After a relatively smooth overnight train journey from Bangkok, I arrived in Chiang Mai. On the way, the train stopped at a number of quaint little stations that were decorated with flowers, statues and oddly some even had miniature model villages that looked like something out of Thomas the Tank Engine. A short tuk tuk from Chiang Mai station and I was outside the Diva Hotel. It had a pink sign outside which of course is my favourite colour. Cough. But I was pleasantly surprised because not only was it colourfully decorated inside with friendly, helpful staff, there were also guys staying there. Phew. Not a diva hotel just for divas.
I met a couple of other Brits and we went out to experience a night in Chiang Mai. Some parts good and some parts just plain cringeworthy. The good was having a fantastic pork curry dish from a street vendor. Really tasty filling dish which cost less than a British pound followed by fresh mango slices. Yum yum. Just to let you know, yum yum refers to my reaction whilst eating the food and not the name of a Thai ladyboy. After walking past a few seedy massage places and bars, we settled into a bar which became the cringeworthy part of the night. Old, white western men picking up Thai women for, how shall I put it, favours. Just kept thinking how wrong this is and that this creepy old pervert is probably someone’s grandad. We couldn’t take our eyes of what was happening around us. So much better than reality tv.
The next day, I had booked a 3 day 2 night trek into the jungle around Chiang Mai. This included an elephant ride, white water rafting and a ride on a bamboo raft too. Some very fun things to look forward to although the elephant ride was worrying me. Not because of my acute fear of heights but worried about how the elephants were treated. I would decide whether to ride them or not once I saw for myself the condition of my favourite animals.
I met a nice young Dutch girl at my hotel and we were going on the same trek together. Our guide also collected 10 French people to join us. Fantastique. I think they said about 3 words to us all trip. Oh well, c’est la vie. First up was the elephant ride. I was very pleased to see that the giant mammals were in pretty good condition, no chains were used and most importantly the metal hooks I have seen used on other elephants were not employed here. So, my Dutch friend and I climbed aboard, careful not to put my feet on my elephant’s head, unlike some French people I could mention. Of course, the elephant we were riding was the naughty one and it could smell the bananas we had. It wolfed down a whole bunch in about 5 seconds. Still hungry, our elephant ventured into the bushes to get some tasty bamboo caring not that we were smacked in the face by nearby tree branches. Up ahead, was another female elephant with her recently born baby at her side. Well, sometimes at her side as other times he was scampering around looking for food and mischief. We had the best seat in the house watching this little guy. At the end of the ride, I got to get up close to the baby elephant and even got to pet his trunk. It was a special moment for me. Not sure if the baby felt the same as I think he was just after some more bananas.
After lunch, the trek began. Uphill in blazing heat at mid afternoon. To say it was gruelling was an understatement. It felt like torture. Sweat was pouring off of me by the time I reached the village for our overnight stay. The commanding views of the green jungle trees and hills made it all worth while. Once I could breath again anyway. Fortunately, other tour groups were based at the same village so, we disowned our French group and joined a younger, hipper, English speaking group where we downed beers and played an unusual game we invented. Everyone was given a candle and the aim of the game was to keep your candle lit longer than anyone else. It sounds dumb but at the time it was all good fun. I managed to end up with the bronze medal. Though I feel cheated as one guy relit his when the flame went out. If this sport had a governing body I would of complained that he was gaining an unfair advantage.
This was not however the strangest thing that happened this day. The tour guide of our English speaking friends was, to put it mildly, a complete head case. His eccentricities varied from making everyone drink moonshine to eating the stomach of some animal and he even had a pet squirrel which sat scared and uncomfortably on his shoulder. He proceeded to get drunk and call his group ‘bad people’. Needless to say his tip was zilch at the end of the tour.
The next day was spent trekking along paths high in the hills in the most wonderful scenery full of trees and other vegetation. As a group, we visited 2 waterfalls both of which were colder than an arctic wind. The chilly water was actually quite refreshing after a day of hiking. Overnight was spent in another village and my bed even had an Amazing Spider-man blanket. Though no water in the village which wasn’t so amazing. The final day was spent white water rafting. Those of you that have done this activity before know how much fun it can be going along the rapids in exhilarating fashion with a risk of capsizing which is all part of the thrill. This river was calmer than a Buddhist monk on morphine. The rapids were not so rapid and the most exciting thing to happen was using our oars to drench the French. Bamboo rafting was just a quick saunter along the river in a raft made from poles of bamboo held together and steered by another giant bamboo pole. Simple as that.
And then it was back to the Diva hotel for a hot shower and a change of clothes which was very much in order after being out in the wilderness for 3 days. The next day, I was due to go to the Elephant Nature Park. This is something I was very excited to experience. I know , I know. I keep boring you all with tales of my encounters with elephants but this would be a very special day. Would I lie to you? Of course not. The day was magnifique, mes amis.