Trekking adventures! Day 1 (10.3.11)
For the next three days Poppy and I had signed ourselves up to a mini trekking adventure. We were excited and really looking forward to some time out of the city, away from tuk tuk's and massage parlours.
We had already packed as lightly as humanly possible in tiny backpacks which were supplied to us (not brilliant but compact at least) and we were pretty set to go. However we were not ready at 7:45am when reception called and a RUDE woman, a little blunt and unhelpful, informed me that Poppy and I had to come downstairs straight away (5minutes) to hand in our passports so that Tourist Police could take photocopies of it should we go missing. It was very thoughtful of them but it was a little early and they could have told us they needed them urgently when we booked it a few days earlier. I got even more pissed off as I was busy doing up my jeans when the woman ran again to tell me to hurry up. RUUUDDE! I took my time then.
After breakfast I was feeling much better and ready for the day ahead, which was lucky really as the truck pulled up right on time outside our hotel filled with our trekking companions:
Num - the amazing tour guide - known for his reliance on red bull and his 'ARMY' t-shirt. Your regular action hero with a charming way of expressing himself - 'No joke no fun, no fun no babies,' 'No woman no cry, no Chang I die', 'I'll see you when you see me', 'Happy New Beer!', 'Once you pop you can't stop (in reference to lady boys)'. Genius.
Tom and Simon - 18 year old British Gap year students who looked as though they had just walked out of the 'In Betweeners'
Chris - an accountant from Bethnal Green - very East London
Marianne - an anglo/Germanic 62yr old who questioned everything and just got on with it
Annie and Katie - two single friends who met travelling
Tetsu - a very quiet and polite Japanese gentleman
And two German girls who were lovely enough but who kept themselves to themselves.
A lovely mixed bag.
Before heading into the jungle we stopped off at the Orchid and Butterfly farm on the edge of town. We only spent 15minutes there but that was plenty of time to see some butterflies and orchids and take some very arty shots of both.
We then drove on for another few minutes before hitting the market to pick up all the food we would need for the next few days. When we got there we were informed we would be getting fed but we would not be getting any water. Slight problem there. Poppy and I didn't bring any money. We thought we wouldn't need it and we didn't want to lose it. Now it looked like we were going to die of thirst. Oops.
Not enough time to worry about it too much as our next stop was the elephant reserve for lunch and a spot of elephant riding. I was soo excited I almost had a little accident in my pants. I also ate two plates of rice to try and stock up for the trek which proved to be a HUGE mistake as I was still feeling a little dodgy from the night before but the elephants took my mind off that.
Little Mecca was a pretty little thing. A little hairy and could have done with a bit of moisturising but she was pretty nonetheless. Pops and I made it to our wooden platform and then climbed all over her back to settle into our little elephant seat. She didn't seem very bothered and in fact couldn't wait to get a move on.
She was lots of fun, especially due to her very itchy derriere which she had to scratch on any available surface, giving Poppy and I a bumpy ride. She loved spraying us with water and mud in the river and didn't really care if we fell of the back as she made her way up some rather steep inclines. I never wanted it to end. The handlers treated them so well, just leaving them to their own devices most of the time and the elephants seemed very well fed and taken care of.
Nonetheless all good things must come to an end so after an hour or so we were all off and starting the first day of a three day trek.
It only took me about 30minutes to start throwing up. It was a combination of the heat and the dodgy tummy from the night before (and probably the two plates of rice). At one point, as I sat on the side of the road, covered in tiger balm, being fanned by Poppy and Num and throwing up between a couple of trees, I thought I would just have to spend the next three days at the base of the hill.
Nevertheless, looking up to see some very worried/sad/angry faces looking at me from my trekking crew I decided to plough on through and after a couple of hours of heavy trekking up a perpendicular MOUNTAIN we made it to the hill tribe. Very proud personal moment of achievement then. I wouldn't necessarily do it again. Or eat papaya salad. When that comes up it stings.
The camp was small but beautifully formed. Bamboo huts lined a very narrow and steep dirt track. The huts were all on stilts to allow somewhere for all the dogs to hang out and for all the sewage to trickle away. Our room was just a huge space with 12 mattresses in two rows along the sides, each with two throws and a small pillow. All we really needed. There were a couple of long drops and a few cold showers too and a lack of electricity (although a few of the other huts had 4x4s and satellite dishes which made us wander if we were just getting the 'rustic' version). We were sharing the hut with another family and we also happened to arrive during a wedding celebration but everyone just kept themselves to themselves, with the occasional appearance, much bowing and a lot of staring. A couple of kids were playing with their bamboo bike and had us entertained until they all started making signs with their hands that they wanted to decapitate us - at which point we wandered back to our big bedroom.
We arrived before any other group (bonus) which made mine resent me a little less and appreciate the longer night by the bonfire with Num's lovely guitar playing even more. He cooked a curry feast for us all (I just stuck to the rice - just in case) and a good night was had by all.
Funny quote by Tom - 'I've never eated chicken eggs before'...erm...
Day 2 (11.3.11)
I didn't feel even a little bit sore! Cash back. I had a lovely night's sleep although the others complained of being too cold and I was ready to start my day after a cup of milky tea, salty scrambled eggs and a few stretches.
I was accosted by a beautiful little boy who couldn't get enough of the leaflet I was holding and after bouncing on me for a few minutes resigned himself to lying across my lap while I fanned him with the leaflet. I let him and his mum keep it as they loved it so much, even though it was not mine to give.
Before departing we were all given a top secret lunch - wrapped in banana leaves which we dutifully packed into our rucksacks before waving goodbye to our leaflet laden friends.
The day's trek was MUCH better. A lot longer but through waterfalls and there were a lot of downs as well as ups. I honestly enjoyed the day immensely. The best bit however, was probably sitting under a waterfall watching Num make us all chop sticks from a piece of bamboo for us to eat our top secret lunch - fried vegetable noodles. Very yummy.
Everyone managed to slip at least once (Pops and I included) but it hadn't rained for a long time so it was relatively safe. However I couldn't have laughed any harder when I suddenly saw Tom hurtling down the side of the path, straddling a bamboo tree and taking it down with him toward another tree which finally broke his fall - all in aid of a 'good photo'. Bloody brilliant.
After trekking for about 4 hours we reached our riverside lodge - very similar to the first night except we were the only ones there (no tribe) and this time we were to sleep in pairs and share our nets. Poppy was one lucky girl!
After another curry dinner Num arrived with a bag full of little fish he had just spent the last few hours catching - a totally pointless exercise as after he cleaned them and cooked them they still tasted like mud and sand and I had to spit mine out into a nearby coke can.
It was a very quiet night that evening as we were all fairly tuckered after the night before but someone still managed to make a bamboo bong which had Marianne entertained for a little while. I don't think she knew what it was really but we were impressed with her curiosity.
Day 3 (12.3.11)
Our last day of trekking fun was much more relaxing, which was a blessing as we could barely walk. We walked for an hour and half down the river where we found our rafts waiting for us. In teams of four we chose our vessel and embarked on an hour of white-water rafting. The instructions were easy, the paddling was exhausting but satisfying and the rapids were fun (although they could have been a little more rapid).
After a turn in the river we came upon a few bamboo rafts. Quick change and within seconds Poppy was manoeuvring us down the river to the base camp for lunch in our now very soggy pants. Very very relaxing day.
Pad Thai was on the menu for lunch (I once again went overboard) and then we were all packed into our jeep for the long 2 hour journey back to the hotel during which we all had a little sleep. At this point we had to empty out our bags into plastic bin bags so we could return them.
This made for a very interesting image as we checked back into the Empress... soaking wet in the same clothes we had left in 3 days earlier and with all our belongings in huge bin bags. That is probably why it took them some time to locate our bags and our booking... we were offered non-alcoholic welcome drinks which we partook in before our arranged SPA evening. The hotel did manage to send our spa pick ups away but they were soon called back and taking us just out of town to the 'Cheeva Spa of Chiang Mai'. It was incredible.
The bowing was taken to new extremes where noses were touching the ground , whilst my shoes were being removed and my feet were placed into a hot bowl of coconut milk. In order to apologise for the hotel's error and for our late arrival, they upgraded our package to include a free hot oil massage. So very kind. Poppy and I were sipping on our drinks trying not to giggle as neither of us are accustomed to such pampering. I was starving though and made it my mission to look in very jar and pot on every shelf for the tiniest little snack. No joy. No spring rolls for me yet.
We were then ushered into a warm room where we were offered little baskets to place all our clothes and belongings in. We were then left alone to undress and get under the sheet on the 'table'. Pops and I tried to take the nakedness seriously but we kept our pants on and then buried our heads in the holes on the beds to try to help subside the giggling. The ladies came back in (mine was called Kai). She asked me if she could remove my watch - which was not a problem. Then Poppy's asked her to remove her pants which she did without even a flinch. I got to keep hold of mine and I think Kai was quite grateful she had something to tuck the sheet into once she had oiled me right up.
Before I knew what was going on Kai was sitting on my bum rubbing hot oil into my shoulders, then holding my hand, pulling my little toes, giving my side boob a little rub - I was hoping to God this was 'normal'.
She then told me to spin around and had to get an extra sheet to cover the top area as the one she had wasn't covering the legs and boobs at the same time. Awkward hilarity ensued.
After that all I remember is having honey and lemon being put on my face and then i fell asleep for about half an hour before I awoke to her wiping it off again and plaiting my hair.
A quick cup of ginger tea and then a very giggly ride in a taxi to the hotel to finish off a wonderful evening of girly fun.
I was still pretty famished on our arrival so we made the most of our last night at the Empress and in Chiang Mai and order some room service - a club sandwich and a salad. So posh and unnecessary but why the hell not?