Published: September 17th 2008September 16th 2008
Us on Elephants
We are riding Mek Toi (the mother, 25) while Jenny (the baby, 1) follows alongside.
Friday, September 12th, 2008
To begin with, Curtis' ankle is doing much better. Most of the swelling has receded and the bruising is virtually non-existent.
We began this leg of our trip at the Hualamphong Train station where we opted to go north after learning the south trains were not running due to a three week long worker's strike in support of the PAD. We chose a sleeper train (highly recommended) and head up over the evening. Sally, still sick from whatever she ate slept immediately while Curtis finished reading "Me Talk Pretty Oneday" by David Sedaris. Good recommendation Deidre! In the morning, the attendant brought us breakfast and gave us coffee. The coffee, unfortunately, is what is typically found in the region: instant Nescafe. Add lots of sugar and dehydrated creamer and you almost have an uncanny resemblance to actual coffee. Because we are Americans, she was blown away by our unusual request for seconds and thirds. By the third, she charged us an additional 60 baht (about 2 dollars.)
Off the train, we headed towards the guantlet of tuk-tuk drivers insisting rides to everywhere we didn't want to go. After finding one we could haggle to a
River Rafting - Bamboo Style
It's not a good photo but since we don't have a scanner, we took a photo of the photo.
reasonable price, we checked out 3 hotels before accepting the one offered by the owner to Sally amidst the barage of drivers. From here we arranged an all day adventure package in the forests of Northern Thailand (for Sunday).
Saturday, September 13th, 2008
We got a late start for the day because we slept in and begun our day doing more Wat sight-seeing and shopping. After more haggling, we managed to get a tuk-tuk to Wat Phra Singh (identified as Wat Singh on the photos) on the east side of Chiang Mai. This wat is a classic example of northern Thai and thus is architectually different from the other wat styles seen in Thailand. The grounds were absolutely beautiful filled with little mini-wats in dedication to various Buddahs, monks of all ages, and only a few tourists.
After touring the site, we decided to head across the street for a quick lunch. The food in Thailand is GREAT! We must admit, the food is not different from what can be found Portland. Many thanks to our hometown Thai restaurants for their excellent representation of Thai food (especially E-San's).
We then began to meander down the road in
At the Village
A Thai woman looms silk scarves in her village.
search of a specific Wat Sally was interested in seeing. Along the way, we saw through the trees a magnificent brick monument and decided to veer off course in search of this site. A few blocks off the main road we were greated by the fantastic Wat Chedi Luang. The Wat itself is in partial ruins but in reading about the site, it is clear that much energy (and money) has been poured into the restoration of the site. In reading about the Wat, the researchers are still trying to figure out if the damage was due to an earthquake or cannon fire.
As we finally ended our self-tour of the Wat, we continued down the road, still in search of the Wat Sally wanted to see. Ultimately, we ran acros the Wat Phan Tao, the teak Wat Sally had been in search of. Wat Phan Tao is conrusted of moulded wooden teak panels and features gorgeous coloured mirror mosaics (i.e. the reason for Sally's desire to visit). The site was definitely worth visiting and we were a littled disappointed that the sun had already set and the rain began to pour. As such, we quickly toured the grounds
This Wat was not mentioned in any of our guide books and it took forever to find the name on a plaque. Definitely worth seeing if you are ever in Chiang Mai. It is the tallest known wat.
and headed back towards the hotel.
Walking along, we wondered if we should take a tuk tuk back to the hotel but saw another site in the distance and decided to check it out. Once we reached the site we realized it was the gate to the city and that our hotel was only a few blocks away (the maps in the book can be a little deceiving with regards to distance). As we made our way back to the hotel, a jewelry store caught Sally's eye and we headed in for a look. Sally was most impressed with the quality of the jewelry and decided to do a little shopping (i.e. a LOT of shopping). With our loot in hand, we headed back to the hotel for a quick break before heading out to the infamous Chiang Mai Night Market.
The night market lived up to its reputation and much more. Within a couple of hours, the vendors transform a major thoroughfare on the eastside of the city into a massive market. Filling every imagineable inch of sidewalk space, the area becomes a long corridor filled with Thai handcrafts, fake rolexes and coach bags, food vendors, and
much much more. We were taken aback by the fact that as we walked through the area we ran into a Subway, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Haggen Daas, and TWO Starbucks! Yet, it didn't take much away from the market and we continued to forge ahead. After much meandering, we decided it was time to each.
Now we must admit, there is only so much Thai food an individual can eat before needing a break. Ultimately, our curriosity got the best of us and we decided to check out Thailand's version of bangers and mash. We figured it would be a safe bet considering the pub was filled with British expats. And we were right. The food was good! Afterwards, we continued our journey through the market before finally deciding to call it a night. We realized we had a big day ahead of us and needed to get some rest.
Sunday, September 14th, 2008
We rose early today grabbing a quick breakfast at the hotel as we headed out for our day's adventure. The tour company picked us up at the hotel as well as two others (we didn't get their names, but we're pretty sure
they are French). After an hour and a half, we finally reached our destination and were greated by a half dozen elephants! After purchasing a few bags of bananas we hopped onto our elephant. Her name, we think, is Mek Toi. Sally had a hard time remembering her name and decided to call her Eleanor for the remainder of the day. Mek Toi was a young lady of 25 years and the momma of one-year-old Jenny. Jenny is a bit of celebrity and as such, we recieved much attention from others as we meandered through the area. Even before leaving for our trek through the forest, Eleanor and Jenny were hounding us for bananas. Jenny was a bit more aggressive, wrapping her trunk around our legs, tugging for our attention and more bananas. Unfortunately, she isn't picky and started to take off with Curtis's shoe. Luckily he was able to save the shoe by tempting her with more bananas. Along our trek through the forest, we ran across a dog. It became very clear that Eleanor does not like dogs! It was a bit intimidating considering our guide had just jumped off and we were stuck on the elephant alone
as she took off towards the dog, verbally expressing herself (elephants are very loud, especially when sitting on their back and boy can they move).
As we continued on, our guide fell behind us and suddenly started yelling, spitting, and wiping her mouth. Apparently, Eleanor didn't like what he had said earlier and hit him in the mouth with her tail (which had some dingle berries, i.e. poop). RECOMMENDATION: Do not walk behind an elephant.
Halfway through the ride, the guide asked Curtis if he would like to sit on the back of Eleanor's neck. He gladly took the opportunity and is now feeling the effects of an hour long ride (i.e. his inner thighs and groin are sore and chaffed). RECOMMENDATION: Elephant hair can be prickly, when riding, be sure to wear long, thick pants!
Our next adventure of the day included a nature hike up to the Mae Wang Waterfalls. It began to pour on us half way to the falls. But no bother, we were properly prepared and threw on our rain coats. The French couple with us were not so fortunate. As our guide led us through the path wearing her capris and
Gilded monk found outside Wat Singh.
flip flops all the while holdering her umbrella, we maneuvered along the path to the falls. Once there we took advantage of the photo op, wading through the water to some rocks. We then walked over a very rickety bridge (Sally was very proud of herself) and got a closer look. We then headed back on a path that was a bit slippery after the rain. Curtis, being the gentleman that he is (i.e. Sally threatened him) helped the guide and the French lady across a couple of logs that were suppose to act as little walkways across the creeks and streams. It was a beautiful walk and the scenery was most picturesque.
Our next stop was for lunch. We stopped at some roadside cafe (i.e. a shack with a table and some chairs) and proceeded to eat some very delicious fried rice, yellow curry, and stir fry vegetables. The food was great but the French couple found it to be very spicy as we lathered our food with pepper sauce. Guess everyone's tastebuds are a little different. As we sat there, the sun finally peaked out behind the clouds and we headed out to catch a few rays.
Next stop, taking a bamboo raft down the river.
As we piled out of the mini-van we were handed life jackets. Sally was a little taken aback by the fact that the guide gave her a very large life jacket. But as she went to buckle the top buckle, she realized why. Thai body, Sally body, not the same! The guide had us pile onto the most make-shift raft we had ever seen. One had to question if it would really keep us afloat. The French couple headed forth and took a seat as did Sally. Curtis on the other hand was a handed a bamboo rod and given charge of the rear of the raft. Considering he's never gone rafting before, much less on a bamboo raft, while standing, there was a bit of a learning curve. But neverless, Curtis did a fantastic job only running us into a couple of branches! The raft didn't hold out the water, but it did keep us afloat. Sally found the ride to be most refreshing with the cool water. Curtis sadly, did not get the same experience as he fought through the pain in his foot while keeping the rear-end
in line. After a fun ride with a few rapids thrown in, we finally reached our destination. Something interesting, we walked as the river guides pulled their rafts to the side and were shocked that they would completely dismantle the raft (i.e. unbound three rubber straps from the bamboo rods) then load it onto the truck.
We finally headed home, all of us falling asleep for the hour long ride back. Once at the hotel, we decided to take a little rest, wash up (a day of elephants, hiking, and river rafting makes for some unappealing odors). We then headed out for some dinner and last minute shopping. As we mentioned before, we decided to try some international cuisine and found a German restaurant. We sat next to a large table filled with Germans prosting. The waitresses were even dressed in traditional German dresses. The food, again, was quite good (and that's coming from two people who've lived in Germany). Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, for Monday would be a long day of travel to Ko Samui.
Monday, September 15th, 2008
Planes, trains, and automobiles as well as elephants, rafts, and ferries! It is official, we
have taken every possible form of transportation available in Thialand. Monday is a day of travel. Leaving Chiang Mai at 8am in the morning, we headed down south. After a twelve plus hour ride to Bangkok, we finally got a two hour break before getting on another train to Surat Thani, a eight plus hour ride. The ride to Surat Thani would not have been that bad except, we did not make it in time to take a sleeper car and had to ride in 2nd class seating. Not a bad way to travel, but through the middle of the night, it makes for a bad night of rest!
Tuesday, September 16th, 2008
KO SAMUI...here we come. After getting off the train in Phun Phin at 9am we had to take a 1/2 hour bus ride into Surat Thani. Then we had to wait for two hours until our next bus arrived. This one plus hour bus would take us to peer in Don Sak to catch a ferry. After waiting for about an hour, we finally caught the 1pm ferry to Ko Samui. As we travelled along, we finally decided on a hotel. We were shocked to learn
Stupa behind Singh Wat
An elephant protrudes from the octagonal base of the stupa.
that our phones worked domestically. Sadly, it took three phone calls and a few operators to explain to us that is was unneccessary to dial internationally. Finally, at 3pm, we had reached Ko Samui!
More details of our island adventures to come....
There are more photos below