Chiang Mai. *Warning* its a long blog.
Kelly, CJ and I arrived up north around 6am after quite a reasonable over night 14 hour bus journey. We scrambled around for our rucksacks in the mountain of bags that had been piled off the bus, all the while being hassled by locals.. Taxi, taxi, you want accommodation, you want bed.. Not exactly what you want in your ear as you've just woken up. CJ spoke to one guy who would give us a bed for 100 baht each in 3 person room, we were sold. The driver loaded our stuff onto the back of his tuk tuk and the 3 of us squeezed on. This was my first experience on a tuk tuk and it definitely woke me up, the morning breeze blowing on my face with the smell of Thailand's usual street sewage mixed with the smell of petrol. It was quite fun, although the sharp corners felt a bit to sharp. We pulled up outside the Chiang Mai guesthouse inn, checked into our room and passed out until 11am, oops, didn't mean to sleep that long. Deciding to go on an explore, we went down to reception, who were very helpful, provided us with a map of the town and gave us an understanding of Chiang Mai and its history. There is the old town and the new town, which is separated by a square moat surrounding the old town, there is also remains of the wall that used to run parallel to the moat. The gate into the city still stands which is cool to see. After the run down of the area, the hotel guy started to explain about the trek that the hostel organises. Originally we were only going to do a 2 day/1 night trek but this one sounded brilliant and it had everything in it that we wanted to do - plus the pictures they showed us drew me in instantly. Only problem was, it was a 3 day/2 night trek (gulp, was I ready for that amount of time in the jungle). We quickly made a group decision that we had to do this one as it included; day time and night time treks, riding elephants, staying in the jungle, help to cook the Thai meals, learn about natural medicines from the trees and plants, stay with a hill top tribe, learn how they live, go bamboo rafting down a river then visit the tallest waterfall in Thailand. Hopefully now you can see why we were so excited.
We were desperate for some food at this point so we got our map and headed to the old city. As usual pigged out more then I needed to. Pad Thai AND a banana syrup pancake, well technically we would be in the jungle for pan cake day and I doubt they'll have a crepe stall there so I had to get one in while I could. We had a pre-trek meeting at 5pm so we only had 2 hours or so to explore. I was the nominated map reader, we searched out a couple of the biggest temples around and took pretty some photographs, the detail was amazing. This is the first time I had visited any temples so I was quite enjoying it. On our way out one, we was discussing the roads in Vietnam and saying how you have to just be brave and step out into the sea of approaching motorbikes, well we crossed the road carrying out this theory and unfortunately it didn't quite go to plan. Poor Kelly got hit by a stupid young boy on a bike, he had a guy on the back and he ran off instantly so that makes us think he didn't have a license or wasn't meant to have someone on the back. Kelly played the brave soldier and picked herself off the floor and started walking off. I think the adrenaline was keeping her going at this point because the pain started to kick in and it was clear that her foot wasn't right, we sat her down and took a look at her injuries. Bashed hip, scraps on her arms but the worse one was her foot (not ideal for our trek tomorrow), we suspected a broken toe or two as they started to balloon up. We jumped in a tuk tuk and headed home, plus the trekking meeting was in a 10 minutes anyway, somehow we managed to get in the only tuk tuk that didn't know the city, he ended up getting us severely lost and we ended up being late for the meeting. Blaming it on the incident we sat and got briefed on the coming days and our packing list. It was also a good chance for us to meet the guide, nicknamed Jackie Chan and the other 9 people on our trip - a mix of Canadians and Dutch, we were the only English guys, which was nice in a way. We were given smaller rucksacks to use (rather then lugging our big bags around - thank god) and each got given a jungle knife, it wasn't explained why but hopefully it wasn't for protection. That night CJ and I let Kelly rest in the room after our tour guide performed many different herbal remedies on her foot (including CJ buying a whole Aloe Vera plant, not sure t helped). We went out in search of the night market to buy me some closed footwear for the trek, finally managed to buy some fake vans, bartered them down from 950 baht to 700 baht, not bad for £12. We were meant to get an early night because we had to be up at 4am for the trip, going to bed at 1am isn't an early night!
3 hours later we were awoken by the dreaded alarm clocks, we packed up last bits, made sure that Kels foot was okay to walk on (as I said before, soldier!) and we got on the road. We were told that we were going to a 'night market' on the way - it turned out to just be a convenience store that was open before the sun had risen... But it gave us a chance to pick up some stuff for Kels foot from the chemist that was also bizarrely open at 5.30am. We all piled back in the van and started the drive to the elephant village. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by 4 elephants, casually grazing on the land, they could obviously smell the huge bunches of bananas we had in the van because they quickly took a clear interest in us. Each of us took it in turns to feed the big guys, I was a little scared at first but got over it pretty quickly, I just had to think of it as feeding a really big horse haha. Maybe it was because of the power and volume of noise they could project from their trunks, shocked me at first. After learning a bit about their lives and surroundings, it was time to ride them, we were introduced to elephant called Camembert. CJ pulled the short straw and was nominated to ride on the elephants neck while Kels and I got in the chair on her back, she was the mum of the pack and the oldest one apparently, we would never have known though. Jackie Chan gave us a bunch of bananas and we headed on our way up the hill, quite scared again as Camembert often liked to lean over the edge and frighten us but we loved it at the same time. I couldn't quite believe at I was actually on the back of an elephant, so much fun. And to make the situation that little bit more bizarre, at one point the elephant guides were walking behind us, smoking some wacky stuff playing Westlife out their phone??? I was funny at first then they was kind of ruining the moment, luckily they soon stopped. Once we had reached the top, we said our goodbyes to Camembert and made our way back to the van, this is where I had my first encounter with a dreaded jungle spider. The group was soon made aware of my wimpish ways. Just before we got in the van Jackie introduced the group to their first jungle delicacy, big red ants, everyone started picking them off the tree and eating them alive, saying they taste like plum sauce, blergh, no thank you, I'm quite full from breakfast still.. This prompted Jackie to say his favourite slogan "Never try, Never know, Never happy, Never smile", the slogan that was repeated to me throughout the trip. On the drive, we went past a sign for the 'highest school in Thailand', sounds bizarre but it showed us just how high we was going. An hour or so later, we off loaded the bags and began our trek, started off on dirt tracks which slowly got smaller and smaller then JC (Jackie Chan) pointed us towards as small break in the wall of leaves and trees, now the trekking really began. Trying hard to not slide down the hill, grabbing onto twigs or something to stable myself, climbing up and over anything that was in the pathway JC just created. We came to a small opening, this is where lunch would be served. JC and the other guide 'Poh', started to carve spoons out of tree branches, it took me back to my camping days when I was younger so I asked to finish mine off once they had cut the basic shape out. Spicy egg fried rice with bananas for desert went down a treat, albeit bloated. A couple of spiders were crawling over one of the girls bags on the floor, it was making me feel itchy, I needed to get moving, luckily we left soon after! We spent another 3 hours trekking to the cabin in the woods where we'd be staying that night. Each choose which yoga mat mattress we wanted and took off our sweaty bags, and plonked ourselves down. Without even realising I fell asleep for nearly an hour, JC woke me saying were going out to set up rat traps for dinner, obviously at first I thought he was joking about the dinner bit... We set out the traps in around 15 different locations and headed back to camp, a few of us managed to slip in the sludgy mud during the walk and had sopping wet feet with mud stains all up our legs - Day 1; filthy. Oh and I should mention there wasn't any showers either. Time to start preparing dinner, we each got given a task, I was onion chopper, easily done! Time to chill and watch the sunset. C is for content. CJ made friends with the little girl that lived at the cabin with her parents, she was pretty cute, messing around with Ceej's camera, wearing his hat and playing peek'a'boo games. Dinner was served shortly after, we sat out on a bench by the fire and all feasted, luckily they had made me a tofu curry separate to the chicken one, there was so much food though I really struggled to finish as much as I did - and people that know me, know I don't ever struggle with food! As the sky turned to black, we knew what was approaching. The night time trek. I was unsure if I wanted to do it purely because I was being a wimp again (no other excuse) but with people speaking earlier on in the day, about tigers wondering the neighbouring mountain and deadly cobras lurking in the bushes, I was skeptical. Cutting a long story short, I did go. We armed ourselves with head torches, and slingshots that we JC had made each of us earlier in the day and headed out into the darkness. The main topic of conversation seemed to be favourite horror films, gulp, did we want to tempt fate anymore!!! - a group of young people, trekking in the woods, staying in a cabin, hours away from anyone else, wahhh that's a clear storyline for a horror blockbuster. As we came to end of our spooky 90 minute walk, JC pointed out a loads of glowing specs in the bushes, turned out to be spiders eyes, blahhhh that was it, get me out of here, where is that cabin! All sitting around the fire a little while later, JC pulled out three crickets that he picked up on the walk, on the fire they went, charcoaled crickets anyone?? He then spent some time telling us stories of his life, how he was born in a jungle village but lost his father quite young. Meaning he had to drop out of school to work in the rice fields and to look after the buffaloes to help his mum with money from the age of 11. It was really interesting hearing about his life, it made me feel quite bad for him but he seemed fine about it, after all, this was just the normal way of life that he was used too. Before we all came on the trek, we said we wanted to see how other people lived and so hearing his stories and being in these surroundings, we felt like we was. One of the other guides, 'Chi', then brought over another jungle delicacy, a dead squirrel, he didn't hesitate to stick a piece of wood through its mouth and out the other end. Vomin'ell, blood was just dripping from it as he balanced it on the fire. I won't go into detail but you can imagine the process he went through to make it 'edible', I think I was the only one in the group that didn't try it again but can you blame me. If I choose not to each chickens or cows, why would I eat a rodent? For those of you wondering, everyone did describe it as tasting like chicken. Next up was a rat that had been caught in one of our traps, 'Chi' loved this bit, just kept saying 'picture, picture' as we took snaps of him pretending the eat the rat that was hanging out the trap by its neck. Chi cut down the middle of its body and took out all the guts and gunk then stuffed it with ginger and chillies, for flavour apparently (?). After watching everyone nibble on a rat, it was time for bed.
We had more of a lay in that morning, 8.30am wake up I believe. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and toast, we was given the bread on a type of bamboo skewer that we had to toast on the morning fire. We packed up our rucksacks and got back on the road, making our way on the 5 hour trek to the next destination, the hilltop tribe. I was looking forward to what we would learn and discover today but my poor feet, they were already blistered to blood from wearing new trainers the day before - plastics on! After a tricky couple of hours trekking through the wilderness, it was lunch time, thankful for a chance to sit down, I carried on finishing off my spoon and chopsticks for the noodles JC was cooking us all. We was each showed how to make a bowl from a banana leaf for our food, so it meant them and stuck twigs through each each to keep it together then washed it in a nearby natural spring that was coming from the mountain hills. I'll upload a few photos of the trek. There was a variety of new things to try while we waited for lunch, first being tadpoles but they weren't normal english tadpoles, these were giant ones. Size of my thumb even. Chi took them from the water, wrapped them in leaves and placed them next to the fire for a slow roasting. Snack number 2 was frog, he pierced the poor thing on a stick and started cooking it, strangely enough everyone said he tasted like chicken too. Back on the beaten trail, JC pointed out smoke in the near distance, turns out we were closer to Burmese boarder then we thought, he said normally you could see Burma but obviously visibility was low at the moment due to the fire. He also showed us the tallest mountain Thailand, which was home to the tigers!! During the walk JC also introduced us to the natural medicines that the jungle had to offer, he hacked away at different tree barks for us to smell or nibble on and he picked leaves for us to try, explaining that they were good for such things as nausea, dizziness or to slow your heart rate down. He even chipped at a tree and put the sap on my knee (phi phi injury) to help it heal. Kel also had a variety of jungle meds dosed on her foot, including a pile of hot leaves, I think she said that hurt more then the actual injury. We spent the rest of the afternoon trek getting to know the group a bit more and telling stories of our travels, sharing advice on different countries. As we was walking through an area with bushes and plants on either side of us, I was walking directly behind JC when he suddenly stopped, picked up a rock, and through it into the bushes. All of a sudden this ginormous spider moves on its web that was about two metres wide, I absolutely FREAKED OUT, running back, pushing my way through the group, screaming, until someone in the group grabbed me on the way past. Not my finest moment and its embarrassing to think back on it now but I was absolutely terrified to my core. I've never reacted like that with spiders before but I just didn't expect to see it and I was massively caught off guard. It took me a while for my shock system to calm down; where's that plant that slows your heart rate down when you need it eh? Later on, Jackie stopped us to explain that from this point on there was a natural split in the terrain, we were leaving the jungle and entering the forest. He explained that bamboo was mostly common in the forest and that the land was a lot dryer, meaning the walking conditions would be very different. A little while later, he pointed out rice fields and a small village in the distance, this was going to be our home for the night, we were quite high up at this point and so we still had to descend a bit of a way. This is when we really noticed the difference in conditions that JC warned us about, sliding down dry paths with lots of little rocks and stones under our feet, making us constantly slip. Luckily I had my Gandolf walking stick to keep me up, a lot of near falls though. At times it was quite dangerous in my eyes, the paths were so thin and there was a fair drop down the hill but obviously JC does this everyday so he wasn't worried. We made it down to the rice fields, they had recently been harvested so we could walk across them rather then taking the windy paths round the edges, which I think everyone appreciated because we were now in the open sun and mix of sweat, heat and not showering for two days was frankly, rank. We was introduced to some of the tribe, they taught us some of their language as they didn't talk normal Thai they spoke another version of Thai language. Unfortunately my memory is failing me and I can't remember what we learnt or what it was called, all I can remember is thank you which was 'Umchopper' - obviously not spelt correctly but you get the drift. We got shown to the big dorm room and each choose our yoga mats. JC and Poh rounded up the group for some afternoon fishing, which turned out to be very different to the fishing we knew back home. This was eel fishing, meaning they dug away at wet trenches in the rice fields and rooted around with their hands trying to grab eels. It was quite amazing to watch at first,they caught around 11 altogether but it got quite boring after a while so I headed back to the village. Plus they had told us to come barefoot for some reason so it was quite painful to keep walking around. The good news was that there were showers in the village, well a running tap in the toilet shack. Good enough for me, it was so refreshing and just what I needed. There were so many different animals in the village; pigs, chickens, roosters (the 4am cockadoodle-doodling roosters, grrr), dogs and cows, oh the cows. They all wore old fashioned cow bells around their necks so you could always hear them. The village houses were all built on stilts, raised off the ground so the animals, especially the cows would always be under the shack. Apparently the cows really liked bars of soap, one of them even chased one of the guys because it wanted the soap! Once everyone was back from 'fishing', we went into the main house and sat in a big circle with candles as our only light, listening to the rain hammering outside. It was a lovely setting, I took lots and lots of photos!! The time had come to kill and skin the eels, it wasn't nice viewing, I think you can guess I didn't take part, they ended up being cut into 20cm pieces and put in a stew. Luckily they made me a lovely veggie pumpkin curry instead, I shared with Kel, think she felt a little off the meat after seeing that. The topic of conversation was 'being a vegetarian' too so probably didn't help things. Once we had finished dinner and the rain had stopped, we went over to our dorm house and JC made a fire under the shelter. Jackie passed round some sticky purple rice that he had been slowly cooking inside a big bamboo shoot, it was really really nice, I loved it. Very sticky though, you had to eat it while it was hot otherwise it dried up and was impossible to pick off the bamboo, let alone chew it. Jackie also made a smoking bong out of bamboo and stuffed it with tobacco and cinnamon that he had chipped from tree bark earlier in the day. Interesting. We were all flaking at this point, time for bed, 'big day tomorrow, lots to do!!'
Despite the animal noises in the night, we didn't sleep to badly, 7am wake up call. Another breakfast of toast and eggs went down well. We thank the tribe for letting us stay with them although I think we would've liked to have spent more time getting to know them. They didn't speak any English and kept themselves a little tucked away, which was a tad disappointing but we thanked them all the same and had a big group photo before we departed. We were now making our way to the van, it was a 3 hour trek there though. On the way, JC spotted a snake in the tree and within one sling shot, he managed to knock the snake out of the tree and at first I thought it was dead but he had just 'knocked him out', little thing had passed out. We all took our photos and examined it as it started to wriggle again, we put him next to the tree and moved on as it woke up. As we were walking JC called me to the front of the group, I thought he wanted to put more medicine on my knee but turns out he was getting me away from a potential 'shrieking' situation. They were about to aggravate a spider the size of my hand, with legs the thickness of my fingers. I saw people's photos afterwards but 'it' was hiding in a whole in the ground - a spider nest ahh!! Poh poked into it with a stick and it was jumping out at them with it red fangs out. I just remember everyone screaming, it wasn't just me this time. After an eventful morning and the last of our trekking, we met with a van and driver. Next up was Bamboo rafting, we all piled into the back of the open top van and held on for dear life on the bumpy, dusty journey. We made it to the rafting river, split into groups of four, Kel and I was together with two other guys. It was so much fun, balancing on the bamboo, steering our bamboo sticks in the river bed. As we went down the river, the rapids got more frequent and we had to be really quick with our steering because of the bends, we hit a few tree stumps that were protruding out of the river which misshaped our raft a little but we coped. One point we brushed past tree leaves and red ants fell onto us, trying to brush them off while holding your bamboo oar isn't easy. We were trying to catch up with one of the rafts in front as a little competition but didn't really work out. We really loved it though, would definitely do it again. After we were done we were given fried bananas as a little treat and to help hold off the hunger pains until lunch. Next stop was the waterfall visit, we drove for around an hour then had a 500m walk up the side of the highest waterfall in Thailand. It was pretty spectacular, there were big drops but them mini ones too, with pools at the base of them that we could swim in. JC showed us how deep they was by sticking a huge bamboo stick to the bottom of the pool. We each took our turn in jumping off the cliff edge into the freezing water. Brilliant fun and brilliant photos, thankfully I got a few photos before my battery went. Pad Thai was served for lunch with a side of watermelon. We were forced into doing a shot of some vile alcohol each, to commemorate the end of the trip. They came round for second shots but one was quite enough for me, yukky. The trip was over, now for the 3 hour drive back to the hostel. I think we all had a little snooze of the journey back, as uncomfortable as it was! The time had come for me to say goodbye to the lovely CJ and Kelly, they were getting the overnight bus to Laos that evening. I was really sad that they were leaving but I was so grateful we did the trek together, we had a blast. Now the lone travelling really starts.