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Published: November 14th 2008
Morning's first rays lightened the dark streets
. We were in Chiang Mai - a clear 700 km north of Bangkok - and looking for room and board. Oh, wait! Let's bring you up to speed. When you last checked in on us we were at the bus station in Phetchaburi just about to buy tickets for Bangkok when we got some 'good news'
. A direct bus to Chiang Mai and yet another chance to skirt Thailand's chaotic capital was too good an opportunity to let slide.
Chiang Mai's pull was its proximity to the green, relatively unspoilt highlands of north Thailand. Overnight trekking possibilities were endless and so too were the hawkers of various treks. We closed a hard-fought deal with an outfit for a 3-day, 2-night trek guaranteed to take us to scenic, remote paths away from regular tourist haunts and then headed to breakfast.
Enter Charles and Monique, proud, tall and with impressive waist-length dreadlocks. It wasn't too difficult to figure that they were not from these parts (understatement). Over breakfast we traded travel and life stories. Monique was a born Dominican and Charles, an American. We clicked instantly forming an unspoken Fellowship of the Travelling Minorities.
That same night we all hooked up again and roamed the buzzing streets of Chiang Mai bargain-hunting in the over-crowded, over-stocked night markets of a seemingly tireless city. The Fellowship split the next morning (temporarily at least - we may yet travel together). Monique and Charles were bound for Laos. We readied ourselves for trekking.
'Isabella' - a young lady from Barcelona - and 'Jay' the tour guide, completed our group and we chugged off. After two stops, one for lunch and the other for clambering up and down a cascading waterfall, we pulled up in a tiny hill village, dismounted and followed Jay into a forest of bamboo. For the better part of four hours we trekked, up hills and thru valleys, thru near-dry riverbeds and past the odd farm. Occasionally, amidst the hugging and puffing, the burning thighs and lungs and gasps for breath we'd remind ourselves that we were having fun. The psychology worked as we crested hill after hill until we were almost at base camp. But then Jay seemed to tense up a bit. His eyes darted left and right scanning the bushes. He pointed to a HUGE steaming pile of dung and the
first mental reaction was "WOW
, that must belong to a very big cow or..." An elephant was blocking our path. We could see base camp behind. The mammoth creature locked eyes with us for a few tense seconds and then, with a dismissing flat of its humungous ears, turned and ambled away.
Dinner was early and hot as it needed to be. Base camp was ridiculously cold. Moments before, we had 'washed up' in the frigid waters of a nearby stream and watched as a few elephants and their riders/trainers passed by. After dinner we huddled around a bonfire just long enough to get toasty warm before scurrying over to our hut and diving beneath multiple layers of thick bed covers. Travelling in a small group does have its advantages one being more covers for everyone.
Day two was more of the same - thick bamboo forests, verdant foliage, hills, valleys, streams, huffing, puffing and sweat and self-reminders that basically stated: 'this is fun'
. For lunch, Jay served up tasty noodles that he had boiled (with water from a stream) in the cavity of a thick, green bamboo. Pretty impressive, survivalist stuff! Another two hours of trekking brought
us, by no coincidence, to a little old man with a big, wrinkly elephant. The beast was saddled up with a chair of sorts into which Vibert and Shanna climbed. Isabella rode on the neck at first and later switched with Shanna. We swayed in rhythm with the elephant's gentle, steady footsteps. Uphill and thru rivers were just fine. The downhill angle was a wee bit scary in the beginning but we learnt to trust our elephant. She carried us for well over an hour and straight into the heart of a 'Hill Tribe' community. 'Hill Tribe' is the name given to people from China who migrated over to Thailand centuries ago and who now live in the hilly northern region. Our adobe was on the fringe of the community - a hall containing about 20 mattresses laid out on a raised platform. That night, a few ladies from the community, some of whom had blackened their teeth as a kind of decoration, came to our lodging to sing and entertain us. They sang clear and hauntingly beautiful songs in the flicker of a bonfire and under a bright, round moon. We were both humbled and honored.
morning a few of the women returned and laid out mats of ornaments, carvings, sewing craft and artifacts. We bought what we could afford more to support the villagers than for any other reason and then, on foot, we departed the village. We bisected another Hill Tribe village, cut across a farm or two and (finally) caught sight of another tourist all before reaching the designated 'pick-up point'. Then, we were dropped off at a 'rafting outlet' and clambered aboard a porous, bamboo contraption that, only Gods knows how, managed to stay together for the 90-minute drift thru the backwaters of numerous unknown villages.
Back in Chiang Mai, with aching muscles but overriding curiosity, we drifted from lane to lane with no particular destination. Our curiosity was rewarded when we stumbled upon a roomful of Thailand's famous 'Blind Masseurs'. Skeptical, we watched the operation from the doorway. The hall was a hive of activity as about 10 masseurs rubbed and stretched the stress out of patrons. They ran the entire operation evening collecting cash and dispensing the correct change. We signed up for two hours. With their heightened sense of touch, the masseurs deftly and professionally worked each joint,
muscle and sinew, kneading, massaging and stretching them until ourthe pains completely and miraculously dissipated. Once you go 'blind', it would blow your mind
. Enough said!
Chiang Mai complete, we turned our attention southward and somehow (this time) 700 km seemed too much of a long haul. We had to break it up. 😊
😊 Monique and Charles, have fun and live your dreams. We'll meet again.
😊 Jay, for being a wonderful guide
😊 Isabella, good company on a long hike
😊 The Blind Masseurs, thank you for forever changing the way we view massages.
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