We arrived in Chiang Mai last Monday morning after taking the sleeper train from Bangkok on Sunday evening. We were a little worried about getting here because all the trains were full due to Chinese New Year. We were lucky to make friends with a tour operator in Bangkok who called himself Jimmy Saville (not sure if he's heard about the recent revelations or not but we didn't want to break the news to him if he hadn't) who managed to get us on an extra train...effectively Jim fixed it for us....
We were seriously impressed with the standard of the train, we had loads of space, air con, a 5 dish meal brought to our seats and around 10pm the staff came round and transformed our seats into bunk beds! Suzanne had a phantom guest in her top bunk who appeared at some point in the middle of the night but wasn't there in the morning...
After about 16 hours we pulled into Chiang Mai station and were bombarded with offers from various taxi drivers who wanted to take us to our hotel. We were pretty dazed and lethargic so we just went with the
kindest looking taxi man.
We spent the day just exploring the city a little bit and went to bed nice and early so we were geared up for our 5 day adventure in the jungle!!
The next morning we were picked up by Bandito, one of the tour guides who works for the Spicy Villa ecolodge we had booked. After a rather bumpy ride up the mountain into the jungle we finally arrived at the villas. We spent our first afternoon exploring the local Karen village and swimming under a beautiful waterfall. In the evening we chatted with the other bungalow guests and helped cook the dinner to try and learn a little bit about Thai cooking...all the food we had there was amazing!! There was one little mishap when Pumpkin the puppy stole half a chicken breast that Suzanne was preparing...despite that happening there was no shortage of food. We were worried about how much was left over but Samart told us he doesn't like wasting anything so he takes it to the local villages who have only basic food supplies.
We had our own bamboo bungalow with two bedrooms and a bathroom which
had a lovely view over the mountains. Samart who owns the bungalows warned us about spiders and other creepy crawlies so we were too scared to put anyone in a room on their own so we all snuggled under one mosquito net on a huge king sized mattress!
The next day we had our own personal tour guide take us on a hike through the jungle. Our first stop was one of the local schools which had about 80 pupils. Our guide lead us into one of the classrooms and told us to teach some English. Having no experience or preparation we muddled our way along for half an hour teaching them the alphabet, numbers and our names. They seemed to confuse Hannah's name with 'banana' and just kept calling her 'Hananah' which was a source of great amusement. The girls are taught how to give a foot massage from age 10 and so were excited they had some white feet to practice on. Hannah's massuse was a little over enthusiastic with the pressure and she was feeling a little sore after...
The teachers were all really welcoming and gave us tea, water and cake and liked taking
photos of us. We gave our cakes to the girls as payment for having to touch our cheesy feet which they seemed to appreciate.
We stopped for lunch at a waterfall and met up with the other groups. They cooked our food 'jungle style' in some bamboo over a fire which was interesting to watch and very tasty! We then continued our hike and had to get back up the hill to Spicy Bungalows which very nearly killed us off. Our guide barely broke into a sweat while we were huffing and puffing most of the way up.
The next day we went tubing, rafting and elephant riding! The tubing was good fun, our guide (who was a little chubby) went all the way down the river on his belly shouting 'Oh my Buddha!' which we all found very amusing. The rafting was basically like punting except you're just sitting on 5 pieces of bamboo tied together with rubber. Taz was steering at the back, however less than 2 minutes into the ride we hit a rather large rock and she went straight in the water...after that we let the guides do the steering while we sat back
and enjoyed the ride. Although there was a near Titanic moment when they got distracted and we got stuck on a big rock and the whole raft was teetering over a rapid.
We rafted to the elephants who were having a wash in the river. We climbed on to our designated elephants and the trainers were shouting various things at them to make them dunk us in the water. Hannah's elephant decided to do a poo and Suzanne's mahout (trainer man) thought it would be a really good idea to throw it at her face. She gave him a stern no and he changed his mind pretty sharpish. Meanwhile Taz's elephant 'Minney' was having a great time falling sideways into the water and standing up quickly while Taz clung on for dear life.
They took us for a quick trek through the jungle up and down some really steep hills which gave our leg muscles a very good workout! There was a 2 year old baby elephant which kept being naughty and wandering off or attempting to climb onto bamboo rafts and injuring tourists.
We took them back into the river for another wash and frolic. Taz's
mahout decided she needed a wash too so he gave her a little scrub. We then rode back up and jumped off so they could enjoy some well deserved food!
In the evening Samart took us and another couple out for dinner which consisted of alot of food we probably wouldn't normally eat (including a pig's colon) and lots of beer and moonshine (although Suzanne did manage to get a wine cooler). We went to one of the many karaoke huts in the area for a sing song. There was a limited number of songs we actually knew but we did get to learn a couple of catchy Thai songs. We made a new friend for life called Noi who is a local lady who doesn't really speak any English and has an evil laugh and loved holding Suzannes hand.
For our last day at Spicy we just relaxed, read our books and visited another waterfall because a bike ride through the mountains sounded like a lot of effort...
We're now back in Chiang Mai city staying in Samarts appartment after he very kindly offered us food and accomodation. He took us to a local temple which
overlooks the city and told us a bit about the Buddhist beliefs. (He was a monk for 8 years so knows alot about the traditions). In the evening he took us to a local Thai style 'BBQ' where we selected as much raw meat as we fancied and cooked it on a hot plate at our table. We were the only tourists there and enjoyed watching some Thai soaps on a giant screen.
Yesterday we visited one of the hot springs just outside of Chiang Mai which, as the name suggests, was rather hot and also rather smelly because of the sulphur. Despite this it was really enjoyable and made our skin silky smooth! There were beautiful gardens and at the hottest springs (105 celcius) people were boiling eggs in little baskets. According to Samart you can only have soft boiled and the yolk never cooks.
Last night after a Mexican feast we went to one of the city's night markets which had lots of locally made gifts, clothes and street food. Samart stuck to his no wastage principles by taking any leftovers home for the puppies. But apparently Mexican food and 3 month old puppies don't go
too well after Pumpkin threw up his enchillada on Samart's bed...
For the next 3 nights we booked into a rather posh hotel as a little treat for Hannah's birthday on Wednesday. It has a swimming pool, balcony, air con and REAL BEDS!! All this splendour for only 900 Baht a night (around 6 pounds each).
Anyway, better dash as we fancy a dip in our pool, we will update you all soon with our next installment!
Love Taz, Suzanne & Hannah
PS Parents be on the look out for any large mysterious packages as we may have sent an elephant home...
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