29.09.11 - 01.10.11 - Chiang Mai Hill Tribe Trekking
So this morning I got up nice and early and headed down to the communal area of the guesthouse in order to be picked up for the experience I had booked.
Bless there was this lovely Aussie fella sitting in the area too waiting for his friend, whatever he was doing and we started chatting about his experiences in Bangkok. Half way through him telling me my chariot arrived.
When i climbed on board I was the only one one board, the driver had a list of names of the people he was picking up though, barring mine so I added my name too the list. Great i thought, there all about my age. Not so great. They're all Spanish. Fantastic. I was not best amused to say the least. On a three day adventure with a load of Spanish people that I couldn't communicate with - still, lets hope they can speak English!
So there we go driving around the local guesthouses and hotels and on board gets these 8 other Spanish peoples. No, I quickly realise there English is limited. Oh well, just roll with it Raz. They were of all ages. One couple my age. One couple about 35 ish and another couple early 50's. then there were two young giirls who i'd say were about 23/24. i later realised that they were all so lovely and did there very best to communicate with me. AND i must say, they all did reallly well bless them. I can't complain really seeing as i know zero Spanish... oh hang on... ''grassyass - gracious'', ''La Quneta por favour'' and "un beer'' LOL!!
So anyways... first things first was were were driven up into the mountains to reach the point where we were to begin the trek. It was quite high up into the mountains and about half way in we were carted off of the tuk tuk and into the back of a 4x4. OMG it was so funny! A steep incline followed by a steep drop in the back of this 4x4 and we were all like rag dolls bouncing around. That certainly got us all laughing!
As we pulled into the middle of the jungle, I realised that the first stop and the first part of the trip was the elephant ride. WOW. Is how I can put that experience into words. It was truly amazing. I very happily was able to have an elephant to myself, whilst the others in the group were two on one.
He was called Chang Chan and from what I could tell he was quite an old one. Bless him. He was lovely. They all obeyed to the commands of their 'Mahout' and he got down on his knees so as I could climb onto the cradle sitting on his back. Chang Chan's Mahout promptly sat on his head with his legs sitting behind his mahousive ears! He turned around and told me that I could sit as he was later on once we had crossed the river. wow, I was so excited. Getting to ride an elephant the proper way! So once the entire group were on board we headed off into the jungle in single file succession. not long after we had set off, we reached the river. There I was sat on top of this giant mammal just about taking it all in and then I was sat on top of him crossing a river. seriously it was like something out of a movie! So many times whilst on board i had a pinch myself moment. I honestly couldn't quite believe it to be honest. it just didn't seem real. the jungle was so green and as we walked the paths through all the trees the elephant would put out his trunk and eat all the leaves as we went on our way. The mahout at this point had told me to move down from the cradle and sit on his head. It wasn't as comfy as i'd imaged to be honest but it certainly was how riding an elephant should be.
When we arrived back at the camp where we got on the elephants, there were a couple talking English to one another with a distinctive Essex accent. They were dressed in mahout clothing so i decided to head on over and have a chat. Turns out they were from hornchurch and live on abbs Cross Lane. Now thats a small world for you! LOL
So once we'd all got off the elephants we ate lunch whilst they all roamed around us and we were able to take them in some more. i honestly don't think it's actually sunk in yet that i rode an elephant today!! it just doesn't even sound right.
So after lunch and of course without question a few more photos, we headed into the jungle for the first part of the trek. Boy was it hot this day too. hiking up and down mountains on multiple terrains in 35 degree heat. i think i lost my body weight in sweat!
along the way we came across many spiders, ant hills, ant lines (like from the Disney Pixar movie) and of course birds cokooing, crickets doing whatever crickets do (whatever that is) and the sounds of trickling water where we were crossing contstant streams etc. It was hard going but was so adventurous, i loved it. i think we trekked for about 3 hours after the elephants and from there we came into the first of the two hill tribes that we'd be staying over night with. children were playing in the fields, c*** , hens, chicks, pigs, piglets, dogs and cats were all roaming around free too. Their houses were little shacks on stilts and had washing hanging out over the edges to dry. We were shown to our digs by the guide and it was one great big shack and inside were thin double mattresses covered with there own mosquito net. We were all to sleep together. At this point we'd all become quite a lovely little team, each making sure one another were ok getting up the steep inclines and down the slippery ravine, even with the language barrier, that we were all quite excited about where we were to sleep that night. Out the front of the shack, there was a long sitting area where we were to have dinner, and breakfast in the morning. To the side overhanging the jungle beneath us was a seperate seating area where there were burnt out logs and charcoal clearly the bombfire area for later.
There was one toilet (or should I call it a hole in the floor), and one shower - which was FREEZING! There were no lights and when it got dark, boy did it get dark!
Dinner that night was yummy. We ate Pad Thai (noodles and cabbage) with seasoning and chilli, rice, mixed veg and for dessert was pappaya. After dinner, our two guides came and joined us, while they lit the bombfire. it was a little nippy at night, but the sounds were beautiful with all the wildlife in the background, and of course the most beautiful of it all - the stars!!! Never in my life have I seen a shooting star. this night i did. Seriously I thought I was going to cry. it is truly a moment i'll never forget. Almost like a sign that a certain person at home was looking out for me that night ;-)
John, one of the guides brought to the bombffire with him, a guitar. seriously this moment couldn't have got any better. Bless though - his playing skills and his english of singing (mostly Oasis, funnily enough) wasn't the greatest but it was still loads of fun. Even with the constant Spanish conversation around me do you know what, i really didn't mind too much since i was actaully able to reflect although be safe with others around me in the group, i didn't have to talk to them if i didn't want to. so it actually worked out for the best really.
one of the hilltribe people, who introduced himself as 'Buffalo Bill' came and joined us. He was a funny fellow. Dressed in his tribes outfit with what looked like a white turban on his head. He was not only drunk on 'Spicy Water' - which tasted alot like strong Vodka, but also high. His English was really good though, something which i wasn't expecting. When we arrived at the village earlier in the day, John had informed us that this tribe were from Tibet many years ago and settled in Chiang Mai for refuge. Since then, generations of the tribes people remain and in the mountains they live.
That night each member of the group slowly filter there way into the shack to sleep. i surprisingly slept really well. It was quite funny because earlier that day the group and i were discussing whether we snore. I said i don't but that i talk loads. i never did expect to be told the following day that I was talking in my sleep though. The good thing was, their all Spanish so can't understand me anyway, lol!
Breakfast the following morning we ate jam and toast and some gorgeous fresh meats which one of the young Spaniards had bought with her. This was when half of the group split up as four of the nine people were only on a one night 2 day experience where-as mine was 3 day 2 night. i was left the 35 year old something couple, who it turned out where on honeymoon, and the lovely 50 year old couple. As if funny things should happen. It was actually the female of this couple who introduced herself to me first and guess what her name was... 'Rose'! Freaky eh?! More signs eh?! Or maybe just something i'm looking too much into? Either way, both couples were lovely, and funnily enough the four I communicated most with out of the original eight.
As the two groups seperated, off we headed again for another 2 hour trek before arriving to another hill tribe where we were to have lunch. As timing would have it, as we arrived and sat down ready for our lunch, prepared not by the women of the tribe, but the men, it started to rain. When i say rain, I mean rain though! Wowsa! It was actually quite beautiful though, you know how much I love the rain! Lunch this day was plain noodles and veg, but cooked with a slight spice, yummy! Following lunch we headed off again, and yes, in the rain.
Scott really did get me everything that i needed for the trip because the poncho he bought me was probably so far the best thing since sliced bread - oh yeah that and of the course the mossie spray! the poncho not only covered me, but also the rucksack i had on my back too which was of course very handy in keeping the things in my bag dry.
Day 2 trekking was for me the best day purely on the basis that it was raining and the scenery around us was beyond something i've ever seen before. A lot of it, call me sad, actually reminded me of scenes from Lost where there were all in the jungle. It really was truly beautiful! That added to the rain falling, the birds singing and naturally the personal challage of getting up some of those hills and down those slippery raveens, I was honestly in my element. At one point when we reached a paricular look out, i was tired and wet but the views and all of the senses i just described below, I actually cried with so much emotion running through my body. it was great!
About 30 minutes after that, the rain stopped falling which was handy because anymore rain and although our waterproof's were doing good so far, I don't think they'd have keep much more rain away from our dry clothes. We continued to trek and suddenly we heard water. not rain water mind you, but it was the waterfall we were headed for. We were above it at first and as we slowly meandereed down, we got our first glimpse of it through the trees and from an aeriel view. it was gorgeous, and so powerful too! We took some photos and off we continued to get the bottom of it.
John had already told us that our digs for that night were individual shacks which were situated at the bottom of the waterfall, i couldn't wait to see the waterfull at its most powerful point but also to see the places where we'd be sleeping.
When we arrived at the village, it was very small in comparison to the first night but the views of the waterfall were mesmerising. i got so excited that i dumped my bag into my hut, grabbed my camera and headed down to the river where all the water from the waterfall was cascading down. On my way, i didn't realise that the rocks there were really slippery, and of the two days trekking so far and no tumbles for me, i completely stacked it onto my ass. And yes you've guessed it, dropped my camera too. thank god for the Olympus Tough thats all i can say for i think had it have been any other camera, I wouldn't have been so lucky in that it didn't break! Thank god i didn't break myself either..... just shattered my pride and ego a little in front of the Spaniards more than anything. What a prat! LOL
So, i got up, dusted myself off, laughed at myself and headed toward the bottom of the waterfall. i had thought that we'd be able to go swimming in the waterfall but this was far too powerful for that. What we were able to do though was shower in the river (for there was no shower at this village due to the waterfall, makes perfect sense i guess. If you're Thai that is!
Nah to be honest yet again this trip is all about experiences and boy this was an experience. I've never washed in a river with a 50 foot cascading waterfall behind me, have you?! :-) It almost felt like I was in I'm a celebrity get me out of here. Except im not a celebrity and i didn't want to be taken out of the there! It was beautiful!
Night/darkness comes really quickly in thailand i've noticed. At around 6.30pm it's dusk and around 7pm it is completely dark. By the time we'd all washed in the river, got ourselves changed and sat down for dinner it was dark already. John was helping cook dinner while I was just chilling at the long bench reminising about the day. He soon came over though - since his english was probably better than the Spaniards, and we played jenga together. it was quite nice to chill after two days and 8 hours of trekking really. It was pitch black all for just two candles burning on the table and of course the sound of the waterfall roaring in the background. Dinner tonight was bamboo soup to start and a kind of potato Thai green curry, which again was yummy with mixed vegetables and rice again. after dinner we were all so tired that i think we were all in bed by around 10pm.
i must admit I was really scared and as soon as i got into the single shack i panicked. it was pitch black and the shack of course had no security. the front door was a blanket. no locks, nothing western. Nothing but getting involved with how the locals live, eh Raz!
Rose, bless her had told me before saying goodnight that should anything happen during the night i should just shout 'ROSE!' and her husband - who coudn't speak any English would come and help me. bless her, she was only trying to put my mind at rest, but as I lay there staring into the pitch black trying to see if i could see my hand in front of my face (which I couldn't), i started to wonder why i'd put myself into this situation.
i think i probably got about 3 hours sleep in total this night. i know that i fell to sleep quite quickly even though my heart was beating ten to the dozen, but I also know that i woke up with a start a few hours later and i think from then on I got a few cat naps here and there all through the night. Not least when i woke up the first time i was busting for the toilet but i was too scard to go!!! Ha, such a baby Raz!! Through the night it rained, rained, and god it rained some more. So not only through fear but also the rain hitting the tin roof, teamed with the roaring waterfall, there is no surprise that i didn't get much sleep and awoke the next morning with tired puffy eyes! All that aside though, i honestly woudn't change any of it. What an experience again. Would i do that particular thing again by myself, no i wouldnt, but would i do it again with someone else, yes - in a heartbeat!
By the time morning came, i was awake already when the sun rose and before i knew it, john was calling us down to have breakfast. it's something else living near the water that I can tell you. It was stunning once again eating breakfast next to the waterfall. i know i keep on about it, but I guess it's one of those where if you haven't done it then you won't know what i mean until you have.
i finished before the others and rather than sit around listening to more Spanish talking which i didn't understand i decided to go for a little walk. It was still raining so I put on my poncho and headed along the river where i found another little waterfall. I sat there gathering my thoughts for the past few days experience I'd had and was looking forward to yet another day of trekking ahead.
when i returned, john informed us all that it was due to rain for the most part of the day and that there would be a strong possibility that unfortunately we would be unable to do the bamboo rafting, this was a shame because I was really looking forward to that, but to be honest i was so overwhelmed by the entire experience already it really didn't matter too much.
today we walked for hours. it was great and actually for the most part it didnt rain. We walked through some amazing villages, and as we were on the lower ground of Chiang Mai by this day we walked through more civilisation, Thai people tending to their crops, there farms, there cattle etc that it really was a great way to see the real thailand at its best. By the time we'd stopped for lunch, it had really started to rain again and unfortunately John was right and we were unable to do the Bamboo rafting. Still - i was happy. More than happy to be honest. The entire three day trip that i'd booked was great and definitely worth every penny! in total i think it was about 12 hours trekking over the course of three days. It was hard going at times and it definitely taught me that i need to get back to the gym when i get home, but it honestly was such an amazing experience and something which i'll never forget.
I'm now sat back at the guesthouse writing up the past three days experience i've encountered and am now looking forward to the new journey i'm about to take in Laos tomorrow. My flight out of Chiang Mai leaves at 3pm but to be on the safe side and to ensure they have my booking i'm going to leave the GH at around 11.30am.
When I got back to Chiang Mai, I needed to book my accommodation in Luang Prabang, except with so much rain and flooding before I even arrived (hence the train being cancelled and having to get a night bus) and of course all through the night and the day, the telephones in the area are not working so i'll have to try and find somewhere when I arrive in Laos.
Whilst i was out and about this afternoon trying to find a telephone which worked, i walked past many street vendors selling food. This was my first encounter with street vending of food products. I didn't really push the boat out first off though. Just an easy and simple vegetable spring roll and some sort of sweet bread with ham and cheese inside. Yum yum. That was dinner sorted.