Having checked through this thing I'm fairly certain that my last proper update ended sometime on Valentines Day in Chiang Mai. So this will hopefully be a very very big post updating you all on everything that's happened since then. Which, believe me, is a lot.
Saturday 14th February:
After our return from the zoo, my taxibus adventure to the mall with Jasmin, and my much needed net time, we had another group meeting to meet the newest members of our group: the Australians Amanda and Craig, Melissa, and Sid. Having now spent several days with them (and said goodbye to them) I can inform you that they are all extremely lovely people.
In the evening, Jasmin, Rebecca and I went out to check out the local night market (not the same as Chiang Mai's famous night bazaar). I think this was my favourite thing about Chiang Mai. It was completely bustling, but it felt so relaxed at the same time, and looked so beautiful with all the lights illuminating it. There was so much stuff I could have bought as well, but I made do with some hairclips and some very tasty dinner.
Sunday 15th February:
Day one of the hilltribe trek! We left our hotel at about 9:30 and travelled in an open air van type thing to a local market to pick up snacks, water bottle holders, and food for the guides to cook us on the trip. Thai food markets, by the way, are somewhat 'interesting' places, filled with things like fruit, vegetables, spices, raw meat, cooked foods, maggots, crabs and other seafood, tobacco, more raw meat... you get the picture. Needless to say, the only things I bought were oranges, bananas and mangosteens (do we get mangosteens at home, because they are amazing?).
The van rides between our stops were horrible. There were five of us in the back of each van, and we were sat on two benches that ran parallel with the road (so you're facing sideways to the direction of travel). Whilst we were closed in, in that there was a roof above our heads, there was nothing covering the windows, and the back of the van was wide open apart from a small barrier to stop us from falling out. Oh and we weren't strapped in. Not exactly my favourite way to travel.
It was worth it though, as after the second part of our journey we arrived in a national park where we all changed in to our swimsuits and sarongs and went swimming in a waterfall! I've posted a couple of pictures of the waterfall, but they really don't show you just how beautiful it was. Or how cold, for that matter. It was great fun though, and so refreshing after the long journey.
One stop for lunch later and then we were on the final part of the journey to the start of our trek. The trek itself was better than expected, although the terrain came as a complete surprise. We were hiking through something that was like a cross between a jungle and a forest, but all dried out and steeper than anything I've ever seen in my life. We must have been going for about three hours total, through mostly flat and downhill terrain, but we stopped a few times for photos and drinks. Our guides made us all hats out of leaves and sticks which we had great fun making fun of each other for... see the pictures I've posted.
Needless to say, our arrival at the village was welcome, although we didn't get to see that much of it that evening as we were all so tired. The ten of us in our group slept in a hut that was basically one giant room filled with mattresses and mosquito nets, with our bathroom out back (squat toilets, uh oh). Our Thai guides had a separate hut, where they cooked us the most amazing dinner. We were really so spoilt by the food on the trek as it was all just so good.
Monday 16th February:
We all woke up early; a combination of too much light in the hut, the crowing of the rooster, and the fact that it was absolutely freezing. As I have written in my travel journal (thanks Guarantees Girls!): "Day two was both hellish and joyous." This about sums it up, but you get the long version as I'm feeling verbose this morning.
Further excerpts from my journal reveal: "We started out at the village where we had stayed the night. It's such a different way of life to what we're used to in the UK (and Australia), and I'm so glad I've experienced it, but it's not the life for me. I like my hot showers, proper bed and Western style loo too much."
The first part of the walk was tolerable; a few hills, but nothing too heavy. I spent most of it chatting to Hayley which helped as well. The second part of our four hour trek, however, was horrific. We had to get ourselves up hills that were steeper and rockier than anything I had ever encountered before and I was so far behind the others as I had to keep stopping (and before you say anything, most of you would have had to have kept stopping as well, the hills were that bad). I have never been so glad to see the top of a hill in all my life! I was so proud of myself when we reached the end of the uphill part.
After that, the rest of our trek for the day was relatively easy. The terrain, whilst still slightly steep and precarious, was mostly flat or downhill and, best of all, it led to the elephant village.
I cannot adequately describe how amazing it is to be in the company of such majestic creatures. It was truly incredible. And this was just whilst we were washing our feet in the river and having lunch! Because after lunch we got our elephant rides...
I rode with Melissa on a very big, very hungry elephant. He seemed determined to eat every plant in sight and to veer off track as much as possible. Which made for quite a bumpy ride in our little metal seat. We were hanging on for dear life art several points in the journey. But it was so amazing. We were on the elephants for something like an hour as they took us from the elephant village to the village where we were to be staying the night.
Getting off an elephant is really very hard, especially when your elephant decides to stand up again as you're trying to get down. This is just for all your future reference.
Once we arrived at the village, we were given the opportunity to visit the local school and see some of the children. It really made me realise quite how privileged we are in the UK to have all of the opportunities we have (or course I knew this anyway from tv and things, but you don't truly realise it until you see it in person).
Our hut for the night was a little away from the main part of the village and next to the river. Which meant that within 15 minutes of arriving we were all in the river in our bathing suits and sarongs having a proper wash. You wouldn't think you could get that clean washing in a muddy river, but you'd be surprised! ;)
Another amazing dinner followed, and then some games and chat around the campfire before bed. A truly incredible day.