29.10.2012 - 12.11.2012 32 °C
After we’d not really had the best start to our trip, arriving in Chang Mai was like a breath of fresh air. Although it’s a busy modern city that has every amenity you could ask for (including a Starbucks and a McDonalds), it still manages to retain its authentic Thai charm. Its set with a back drop of huge Jungle covered mountains, it’s littered with beautifully ornate working temples and the people are incredibly friendly and easy going. We were staying in the old city that is completely surrounded by a moat and the old city walls. We really struck lucky with our hostel, Moijito Gardens. The communal area is a little garden lit by fairy lights, with a gazebo, deck chairs and little bar. But what really made our stay was the hostel owner Aoi. She sat with us for ages giving us loads of information about what to do and see in Chang Mai and booked us onto all our trips.
We went to the tiger Kingdom, where you're really quite torn between thinking it’s really unnatural, and just being so excited that you're actually playing with tigers. There are signs everywhere saying that the animals aren't drugged, they're just so placid and comfortable with human contact because they've been bread generations upon generations into captivity. They're essentially domestic cats. But it still doesn't completely get rid of your unease. On saying that, it was an amazing experience and we'd both do it again in a heartbeat! We also went to a snake farm, an orchid and butterfly house (that had no butterflies so was essentially a big green house), Chang Mai Zoo, Doi Suthep (This ancient - but very touristy - temple set up in the mountains with an amazing view over Chang Mai), and to a Thai boxing tournament. We also did a Thai cooking class where we were picked up from our hostel and rode in the back of a pick-up-truck to an organic farm. We cooked an amazing 5 course meal, by the end of it we couldn't eat another bite and we went outside to set off fire lanterns. We returned from the cooking class to find that the hostel was having a BBQ and there was free Moijitos all night. We met some really nice people that night, and it was only slightly disturbed by the very enthusiastic cast of Jersey shore crashing the 'awesome' BBQ. The main guy was called Bert... and never wore a shirt... honestly... you can't make this stuff up.
For some reason we decided it would be a good idea to do a two day Jungle trek, complete with Elephant riding, bamboo rafting and a night in a remote mountain village. To begin with we quickly discovered that our guide was a completely crazy pyromaniac. He'd only been a guide for 1 week and he'd had every job under the sun. Anyway, to my shock, this was no casual stroll up Mount Snowdon... This was hacking through bamboo, climbing over falling trees and wading through mud at nearly a vertical angle. The start of the trek was tough, 34C heat is the not the perfect condition to be hiking in when your both extremely unfit! But then, the rains came. And I mean rain like the monsoon scene from Jumanji. We may as well have been stood fully clothed under a power shower. And it lasted ALL DAY! I'll be honest, I almost threw a tantrum... but when we got to the top the view was worth it. The rain had just subsided but a great mist rose up between the mountains giving this eerie, surreal feel. But it was just incredible; all you could see was thick dense jungle. We stayed in a bamboo hut on the floor at the top of the mountain. After a surprisingly good 10 hour sleep we woke up to the most amazing view we've ever seen! The clouds had cleared, the sun was bright but the air was cool. It was so beautiful and serene as we sat there eating our breakfast. The hike back down was marginally easier, especially as the rains held off! We stopped half way down to cool off in the water fall and then glided back to camp on a bamboo raft... which was definitely more my style of trekking.
We took the 3 hour journey to Pai by a mini bus driver with a death wish. Pai is a tiny town surrounded by huge, misty, jungle covered mountains, and it really is a hippie utopia! It's filled with dreadlocks, reggae, tie-die and bare feet. From what we've been told, it seems like people come here for a few days and end up never leaving! I'm not sure if the inhabitants were hippies when they arrived, or if this infectious sleepy little town slowly turns you into one.
Our first night in this hippie haven wasn't exactly perfect. Our 'hostel' was a bamboo hut partly open at the side, and the 'bathroom' was a spider infested concrete outhouse with a bucket. Needless to say we lasted 1 night before we moved to Darling view point hostel that was much more to our taste. We met a really nice group of people here in Pai, and ended up extending our stay from 3 days to a week. Howeve, Bert with no shirt had followed us here, and he still had not grasped the concept of wearing a shirt.
We wasted away our days exploring the surrounding area on our scooters that we hired for £2 a day. We found natural hot springs and spent hours in these warm mineral baths, went to Pai canyon, dived into the freezing cold Pen Bok waterfall, lounged by this incredible infinity pool at a luxury resort, sampled every dish the night markets had to offer, and we were even slightly cultural and went to a morning meditation class that left me sleepy rather than enlightened. One of our favorite moments was when we stopped to ask for directions at a little farm, and instead they sat us down and brought out fresh fruit juice, bananas, passion fruits, tamarind, peanuts, potatoes, banana crisps and jam. All grown and homemade there on their land.
We were sad to leave Pai, but after a relaxing week we were ready to head back down to Chang Mai for our Elephant Mahout course!
Elephant Mahout Training Camp
For our last day in North Thailand, we wanted to do something a bit special, so we decided to do a 1 day Elephant Mahout training course. We did a lot of research into different camps because we wanted one where the Elephants were well looked after and happy, and this one seemed to be the best. We started our day learning the different commands in Thai that you have to use when riding your elephant, and a little about how the elephants are looked after. Then we went down to feed them and to get used to being around them before we learnt how to ride them. To get onto your elephant you have to say 'Yo Ka' and the elephant will lift up its leg so you can climb onto his back. This is easier said than done, and not the most graceful process... it’s even harder climbing down! I fell over almost every time! So once we were on we attempted to use the commands we'd just learnt; forward, backwards, right, left, stop. This works unless there’s food in their peripheral vision, and then you have no chance. After lunch we rode the elephants to a field where they could have a rest and eat... elephants have to eat around 20 hours a day because they can't store their food. Which also means that when they’re not busy eating, they’re pooing. Our elephant was a rescue elephant and was skinnier and less mischievous than the rest so it was quite sad. We rode them to a river after that where we bathed and played with them. They loved being in the river, they squirted us with water and rolled around whilst we cleaned them. The whole day was unbelievable, it was best experience we've had since we've been here. We came back to the hostel absolutely exhausted.
It’s so strange to think that the first leg of our trip is over, but now we’re ready for our trip to China!