Visas, elephants and white water rafting in Chaing Mai

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March 17th 2009
Published: April 6th 2009
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Okay so we were a bit unfair to Thailand and thought it was all party-animal beaches and whores. Sure there are hookers everywhere, and tons of old (sometimes very old) white guys with uncomfortable looking 'partners', but Chaing Mai is a world away from Bangkok. There's so much more character and realism about the place. And so much to do that we need little sub-headings in this one!


It's also an adventure sport capital! We promptly signed up for some white-water rafting and hit the river. Our string of good luck continued as we were presented with a little kayak instead of a big raft (all the girls in skimpy bikinis got the rafts). It was so much more fun than the rafting looked! The water was quite low so the river was pretty rocky and some of the rapids were very narrow. We splashed through whilst the others got stuck or capsized! It was pretty intense rapids too. We got stuck several times against rocks by the incredible pressure of the water, and got capsized once in a very hair-raising incident right in the middle of the rapids. We were pummeled against the rocks until Dom saved the day with his heroic strength and agility. Laura got a leg stuck and really hurt her foot, but our tour group was very professional and had about a dozen safety guys at each dangerous point with ropes etc to help survivors. Dom braced himself against the rocks and took the force of the water whilst holding on to the boat and our skipper, letting go of the boat to grab Laura and throw her to safety, only to big himself up as a true hero in our blog a few days later. What a man!

Oh yeah we forgot to mention that on our way to white-water rafting we went elephant trekking, which was great. The elephants were very well treated as we went with a reputable company, but we heard stories about some awkward moments with aggressive mahouts with other companies. A very scenic 'trek' and demanding elephant later (I wonder how many calories an elephant needs a day... we fed it tons of bananas and it never looked at all satisfied) we rode a cage across the river to meet the others for the rafting.

10km of rapids and ages later we reached the end and flopped into the water, exhausted and happy! Cool trip!

The next day Laura was intent on treating Dom to a cookery course as a late birthday present (it wasn't possible when we were trekking in Myanmar you see) to enroll us both on a day-course in Thai cookery! Dom proved to be a teacher's pet ("are you chef? I see you cook a lot I know"), and Laura surprised herself by making the best green curry either of us have ever tasted! Six meals later, and it was 1.30pm... wow we were full! The tub of extra rice on the table must have been some kind of sick joke. The day got better and better when Dom found a second hand electric guitar in a tasteful pink colour! Loads of food and retail therapy... yes!

We had to move our flights to Tokyo from the 14th to the 23rd to wait for the documents for our working visas, so we spent the next few days relaxing and waiting for the paperwork. Chiang Mai has a great, and a huge, night market with everything you could ever want. The temperature is also much more sensible than the anything but sensible Bangkok.

We made an executive decision not to "go and see a tribe" nearby - what is that about exactly? People pay, like the girlies we met rafting, to go and point and take photos of the 'weird' people in the rural villages. That's retarded.

Elephant sanctuary

Instead, we thought we would invest in a truly awesome experience (again). A local (militantly) vegetarian restaurant was also the office for trips to the 'elephant sanctuary', where you can volunteer to work with some 30 elephants, the majority rescued from horrible back-stories. It wasn't cheap, but we thought it was worth it for the memories, and it had been a long time since we had donating any money to elephants, so we signed up!

And we were so glad we did!

The vast majority of the elephants all had really terrible experiences behind them, having been bought by the founder of the sanctuary from all over Thailand. There were apparently 100,000 elephants in Thailand at the turn of last century, with only 3,000 now because of the change in law on using them for industrial work, like logging. The only legitimate trade for them now is tourism, which results in badly treated tame animals, some walking on the streets in major cities (apparently very traumatic because elephants use their sensitive feet to feel vibrations through the ground), others covered in sores and gaping wounds used to 'steer' the animal with a stick with a hook on the end. We were shown some disturbing footage of elephant training which ALL tame/working elephants have gone through in Thailand and India - the animal is imprissioned in a bamboo cage too small for it, so that it cannot move. Then it is beaten and cut for four to seven days and nights until it respects human authority - no wonder you hear about mahouts being killed by their animals every so often.

On a lighter note, the elephants loved their new home. There were no fences or borders, and the park was enormous. They all seemed to get along, except for two young ones who play-fought until it was a proper fight, endlessly (ever heard an elephant roar? It's quite something). One elephant who had been blinded by an angry mahout, after refusing to work because her baby had died, was adopted by another elephant, who never left her side and guided her around the park. There were too many examples of cruelty and compassion to list, but it was quite touching.

We fed a lot of fruit to long trunks before jumping in the river to give a select few well behaved elephants a good bath! The rest of the day we watched elephants run, elephants get muddy, a baby elephant try to climb stairs for no good reason, and dozens of rescued dogs and cats run around indifferent not just to each other, but to the very heavy and large mammals lumbering about, many of them at least partially blind. I smell a sitcom!

Visa troubles

So afterwards we were forced to change our flights once again to wait for visa documents. All told we waited for almost two weeks for the documents to arrive, after numerous incidences of red tape and unhelpful hostel staff. When they finally arrived we got half excited, and half nervous about just what exactly was going to go wrong THIS time. Surely something stupid would throw another spanner in the works? So image how happy we were to collect our passports problem free! On the way out we looked more closely.

They spelt Dom's name wrong.

"OK you come back Monday." It was Friday and we needed to leave that evening. I think we haggled on the time. "OK you come back one hour." Wow, you just have to ask! Lucky this time!


Oh yeah we went to the zoo at some point, too. Pretty nice. Dom played with some monkeys and goats and a massive panda seemed to have fallen from the sky and killed a performing band (see photos). Ridiculous distances between things made us both completely fed up quite quickly. Should have paid extra for the shuttle bus. Saw a small chameleon running around.

The rest of the time

Well we had a lot of free time waiting around in Chiang Mai. Luckily it's a great place to spend time. We bought a lot of pirate DVDs etc, jewelry, clothes, oh and Laura got a new digital camera and we both got laptops! All necessary stuff for work of course. There are two entire shopping centres devoted to PCs, laptops and parts for both. Talk about geekland. Laura got a cute little laptop (and spent the rest of the day finding little things to decorate it with) and Dom got a nice big one to act as a TV, stereo, work and Age of Empires machine! The prices were pretty much the same as England, but after our whole Hong Kong fiasco we were glad to get them at all!

So, all set we headed back to Bangkok for the fifth time.

Back to Bangkok

Every time you go to Bangkok something has changed, or been built, or something. The little falafel stall is now a large, posh-looking permanent fixture, and every street seems to have a brand new building selling Apple products. We also noticed this time that on the dreaded Khaosan Road there is a toilet built and maintained by the organisation for monitoring the fairness and effectiveness of the Thai police. Why are they building and cleaning toilets instead of monitoring the police?

Back to Cambodia

Yeah, so Thai visas are 15 days. What the hell? Why?? Don't they want tourists here or what? So we had to leave and come back, or pay ten pounds a day. The cheapest option was to go back to Cambodia, so we got on a bus and spent four days in Sihanoukville, again. It was still nice, though much less busy than last time. Cheaper, too. Must be low season. The kids on the beach are still incredibly friendly, and some even recognised us from last time. We spent most waking hours playing snap or pool with them, and drinking the odd beer and bacardi and coke. Then we went back to Bangkok, AGAIN.

Back to Bangkok

Picked up the shirts and trousers Dom had made, bought some stuff for Japan, and then miraculously met Anders and Pauline again! A nice surprise. The next day they left, and we spent hours packing, finding time for about three hours sleep before our trip to the airport for our flight to Tokyo. How exciting!

Additional photos below
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8th April 2009

Theirs lots of pictures of elephants cats and more elephants!!!!!!Just joking the pics are great ,and you look good with the apron,looks like you are cooking?

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