the next day and I sort of invited myself on the trip. They told me who to talk to about getting a ticket for the trip, as it was over an hour ride out of the city to get to the jungle we would be hiking. The night before, Wednesday, I called the ticket guy at the girls’ hotel and he did not know the exact price but he told me to show up at their hotel on time, with my money. I asked if it was over 1,000 Baht and he said “oh it's way less than that”. That should've been my first que that things would be rocky on this trip. I show up on time in the morning at the hotel, meet with Laure and the other two girls and the man tells me the cost of the trip is 950 baht. Now to me, I would not say that 950 is way less than 1,000, but maybe that is just me. I thought it was pretty expensive for the trip, but not knowing exactly what was on the itinerary, I paid and we were picked up by one of the excursion vans. We are on the way to the park and the guide for the day explains what we are going to be doing. We are going to be visiting a small village, going elephant riding...I shoot a look over to the girls and they do the same to me because none of us wanted to or thought we were going to be doing anything with elephants, since we had already just the day prior. Laure speaks up and says we are not doing the elephants and there is another girl in the van with us that is in agreement. The guide then continues to say that we will go to a waterfall, have lunch, and finish the day with bamboo rafting. I tell the guide that we are going to skip the elephants and we are going to go directly to the waterfall after the village. He agrees and says it is ok. I then understood why the trip cost so much. It was because I was paying to ride elephants. 

We show up to the village and the guide brings us up to this woman who is making scarfs. He gives us some background about the area and the people, even though we don't see all that many people, and then he lets us explore for about 15 minutes. As soon as our group of 10 people leave the area where the woman was working, she split and was out of there. The whole thing seemed so hokey and fake. When the next tour group came through, she was right back at her hard work with the scarfs...very stupid. I wandered around the village and I found a small pen and I looked inside and saw this very skinny pig who was hooked up in the pen. It appeared that it was “pig veal” or something, not letting it really walk around the pen and develop muscles. I was somewhat surprised, but then again we are in Thailand. I showed some of the other people in our group and a bunch of them got really upset. I asked our guide why the pig was not only in a pen but also hooked so it couldn't move. He did not really understand what I asked him, or he did and didn't want to act like he understood, and I just dropped the question. We then moved on from the village and went on a short walk along this very scenic road. It was going through the valley between the mountains. There were some oxen in the fields and it was a very pretty view. We continued our walk and came upon a different group who were doing something with elephants. There were at least 2 elephants there (I think there may have been 3) and I am not sure if they were feeding them or what exactly was going on, but as we walked past, one of the trainers put his hand in the mouth of the male elephant and he instantly got an erection (talk about feeling inadequate). The male was then going after the female that was there. This was so bizarre as all of the trainers were laughing and I thought it was just odd. I don’t know if the trainer putting the hand in the elephant's mouth was a direct cause, or if it was purely coincidence, either way it was obviously strange. We kept walking past the first group of elephants and one rickety wooden suspension bridge later, we were at “our” elephant camp. I was pissed off when we were there because all of the elephants had the riding harnesses on them and they were all chained to their respective corners of the tents. I could see a drastic change in demeanor of the elephants, comparing back to yesterday. You can just tell by the way they stand and move their bodies, it was messed up. The 3 french girls, myself, and the 5th person not riding was Theresa from Germany. The guide left 5 people to ride at the tent and us other 5 went on toward the waterfall.

We had to cross some more “bridges” across the river to get there. When I say “bridges”, I mean they had 3, 15 foot long, 3 inch diameter wobbly logs tied together and anchored in the center of the river. You slowly walk to the middle of the river where the end of the log is, there were sand bags piled up to walk to the start of the new logs that take you to the other side of the river. I was able to handle them no problem, but the girls were freaking out. The water was no more than 3 feet deep, but that did not appear to matter. I again had to save Laure’s life and help here get across the bridges, as the guide helped one of the other girls who was struggling. Once we made it across the river we had about a 15 minute walk through the jungle, along a dirt road. It was not as much of a “jungle trek” as I would have liked, but we made it to the Maewang Waterfall. The 4 girls and I went down to check it out and our guide walked back to find the rest of the group. The water was so refreshing and the water pounding off the rocks was so powerful. It was impossible to swim upstream toward the waterfall because the current was so strong as you got closer to the fall. After swimming for a while, I climbed up the side of the rock formation in order to get to the top of the waterfall. After a while, the guide returned and was very pushy for us to go back to get lunch. I am very happy that we skipped the elephants because I felt like we barely had enough time at the waterfall and we were there for just under an hour. The group that did elephants literally had like 10 minutes at the waterfall, I would have been so upset if i was in that group. I could have stayed and hung out at the waterfall for 4 hours if I had gone on my own. It was so calm and beautiful out there.

We walked back to the car and had lunch. Again at lunch, our tour guide was being very pushy. He was starting to make everyone in the group very frustrated and the trend continued through the remainder of the day. The lunch was very good though and then we headed on to bamboo rafting. The bamboo rafts were 5 pieces of bamboo (20 feet long) attached side by side. It was me and the french girls on a raft and we just sat in a row, similar to being in a canoe. Our guide stood up at the front of the raft and he was like a gondola driver. He had a big pole that he used to change our direction and make sure we didn't crash into rocks too bad. There were rapids he guided us through, and since we were literally sitting on a few sticks of bamboo, your butt was halfway in the water pretty much the whole ride. It was refreshing. Laure tried being the raft guide, but she couldn't prevent us from running directly into rocks, once or twice. The ride was about an hour and a half down the river, very fun.

 After we spent another few hours in the van to get back to Chiang Mai, the frenchies and I talked to the guy at the hotel how we were not very happy with our experience. He was very apologetic, but it obviously didn't change a darn thing. I left their hotel to go find a new hostel, as Stamps had run out of room and I had to go find another place to stay. I left my bags in the frenchies room all day, so I took my bags and went off to find a place to sleep that night. I went back to Stamps just to see if anyone didn’t show up and to fill up my water bottles with their drinking water. Alex who worked at the hostel, told me that if I hung around the hostel until 6pm, it is Stamps policy that if you don’t show up by 6 without any notice, they can give away your bed. So I took a shower in the downstairs shower and waited about 50 minutes. There were 4 people who had not shown up yet so I felt like I would not have any issues taking one of their beds. Around 5:20, the first shows up. Then the 2nd rolls in, then the 3rd, and with about 15 minutes to go I was still feeling confident. It gets to about 5:55 and I go talk to Alex to see which bed I am moving to. He check the email and of course the last guy sent an email at 5:50 saying that his bags are at the hostel but nobody was at the desk to check him in and to please not give away his bed because he wouldn't be back in time. Boom, there goes the last bed. Oh well, Stamps was a bit pricey, whopping $9 per night, which is actually a lot for that area. With that price you are definitely paying for the culture of the hostel, which was by far the best I had ever stayed at on the trip. Mike, the owner of Stamps, suggested a few places I could check out. He even walked with me down the street pointing out places I should check. In Chiang Mai and most of Thailand for that matter, there are so many places to stay. I went into the hostel directly around the corner from Stamps and it was only about $6 a night for a room with air conditioning. I decided that I would give it a shot. I went up to start unpacking my bags and then I feel something on my bare feet while I am standing next to the bed. I see a bunch of ants suddenly crawling all over my feet! I immediately put back the few things I removed from my bag and went down and got my money back. I found another place called the Living Place 3 and it was only about 6 minutes walking away from Stamps, so I figured I would give that a try. I wanted to stay in the same area so that I could get back to Stamps easily, as I had a bunch of friends there, they had drinking water available for fill ups, the vibe is awesome and I was becoming friends with the people who worked there. Milk, Lin, Mike and Ryan were all really cool people to hang out with and give a hard time. When they “kicked me out”, Milk told me to go find another place to stay and to come back and hang out during the day. So that is exactly what I would do for the next 6 nights. When I get to the Living Place 3, they have air conditioned rooms for $3.70 a night. It was worth a shot. The lady running the hostel, I forget her name, was super friendly and very helpful. There was not really anyone else at the hostel, as when she showed me to my room I had an entire 12 bed dorm room to myself for the first two nights. It was not really a big deal though not having anyone around because I was only using that hostel as a place to sleep. I would get up in the mornings and head to the other hostel to hang out every day.

 I got settled in at Living Place and 4 girls from the waterfall/bamboo rafting trip were all going to go to the night market and asked if I would join. I met up with the french girls and Theresa joined us later. We tried some of the weird fruits they have available (I was not a fan of any of them) and then we went to find a place to eat. Theresa showed us this food venue that she had been to previously which had 40 or so food booths. The food ranged from Thai food, to pizza, to burgers, to pretty much anything else you want. There was even a stand selling crickets and worms, I passed. The courtyard had a bunch of seating and also had live music. We sat down to eat and I decided I needed a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. I also got a side of french fries. It was a great decision, the food was awesome. We hung out there for a few hours, listening to music and having a few drinks. We met a guy named John, who is from Texas, who lives in Houston, who worked for Texas Children's Hospital (where I volunteered), who just quit his job to travel as well. It was a very strange coincidence. We talked with him for a bit then he left. 

I took a bit of a break from the music and left the courtyard area for about 15 minutes to video chat my parents and grandparents back in Michigan as it was my Grandpa's 89th birthday! I figured I would call and see how things were going. I had to buy a drink at the sangria place because they had the best Wifi and I needed to tap into it to make the call. I walked around back of the restaurant but the music was still very loud. I was able to get the video to go through, but not having headphones, I could not hear what my family was saying. So I was able to talk to them and they could hear me, but I had to try and read lips and they had to type out the parts I was missing. It was a little difficult to keep the conversation going, when having to wait for the message to by typed out, but it worked out in the end and we had a good 10 minute phone call before they all headed north to the cottage. We wrapped up the night at the music venue and we all headed home. The french girls were off to the islands in the south the next day so we said our goodbyes and off I went into the night.

Friday was another day trip. I scheduled to go to Chiang Rai for the day with Maddie and Claire (Wisconsin girls). Got up early, got my toastie and headed to Stamps, which is where the van picked us up. Similar to the day before, I let other people do the planning so I was not 100 percent certain what all was on the itinerary for once we got to the city. Chiang Rai is a 3 hour drive away from Chiang Mai, which is quite a hike, but I had heard it was worth a visit. The car ride was somewhat boring as expected, tried to nap for some of it. We first stopped at the White Temple. Everyone always says that it is their favorite and to be fair, architecturally it is very interesting. But the temple is a privately owned one and the guy built it just to pull crowds. It seems like some amusement park and they are just using religion to get people there. I did not really like it for that reason. After the White Temple we went to the Blue Temple. This one was also very cool and it seemed more authentic. I liked the Blue better than the White. We then went to a small restaurant for a buffet lunch. It was surprisingly very good. It was all Thai food, but they had a variety of dishes. After lunch we went to an outdoor art museum/exhibit. I forget the guy's name who created the place but he had like 4 PhDs and supposedly was brilliant. He also was obviously a good artist, so we spent some time looking at his sculptures and carvings and paintings. After the art museum we went to a village which apparently is famous for a “long neck tribe”. It was just a pit stop along the way home, but I decided not to pay to go see what is essentially today's version of a freak show and I just looked at the local market and purchased some items. Had I had the choice to do the trip over, I would not have gone. Going to the temples were not worth the 7 hours in the car for me. That is what I get for just tagging along with a group for a second consecutive day.

 Once we got back to Chiang Mai it was already 630 pm. Claire, Maddie and I went to grab dinner. We were eating at a table on the street and along comes Martin, one of the 3 english people I was hanging out with down on the island of Koh Phangan for several days. He joined us for dinner and he was actually heading to the bus station to leave for Bangkok, but I convinced him to join us for the Pub Crawl that people of Stamps were going on. We all went out and had a good time.

Today I decided to go white water rafting! It was another day excursion which meant another 2 or so hours in the van each direction. 2 others from Stamps were going, Sarah and her dad Ralf. I had met both of them the previous night on the pub crawl. They are both from Germany and they are traveling together for a few weeks for Ralf’s 50th birthday, from earlier in the year. Ralf’s english is not the greatest and he struggles a bit in conversation, but he tries! His english is better than my german and I had to keep reminding him that whenever he would get frustrated. Sarah speaks both english and german well, so she usually was his translator.

Since the trip was pretty long to the river, we stopped just over half way at a local market. The guide picked up some supplies to make us lunch once we got to the river. We made it to the water and the rafting place had a nice open bamboo building right along the water. We had a slow casual lunch as we waited for another group to arrive. The sound of the river along with the views of being deep in the Thai jungle was very peaceful and satisfying. Eventually the group of 6 chinese rafters showed up and we were ready to get our safety briefing. The chinese rafters did not really pay attention during the instructional portion and the guide was getting very frustrated. I was just laughing on the inside because I knew that this would mean they were going to struggle in the water. We finally climbed into the raft and were on our way. It was Sarah, Ralf, myself, and we had a guide in the back of the raft. They were a bit smaller rafts than I traditionally think about with rafting, but it turned out they were a very good size for the types of rapids we were going to be hitting. I cannot really call it white water, because the river is very brown due to the types of clay and soils that line the river. The first part of the river was calm, little rapids here and there. It was a good training area to make sure we all had our paddle techniques down. The middle third of the river was very rough. We had a few places with good 5 foot waterfalls. It was one of these rough areas where one of the chinese rafters fell out and was going down the rapids outside of the raft, not ideal! Like I said before, it was only a matter of time before someone was going to fall out. He made it to the side of the river safely and back into his boat, but it sure was funny watching everyone freak out about it. In areas where there were no rapids, it was so serene as we floated through the jungle. A few times I saw one or two elephants hanging out along the edge of the river. Some for sure had trainers, but I think some of the elephants we saw may have been “wild”, no way to tell for sure. At the very end of the trip right as we were at the take out point, there was this random naked man that walked past the trail into the tall grass along the river. I am not sure if he was the local crazy man or what was going on. It was a hilarious cap to a great rafting trip!

Once we returned to Chiang Mai, most of Stamps was going out to the Ladyboy show. I messaged Martin to see if he was still in town because he was again supposed to be catching a bus back to Bangkok, and what do you know, he is still in Chiang Mai. I convice him to join us for the show and stay in the town another night. We had 28 people from the hostel (that I am no longer actually staying at) going to the show and we all loaded up in the red taxi trucks and headed over to the show. We walked in and I saw pretty much what I was expecting. It is basically a drag show, but Thailand style. It was a bunch of lady boys dancing around on stage while lip syncing to the song that was playing. Some of the acts were funny and some were just dumb. At the very end they started calling people up on stage. Several people from my group went up there and they went backstage and both guys and girls dressed up in wigs and dresses then came out and danced around for the crowd. It was pretty funny, especially when Claire got called out by the main ladyboy for not having good dance moves or a “sexy pose”. So he/she let the rest of the people on stage go backstage to change and she kept Claire out front and center until she learned the pose. It was absolutely hilarious, Claire was so embarrassed. After the show, the big group went to the bar district and we hung out there for a while. We found a reggae bar which was a nice change from the club music. We hung out there for a while until things closed. All the bars close at midnight in Chiang Mai, besides one. So everyone goes to the bar “Spicy” until 1am then everyone goes to a third place called “Living Room,” until about 3. I decided not to go to Spicy or Living Room because I was very tired from my brown water rafting trip.

 So many activities and so little time...





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