Published: March 23rd 2008February 22nd 2008
It's been a while but we're back online and ready to update you guys on the highs and highers that have been occurring over the past weeks.
When we set out on the road to travel heaven it was always an aim of ours to go trekking in a remote part of the world. We had chosen countries that could supply this and our revamped decision to head to North Thailand was going to be the solution to our search. Yes, yes it is a very traveled road of the "Jack Johnson, head scarf fed, I have just left university with no idea of what I want to do" traveler but we had heard great things about the place and wanted to see for ourselves what the fuss was about. After our couple of searching days in the center of Chang Mai the day had arrived, as per usual with an early start and I wave of panic that we had not packed the right stuff. I use the word "we" quite inaccurately, Emma has expertly decided that she is much better at the packing side of things and I generally at this point sit on the bed and try
not to get in the way. It works well, the beds are normally comfy.
Standing outside the "Not so smiley" guesthouse we waited to get our lift. Our pick up vehicle are quite common sites in Thailand, they consist of a Toyota van with the pick up ledge of the truck being the seated area, a limousine but without the comfort and the gaggle of half drunk teenagers that you get going down St Mary's street. We loaded our stuff onto the back and headed to the next pick up point, which were our traveling companions for the next three days. A couple emerged from a plush hotel and introduced themselves as Hugo and Sarah, a young Scottish couple that from the outset were very pleasant and made you feel at ease.
It was at this point that we introduced also to our guide form the next three days. The one, the only, Mr Jackie Chan (well really just Jackie but your can't leave out the chan can you). We had been informed by our extremely out of date travel books that there is a big problem with Opium in Northern Thailand and especially with the guides
smoking the drug while they take Westerners around the trails. Well, the way that Jackie rocked up to the back of the Toyota I think that the short guy had been sampling the OPM a couple of minutes prior to our arrival but we didn't take him for a blood test so we can't be sure, but it did cause a great deal of questioning amongst the group of whether we would get lost or if Jackie Chan was going to do us a "wrong one".
As it is the law of Thailand you have to first go and see the tourist police before you enter the trails with your guide as they check that all of the correct documentation is available and that you are not smuggling anything into the park for the locals etc (this I find quite unusual as the locals smoke OPM, surely they already have the contraband and the westerners are not the problem but anyway). The tourist police we discovered are generally from countries outside of Thailand and are unpaid volunteers, all uniformed and official but not wielding the power of normal police, you know 1.Eating a large volume of doughnuts. 2.Never really
up holding the law. 3. Always on a jolly around Europe watching random football matches claiming that it is work (Sorry Rich). So with the official aspects completed, Jackie took the opportunity to take the mick out of most of them comparing them to US film stars, we had Jamie Fox and the guy from” Chips" processing our paperwork.
We left the city and not a minute too soon either as all of the Toyota occupants were itching for a bit of the jungle fever - the mossie bites were playing havoc as well. We made the polite traveling conversation along the journey of about three hours, it was just the four of us and it was early on that me and Em realised that we had really lucked in with our traveling twosome as they seemed and extremely chilled out which was going to suit the vibe down to the ground. It is always a big worry about doing an organised tour that you will get someone who just winds you up about everything (why does it sound like I am describing myself, it is isn't ohh no I am the worst person to go on a trip
with. Stop it Smith hold onto the paranoia.)
We headed for a waterfall that was halfway to our start of the daily trek, no I am into some waterfall action. The one in Beacon's that you can walk behind is cool but once you have arrived at the falls and taken a few pictures there is pretty not much more that you can do, unless you are getting into the water. Well, the falls that we arrived at we made from limestone and because Thailand was in the middle of an extended drought Jackie informed us that we could climb up them. The skeptic in me did not believe that it was possible, a bit like watching David Blane "schizzzarmmmm", but it was completely true. The grip that you had from he stone meant that you were walking up the falls at a massive angle, I now know how Batman and Robin used to walk up and down the buildings in the TV programme, they had waterfall feet, just like us. All four of us clambered to the top in complete amazement, it was wonderful, the sun was shining through the tree canopy and the luke warm water cooled
us as we raced up the 250m falls to the top. As we reached the summit we looked back and Jackie was coming up with our shoes, yes four pairs of shoes and not a care in the world. I was beginning to realise that Jackie was chilled and he confirmed this when he arrived at the top as he informed us that the campsite around us was where Sylvester Stallone stayed when he was filming the latest Rambo movie, not what type of flora is common in these jungles but that Rocky was here a couple of months ago. At that point I knew that Jackie was on the same wavelength - shallow and infrequent.
Back to the Toyota and onto our starting point for the trek, we were given sweet crackers for journey a surprising treat. Try it you might like it. We arrived at the starting point and exited the van in a local tribes village. The local tribe are called "Karen", no no no they are not all called Karen - I made the same mistake, quite embarrassing to be honest but much easier to remember. They are known for their interest in long necks
believing that stretching these little babies will display wealth and the sort. In the UK it is just a fast car - eh Bruv. Well to start our three hour hike Jackie thought that a motivational speech would be the best way to go, something to lead us, to take us through the day we positive motivation, a passage of spoken words that physically plucks the gut into a solid mass of rock that is impenetrable by anything let alone fatigue, tiredness or heat exhaustion. Jackie informed us that "the karen people.............they used to kill the second born in the families before it was outlawed..........I think that they still sometimes do it deep in the jungle where we are about to go trekking. Thanks Jackie, no really thank you very much, I am looking forward to all of those sites, glad we had this chat.
As we began to walk through the village however it the atmosphere turned a little sour and Jackie informed us that there was a wedding going on today, (you know that not all weddings are celebrations) and some of the villagers were drunk so we should walk through and not stop. We headed his
advice and within a couple of minutes we were out in the dense jungle and the hard yakka had started.
It was then that Jackie as our guide came into his own, he started the pace like a disabled elephant and did not get much quicker than that for the next three days. It was perfect for the terrain that we were trekking through, you see the jungle is a scary place. The plants are not the friendly things that you find at the end of the garden, they don't have beautiful scents that you want to fill your nostrils they usually have razor sharp spikes around them that could pierce steel - a bit like Baker when she sings on the "Oke", seriously Baker meatloaf is not happy that sing his tunes. We followed the riverbed path, up and down valleys across trails and through jungle that raised up to about 100 feet to the canopy and where the climate was humid that every step was met with another drip of seat off the brow. I have only seen this before when Dunk eats on a hot day phew it is a sight, sweat and saliva everywhere.
Our final aim for the day was to arrive at our hut, which was about seven kilometers away, not a great distance on the flat but quite touch in conditions that we were experiencing. Every couple of steps there would be a tarantula hole, or snake trail or killer ant mound the place was lethal. As you imagine your trust in your guide has too carry you through these moments and Jackie was soon on the case, the fact that he had a massive machete strapped to the bag helped but he knew his stuff. We later found out that he was born and raised in the mountains and this trail was done almost with his eyes closed - well these guys don't have far to close. Jackie kept the funnel of information going throughout the trek informing us that the location that we were in was used to film "Good Morning Vietnam, Air America and most of the Steven Segal movies", I informed Jackie that Steven Segal was not a big hit in the West but Jackie was just imparting some of his knowledge onto us.
Hugo and Sarah were doing well and with the early part of
dusk falling we arrived at the hut. A wonderful place we campfire space, bamboo beds and a river that meandered behind the toilets. It was a welcome and deserved site so we celebrated as any good athlete would with a couple of Chang beers, all five of us happy that we had completed the first day without too much bother. Jackie got onto the cooking straight way, the small huts that we were staying in adjoined a family home where Jackie would sleep. Jackie soon proved his culinary skills providing a fantastic Thai chicken curry from only a charcoal burner. With our bellies overflowing we sat by the fire and took the opportunity to quiz each other on random stuff all getting to know each other. Jackie informed us of the Thai politics, Sarah about her home, Emma about how smelly her socks were, Hugo about his gay German flat mate and myself about some complete surfing bunkum, it was great.
The night was loud but not too eventful, however sleeping out in the Thai jungle so far away from comfort zone and with so many noises really it does take a bit of concentration not to freak out.
The morning arrived with a couple of loud trumpets and the noise of a foreign dialect being spoken. The hut stirred and I was the first to open the door. I was confronted by a massive bull elephant, what a sight. Pure animal power and lot's of grayness - like Jen after a strong cup of mellow birds. Seriously it was unbelievable, dawn had just broken and this animal that I had never seen or experienced before in a zoo was stood there in front of you. A moment in the trip that I had to take a deep breath not to just well up, I know that it sounds a little gay and I am sure that some homosexual comments will be coming back onto this blog but seriously guys this was one of the moments. After breakfast we were prepped by our leader Jackie on what was going to occur and helped onto our elephant was to take us on a short ride before we started trekking again. Now Em and I were a little concerned about this, we did not want to either be on an animal that was poorly treated our burden this creature with
our immense weight. But this elephant was a working animal, for the village and was left to roam in its natural habitat when not needed. So after solving this moral dilemma we set off rocking our way through the jungle. Our guide sat on the beast’s neck, pointing it in the right direction. I must say that it was great, the skin was covered with tiny hairs and the skin was ruffled and coarse - a bit like Frank's scalp.
After we got off Jackie met up with us and told us that he just saw a massive snake so we discovered that his pep talks from yesterday were improving. Back packs on, walking boots with shorts (what a look, I know) and we were trekking again. This time we were learning more about the environment and as the pace was slow Jackie could tell us what plants were used for what and again more about the animals it was cool. Ask me a question about any of that information five minutes after he said it and I would not be able to utter a word. We arrive at another waterfall but deep into the jungle, not climbing this
one but just washing. With the heat and exertion that was occurring a bit of a wash went down a treat. The water however was freezing however, a quick in and out. Jackie impressed us with his skills by standing under the water for a length of time, Chinese water torture eat your heart out. With a new fresh smell among us we were treated to Jackie preparing a fire for some jungle lunchtime treats. To put it bluntly he collected a large bamboo pipe that he cleaned, boiled water and add a myriad of spices that cooked and boiled the homemade noodles until he served in bowls with extra chilly zing. We were in the jungle and eating like kings, Jackie was becoming a legend. In fact after this stunt I think that he toppled Ray Mears of my chart "The list of men that could survive anyway".
With a renewed level of energy and armpits that did not smell like "Stig of the dumps" underpants we were off and going trek crazy. This was the hardest route of the two days and it was a full four hours before we got to our rest point for
the night. Another village of bamboo huts, but this time it was Jackie's village. We were honored, he introduced us to his family and again we had another Chang beer (this after Jackie telling us that he did not drink on the first day of the trip). We had the pleasure of meeting his son and we decided that he would be the perfect kid to give a couple of presents too that we had brought on the trip with us. He got the sunglasses that sprayed water and made him look like a very young and Thai Elton John - he loved them though. Jackie worked his culinary magic and a couple of curries appeared before us, as it was our last night we decided that the Chang was going to be a close friend and it's loyalty grew with every bottle.
After dinner we were treated to a traditional dance by the females of Jackie's village all donned in their traditional robes and with an accompaniment of guitar and chimes. They were really good and encouraged us at one point to come up and have a dance with them. I am not one to say no to
chucking some mean shapes on the floor and obliged - for some reason they had not experienced my signature move of the aero plane previously but I think it hit the mark. The festivities came to a close and with Jackie’s watchful eye he uttered a sentence that will know haunt me for more than a while........ "OK now you sing!!!". Firstly I thought that he had been back on the OPM and that he thinks that all Welsh people had good voices but he was deadly serious. We tried to wriggle out of the offer but as he stated they have sung for us so it left us with no choice. Now at this point it would of been nice for one of the four of us to stand up take the guitar out of the man's hand with confidence and strum a blissful tune while singing a song that could only match the greatest singers of our time. However what actually happened was criminal, I mean purely painful. It took the four of us about twenty minutes to decide what song to sing, national anthems were suggested or Justin Timberlake (Hugo that is your one mate) but in
the end we opted for the Beatles classic "Yesterday". Now I think that we must have been on the OPM to opt for that one but as none of us had any better ideas it was going to be the only option. After a quick review of the words, the four of us stood up and belted out what I can only describe as the worst piece of song that had been uttered by any human being in the whole world. It was not poor, it was just awful. Littered with wrong words (Stuart), poor pitching (Emma), bad bouts of laughter( Sarah) and an impression of the singing that you used to do in school assembly (Hugo). Actually I feel sick thinking about it. The local people received the performance with a slow handclap moved off into the darkness quickly so they could forget what had just occurred. We continued on the Chang and with lot's of funny stories we continued into the early hours, finishing up with a game of Sh*thead under torchlight in the hut.
Our third day started with a short walk to the rafting site where we would get the bamboo beast and go down
stream to where we would travel back to Chang Mai. Now after the night before we were still nursing a few fuzzy heads and the least amount of energy expended was going to be the best option. So in the blazing sun we sat on the rafts and chilled as we went down the river. A perfect way to end a fantastic trip. With only a small two-hour journey back to Chang Mai and a great review of the trip between the four of us it really highlighted what an experience we had just had. The jungle was amazing, Jackie was a legend and we had made some new god friends who had entertained us all the way. Good times are sometimes not just good but fantastic.
There are more photos below