Since our last post we've arrived in Chiang Mai. We had a really good journey, the sleeper train was surprisingly comfortable, although the toilet wasn't much to be desired - a simple hole in the carriage floor onto the track below!!!
After arriving we checked in at Daret's House, a basic, clean and very cheap hostel just on the outskirts of the city centre. From here we headed into the baking hot city centre to look around before deciding to visit Wat U Mong. This is a forest wat that is set into the hill side with brick lined meditation tunnels. This was a very tranquil place as there were no other foreigners (as we're all called over here). Just a few locals and a number of Monks and their washing hanging everywhere!!! That night we strolled around the Sunday walking street which was a local craft market that was absolutely huge!!! Helen wanted to buy everything and anything here including table runners, pictures & cushion covers but as i'm in charge of the budget she had no chance!!! :o) We did however get some funky chopstick's as a compromise and she had a Thai massage.
The next day we headed up to Doi Suthep - only after Helen insisted we walked all the way to the other side of the city in the burning heat to catch a taxi as it would be cheaper - think she was trying to get me back from the night market! The problem was that there is very little public transport here so the sawngthaew (taxi trucks) can charge ridiculous prices!!! Helen was having none of this and did David Dickenson proud by bargaining the drivers down to 200 baht from 500 baht!!! The Doi Suthep is a Wat at the top of a mountain just outside of Chiang Mai that is one of the Thailand's most sacred temples. There are 306 steps leading up to the Golden Chedi at the top. It is also possible to gain fantastic views across Chiang Mai from the summit however we had a rather misty day so could only see a few trees a few feet away! To make the most out of coming this far out of Chiang Mai we decided to visit a nearby "traditional" Hmong Hill Tribe Village. This however turned out to be a big farce!!! The village itself was like any other small trading town we've seen with stalls running either side of a narrow road. After walking along here we discovered the main attraction was hidden away out the back - somewhere we could experience traditional homes, costumes and culture. What we found was a landscape that resembled telly tubby land apart from there was a toothless old lady begging for money under a hut! We walked further and came across a really nice authentic waterfall that you could see the piping at the very top where they were clearly pumping water around on a cycle to create this natural wonder!!! After being extremely annoyed we later found the funny side! That evening we visited the Chiang Mai night bizarre - another shopping experience! We however preferred the night market from the previous evening as this market tended to sell fake watches, t-shirts, etc...
At this point we both decided that Chiang Mai wasn't that great however this was to soon change!!! On Tuesday we visited the Elephant Nature Park about an hour and half out of the city centre. This is a place where domestic elephants have been rescued from neglect and abuse by their owners. The park was founded by a Thai lady called 'Lek' (which means small in Thai - and she was!!!). In Thailand each domestic elephant is put through a torturous week when they are young to 'break their will' so that they will obey commands from humans. They are placed in cage where they are unable to move and repeatedly stabbed with sticks with nails in the end until they become submissive. Unfortunately the bad treatment doesn't not stop there. They are over worked, under fed, and forced to carry out activities that inflict crippling injuries! We came on the recommendation of one of Helen's friends (thanks David!) as we decided that we'd rather spend the extra money visiting here than on all the other elephant treks which were cheaper but where this mistreatment happens!!!
We were picked up from our hostel early in the morning where we met our crazy guide for the day - Mammoth! We headed to a nearby fruit market to collect the elephants lunch and load it on to the truck. This consisted of hundreds of watermelons and bananas, and unfortunately I stood in the worse place of the line and had to lift them up onto the truck!!! From here we then headed to the park which was along very winding and bumpy roads making Helen sick! We then had a brief introduction about the park before getting our hands dirty and feeding the elephants their lunch. We fed the oldest elephant of the park called Mae Buka who no longer has any teeth so each watermelon had to be skinned before she could eat it. After our lunch we then headed down to the river where we washed the elephants. They absolutely loved this and were more than happy to lay back and let you do it for them. The only problem was that once they finished they walked straight over to the dirt and threw it all over themselves again as it acts as their sunscreen! We also got to wash them again later before their bedtime. We stayed over the night and got to sleep in a bamboo hut which was very cool apart from the very strange noises coming from the Shaman at the nearby village. The following day after breakfast we got to take the elephants for a walk. This was the best part of the experience as there was only a few of us so it was a lot more personal. We again got to feed the elephants at lunch time (this time we fed Lily) before washing them again. In the afternoon we got to sit around watching them socialise in their family groups and Helen tried to teach Mammoth English.
That evening we went back to the hostel where we had a much welcomed hot shower and food!!! Today we're heading down to the South of Thailand to the islands to lay about on the beaches, go snorkelling and try and loose our pasty white bodies before Australia! The only problem is we have a 24hr train journey to get there!!!
Hope everyone's well, miss you all
Gavin and Helen