Chiang Mai: Bamboo tattoos, elephant baths and cooking classes
Chiang Mai, Thailand
We took an overnight bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and arrived quite early the next morning. Just to reiterate... The bus was awful. I've never been so uncomfortable. The seats were so close to each other that my legs felt smushed all night. The seats were also so narrow that I kept banging into Negar every time I tried to get comfortable. We survived, barely, and managed to get a red truck (the taxis in Chiang Mai) to our hostel.
Upon arrival we tried to check in but the girl at the front desk seemed to be away with the fairies. She misplaced her phone at least once and continuously forgot what it was she needed to do. She was a super cute Thai girl and she had a lovely ditzy way about her. We later found out she owned the hostel with her Canadian boo, all very cute.
Anyway, as we couldn't get into our room just yet we decided to go for some breakfast around the corner. Back at the hostel over some coffee and water we decided to not only book the day trip to the elephant jungle sanctuary for the following day and the Thai cooking course for two days in the future, but we figured we should also get the tattoos we only began discussing 24 hours previously. I didn't mention it in my previous post but on our last morning in Bangkok SJ had made a comment that she wanted to get a bamboo tattoo while we were in Chiang Mai and Negar and I said we were in. SJ said she wanted something with Roman numerals and I came up with the suitable number in about ten seconds flat. And we decided that was that. I think there's a quote that says those with no patience are fools or something of that sort, and sure it seems a bit brash... But I think they came out quite cool, so that's positive. We decided to stop by the tattoo shop that had been recommended to us by a girl in Bangkok, as she had told us her friend had just gotten a really well done tattoo from them. We especially wanted bamboo tattoos because we had heard they heal a lot quicker. More on that to come.
After we checked in we wandered around town a bit and popped into the tattoo shop Deja Vu to inquire about getting tattoos that evening. The guys working in the shop were very friendly and offered us books of their previous work to look through... We kindly accepted but like the basic b****es we are, we wanted our Roman numerals and nothing else. We even had the font picked out. And, as I got two, I also had a photo of the exact second tattoo I wanted. So I think we made their jobs easy but at the same time what we wanted was so simple and unimaginative that anyone could have done it. Had it not been for the bamboo, that is... The guys at the tattoo shop rang the bamboo tattooist and asked him to come in that evening to administer our tattoos.
I'm sure I won't do the technique behind bamboo tattoos any justice and I recommend looking at YouTube videos of it because it is quite a cool process, but the way it works essentially is a tattoo artist uses four needles that are attached to a piece of bamboo, which is in turn attached to a metal rod, to pierce you. So he inserts the needles, pulls them straight out again and then reinserts them so that the whole process is literally this guy piercing you over and over again in a vertical motion. He gives you a rest here and there to reapply ink to the needles but I almost felt that was worse because just as the area he was working on began to go numb, he would pause to reapply ink. That's exactly how it feels as well, like someone sticking you with needles deep enough through the skin to nearly hit bone. I went first to get my two tattoos and thoroughly hated it... But that being said I don't think I have a very high tolerance for pain and the locations I got them on my body wouldn't be places anybody would have much fat, i.e. the back of my neck and on my side along my bra line. So yes, it felt like someone was continuously stabbing me and wanting me to die a very slow, miserable death.
That being said, though, they were all healed by the next day! Cool, right?! I think it's because, and don't quote me on this, the needles are inserted vertically into the skin and then removed so the skin isn't being torn the way it would be with a machine tattoo. We just had to apply Vaseline to it once or twice a day and that was that. No blood, no peeling. And I got the two of mine for 3,000 baht, so less than $90. Amazing. Also, I mentioned it before but I don't know if you picked up on it... But the three of us got the same tattoo. I know a few are already aware what they mean but for the rest of you, may the odds forever be in your favor. The Roman numerals read: MDXCII. Figure out the number and you should figure out the meaning - if you know anything about the three of us, that is ;)
So overall we were incredibly impressed with the tattoo artist and the quick healing process. I would highly recommend it and we're already planning on getting at least another tattoo each on our second leg through Thailand in a few months.
The next day we got up fairly late as we hadn't slept at all on the dreadful bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Shortly after breakfast and applying ointment to our new tattoos we were collected in a red truck to be taken to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We were driven about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai, up into the mountains and into what was really more of a forest rather than a jungle.
Now, I'm sure some of you have been to Thailand yourselves or know people who've been, and I know I definitely know people who have come and ridden elephants. And what I say to that is... Please don't. I'm not saying that every single place that offers elephant rides mistreats their elephants, but it is very unnatural for elephants to, first of all, wear a metal seat on their back that weighs around 17 kg, and then for them to carry a human being, weighing at least 50+ kg, on top of that. And for six hours a day, everyday. Just don't do it. Do what we did instead. It has to be one of the most rewarding and downright incredible experiences available to you on this planet. So what the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary does, along with other similar companies, is rescue elephants that have been working their whole lives. They buy them and then let them roam freely through the lands they own. What we then did, on our half day tour, was feed them bananas and other treats, then we stripped down to our swim suits and gave them a mud spa. Literally. While they sat in the mud, we splashed mud on them and rubbed it in, which our guide said cools their skin (it was 40+ degrees C outside). In our group there were four elephants: one baby aged 4 and three grown elephants ranging from about 30 years old to 50. I didn't know this but elephants are pregnant nearly two years and can live up about 90 years. Fun facts!
In any case, after the mud spa we went down to the river with them and were given a plastic bowl to fill up with water to splash the elephants with and a brush to clean the mud off their skin and to brush their few hairs (my personal favorite)!!! I can't even describe the absolute joy I felt in giving the elephants both the mud spa and cleaning them off afterwards. It was that sort of child-like joy, where I wanted to be nowhere else in the world but right there doing what I was doing. Nothing could have made it better. It was absolutely incredible, to put it very plainly. Elephants are such gentle giants and to be able to spoil them with a mud spa has to be so much more amazing than riding them. It just has to be.
After our fun with the elephants we were treated to a lovely buffet and some words of wisdom from our guide, such as "no crazy, no baby" and "no fun, no baby". Indeed.
We arrived back at the hostel that evening and decided to get some beers to toast to our wonderful day with the elephants. One beer became two and then three and then we were on our way to 7-11 to buy wine... SJ and I decided on two different red wines and when we got back to the hostel and tried the first, we decided that must definitely be the more expensive one. It wasn't the worst wine we've ever had but also nowhere near the best. That is... Until we opened the second one and began drinking what seemed to be pure vinegar. Thank goodness we were already quite buzzed so we were able to grin and bear it. This was also the night we met the owner, Mike, who is dating the cute Thai girl from the front desk, Milk. He told us about how they had been together for 10+ years and about how the year previously they had been living in Australia together but Milk had missed her family so much in Chiang Mai that they decided to move back and Mike then decided to open a hostel from there. He said it took about five months to build altogether and they endured many fights to get the hostel where it is today. It had also only been open about five weeks, which SJ and I found shocking because we had already heard so many good things about it from other backpackers. Solid work, kids.
The next morning I awoke with a nasty hangover due in large part, I'm assuming, to the vinegar wine. It didn't help that we had booked a cooking class for that morning, so we were picked up bright and early and brought to a Thai market where our wonderful guide and master cooking teacher, Garnet, walked us through the various spices and sauces used in Thai cuisine. We then got back in the van and were taken a ways outside the city to the cooking school. Upon arrival, we suited up in our red aprons and funny Thai farmer hats and were walked through the garden and introduced to many key ingredients in the country. Then it was our time to shine! We had preselected which dishes we wanted to cook that day which included a soup, a curry, a noodle dish, a meat dish and a dessert and on top of all that there was a demonstration on how to make papaya salad, which is banging!!!!!! In any case, I learned how to make Tom Yum Soup, yellow curry, Pad Thai, chicken with basil and mango sticky rice. I think a cooking class is usually pretty standard in the sense that you learn how to cook things you didn't know how to cook previously, but what made this cooking class outstanding was Garnet. I don't know if I've ever laughed so hard as I did all throughout that day... When we first got there she asked how many of us had rice cookers, and I raised my hand signalling that I didn't along with a few others. She proceeded to teach us the intricacies of turning on a rice cooker and cooking rice in such a lighthearted and silly manner that tears came to my eyes from laughing so hard. And it didn't just happen once that day. There were a few couples in our group and at the end of the course while teaching us to make dessert she asked them if they could kiss and then proceeded to giggle hysterically when they did, saying she was "so shy, so shy" in her lovely Thai accent. If you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai wanting to do a cooking course make sure it is with this lady!!!!! At the end she said she was going to miss me and asked if I would remember her forever. Of. Freaking. Course.
That evening happened to be Paddy's day, but with my exhaustion/ nasty hangover still crippling my brain I passed out at about 18:00 and didn't wake up until the next morning. I know... Worst person to ever possess an Irish passport. So you'll have to ask the girls how their Paddy's day was. There's always next year in Dublin!
The next day seems quite uneventful in my mind except we did eat Israeli food as the three of us were craving hummus. Other than that, we tried to book a bus to Sukhothai, our next stop, only to find out there weren't any buses that could be booked. So we went for our next best option, which was to take the train to Phitsanulok and then take an hour long bus to Sukhothai. We left bright and early the next morning and boarded our train, which I imagine would have been quite an uneventful journey were the train not the slowest moving object on the face of the earth and were it not for the party party Chinese tourists on board with us. Seriously, there must have been about 15 of these rambunctious individuals, and although I never spotted them drinking alcohol, they seemed to not be fully sober and many of them kept sneaking off to the toilet to smoke cigarettes out the window. Until the security guard (if that's what he was?) on board gave out to them and put them in their places. SHWEET. In any case, we took five different modes of transportation to finally reach our hostel, including a red truck to the train station, a train, a tuk tuk to the bus station, a bus and finally one last tuk tuk to our hostel.
We stayed in Sukhothai only a few days but I won't relay the details because all we saw was ruins, as it is a former capital of Thailand, and there are so many more tales of ruins to come on this trip that I won't bore you just yet. The Gringa Motorcyle Diaries continue!