Chiang Mai 18th - 23rd November 2010
Oh my God I just don't know where to begin! I've had an absolute whirlwind 5 nights up here and it has been my favourite place on my trip so far. I've even had to divide the photos into 3 albums!
So what have I been up to in Chiang Mai? Well I've snuggled up to 3 fully grown Tigers, played with 2 Tiger cubs (one of which bit my thigh and it hurt like hell. Even at 8 weeks old these things are not to be messed with!), I've been to a village full of long neck women, been Elephant trekking, river rafting, been part of a 3 day celebration for the Loi Krathong festival, seen the release of thousands of candle lanterns into the night sky, set a banana boat Krathong sailing down the river, been in a street parade, to 2 mental night markets, been to some of Thailand's most celebrated temples, had an all over Thai body massage by an inmate of Chiang Mai's women's prison, I've also become parted with my ATM card, got my Dad to do an emergency money transfer, booked my flight to Cambodia and sorted my problematic Chinese Visa which looking less and less likely.
I can't believe how crazy everything is at the minute. I was chatting to a girl called liz I met on the Elephant trek and we went out for the day today and I was telling her of my nice chilled day tomorrow & she looked at me in absolute horror! So I get a lay in (unheard of!), then check out, do a bit of 'travel maintenance' (blogging, uploading pics, booking hostels, that kinda thing), find Western Union on the other side of town, go to the airport & fly to Bangkok, get 3 trains to the hostel and get an as early night as possible as my excursion the next morning starts at 7am. Seriously, I'm looking forward to coming home for a blimin break!
So where to begin? As the newly certified ms.lastminute.com, I didn't book my flights or accommodation for Chiang Mai until the day before I came up here and was so lucky to get a seat on the full plane and somewhere to stay. I decided to sack off the full moon party on Koh Phangan and head up to northern Thailand for the Loi Krathong festival, and I whole heartedly believe it was the best decision by far.
I got here on Thursday night, dumped my bags and headed straight out in a red Tuk Tuk to the infamous Chiang Mai Night Market. The products up here are gorgeous and I could have spent enough money to need to re-mortgage my house! Something I'm coming close to on this trip already! The red Tuk Tuks operate throughout the old town which is where I'm staying. The old city is surrounded by a square moat, a mile long on each side and the market is just outside of this.
I did really well and avoided temptation as much as I could, but I couldn't resist the most beautiful fairy lights with different coloured woven mesh and a little miss giggle T shirt. :)
The Loi Krathong festival is a way for the Thai people to ask for forgiveness for their polluting ways and also wish for the future. It always fall on the 12th Full moon of the year, so it's in either November or December and thankfully I was around at this precise time to be able to watch everyone celebrate it. Now the way in which they celebrate this is rather unprecedented and even if I dare say so, slightly hypocritical; they release tens of thousands of candle lanterns into the nights sky, sail Krathongs (banana boats with candles and incense sticks) down the river and let off an obscene amount of fireworks, enough to put Guy Fawkes display to shame!
I think the photos for this festival really speak more than anything I could put in this Blog. I had such a good time up here over the weekend and the festival lasted from Friday night to Monday night, and everywhere you turned there were festivities. There was the relentless sound of bangers being set off. I realised this stopped for approximately 1 hour a day. It went on til the night owls went to bed around 5am, and the temples then started them off again from 6am. Even kids as young as 3 were running around with bangers, lighting them, throwing them and running away!
On the Saturday night I went to Mae So, to watch the release of thousands of candle lanterns into the sky, and on the Sunday night I walked down to the river and set sail to a Krathong.
Each night was very different with extremely dramatic festival scenery. On the Saturday night there was a high risk that one of the lanterns would come down and land on your head as there were so many being set off. And on the Sunday the air was thick with smoke from the bangers and the amount of incense being burnt.
The one negative point from the festival was that on the Saturday night the group of us that went got stuck in the crowd. There was absolutely no organisation to the event and at one point I realised just how dangerous it had become. This wasn't from the amount of fireworks, bangers or lanterns being set off (which was enough to make anyone become a bit jumpy), but from the fact that there were 2 flows of people in opposite directions and we had all just run into each other. Now I'd never thought that one of the things I'd learn to appreciate whilst I'm away was event security, as when you live in a developed country you just take these things for granted. At home you would have one bridge or one side of the river for coming, and one for going, but here everyone just moved as they wished. This resulted in thousands of people trying to get into and out of the same field, which was only accessible via one gate. We were packed in so tightly a couple of people passed out! Thankfully I'm a lot taller than most Asian people and therefore I didn't have an issue with being so small I couldn't breathe whilst in the crowd but we were stood there for ages and even though I didn't think it possible, it was just getting tighter and tighter. After about 40 minutes when I finally managed to get out I just opted to stay where I was, as there was no way anyone in their right mind would have tried to get any further along.
One of my friends back home emailed me a couple of days later and had attached a clipping showing nearly 400 people who died in Phnom Penh (where I'm going next weekend), who were crushed, drowned and electrocuted when a similar thing happened on a bridge at the festival over there. I honestly hope that this is the wake up call that they need to realise that they need to take this kind of thing much more seriously and to make sure something so easily avoided doesn't happen again.
Elephant trekking & Jungle rafting
This is the second of three experiences that I've purchased with the gift voucher that one of my Clients brought me as a leaving present.
We started the day with a visit to an Orchid and Butterfly sanctuary, both of which I adore.One of the butterflies was bigger than my hand. I thought it was a prop when we first saw it and am so glad I didn't jab it. The pic of me looking at it was just as it moved and it was a moment of sheer disbelief that a butterfly could get that big.
We then headed off the Elephant park where I brought some sugar cane to feed to them with. There was a sign up saying feed them with a bunch or half a bunch at a time and there was a really funny but ditzy Russian woman who clearly didn't have a clue. She started off feeding them one banana at a time, then started waving it in front of their trunks, then would decide which one to give it too and shake her fingers at the other one, and then she started breaking the bananas in half! In her defence the signs were in Thai and English so she may not have understood them, but it was so funny watching a ditsy little Barbie thing wandering up and down oblivious to the signs and wondering why the Mahouts were getting upset with her!
Firstly they walked the elephants through the river and started bathing them. They got them to lye down in the river, some of them were completely submerged, but just had the tips of their trunks poking out above the water.After that we watched a show on how the Elephants were originally used as war machines. It is absolutely amazing watching them pulling logs along, piling them up and even making sure all the ends are in line.Apparently they keep them busy otherwise they get depressed in captivity. They are also used in natural disasters and the most recent time they were used for work like this was after the Tsunami. It is such an interesting way of clearing land when you can't get machinery in.
We then went on an hour and half trek through the jungle on Elephant back. I went with a girl called Liz and we chatted the whole way round the route, along with holding on for dear life as it was rocking about so much we had images of us flying off the thing. We were sat in a purpose made seat atop the Elephants back, and we were actually fastened in with a car seat belt!
After the trek we had a big buffet lunch and then set sail along the river on a bamboo raft. There were only four of us on the river, plus the driver (no idea if that's the correct term, but it's what I'm going to call him). Anyway, when the five of us were on this thing the raft was almost submerged and after enough complaining they told two of the group got off and they brought another, reinforced raft along. They had basically put one on top of the other and it still didn't make much difference. Once we had transferred to the new raft I asked the guide if I could leave my bag with him.He said 'no, no, it's quite shallow, only waist high'. I gave up, I don't think he understood I wasn't worried me and about the depth if it submerged, I can swim, however my bag cannot.
Sailing down the river was very picturesque and we even saw the occasional Elephant grazing by the water's edge.It was very calm and extremely peaceful. Then all of a sudden I spotted a women, standing in the middle of the river, which was up to her waist, and she had something white floating in front of her. All of sudden she shouts 'Beer 50 Baht, Coke 30 Baht'.OMG, we've just come to the drive through!I decided I was getting one and we had 40 meters to start bartering the price, close the deal and exchange money for merchandise. 30 Baht is only about 60p but you still never pay the said price. We got her down to 20 Baht and then I said hang on, I don't want fat coke!Si nearly pissed himself laughing and said I can't believe you just said that. I said Diet or I'd even prefer Coke Zero, and guess what, she had both! hahaha
I met up with Liz who I'd met the day before on the Elephant trek and we hired a taxi for the day (£9 each and he took us everywhere we wanted to go, and even suggested other places we hadn't even heard of).
We were taken to a set of villages housing 6 tribes.They had normal tribes, tribes with giant ear lobes, bigamists, and the long necks. They were originally from Burma but fled to Thailand to escape the fighting. It is such a weird place. You have to pay 500 Baht, which is about £10, which considering you're just looking around a village is a lot of money in Thai terms. However, you can spend as long as you want in the villages and take pictures of whatever you want. I couldn't work out whether I felt like I was intruding. I suppose it felt more like I was invisible, and was just wandering around their village. Every now and again they would notice you, but not very often. All of the long necks also pose for you whenever you walk past for you to take a picture. I got some awesome pics, but the ones I prefer are the one's where they're not posing.I spent ages trying to take a pic of the little girl on her bike whilst she was actually riding it, rather than when she kept stopping posing.
I again, cannot believe I've actually seen a long neck tribe. I remember watching a documentary about them on the Discovery channel about 10 years ago, but I never in a million years thought I would ever get the chance to visit them. I kept saying to Liz I needed to pinch myself to know I'm not having one of the extremely vivid Malaria tablet dreams.
We only heard about this from our driver and he said you can touch the Tigers. Not very likely I thought, but we might as well go along and have a look. OMFGG, not only can you touch them, you go in their pen and can lay down with them!!! We picked 2 packages which were the smallest and the biggest. It cost a whole £18 for both of them and they let you take your camera in to snap away with.
We started with the 3 big cats. They sleep for 18 hours a day and so just laze around and let people touch them. They obviously have pretty strict rules and there are handlers everywhere. They don't like being touched lightly, I can only presume this tickles them as they sometimes growl, flinch or flick their tail at you.
It was pretty unnerving cuddling up to them especially when the big one turned round and licked its lips at me - which Liz caught on camera! Soooo funny. The big one was licking its paws and kept yawning which made for some excellent pics. I honestly never thought I would ever get to touch a tiger, let alone lye down with one. Truly a once in a lifetime experience. I've lost track of how many once in a lifetime experiences I've had just over the weekend, let alone on the entire trip! J
We then moved onto another pen with 2 cubs. They were both 8 weeks old and were already getting pretty big. They were naturally unbelievable cute and I of course wanted to take one home with me, although I somehow don't think I'd make it through customs nothing to declare at customs! Hahaha.
The strange thing about the cubs was that they are still so small and really playful but you just can't play with them as even at this small size they are so powerful. One of them nipped at me 3 times, twice he got my clothes but the last time he managed to get the top of my thigh, and it hurt like hell! The handlers have these little sticks that they wave at them or tap them on the nose with, and he soon calmed down but it made me realise even at this age the power of them, their teeth and claws are still deadly.
We left here having had a truly remarkable and very unexpected day. I can't believe I've done all of this in only 5 days, and if I'm honest I feel slightly lightheaded and nauseous at the thought of it all (but then that could also be the Malaria tablet doing their thang).