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The Big Trip. Stephen, Laura, James and Sinead head for an epic adventure: 17 weeks in South America 8 weeks in New Zealand 2 weeks in Fiji 11 weeks in Australia 14 weeks in South East Asia.

Thailand Part 1, treking, elephants, tigers and more

THAILAND | Saturday, 13 February 2010 | Views [2425]

After four days on the paradise Island of Boracay it was time pack our bags and move on once again. So after a trike, ferry, minibus, plane, another plane and a taxi and about 18 hours of travelling we finally arrived in Bangkok and at 2am we crawled into bed after a very long day...

Finally we made our minds up about our next destination and the next morning we headed straight to the train station to buy our tickets to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Tickets for the sleeper train bought we waited some more and treated our selves to some KFC for dinner before boarding the train at 6pm. A couple of hours and a few beers later it was time for bed the porter set up our beds and myself and Laura were delighted to find that the bottom bunks were huge, nearly as big as a double bed with soft mattress fluffy pillow and clean linen. The boys however who agreed to sleep in the top bunks were not so happy especially James, when they discovered that they were half the size of the bottom bunk and not made for tall people.

It was one of the best nights sleep I have had in a long time, I don’t think James would say the same. At 8am the next morning we were in Chaing Mai.

Our reason for visiting Chang Mai was to do some trekking, along with every other tourist who comes to Asia. Which means there are hundreds of tour agencies offering all kinds of trips so with the help of the lovely woman who managed the hostel we managed to settle on doing a 2 day trek into the mountains to stay overnight with a hill tribe called the Lahu, with some elephant trekking, white water rafting and bamboo rafting included. And an overnight stay at an elephant park to spend a day as a Mahout. That done we decided to go see some temples, while at one temple we met an English guy who asked if we wanted to share a taxi to a temple outside town which is the most important in Chiang Mai.

So off we went, what we saw amazed us but also showed us just how touristy Thailand is. There are about 100 steps which lead up to the temple but if your unable or just cant be bothered to walk theres a lift. Once you get up to the temple theres an ATM, coffee shop, gift shop, monks on mobile phones everywhere, collection boxes for donations at every turn, most made of glass and full to the top with money and stalls selling everything from Buddha statues to paintings. Seems being a monk is a profitable business. In one of the temple buildings we saw a big group of Americans who had bought lovely wrapped hampers at the gift shop to present to the monks in return for a blessing, so we thought 'wow that’s cool' until we saw a guy collect the hampers and bring them back to the gift shop for the next gullible tourist to buy. Despite all this it is a beautiful temple but it is a shame that Thai people allow holy places like this be turned into such a tacky tourist attraction.

That night we explored the night market and found some yummy looking Thai food…

The next morning was another early start we set off on out 2 day trip collected in what is the most popular mode of transport in this part of Thailand, a truck with a roof welded on the back and two benches along the sides. Altogether there were 11 in our group 4 (very loud, rude and smelly esp since they didnt wash once in the two days) French, 2 lovely German guys and a guy from Taiwan. First stop was elephant trekking. So we did the touristy thing and hoped on the back of an elephant for a 15 min walk in a circle, a disappointing start to the day. After lunch it was time to start the trekking, our guide said we would be walking about 8km through the jungle up the mountain to the village where we would spend the night. After a pretty easy start, the 33 degree heat was the hardest part, we stopped half way at a waterfall to cool down. Then it got hard, very hard, the next two hours was a steep up hill climb it was one of the hardest tings I have had to do I can only describe it as torture, even the really fit people in the group found it tough.

Finally we arrived at our accommodation for the night which was the most basic of bamboo stilt houses.

A squat toilet and a barrel of ice cold water to wash with.

On the upside they had a well stocked bar with nice cold drinks, not very tribal, but then there’s money to be made from some thirsty tourists. The village women and some very cute kids came to the hut and offered massages and sell some of there hand made jewellery and bags at very expensive prices...!

A lovely lady who was very old and wrinkly and had no teeth offered to give James and Stephen massages... for some reason they wernt interested. We passed on the massages and instead enjoyed the sunset with some beers then enjoyed a fab meal of Thai yellow curry which our guide whipped up for 13 people with just an open fire and a few pots in the hut, most people myself included would find it hard to cook for 13 with a fully equipped kitchen at hand. That night we were treated to some music by our guide and a guy from the village who played mostly popular western songs like Oasis and the Beatles which was very entertaining as neither of them new very many words to any songs they just sang the chorus over and over and hummed a lot. That night when everyone else had retired to bed James and Stephen and the two German guys in our group decided they wernt going to bed until they drank all the beer. So they stayed up and talked what most people talk when theve had a few drinks 'a load of shit'. But because the hut was so small and made of bamboo their noise kept everyone especially me and Laura awake all night. When they did finally come to bed at 4am, after drinking the village out of beer.. yes really, I was forced to endure James’s snoring...

The next morning with half the group still drunk and the other half severely sleep deprived we started out for the downhill part of the trek. The relief of not having to walk up hill like the walk the day before was short lived. The walk down was worse it was so steep and uneven staying upright was a challenge my legs turned to jelly about half way, they were obviously not made for trekking. After 4 hours of walking we finally reached the river where we would do white water rafting and after a very quick briefing it was in the raft and down the river. After we passed the rapids we exited the raft and climbed onto a traditional bamboo raft for the rest of the journey definitely a good end to the trip. After lunch it was back in the truck for the short drive to the elephant camp where we would spend the night. We said good bye to our group and guide and were shown to our rooms, the happiness that we felt when we were shown to two lovely rooms whit huge double beds and hot showers was indescribable. That night we were the only guests staying at Bann Chiang elephant centre and after dinner a bomb fire was lit for us to enjoy, and the owner had some fire lanterns for us to realise. Fire lanterns are traditional lanterns that Thai people realise into the sky during festivals and in memory of those who have died we each had one to realise and make a wish after the lantern is realised it rises high into the sky until it looks like just another star. They also prepared some buffalo skin for us, strips of hard dried skin with the hair still attached were thrown into the fire and burned then taken out and beaten with a hammer then you break off a piece and chew on it, needles to say it was disgusting.

The next morning after breakfast it was time to meet our elephants. First was feeding time, we hand feed bananas and sugar cane to about 11 elephants ranging from huge adults about 18 years old to a baby of only 2 months.

After feeding it was time to become a Mahout. Mahout is the Thai name for elephant controller, we learned how to get the elephant to lay down so you can climb on and off and sit on his neck and the commands for left, right, forward and stop. After lunch we trekked through the nearby jungle sitting bare back on our elephants, mine and James was called champoo. At the end of the trek it was back to the park where still sitting on the elephants backs we waded into a huge pool of muddy water for a nice refreshing bath for them anyway, with lots of huge elephant shit floating around it wasn’t so nice for us. The elephants loved the water and rolled around and splashed away while we scrubbed them down.. definitely and experience we will remember.

That evening we returned to Chiang Mai where 3 days of trekking and riding elephants caught up with us and the next morning we could barely walk. When we eventually struggled out of bed we decided to visit Tiger kingdom outside Chiang Mai. Tiger kingdom is a centre where Asian tigers are breed in captivity and hand raised by humans, this means that the tigers are accustomed to humans so visitors can pay to spend time in the enclosures with the tigers. Some people think that this is wrong but governments in Asia don’t do much to protect these endangered animals and as there number in the wild are falling fast, it is places like this that is keeping these animals from extinction. We chose to see both the adult and young tigers. The young tigers were 4 male tigers all about 3 to 4 months old and the adult tigers were about 2 years old. The keepers encourage you to sit next to the tiger and stroke them and even lay down next to them that its ok but I couldn’t help feel a bit nervous.. but being so close to such beautiful endangered animals was an amazing experience and the animals are very well cared for unlike some zoo's iv been to.      

That night we boarded our transport which would take us 10 hours to Vientiane in Laos... a 10 seater mini bus.. well a transit van with seats in the back more like and no seat belts. Since we have been on allot of over night journeys at this stage we were prepared for it to be rough but is was worse. After only a few hours the driver started to fall asleep we made him pull over at a shop but instead of getting out and walking around to wake up he lay down and went to sleep... there was only one ting for it red bull and lots of it... The rest of the journey was awful, more than once we ended up on the wrong side of the road facing an oncoming lorry, the poor guy in the front next to the driver had front row seats and spent the next ten hours watching the driver making sure he didn’t fall asleep thus keeping us all alive.. At 7am we reached the boarder and after many bus changes and waiting we crossed into Laos exhausted and happy to be alive.

Tags: chang mai, elephant park, thailand, tiger kingdom, treking

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