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Published: July 26th 2009
After another short flight, we arrived in Bangkok. We planned to see Thailand's capital on the way back, so we went directly to the train station where we bought tickets for the 13 hour journey to the city of Chiang Mai. We decided to treat ourselves to a first-class sleeper cabin - although outrageously priced by Thai standards, it was a rare opportunity for us to actually be able to afford first class! We were greeted by a very polite and courteous officer who showed us to our cabin and explained he would be there to cater to our every need whenever we pushed the call button. Our cabin was spacious and comfortable, with a lounge couch that was converted to bunks later that night. It was an enjoyable night in transit, and in the morning we watched the green mountains roll by as we were served breakfast. Arriving in Chiang Mai in the early morning, we took a taxi to our guesthouse, where I tried out my bartering skills and got a weekly discounted rate for our room. Once we were settled in, it was time to go out and explore the city! It was a beautiful place with friendly
people and impressive Buddhist Temples around every corner. We spent many days taking in the sights of the town and exploring the endless markets. Our first night we went to see a professional Muay Thai competition. As the stadium began to fill, we quickly realized they seated the tourists on one side, and the locals on the other. A band began to play the rhythmic ceremonial music and two young boxers appeared. They began a warm up ritual designed to prepare them for the fight using the beat of the music and religious prayer. When the boxing began we were surprised to find that the first round was fairly laid back, but we discovered they were just taking the time to assess their opponent, and the fists and feet flew the second round. As the night progressed, so did the weight classes and caliber of the competitors. We watched the locals making illegal bets and cheering on their favourites. The competitors showed great discipline and respect - for their religion, the sport, and their opponent - even compassionately carrying their injured adversary out of the ring. It was a great night to soak up the Thai culture, and an excellent
start to our adventures in Chiang Mai. The following evening we went to the Chiang Mai Night Safari after perusing the markets. It is the largest night safari in the world, and allows visitors to see nocturnal animals when they are active. We were greeted by an elephant (and it's handlers) who gave me a wet, vacuumed kiss before we entered. We saw many different animals in the spotlight of our "safari" train, all prowling in the darkness.
The next day, we set of on a three day trek through the jungle and the mountains near the Northwestern border. We joined an organized tour and we were all piled into the covered back of a truck for the ride out. Our first stop was to register the hike with the Tourist Police, where we met a friendly American officer who took copies of our passports and our itinerary. Once registered, we stopped off at a market where the guides stocked up on fresh food for our trip. We had an early lunch (I was relieved to find I enjoyed the food - it would be a long three days otherwise) and then Tony, our guide, announced for everyone to
make sure they had enough water "because there's no 7-11 in the jungle!" And with that, we were off. As we climbed up and up, it became apparent that we would be climbing to the top of the mountain. The walking was moderately easy, but the intense heat and humidity made it seem more difficult. About half-way up, we stopped at a waterfall where many of us eagerly jumped in to cool off. The views were spectacular as we gained elevation, and eventually we came into view of a small village on the hilltop. Tony told us that it was home to the Lahu tribe, and that we would be spending the night there. A refreshing rain began to fall as we approached our destination. We walked through the village to a bamboo hut perched on the edge of the hill. There was a common area in the middle, with a basic kitchen on one side and a series of elevated matresses with mosquito netting on the other. A large deck overlooked the valley below. It was great! We were surprised to find that there were showers; and although it was just a drip of cold water, it was luxury
by trekking standards. We relaxed and rehyrdrated while our dinner was prepared on the open-fire stove. Huge rainbows filled the sky, and after dark we were treated to an amazing electrical storm. Our group sat around the fire pit eating the plentiful and tasty dinner, and the tribal people joined us for the night (though they mostly kept to themselves).
In the morning, the group split and only four of us and Tony set off for the next two days (the others were doing a two-day trek). The hiking trail became a bit more rugged and was less travelled. Tony became much more talkative in the small group and we were able to set our own pace. After a couple of hours we descended into a small, isolated village. We were told it was a small group of Chinese people who had sought refuge there about 20 years ago. As we got closer we were greeted by three young children, yelling "Hello! Goodbye!" Despite a complete language barrier they were very friendly and took a liking to the fold-out fans the girls we were hiking with had with them. As we continued into the village they would run ahead
and wait for us, stop and lie down, and then get up and run again as we got closer. At one point during their little game, the oldest girl ran for me and jumped up into my arms! After stopping for a short rest in the village, we said goodbye to the kids and continued our walk. We stopped for lunch in an even smaller village with a beautiful waterfall. Again, we took the opportunity to cool off and have a swim while Tony prepared our lunch. For the entire duration of our break here an old tribal lady was squatting by her house, chopping something into small pieces with an old machete - we learned that it was banana tree trunk, and it would be used as food for the pigs. We finished lunch, and the village kids eagerly ate our leftovers as we continued the hike. We continued to walk up and down, crossing small rivers along the way. Stopping at yet another waterfall for our last break, Tony deemed it a beer break, and we happily obliged. There seemed to be a solitary house with an old lady living there (she's the one who sold us the
beer). Earlier that day, she had cut her finger and had no medical supplies to look after it. Andrew took out our trusty first aid kit (it was good that we had one, because our guide didn't!) and treated her wound with betadine and then bandaged it up for her. She was greatly appreciative for his help, and we left her with the extra bandages we could spare. With that, we continued to our destination for the night. On our way to the camp we encountered a herd of roaming cattle. Lucky for us, they had bells on, so we heard them coming in enough time to get out of their way. Tony hurried us to a fence, where we closed the gate behind us. We went through a large patch of lychee trees, snacking as we went, before reaching camp. We were informed that the next day we wouldn't be walking, but would be transported by elephants and rafts. Once we settled in, we found Tony sitting on a rock in the middle of the fast-flowing river, and went out to join him. Between the warm rock and the cool water soothing our aching feet, it was quite a
relaxing endeavour. We spent the evening playing a Thai card game at a candle-lit table before crawling under our mosquito nets for the night.
The morning saw us jumping on the back of an elephant. Andrew and I were on one elephant, and the Austrian girls we were hiking with were on another. We were surprised to find that only one uninterested guide would be accompanying us. But the elephants seemed to know the way - we walked along a beautiful river, and were absolutely amazed by the elephant's agility! They effortlessly navigated over large rocks and rough terrain, and at one point our elephant walked across the remaining edge of a concrete foundation wall. It wasn't high, but he balanced across, one foot in front of the other, even though his feet were bigger than the wall itself. It was incredible - a horse wouldn't have even been able to walk across this narrow space; and there we were on top of an elephant on a balance beam! We continued along the river, and then the elephants began to walk up a steep and narrow path. The ride became progressively more scary from here. We walked along the
top of the escarpment above the river, and a couple of times our elephant decided he'd like to snack on some bamboo that was over the edge, and reached over with his trunk. We finally made it back safe and sound and were very quick to jump off the elephant. We were both happy the ride was over, and agreed that going white water rafting after this would almost be relaxing! We said goodbye to the elephants and then it was time for the rafting. After a couple of tries, we were outfitted with helmets that buckled closed, and life vests that fit moderately well. The rapids weren't huge (nothing like the Ottawa) but we had a good time and no one fell out of the raft. When the river slowed and we were clear of the rapids we transferred to a long bamboo raft which Tony navigated down the river with a long bamboo pole. Andrew tried out the steering for a while too. It was a very relaxing ride until we were joined by some rather large water spiders. The guys tried to scare them away, but they would just float for a minute and then climb back
on. The girls stood up for the rest of the ride. We had a late lunch by the river and waited for a while before our hour-and-a-half drive back to the city. Our three days in the jungle had been amazing. The scenery was stunning, and it was incredible to just walk from village to village and get a small taste of what life is like for the hilltribes. It was our first guided hike, and though at times seemed a little "touristy" it was great to get a first-hand education from a local throughout our journey. It was also luxurious to only carry a small pack, and have everything else looked after for us! We would definately do it again! Though we might skip the elephant ride....
The day following our trek, we were signed up for a full-day Thai cooking course. We both immensely enjoyed all the food we had been eating and wanted to learn how to make it for ourselves (and others!). The first part of the class was spent in a local food market, where our instructor gave us detailed information about the many different Thai ingredients, as well as substitutes we could use
when the proper ingredients are not available. Next, we followed her to a nearby old teak wood house, where we would be doing the cooking. Two other couples were taking the course with us, one from South Africa, the other from Holland. We made seven courses, sitting down to eat them between each dish. Andrew and I chose different dishes for each course, so together we learned 14 different meals! Thai cooking incorporates three flavours: sweet, salty, and sour - and in some of the dishes we could actually taste the distinct differences of each flavour; all in one spoonful! It was a fun and gastronomical day, and we were given a little cookbook to bring home. The following day, we spent some time at the Chiang Mai Xtreme Center. First, we went paintballing. It was a lot of fun, but the guy we played with didn't take well to losing. When I shot him (twice actually), he was supposed to be out, but instead, came running over and tackled me, stealing my gun and holding me hostage. He started to randomly fire off my remaining rounds, and when I finally got him to let me go, he gave me
his empty gun, and shot me in the back at close range as I walked away. Talk about a sore loser! The manager was not impressed with him when he saw the bleeding welts on my back, and Andrew wished he had one more round left in his gun. After our little war we got ready to go zorbing! An activity we had planned on doing in New Zealand, the zorb is a large inflatable plastic ball with two layers. The zorbers get strapped into the protected inside layer of the ball, pushed off a ramp, and roll down a hill. It's inventors in New Zealand claim it tops the list of stupid things to do on vacation. Sounds good to us! I got hooked up first, and then was rolled so I was hanging upside down and Andrew was strapped in below me. And with a push, we were off! Barrelling down the hill in a blur, we came to a sudden halt when we hit a wall - I think our weight difference threw us off balance. We were pushed back on course, finished the remainder of the hill and then landed in a pond. Here we unstrapped
ourselves, and fell over each other as we tried to run around on the water. We had a hell of a time in that oversized hamster ball!
Next was a day for relaxation. In the evening we went to a beautiful restaurant on the riverfront for steak dinner. A band came on later that night, and we ordered our own tap of beer. We couldn't get the name in translation, but these should be in every bar! Chilled by a small ice tube down the center, it was like our own little keg. The waiters came often to refill our glasses, which were always at least half full. We enjoyed the night and the bands were fabulous! We relaxed again the following day, but in the evening I became ill. After a long night, I was still getting worse so we had to go to the hospital. We were supposed to be on the train back to Bangkok, but Andrew was able to get a refund for the tickets. Not sure what to expect at the hospital, we were quickly and professionally helped by the staff. I was sent directly to the GI ward and quickly saw a specialist.
The doctor spoke perfect English and took a lot of time to evaluate me. I had a fairly severe case of acute gastroenteritis. He prescribed quite a few medications for me, and said that if I could not rehydrate with the electrolytes by the evening, I would have to go back for intravenous rehydration. I was given an injection and monitored for some time. When I was released, they had a bag full of medications ready for me, with descriptions and instructions for each. We were quite impressed by the healthcare system. The doctor said I wasn't allowed to take the train, so we booked a short flight to Bangkok for that evening. I began feeling better quite quickly, though it took me about a week to recover fully. We arrived in Bangkok in the late evening, and checked into a fancy hotel that we had found a great deal for online. I wasn't well enough to go out at that point, but the next day we were able to explore the city. We went on a river cruise and then explored some of the temples. It was a nice city, but it seemed everyone was trying to scam us.
At one point, our tuk-tuk driver would only take us to stores, where if we went in, the store gave him free gas. We said we didn't want to go there, but he took us anyway - we felt like we were being held hostage! We threatened to call the tourist police, and the driver quickly agreed to take us where we wanted to go. We spent the evening at an enormous night market, and although we walked around for hours, we only saw a small portion of it. We had great difficulty finding a cab driver to bring us back to the hotel who would agree to turn on the taxi-meter rather than charge us four times what we paid to get out there! We had an interesting, but incredibly hectic day in Bangkok, and we weren't upset that we only ended up with one day to spend there. On our way back to Perth, we had a seven hour layover at the Changi Airport in Singapore. I never expected to enjoy a long layover, but it almost wasn't long enough! There were many outdoor gardens, a swimming pool, a games area with Wii and Playstation, computers, a movie
theatre, tours of the city, and more. And best of all, it was all free! We decided on a movie, and took the Skytrain to the appropriate terminal. Changi definately gets our vote for the world's best airport!
Our month in Asia was a wonderful addition to our trip. Both countries we visited were different than we had expected, and opened our eyes to many different worlds. Travelling to these places has made our entire journey that much more rewarding and educational and we certainly hope to explore more of that continent in the future!
Cass & Andrew xoxo
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