Right, lets try and get up to date shall we...
Chiang Mai Elephant Treking, Pooza's Army, Oh my Buddha!
After some confusion with the driver over whether or not I was MR Cooke I was on my way to the forest for a 2 day elephant riding, trekking and water rafting tour. The group I was in consisted of 4 slovinian's, 2 english, 1 dutch, 1 canadian and 2 irish, one of which had a Jesus like beard and liked to wear a huge sombrero.
Finally I got to fulfil a dream and I rode an elephant. We bought bananas and took them on our ride with us, every few steps our elephant would stop and raise its trunk to us, begging for some bananas. This was pretty slow going and our elephant soon acquired the name Greedy. At one point the driver hopped off Greedy's head and we were left stranded. The ride had steep up and down hills with a short spell of drinking from the stream, at all times we struggled not to slip out from the bench-like seat we were on. Finally many bananas later we arrived back at the centre...last.
Then on to trekking, we walked for several hours, it felt like the majority was up hill and we stopped to wash and slide down a natural slide in a small waterfall. Pooza our tour guide got out his machete at one point to cut us some walking sticks out of bamboo, which felt like our lifeline for the next few hours. Finally after Pooza's many exclamations of oh my Buddha! One more mountain and ll time estimations given in 9's....because he said 9 was the highest number since anything above it is a number and a zero....10 filthy, sweaty messes arrived at the Hill tribe where we would be spending the night...we had cold showers in our houses, the locals offered to give us a massage for a small payment. I of course accepted and soon had two Thai tribeswomen rubbing my sore bits. The view from our hut was phenomenal and there was vast woodland in every direction for as far as the eye could see.
That evening was spent sitting by candlelight getting to know the rest of our group better, whilst one tribesman came over with a guitar and we sang various western songs as well as being taught a Thai song called doo doo doo by job 2 do.
The next morning I got up at 6AM to watch the sunrise over the surrounding hills. A hearty breakfast of mountains of omelette and toast followed and then we were back off walking again, this time down the mountain. We then stopped off at a different waterfall with freezing cold water so after a quick dip I was keen to lie back in the sun. After our 29 minute stop we carried on walking through the woods eventually reaching the white water rafting centre. We kitted up in fetching yellow and red helmets and life jackets and before we knew it we were paddling rubber rafts down the river shouting oh my Buddha at every opportunity. Just my luck, all the rocks we hit seemed to be on my side of the boat and I found myself flying onto the girls next to me more than once. A more relaxing ride on a bamboo raft followed, also known as a bamboo submarine to Pooza, sitting a few inches below water we could now see why. Finally everyone was feeling a bit nostalgic about our trip and how well the group had bonded and the icing on the cake was sitting on the roof of our van whilst we drove through the hillside, occasionally ducking branches whenever sufficient warning was given.
Sadly that was the end of our group as we each got dropped off at various hostels and went our separate ways, and as usual I still hadn't got my head around everyone's names.
On my last day in Chiang Mai i took it relatively easy and went to the handicraft village where i visited the thai silk, silver and arts and crafts factories and bought a few souvenirs. I then had a not so relaxing Thai massage and feeling more beaten up than loosened up I got myself lost trying to find the way home and eventually resorted to another tuk-tuk ride. Hoping to avoid any more lost wandering around the streets I tried to go for dinner around the corner, only to find the restaurant closed and so yet again I ended up wandering aimlessly trying to find food, walking up and down the same street at least 3 times :-/
Chiang Mai -> Chiang Rai -> Chiang Khong = a looooong day on a bus!
Fortunately the minibus we were on had working aircon and large seats and we stopped off for a short look at the rather impressive white temple and eventually ended up at Chang Khong, the Thailand side of the Thai-Laos border we were hoping to cross in the morning by boat. After an hours or so of confusion created by our Guest house host over the immigration procedure and probably a scam or two later we went to the naighbouring regae bar and got to know my group a bit better. There were 2 old ladies...1 aussie, 1 kiwi, 1 dutch, 2 israeli, 2 germans and including myself 3 english girls. We had a few drinks, the odd bucket...soon to become a group tradition.
The next day we trapsed to the border, found a huge queue waiting for us which i got to jump because i'd already been conned into getting my Visa in Chiang Mai. I wasn't smug for long when I ended up waiting on the slow boat until everyone else had got through immigration anyway and the icing on the cake was I was sitting next to a rather strange bloke who didn't get the hint that headphones in means please don't talk to me...even if they aren't playing anything. The seats were more comfortable than i expected and the views along the Mekong river were unbelievable. When we arrived at Pakbeng...the island at the half way point of our journey, the Germans and myself sorted accomodation for everyone...as we waited for the rest of our group to get there things and load them into the truck the guys helped the old ladies. Eventually we had everyone and drive 2 minutes to our accomodation. On arrival the old biddies then informed us that they wouldn't be staying with us, apparently they just came along for the ride...cheek! That night we ate together at the hostel eating traditional Laos dishes, some even tried buffallow, and also the local beer and rice whisky...
The next day we had the right idea and turned around the seats at the back and sat as a group chatting and playing cards...but the boat trip still dragged. When we finally arrived in Luang Prabang we struggled to find somewhere for the whole group to stay and i started to realise how much my backpack really weighed..we eventually found one although some people were going to have to schpoon as our Dutch friend would say. We were soon wandering the streets again in search of food, which was followed by the notoriously good German home-made ice cream...evidently not something Germany is reowned for and we could see why.
We didn't do masses in Luang Prabang, we visited some gorgeous waterfalls and of course i was straight off the rope swing. The girls and I had a massage and sacrificed some things from my backpack in an attempt to make it lighter...we also had some wierd Canadian guy tag along with our group, he was somewhat of a know-it-all traveller and we were soon shot of him! We went to Utopis that night, the backpackers hot spot for nightlife, but since Laos has a curfue of 12PM it wasn't long before we were being cleared out and found ourselves at the only place allowed to stay open...a bowling alley. The germans bought a bottle of whisky and some coke and we all played some terrible bowling in flip flops or bare feet...very surreal!
The next day we spent crammed into a minibus on the way to Vang Vieng for the famous tubing scene! Eventually we arrived with bruised arses from the pot holes. More wandering...and then we found a nice cheap guest house with little bungalows on a small island away from the main town. That night in a search for food we ended up going to a terrible tourist bar where they attempted to make western food, which was just plain bad. The free buckets helped wash them down and we were soon getting the Germans drunk with a game of Fuzzy Duck.
The next day we went tubing...such a con but soo much fun. We paid for our tube and ride to the lake...when we arrived it soon became apparent that very little tubing occured and that the main attraction was the mass of backpackers drinking and having a good time...so when in rome... Countless buckets were passed around between us and we danced and occassionally floated to other bars or jumped off ziplines although admittedly swimming and alcohol don't mix. We needed to return our tubes by 6 to receive our deposit back, however 6 came and went and there were no tubes left, eventually we found some, jumped in a tuk-tuk and took them back to receive at least some money back for our hardly used tubes.
The girls and i had booked a nice sunrise balloon ride for the next day, which at 5:30 AM when our alarms went off we were heavily regretting. Feeling very worse for wear we made it in the dark to the minibus and were soon 400m in the air admiring the surrounding landscape and the magnificent sunrise. Back on land we got some tasty hangover food from on of the street stalls and headed back to bed. We monged out in one of the many restaurants with Family Guy playing on screens in every direction and eventually set off down a path leading to some caves and supposedly a natural pool. The cave wasn't very impressive and we had to climb up some questionnable bamboo ladders and rock faces to finally see the panoramic view of Vang Vieng. When we got back we found the Germans, who'd had a far more productive day having skipped out of the tubing the day before and when the other guys finally rocked up on their sccoters it was plain to see they'd been for round two of the tubing. We laughed at their state and as always a quiet night turned into a bucket fest on the party island of Vang Vieng.