I didn't have much time to think about leaving Lanta the day I left. I was up at 5am and really awake after my nice cold shower! I vowed it would be the last of my trip (it's not the nicest way to shower first thing). I made my way to Krabi airport (Nud, a local travel agent and taxi man took me), flew to Bangkok and then from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I had hoped to get the train from Bangkok, but it had been fully booked, due to Chinese new year. The bonus was I had settled into my new guesthouse before 4pm. After some food and orientation of the local area I went to the night market.
The next day I had decided that I needed to be able to cook SOMETHING by the time I get home. So I took a full day Thai cooking course. It was great fun and I actually managed to cook 5 dishes without screwing any of them up; fried chicken and cashew nuts, spring rolls, chicken in coconut milk, green curry with chicken and sticky rice with mango for dessert. Lets hope when I try to recreate them at home they go just as well! That evening I went out with a few people from the course to see the Chinese new year celebrations in China Town, only we couldn't find any! Apparently, most things were happening the next day. Instead, we found a bar and had a few drinks.
I had little planned for the Sunday so took the opportunity to walk around some of the old part of town (where I was staying) and also to visit another market. However, Chiang Mai was considerably hot and humid, making being outside quite uncomfortable for too long.
Monday, the day I had been waiting for; ELEPHANT CAMP!! I was picked up (with two big backpacks to carry) on a motorbike from my guesthouse, luckily it was only a short ride. Then from Chiang Mai we made our way by minibus to the elephant camp, around 1 1/2 hours away. Upon arrival, there were day tourists, but I found that I was the only person staying over night (other than the mahouts). However, this didn't bother me too much. The living quarters were very basic - no running water, no electricity and I was sleeping on a foam mattress in a wooden hut, at least I had a mosquito net.
I was introduced to an 8 year old male elephant named Dodo. He was gorgeous and apparently the only elephant in the camp (there were five in total) that knew all of the commands. I got to feed him and ride him, learning the five basic commands for riding an elephant. "Song sung" means you want to get up onto or down from the elephant. When the elephant hears this command they raise their right foot, bending their knee so you can use that as a step to get up or down. "Huuuurrrrrr" (kind of like a grunt) means walk forwards. "Gwey", means left or right, dependent on which of your legs you kick (right leg for left turn, left leg for right turn). "How" means stop and "Toi" means backwards. All of these commands came with leg and bottom actions so that it reinforced what you wanted the elephant to do. Particularly as a non-thai pronunciation of this words never sounds the same.
In the afternoon, along with the day tourists we bathed the elephants in the stream running through the camp. It was great fun, the water wasn't particularly warm and the mahouts took great delight in throwing the water over people with the use of a bucket. Lots of screams as the cold water hit people, but we were all soon completely drenched washing the elephants and having a great time. I even had a photo with all 5 elephants and Dodo sprayed water at me from his trunk.
After the bathing I had the opportunity to ride Dodo around the camp, attempting to use the commands I had learnt earlier (I'd had to write them on my hand as I couldn't remember them!). He seemed to respond 50% of the time, taking notice only when the mahout also said the command.
There was little to do in the evening, due to lack of light, other than a few basic matchstick games with some of the mahouts I then went to bed. A very uncomfortable nights sleep on a foam mattress that might as well have not been there. Plus having to go to the loo in the dark when the toilet was on the other side of the camp (thank god I had a torch!).
Day two at the camp I rode Mai Yun in the morning, she is bigger than Dodo and my bottom was somewhat sore afterwards. She didn't seem to listen to my commands at all either, which was somewhat infuriating… In the end I just let her follow the mahout. More bathing of the elephants later on and then in the afternoon I rode Dodo again. Unfortunately he managed to trap my foot between himself and a tree - OUCH, but no major harm done… just a few scratches.
That evening I was invited to stay in the local village with my guide (Jackie) and two people that worked at the camp in the day. The village were Karen people; there are 3 types of Karen in the north of Thailand; white, red and long neck. These were white Karen people. We went to their home and then to a field where they were growing Chinese vegetables. They brought along a live cockerel, which they then killed and cooked as a celebration for the rice crop harvest. I was somewhat confused about why they did this, but went along with it anyway. The curry they cooked was far too hot for me and so I didn't eat, but it was definitely an experience.
My final day at the camp I didn't ride any elephants as I was so sore and achy, but I did bathe them for the last time. I then had the opportunity to go and see a baby elephant at another camp that was only 1 month old and yet to be named. Then onto a waterfall and finally some bamboo rafting. By the time I arrived back in Chiang Mai I was exhausted!
I spent thursday relaxing and had a massage to help my back, without realising how tight my calves were from the elephant riding. I nearly shot through the roof when she massaged my legs!
Friday, I went to Tiger Kingdom. I had read reviews and been told by people that the Tigers weren't drugged, so thought it would be a much better alternative than Tiger Temple, much closed to Bangkok, which has considerably bad reviews about drugging the Tigers. I was somewhat disappointed to see that although the Tigers weren't drugged out of their minds, they were clearly sedated and it seemed just a way to make as much money as possible from tourists. I got some great photos, but it seemed a little difficult to come to terms with what the Tigers must have to go through living a life full of sedation.
Saturday, it was finally time to leave Chiang Mai. I waited around most of the day to catch a night train to Bangkok and then heading from there to Koh Samet, an island south east of Bangkok for a few days. I enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai, but not being much of a trekker I left that out to head for the beach.