Wheelspins In The Mountain

Day 15 – Pai to Chiang Mai – Wednesday March 16th 2011

We woke early and packed our bags. It was still raining. The owners had now returned and Darling gave us small handicraft gifts before we were dropped to the bus stop on the back of their pickup truck.

The minibus back to Chiang Mai was so full we had to ride with some of the baggage in with us. You wouldn’t believe how many bags some people travel with. (Lots)

The journey was awful. Visibility was only a few metres in the fog of the mountains, and the minibus was wheelspinning around some of the tight 180° switchbacks. Somehow we got back to Chiang Mai safely, where a waiting songthaew (pickup truck with benches in the back) ferried us to a familiar part of town, near Thapae Gate.

We had lunch and then went to an internet cafe to send messages home.

A little while later we hailed a red songthaew taxi to take us to the railway station. It cost 40p each (20B).

Our train was due at 9, but didn’t arrive ’till gone 10. The seats were actually quite comfortable, and we were at the front of the carriage so had extra leg room. Don’t think I will get much sleep on here. Wish I was tucked up on a sleeper train bunk.

Rainy Rural Thailand – Pai

Day 14 – Pai – Tuesday March 15th 2011

The lush wet greenery of Pai is worlds away from the Thailand we have come to know. This place is quiet, rural and laid back, even when compared to Ayutthaya. The landscape is mountainous and feels almost English. The fact that the rain has been relentless also reminds me of home.

Earlier today we were all sat around reading, just chilling out. Frank came busting through the quiet time with his exercise routine. Our chalet rocked from side to side with his every squat thrust.

We had to laugh. Even in Pai, where relaxation is king, Frank just couldn’t sit still. Eventually he succumbed to the Pai way of life and is now sitting in a hammock reading a book.

In the afternoon we got our rain macs on and headed across the river to book our travel back to Bangkok. The bus back to Chiang Mai was only £3 (150B) but we were gutted to find the next sleeper train fully booked. We had to book an overnight normal seated train for the 12 hour trip. That train cost £14 (711B) and if we couldn’t sleep on it then we had the next day to catch up before our flight to Hanoi.

Nic has had a bad stomach today so hopefully feels better before the flight.

North To Pai – Bring The Rain

Day 13 – Chiang Mai to Pai –  Monday March 14th 2011

Pai Night Time - View from our hut
Pai Night Time – View from our hut

I woke early and was a bit freaked out about my potential ghost sighting last night. Breakfast was Coco Pops, yoghurt, and fruit. This guesthouse is run by a German guy and does great breakfasts.

The minibus was late but then we travelled around Chiang Mai collecting some Chinese travel companions.

We had a rest stop after a couple of hours and then got to Pai at around 1pm. It’s a small pretty town on a river, with quaint bamboo bridges and a decent local art scene. Some of our best postcards came from Pai.

We crossed a bamboo bridge and after walking for half an hour in the wrong direction found Darling Viewpoint Bungalows perched on the hillside. The owners were away, so a French guy that was living there and a Thai cleaner lady  helped check us in. For some reason we got upgraded to the VIP chalet so we had our own en-suite bathroom and our own terrace area with hammocks and seating.

It was a beautiful setting with mountain views beyond the town below. There must have been a temple nearby as we often heard the hypnotic sound of monks chanting. We also heard a bit of karaoke at one point but couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

Frank spent about two hours trying to light a small fire on the land outside our chalet. He finally got it going when the rain started. I was looking forward to a decent storm from our view up here. It didn’t really happen and just drizzled for ages.

The cleaner, who spoke no English at all, was also a decent cook. She cooked up some real authentic Thai food for us. We had to just point at things on the menu, which is a pretty universal way to order things in an unknown language. I think one of us may have mimed out a chicken dance, to confirm the meat content. It seems that the chicken dance is also universal.

That night, as we were falling to sleep, there was a massive crash and bang on the terrace. I got up to see what it was but I couldn’t see anything. It sounded like an animal, so we just went back to sleep.

Thai Cooking – Chiang Mai

Day 12 – Chiang Mai – Sunday March 13th 2011

Thai Cooking Chiang Mai
Thai Cooking Chiang Mai

In the morning we booked a bus for tomorrow morning to take us North to Pai. We had heard about the place via the backpacker grapevine and it sounded like a relaxed small town. The minibus was only £3.60 each for the 4 hour trip.

We had booked a cooking course at the same office as Elephant Nature Park, so knew it would be good.

We were the only people on the course this time, so we had the place to ourselves. We started the evening at the local market, where our teacher showed us the various spices and ingredients. She was really knowledgeable and gave us ideas for things we could substitute if we couldn’t get hold of them back home. She bought some ingredients and then walked us to the house where we would be cooking.

Whilst the kitchen was prepared, we were given a starter to try. We were seated on cushions at a low table in an open fronted house. The food was served in a round dish with separate sections, with peanut, chill, sauce and some other things which I cannot remember. The idea is to pick the ingredients, wrap them in a leaf and then eat. It was like a chilli bomb. Very tasty.

When we had demolished those, we were taken outside where the cooking stations were all arranged. We were shown how to prepare the vegetables and herbs and were given some choices of what to cook.

We cooked papaya salad or stir fry first, and then went back inside to eat. After that we cooked our curries. I made a Thai green curry and got to make the curry paste from scratch. For desert I had sticky rice and mango.

All the food was genius. So tasty and not too difficult to cook. We also got a recipe book to take home.

Night market revisited.

We walked back to our guesthouse via the night market. We were lucky to get another Sunday here, I love this market. There was a row of blind musicians busking in the market in a line, and they were playing lovely music. I had a lump in my throat listening to them. They were really skilful and must have been playing together for ages.

I found a Chang t-shirt, but the woman wouldn’t budge from 170B, so I walked away  (£3.50 for a t-shirt, what a cheapskate I have become!)

In the middle of the night I woke up and was convinced I saw two ghost monks standing in the darkness of our guesthouse. They would have been around 7 feet tall so it was probably just a trick of the light. I just went back to sleep.

Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai

Day 11 – Chiang Mai – Saturday March 12th 2011

Today we booked a day at Elephant Nature Park. We wanted to repay our debts to the abused Thai elephants after witnessing their poor treatment first hand. We wanted to help and see the work that is being done to put things right.

We were collected early from our guesthouse and driven North. During the journey to Elephant Nature Park we were shown a DVD to explain the about the foundation, and about their founder Lek. Since logging was banned in Thailand there are redundant elephants that can be costly for their owners to keep. One way they make ends meet is by using the elephants for tourism. The badly treated elephants are rescued and taken care of at the park.

We arrived at the immaculate camp which had a massive barn full of fruit to feed the huge beasts. The elephants are allowed to roam free on the land without chains, and are followed by their individual mahouts (trainers). The park is against any sticks or hooks as discipline, instead preferring to use food as a training tool. Even the troublesome elephants are not chained up, instead they tie a bell round its neck, so everyone knows when trouble is coming.

This is true of a couple of the younger male elephants, which came to the park without first being domesticated (I think one of them may have been born at the park). They are much more of a challenge to train, but eventually the park aims to release elephants into the wild anyway. It would not be possible at the moment, as the elephants would be taken back into the tourism trade, due to weak laws, and the value of the elephants.

Abused elephants.

One of the elephants at the park could hardly walk as it had been chained up and used for breeding. It had broken hips and needed constant veterinary care.

Another elephant had a piece of its leg missing after a landline accident near the Burmese border. It happened over ten years ago, but still requires constant medical attention.

Feed the elephants.

We were able to feed the elephants from a raised platform, and then wash them down with buckets of water in the river.

After a massive buffet lunch we signed a petition against the use of elephants begging on the streets. The foundation does support people that use their previously domesticated elephants for tourism, but wants to make sure their welfare is being looked after, and that more elephants are not being brutally broken in to use to make money.

Elephant Nature Park was a fantastic place, and it is great to see a Thai woman making a stand against the poor treatment of these elephants. Lek has dedicated her life to helping these elephants and it clearly shows in the park.

Japan earthquake

Today we received panicked messages from our families after seeing news of the awful earthquake in Japan. We have been totally unaffected by it, but will need to keep an eye the situation for our next flights.

Impossible Addresses

Day 10 – Chiang Mai – Friday March 11th 2011

Our plan was so simple:

  • Have breakfast
  • Check out of the Winner Inn
  • Check into new place
  • Spend the afternoon visiting temples

The reality was far from simple. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned how complicated addresses can be in Thailand. We were within 50 feet of our new guesthouse and still couldn’t find the place. Even a Tuk-Tuk driver took us half way across town without finding the place.

In the end, we set up a base camp at De Naga, a Hotel and restaurant. Nic and Chick waited with our bags and Frank and I went off to find the place. After about 2 hours, tucked down a narrow side street we found it. There were two almost identically named roads.

We went back to the girls and took our bags round to get checked in. We still had time to tour some temples and ended up in a public park at the bottom corner of Chiang Mai. The park was busy with people practicing juggling, tightrope walking and playing games on the grass.

That night we walked to the night bazaar for some food and ended up eating from a strange food court where you exchange money for tokens, then tokens for food. The food was pretty average but the walk back afterwards was an eye opener. We saw countless old fat white men chatting up Thai women in sleazy bars. Some real desperate stuff. As we were in couples we didn’t get much hassle from the girls in the bars but we saw single guys get pounced on as they walked past.

I nipped in to a 7-11 for a Coca-Cola slushy on the way back. My favourite refreshment in Thailand aside from Chang beer, and only 35p!

Thai Massage

Day 9 – Chiang Mai – Thursday March 10th 2011

This was our free day after the trek so we booked in a Thai Massage for the afternoon. In the morning we went out to get snacks and to use the internet to find somewhere else to stay. Nic, Chick and I opted for a 3 bed room at Thapae Gate Lodge, while Frank chose somewhere cheaper. We were paying £3.90 per night and Frank got his place for about £2!

We were collected for the massage at 3pm. We left our shoes at the bottom of the stairs and were shown to a waiting area a few flights up. We were given tea and water and waited for our masseuses to arrive. When they arrived they looked at the size of me and Frank and laughed. We got assigned the bigger women, but they were still tiny.

We got changed into some massive linen clothes and then went through to the raised massage area. We were all laying next to each other and the massage started gently, but soon, she was digging and prodding and stretching me all over the place. I got the biggest masseuse and she was really beating me up.

By the time our hour was up, I could have had another hour. It’s a great way to unwind after so much walking the last few days.

We went for dinner at the Airport Plaza again, but this time I gave in to temptation and had a Big Mac meal.

It was our last night at the Winner Inn so I cracked open a Singha beer from the mini bar, wrote my journal and read a book for a while.

Chiang Mai Jungle Trekking (Day Three)

Day 8 – Thai Jungle – Wednesday March 9th 2011

Breakfast was another black coffee and more eggs on toast. When given the choice between black coffee or coffee with milk powder, there is only one real option for me and that’s black.

We were away pretty early and made the short walk to a waterfall resort. I say resort, but there were a couple of buildings and some waterfalls and pools. It was completely deserted so we had the place to ourselves with no staff or anyone around. We got to bathe in the pools, rub mud on ourselves and swim under waterfalls.

Frank donned his mankini and tried the most pathetic dive into the pool. If he didn’t have his bare arse cheeks out, it would have made me an easy £250 on You’ve Been Framed! He actually fell off a log and ended up with scratches all down one side.

Lunch was a box of pretty bland noodles so I spiced it up with loads of chilli flakes. After lunch we were collected by pickup truck and taken for white water rafting. There wasn’t much white water but it was still a good laugh. We used the Peter Andre song Mysterious Girl as our rhythm to row by and paddled way faster than the other team. We got so far ahead that we even had time to jump off the boat for a quick swim to let the others catch up. Our guide did have to drag us from the water as we couldn’t get back on the boat ourselves.

The Winner Inn

Back at the Hotel we had baths, packed our backpacks and got some laundry done. Nic and I put our laundry together and it cost about £6 (320B). It didn’t come back completely clean, but was definitely cleaner than it was before. I tried to wash my trainers in the bath, but couldn’t really dry them out properly as our room had air conditioning. I ended up hanging them outside the window to dry in the sun. They were never quite the same after that, and always had a strange smell.

That night, to combat our jungle noodle overload we went for a pizza. It may have been the best pizza ever made. it cost about £4 (190B)

Muay Thai

After pizza we went to the arena to watch some Muay Thai boxing. We were a bit early and got ringside seats. We played pool in the bar while we waited for the fighting to start. At one point the ladyboy waitress from our bar brought over some vodka shots for us. We were all too worried about it being some sort of scam that we just left them.

Frank got chatting to a long-haired Italian guy Axl, who turned out to be a bit mad. He had no problem drinking the free shots. He was funny and chatty at first, but when some street kids came in later to sell their wares he got quite confrontational with them. It wasn’t ideal. One of the kids shouted at him, “Suck my gock!” We understood what he was trying to say.

Jay from the jungle trek came in during the fight and said hello, but then was gone again.

Chiang Mai Jungle Trekking (Day Two)

Day 7 – Thai Jungle – Tuesday March 8th 2011

The first night sleeping on solid bamboo was tough. It was surprisingly cold at night considering the intense heat of the day. I woke up hanging out of the mosquito net. I’m assured that there’s no Malaria risk here.

Stacking One Up On The Rim

Thai Convenience Store
Thai Convenience Store

My morning poo was one of my first experiences of a squat toilet. I successfully aimed a few test nuggets down the hole and was feeling confident. I let it all out, and after I finished, looked back to see that I had stacked it all up on the edge of the hole. I had to find a twig to prod it down.

Feeling refreshed, it was now time for breakfast. Eggs on toast and black coffee. Perfect start to the day.

We had a gentle walk out from the village and made our way to a main road. There was a truck waiting for us with a big crane and bamboo rafts on the back. We had to jump on the back with the rafts and Frank sat on the crane arm. Once we got going the crane was swinging wildly from side to side so we were all struggling to keep our balance, and stop Frank from flying off the truck.

Luckily it was only a short drive before we reached the elephant camp. We were put onto rafts and were paddled slowly down the river by a guide. It was really calm and quiet. A nice way to relax after trekking.

Next was our elephant ride. We didn’t really know how this worked so were shocked to see the elephant trainers (mahouts) using metal picks to control the elephants. It didn’t seem right, however much they say it’s humane. If it didn’t hurt the elephant then it wouldn’t work to control them. The ride couldn’t finish quickly enough and we all made a pact to do something to offset our involvement in the use of these elephants like this.

Elephant Turds

We had a buffet lunch of curry, rice, noodles, vegetables and fruit and were getting ready for the afternoon trek. They decided that it was too hot in the middle of the day to trek but said we could swim in the river if we wanted. Nic and Frank went into the water, but I saw elephant turds floating down it so rested in the shade instead. I watched from the balcony as they washed a baby elephant in the river.

When they came out of the river we all watched a slightly older elephant being trained. It had its head held underwater, was hit with spikes and generally didn’t seem to get treated too well.

At around 2pm we finally set off for the next village. It was uphill and probably near 40°c. After half an hour of walking I looked round and Chick was nowhere to be seen. I went back for her and she had been sick and couldn’t carry on. I stayed with Chick and Nic had to run back up the hill to find the rest of the group. They were debating leaving us but reluctantly turned back and we took a slightly less strenuous route alongside a road. I’m not sure how much longer any of us could have walked in that sort of heat, so it was probably for the best.

The second village was much smaller than the first, with no craft stalls or long-necks. Our early arrival meant we were the first group into the camp. They had cleverly diverted some of the river into a rock pool which we could use for a chilly bath.

Frank and I played around with an old guitar and some drums whilst the girls helped with cooking in one of the huts.

James, James and James

The other group arrived in the evening and included three guys named James, some French guys and a Spanish couple. One James (Jay) looked and spoke exactly like Russell Brand. He was an aspiring writer and brilliant conversationalist. He warned us how Vietnam is bad for scams and Australia is really expensive.

After dinner we got to try a taste of river snake. It tasted like fishy chicken and had only the smallest slither of meat along its back. There was also the option of deep fried insects, but Frank was the only one mad enough to eat one.

That evening Abba tried to deal us some drugs from the Burmese border, and some of the other girls in our group took him up on the offer. The night was beautifully clear, but despite watching the sky for hours I didn’t see a single shooting star.

Chiang Mai Jungle Trekking (Day One)

Day 6 – Thai Jungle – Monday March 7th 2011

After my beers last night I woke up late and only had half an hour to prepare for the jungle trek. We were just finishing our continental breakfast when our tour guide arrived. We loaded onto the back of a pickup truck and drove around town collecting other trekkers.

Bamboo Hut
Bamboo Hut

Nobody seemed to know what was going on, but once the truck was full we headed out of town and shortly arrived at a butterfly and orchid farm on the edge of Chiang Mai. We saw more butterflies outside the farm than inside, so it was more of a toilet break really. We did get to glimpse a river snake though.

Whilst we waited for our driver, a Thai man took a tied up live chicken from the back of his pickup truck. He spun it around and somehow hypnotised it . We were quite impressed. He was quite pleased with himself.

After another short drive we were at a long-neck village. We hadn’t paid for this part of the trip so we just had a look round at the handicraft stalls outside. By all accounts it was a bit like a human zoo, so we were glad we missed that part.

We continued North, stopping off at a market to collect lunch, and were then in the jungle. We had a few miles of rough roads where we got smashed around in the back of the pickup truck. After that we stopped at a dusty clearing and the trucks left. We were now alone in the jungle. We ate our boxes of rice and then followed our guide into the jungle. We started off on a dirt track, but then ended up off road.

After an hour or two of non-stop walking we stopped for a much needed rest at a small village. We had some refreshments as the temperature soared. We were glad to be sheltered during the hottest part of the day. We had a solid few more hours of walking after that and my water bottle was getting painfully empty. I was seeing imaginary things by the time we reached the camp so couldn’t wait to dump my stuff and get some food and drink.

Our Guide “Abba”

Our guide was a total nut job. He called himself Abba, after the band, had a pet squirrel on a chain round his neck, and was full of crazy stories and “facts”.

Abba’s words of Wisdom:

  • If a guy goes into the river with no shorts on, a Crocodile will bite his cunt off.
  • I work for the government.
  • My only care is make you happy.
  • If anyone wants Happy Hour then come see me. I got the good stuff from the Burmese border. Not like the shit you get in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
  • For the men, there is the toilet. For the women, you go in the bush.
  • Watch out for the red bugs. They will shit in your eye.
  • Cut up a gecko. Eat it. Then no more Asthma!

Thai Village

This village, although clearly catering for tourists, was also a functioning village. There were people living in bamboo huts and working in the forests nearby.

The toilets were simple holes in the ground. The shower was a blue PVC pipe sticking through the wall of a hut. They had a 7-11, but it was just a hand drawn cardboard sign outside a hut.

We ate some communal food at a massive long table and then sat around a campfire getting to know some of our fellow travellers. Nic and I were chatting for ages to three gorgeous Chilean girls, who all spoke English really well. They tried to teach us some Spanish words, but we didn’t really grasp it.

Later in the night, one of the tribesmen came out playing a strange ocarina type instrument with pipes sticking out. It only made about three notes so he just repeated them forever. It was a catchy tune, which I can still remember after a year!