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Ladyboys, Markets and Mai... Chiang Mai

THAILAND | Wednesday, 30 December 2009 | Views [2238]

A post from Andrew....

Leaving you in the middle of the jungle from my last blog was a little rude, but keeping you on the edge of excitement was my cunning plan. You see, after Bangkok madness, Hill Tribe treks and Elephant riding I wasn't sure quite how the amazing Chiang Mai was going to top all that!

We begin the last leg of our trek in our final hill tribe village, awaking after our delicious village-made dinner the night before and downing some rather delicious toast and village-brewed tea. As an aside; The tea is grown locally in each village and I cheekily asked for some at our first trek stop and now have to carry round a rather dodgy plastic bag full of some rather odd looking dry leaves. Rest assured, mother... it's not the bad stuff. It's in fact, freshly dried green tea leaves and it tastes... INCREDIBLE.

After breakfast, Dong arrived with an Intrepid disclaimer in hand to double-check we were all okay with the optional "bamboo rafting" activity. This would take around 4 hours down the river towards the final location where we would have lunch and get a taxi (read: Ute with a roof) back home to the hotel in Chiang Mai. Keep in mind folks, we're told all along this is a user-pay option only and not an intrepid 'sponsored' activity which means:

• You have to sign a waiver to do it
• It costs a little more (about 300 baht each or $9)

...and the catch is...

• It's either raft it, or walk it... for around 6 to 8 hours of more ass-busting knee-jerking leg grinding mountain madness.

Yeah, we signed those forms quicker than a monk says his prayers.
Turns out, the payment (as a group it was 1200 Baht) was to buy the actual raft itself that was made, basically, as we stood on the riverside. When I say raft, I'm actually exaggerating a little. It consisted of about 10 or so long bamboo shafts tied together with bamboo strips and had a little tepee thing near the front to hang our bags on. We had to get on and off it a few times as the locals added a little more bamboo to it's structure (to hold our fat western asses!) and within about half an hour, we set off... all 6 of us... on our apparently sturdy bamboo vessel.

There's no photos of this rather incredible 4 hour journey down the river, as our cameras were secured tightly in the middle of our bags and sealed inside plastic wrap-arounds... but I can assure you, it was beautiful. The kind of journey that desperately begged for a camera, but you just knew that you would lose everything in the water further along. Cruising through rapids with the bamboo raft sinking slightly in about a foot or more of water and standing up for the entire journey was something pretty special. We only had to sit down once as our local guide, Mr Boon, loudly commanded for a rather tricky navigation of some pretty serious rocks. He was able to get through it masterfully. We did crash quite violently into one rock, but the raft and passengers all survived amid screams from Dong resonating throughout the river: "Close your mouth! Close your mouth!!!". It was a pretty clear demonstration of the water quality.

During our bamboo "cruise" I threw my hand up and got the chance to 'steer' the raft from the front. It was at this point Kristy realized she had NOT signed the waiver way back in the village and was quite vocal about letting me know this! I was reminded again, by our trip companions who wears the pants... and I decided to take matters into my own hands! This meant, showing my bamboo rafting skills. Sure enough, it's pretty much like steering a canoe, except you push your long bamboo shaft down into the river bed like a pole and 'push' in the opposite direction you want to steer. Sounds a bit confusing when writing it down, but needless to say I was pretty successful and got to steer us through one portion of rapids which was quite good fun. Certainly made me appreciate more the effort Mr Boon and Dong were making to get us down the river.

Four hours later, past more elephant camps, another hill-tribe village built on the riverside with their own separate language (with whom only Mr Boon could communicate) and more amazing river scenery, we arrived at our destination, had a quick lunch and made our 2 hour drive back to Chiang Mai. By the end of the day, we were exhausted, choked by the horrible polluted fumes of the city-cars and couldn't get into the hot shower quick enough! Kristy and I headed down the road for an hour oil massage (which cost all of $6 each!) and met up with our travel posse for a wonderful Chiang Mai market dinner. Speaking of the massage; They're ridiculously cheap and the Thai ladies are very, er... *cough* Thorough. When Kristy and I had one in Chiang Mai, we only had an hour to spare and once they got started on me she started laughing and said in English "Big Man... Need Two Hour!". I'm glad it wasn't 2 hours long, because... well... lets just say they got into our every nook and cranny.

Kristy and I hit the amazing Chiang Mai markets once more. I made yet another Polo purchase ($6 for a Lacoste polo... love it) and grabbed a few more little pressies for people. We even ended up discovering a whole "new" section to the markets where we got a few more excellent bargains. Gotta say, these markets are simply the best I've ever been to... and definitely better than the still-amazing Darwin Night markets. Chiang Mai is such a clean, albeit polluted-with-car-fumes city, I would encourage anyone to bypass Bangkok altogether and head straight for Chaing Mai. We barely had 2 whole days in the city and there is SO MUCH more I want to go and see of the place. It's cheap, the people are incredibly nice and the tuk tuk drivers don't rip you off (as long as you have a lovely girl with you... who can charm them in their native tongue!).

Finishing up on our last half-day in Chiang Mai I went to try my Thai on at a hairdresser. Without Kristy, I was stumbling through my lonely-planet guided "may I have my beard trim" attempt at murdering the Thai language, and just avoided a "close shave" literally with a rather rusty looking blade... instead having a fantastic beard trim and haircut for about $4 while Kristy hit the internet cafe. On the way out the door of the hairdresser I really wanted to make a dash for where my Polo man was, to see if I could grab one more before I had to meet the train. As I walked around the corner I bumped into the very same guy who recognized me from my last two visits! After a bit of hand shaking and language barrier banter he guided me out the back and opened a shed door to reveal wall-to-wall stacks of Lacoste shirts! No need for bartering this time, he handed me a shirt and I paid about $5 for it and parted ways with my 'early release' DVD and Lacoste Polo Thai friend! These, and many other experiences in Chiang Mai (grey-areas of copyright law aside) are a really neat example of how friendly and fair these people are. In Bangkok you feel like a walking white wallet but almost ALL the market dealers and food people we interacted with in Chiang Mai were hilariously funny, kind and so very very caring. One older lady referred to me as a "fat pig" when I tried on a shirt in her stall of which, had only a maximum size of Large! If Dong hadn't informed us that referring to someone as a "fat pig" is actually a term of endearment in Thailand I would've stormed off in a huff! Pigs are very revered animals and only eaten when there is a celebration (wedding, birthday etc). To be called a fat pig means you are healthy, well-fed (by your significant other) and good natured. So, in between awkward laughs and Kristy giggling her ass off, I saw the funny side.


Still couldn't get the shirt though. Bitter.
Finally, a quick shout-out to the monks of the Doi Suthep Temple who embrace the commercialism of their religion so proudly. Kristy and I took a quick trip up to the temple during the day (as we so loved it during the night last time and needed more photos) to find thousands of Thai people crowding the place, twice the amount of markets and even the local Monks pushing overpriced amulets, Buddhist trinkets and pictures for an easy Baht or two. If it wasn't hilarious and obviously selling out, then it was brilliant marketing. Their well-advertised temple restoration funds would've been going up gang-busters that day. There was even a western coffee cafe shop operating right next to their holy shrine! Kinda ruined the effect of the previous visit for me, but we got some great shots and a fabulously cheap bite to eat at a restaurant over the road. 80 Baht fed Kristy and I both (less than $3 in total!, including a Pepsi!) and we were back on our way on our overnight train back to Bangkok.

...Oh, and the Ladyboy bit from the title? Yeah, our friend was back working on our train and Jeremy, who had been once again on the Vodka the night before, was the lucky recipient of a sensual hot-towel massage from the resident feminine lady-servant aboard our slow train to Bangkok, after he'd wailed so loudly about being severely hungover. 20mins of awkward laughter later, growls of um... pleasure from Jeremy and Kristy and Carthiga in hysterics, Jeremy appeared from beneath the towel to remind us what happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand.

I figure it's aboard a train... it's fair game.

- Kristy & Andrew

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