Our last blog finishes with us leaving Bangkok and going to Phitsanulok. This took five hours on the train but was bearable with a good book. Phitsanulok doesn't really have much to see but it's a base most travellers use for visiting Sukhotai - an old historical city with ancient 'wat' ruins. So this is what we did. We hired bikes when we got there and cycled round the historical park which you can see in the photos.
From Phitsanulok we took another train (with a really bad smelling toilet) for 7 hours to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, which is where we are now.Our guest house here is more like a hotel which is a bit of luck as there is loads to do here so we needed a base to call 'home!' So, since we've been in Chaing Mai we've raided the night bazaar which is packed full of loads of stalls and handicrafts and stuff. And the food is also dead cheap so we've eaten here for 3 nights already! We went to a Kantoke dinner, where we sat on the floor and ate northern thai cuiseine whilst watching some traditional thai dancing and a hilltribe village show.
Chiang Mai is one of the best places in Thailand to got trekking or learn cooking or go on a massage course, so with that in mind we booked a few things. Our first major outing was a one day trek where we got to ride elephants, visit a local village, a waterfall and go bamboo rafting. This was great, we started the day by driving about an hour out of the city to an elephant camp. (Can I please just mention that earlier in the morning Mike had decided not to bring the peanuts that he'd bought as a snack incase 'the movies' were true, and the elephants would attack him for them! Ha Ha!) So anyway, there were four couples on our trek and each couple had an elephant and mahout (elephant driver man) and we went for an hour trample through the jungle. This was great until we realised that our heads were at the same height as all the branches of the trees and that all the leaves had loads of red ants crawling on them. After much ducking and diving and a few whimpers from me about webs and stuff we got used to our heffalumps and appreciated how greedy they actually were - literally stopping every couple of metres to devour another branch!
After our ride on the gentle giants we drove to a local hilltribe village - this particluar tribe was known as 'white karen' (note that there are also big ear karen and long neck karen) - so called because girls must wear white as a sign of virginity until they marry and then they wear another colour. Here we could see the way they lived - not much luxury at all, just very simple wooden huts built off the ground in case of flooding.
From here we walked down to a waterfall where we were told we might be able to swim - no chance though as the rain had been really heavy and the river was flowing too fast. So then our guide Lewis told us we had about a 5 minute walk to get to another village before we had lunch. This did in fact turn out to be about a half hour trek through the jungle, jumping acoss streams and shuffling along narrow ledges hoping not to fall into the river below - all good fun of course. And even more so because of the interesting hats our guide had produced for us at the beginning of the trek! (look at the photos of 'umbrella head!)
After lunch it was time for bamboo rafting. A long narrow raft of about 8 bamboo logs strung together, four people on each and a 'navigator' at the front. With only a lifejacket and no warnings as to what to do if we fell in or how to hold on we were whisked away on the not so stagnant river. This was actually great fun, except that Mike got his thumb trapped between two of the logs and I was at the back so as our captain steered the front away from any obstacle rock and trees I got a faceful of branch. Luckily I had discovered that my lifejacket could act as a sort of turtle shell so I kept poking my head in and out of that to avoid dismemberment!
So after surviving our trek we went for something a bit less physical - a cooking class! This was with a Thai and International TV chef who teaches from his home just outside Chiang Mai. He started by taking a classroom lesson and introducing us to all the different types of ingredients most commonly used in Thai cooking, how to store them and what we could substitute for them at home. The he showed us how to make the first dish and we copied then ate it. This went for the next five dishes, needless to say everyone was a bit fat by the end of the day. We got a free recipe booklet and were both surprised how quickly all the dishes actually take to make once everything is prepared, green chicken curry is less than 5 minutes.
In the evening we decided to relax a bit and went to 'The Olde Bell' to watch England V Samoa.
Then the next day we went on a batik painting course today! Got picked up by our very friendly teacher Ann and taken to her house to learn the art of Batik. Had a great day and fabulous lunch, it was really relaxing sitting and painting and listening to music. And at the end of the day we got to take our artwork home with us yay! So tomorrow we fly to Luang Prabang in Laos and will write another blog from there!