After a gruelling 3 hour journey up the most alarming mountains in a tiny little minivan we arrived at Pai, close to the mountains that separate Thailand with Burma. Pai is a really great place to go as it has all the conveniences of a town with stacks of cheap guesthouses and cool bars and restauants but is small enough to escape from within minutes into the hills on a little motorbike.
The day after arriving we booked a rafting trip down the Pai river to a place called Mae Hong Son which is even more remote. We had been tipped off by a nice American girl we met on our last day in Chang Mai when we visited the temple at Doi Suthep as she had just done it and sounded really good fun. The trip started at 8am for breakfast and took some hours to drive to our eventual starting point but well worth the wait as it was GREAT fun.
Where was I?? Oh yes... The rafting trip. We hadn't been rafting before so were a little apprehensive as to what it would entail but our guide - Thep - was excellent, a bit of a thrillseeker and had a shady love life (got a bit shy when questioned about his other "secret wife"!!). Also on our raft were three Americans consisting of a young couple both serving in the Peace Corps and her mother who was visiting them. The rest of the group were 14 Dutch-Belgians from Flanders. The first day was quite easy and we rafted through some minor rapids and passed through some beautiful gorges with little waterfalls washing from the mountains into the river. At one of these we stopped and clambered up for a refreshing shower and took it in turns to jump from a nearby tall tree into the river which was great fun!
Soon enough we arrived at our camp in the middle of the jungle and met up with a nice chap called Dave who we had met in Pai earlier. There was not another dwelling for miles around and trekked further into the jungle to a beautiful waterfall for a shower. Needn't have bothered trekking really as we got COMPLETELY drenched from a rainstorm that passed overhead! We dried off in back at camp in our communal open fronted sleeping area (that was built up on the side of the hill with a rickety balcony floor that would snap and give way under foot if you weren't too carefull!) and headed down to the camp fire where we spent the rest of the evening singing and chatting and moaning about the cost of little cans of Chang beer which the guides were charging 40 Baht each... The evening was also livened up by two of the girls being bitten by a snake and the occupation of the loo by a MASSIVE poisonous toad and a spider as big as my hand AS WELL as a snake. Needless to say, there were a few nervous trips into the darkness once this was discovered. Managed to get a picture of the toad but not the snake or spider.
After a great nights sleep under the mozzie nets we got stuck into some of the more challenging rapids which were huge! There were some sections of fast moving water that just begged to be swum so we all dived in and let the current sweep us down river behind the raft. I stayed in the river when we got to some the rapids too and rode the surf man which is just surreal - bobbing around in your lifejacket and being swept through at a rate of knots... So it got to lunchtime after getting thoroughly wet and we stopped at the most beautiful secluded waterfall that looked as though it was a film set and Chez and I splashed around in the crystal clear water and agreed that there couldn't be a more idyllic place on earth. The camera was buried in the dry bag so had no chance to take a picture but it shall be forever etched in the brain :-)
After lunch we tackled a few more BIG rapids (although there was only one occasion when we lost a couple of members of our party into the river) we stopped off and climbed up what seemed to be a vertical cliff. Now Thep had said that we would be cliff jumping the next day and he joked that it wasn't high, only 30 metres or so. Whilst standing on the edge looking down to the deep river I did a rough calculation that I was actually the best part of 90 foot above the fast flowing brown water... Was absolutely terrified but thought - ahh f*ck it - and jumped. Man, it took forever, suspended in the air and dreading the landing but exhilarated at the same time. Seconds later I plunged into the water and started swimming like crazy to the river bank glowing with the buzz of it. Cheryl was doing the sensible thing and watching the proceedings from the safety of some rocks and I tried to explain what it felt like. Then, like an eeejit, I decided to do it again in tandem with Thep, taking a running jump. Same rush but more pain as I landed legs slightly akimbo and bruised the twins in a monumental way. Silly boy!!
The afternoon passed by really quickly and we encountered more rapids. I was starting to tire a bit so in order to avoid paddling any more I jumped out to do the rapids by myself and got even more tired swimming out of them! Before long we were at our final destination of Mae Hong Son and said a fond farewell to the Americans and another Brit called Dave who we had met in Pai and found ourselves a hotel with a BIG SOFT bed to recover in! That evening we explored the town and chatted about the great time we had!
Dan & Chez