Word of warning, this ones a long blog, lots to talk about so I take no responsibilty for any TV shows you miss, burnt dinners or over-flowing baths...
So we arrived alive and well in Chiang Mai after our flight with Laos Airlines and spent our first afternoon wandering round the old town stopping at the numerous temples there as well as a number of travel agents to sort out our trek into the hills for the next few days. However, we were soon tempted by the idea of a three day tour by Land Rover that would take us off road and to all the sights finally dropping us in our next destination. So instead of a trek (which would involve effort) we went for this option, pleased by the fact they would actually let us behind the wheel of these things! No license seemed to be necessary!
We still had two days in Chiang Mai before our tour so for the first day I decided to hire another moped and took a drive outside of town to visit a few temples. We had heard there were some opportunities to talk with monks so we went in search and after stopping at a few, we found one called Wat Umong out in the forest that allowed us to sit for a few hours with the monks. So a few hours later, we found ourselves sitting down by a quiet lake talking to two western monks, one American and one Brit, who answered our questions mainly to do with the principles of buddhism and meditation. We even had a quick meditation session which was cool but I walked away realising I hadn't really learnt much more than I already knew and I didnt really respect his opinions as a buddhist. But it was a good three hours! Now in the rainy season, we spent the evening walking around the night market in the pouring rain, which soon became not so fun and we retired to our guesthouse.
The following day, Kat and I signed up for a cookery course like I said I would all along, and had one of the best days we've had so far. Our master chef, Perm, was a great guy, although he seemed to fined himself the funniest out of everyone and was always the first to laugh at his jokes! We started the day with an informative tour of the market followed by a trip to his home cookery school outside the centre of the city. It was great because we each got our own workstation and it was a real hands on day of cooking. We got to choose our own dishes to cook ourselves and all day Perm was showing us extra hints and tips. We even got to try some 'adventure' cooking where we created huge balls of fire from our wok's which surprisingly didnt make my food go black and I managed to keep my eyebrows! After a hard days work we got to sit down and enjoy our food, tons of it! Kat and I spent the evening wandering down to the night market and literally after turning a corner, Chiang Mai turned into a completely different town. We finally found where all the bars were, although the were mostly empty but all had Thai ladies (and some who we weren't too sure whether they were female or not) sitting outside tempting us in! It was suddenly full of plush hotels as well as Mcdonalds and Starbucks and the biggest night market we've been to, all full of tack for the tourists. But the people wandering around all seemed to be seedy businessmen or old american couples, no backpackers to be seen anywhere! It was like Chiang Mai had a completely different side to it that we hadn't seen before, or maybe we just found the biggest red light district in Thailand! So we spent the night wandering before finally giving in to one of the tuktuk drivers who took us home ready fpr our adventure the next day.
There were only two cars which was great as it didnt feel like a big tourist group and us three got our own car with our driver called Ken. We stopped off first at an Orchid farm which I wasn't all that impressed by, followed by a Snake farm which I thoroughly enjoyed (although Kat saw this the other way around)! It was pretty scary seeing all the deadly snakes so close up, especially when the keepers force them upon you and take photos of you with them round your neck! For the next part of the journey I was behind the wheel and it was great to drive something so big and powerful and luckily the Thai's drive on the left so there wasn't a lot to get used to. We went down a narrow mud track full of potholes and the occasional water crossing which was great fun to drive and stopped off near the river to go white water rafting, which I had never done before. We had a great time though, definately something I want to do again, and I'm sure we had a good leader as he managed to guide us through the rapids unscathed, althought he did decide to capsize us at one point which Kat wasn't too happy about! Back in the jeep again, we had a 3 hour drive through the mountains to our first night's accommodation in the hill town of Pai. Was a nice quiet town with lots of live music and we spent the evening listening to reggae in a small but characteristic bar.
The following morning I was very excited as we were off to ride elephants! We were met by our leader and elephant called Noi, who seemed more interested in the food rather than us, and all all three of us hopped on her back. We soon found out that elephants aren't the most efficient means of transport, especially when they decide to empty their paddling-pool-sized bladders by the side of the road! We were headed for the river where Noi happily got in and was ordered to shake us all off her back which she did with ease, although it was slightly unfair as we weren't expecting it! It was amazing to be in the water, so close up to such an amazing animal. We headed back to the camp to rub our sore legs (elephants are much more bristly than you would think) and fed them some more, before saying goodbye and heading off for some caving. The cave was cool and authentic with our gas lantern, but after you've seen as many as we have recently, they sort of become the same as the one before! After spending an hour there we drove into the mountains again and Nush took the car off road this time, and we arrived intact at a hilltribe village. Before the cars had even stopped, a stampede of kids arrived with their hands our demanding money or sweets which we luckily had plently of. We handed them out and took a walk around the village, although I couldn't really make out whether the village people resented us or enjoyed our company. I do know that one group liked to point and laugh at us. Was interesting to see the rural life but I wasn't expecting that from all the kids. I was back incharge of the Jeep but unfortunately we broke down on the way to Mae Hong Son. After a failed attempt at fixing it, 6 of us crammed into one car and were dropped off for the night and our accommodation was really nice.
The last day of our trip involved a visit to the local temple which wasn't anything special, followed by a trip to the 'Long Neck' tribe. This however was a big tourist trap as we didnt actually visit their village, more of a mud track where they set up stalls to sell us souvenirs as we stared at their necks. They're not actually any longer than ours it seemed, they just wore golden rings around them. I was not impressed. Our final stop was the Fish Cave, which was more of a hole in the ground which you could peer into and see some fish...not all that interesting. We ended our trip to another waterfall which was quite unique, and watched some crazy Thai kids jumping into the big pools of water.
We were dropped back in Pai where we were to spend a few days, but unfortunately I fell ill with a fever and so spent three days in the hotel bed. Luckily there was a DVD player so I spent all day watching Scrubs! Was a shame to miss out on Pai because it was a really cool place to see lots of live music and rent bikes but we needed to move on and were back in Chiang Mai now. Heading down towards Bangkok soon with a couple of stops on the way. Right I'm finished, going to shut up now, sorry for the longest blog ever but lots to tell you about, you can get back to your lives now!
Will update with photos soon (some really good ones to come) but frankly at the moment I can't stand this computer much longer!