Hi guys, sorry for the long time since an update we've been busy. We did write a long and informative blog last night but it got lost when we clicked send. So here goes for the second time...
We ended up our last night in Bangkok with a really nice meal in a restaurant that had locals eating at it. This seems to be the key indicator of a place that does good food and is great value for money. We paid around £1.70 each for a thai main course and a large beer.
In the morning we needed to get to the train station early to get our train to Chiang Mai. We were pretty nervous after our previous experiences with taxis in Bangkok, so we were pretty happy when the taxi driver actually put the meter on without being asked. Made it to the train station and sweat it out on the platform waiting for our train to turn up. As you would expect it was about an hour late and with a 12 hour journey ahead of us made a long day longer.
The train itself was an old Deawoo carridge built in 1996 and probably of similar quality to the cars they were turning out back then. Lets say it hadn't aged well. But it had excellent A/C and a western toilet which Tom discovered after Charlie had already been and used the squat. Train tracks over here are a bit rougher then back home. they have sudden dips that jolt the entire train and other parts which seem to make the train shimee fronm side to side on the track. Slightly disconcerting. Anyways there was a trolley service dishing out thai food and super strong coffee which kept us going.
We should probably mention at this stage that Charlie opened the Lonely Planet guide book to read it during the journey and found haunting reading in the Scams section. One of the scams decribed is the travel agencies posing as government run tourist offices or TAT. Apparently the government run offices will only book train tickets for you, if they offer to book anything else they are just another normal travel agency. This means we fell into our second tourist trap this trip and probably paid far too much for our trip to Chiang Mai and the trekking when we get there. Lesson learned I guess.
Anyways the train rattled on and the scenery became more mountainous and jungle like out of windows. The train tracks became single track towards the end and moonsoon rains descended with thunder. As darkness fell the cockroaches in the train came out so we were very glad when the train finally rattled into Chiang Mai at 10.30PM. This was when we were really glad of pre booking, we may have paid too much but we had a chap waiting for us to give us a lift to the hotel in town. We hopped in the back of his pickup and were taken to our hotel. On arrival the hotel seemed fairly ok, we went up to the room though and things weren't great. The A/C blew out hot air and the mould in the bathroom was so advanced it was probably close to having its own space program! With arriving so late there was not a lot we could do so settled down for a hot, sweaty and mostly sleepless night.
Morning came and we were pretty nervous about what kind of trek our friend at the TAT imposter office in Bangkok had booked for us. We were greet by our friendly Thai guides Den and Nut who were very friendly and showed us to the truck where our fellow trekkers were waiting for us. As the truck made its way into the hills we got to know the other people on our trip. We had Andrew a German of Korean background and a Dutch family (Peter, Yolanda, Roy, Maryline, Yolinda (appoligies for spelling)). A quick chat revealed we had all be taken in by the TAT scam and were all probably paying twice the price we should for the tour. After that though things went pretty well.
First stop, Elephants! .... It was AWESOME! In pairs we rode on their backs, with our guide either sitting cross-legged on their heads or in our case walking beside taking lots of photos! We trekked through the hills, trees and along/in the river with only the occassional stop as our very stubborn, fairly young (13) female refused to continued unless we fed her with bananas and sugar cane. I'm still amazed at how flexible and useful their trunks are...although not so impressed when we were sneezed on! After maybe an hour with the elephants and the swealtering heat, we got back in the van (smelling worse than the elephants) and went on to our lunch stop. We had a rice dish with some potatoes and a spicy sauce. It was very tasty and afterwards we were ready to set off with the walking part of the tour.
We set off with half the village dog population following us and occasionally charging past. Nut showed us how to make fake blood and blow bubbles from a various plants growing on the side of the trail, as well as pointing out and holding numerous bugs and creepy crawlies (i.e. black and red palm sized spiders and black "fighting beetles"). We quickly left behind the banana plantations and were soon walking through thick forest. Monsoon rains arrived and it very quickly became clear that it was pointless trying to stay dry with the downpour of water coming from the heavens. We arrived at the first "Waterfall" which was very impressive with a pool maybe 30cm deep, but despite the rain we braved it and went for a swin, the water was cool and refreshing and we were happy to have taken a break.
We moved on and emerged from the trees into terraced rice paddy fields being hand worked by the local people, we think that they specifically grew sticky rice there, the north thailand speciality. This was pretty spectactular and made for good balance practice walking alond the edge of the paddy fields and ended up using our bamboo walking sticks like tightrope walkers. The second waterfall we found was much more impressive with large pool and a good 2-3 metre drop between the top and bottom. We all took a swim and cooled off, we soon found out the pool had little fish that nipped at your legs which were a nice suprise, perhaps a natural fish spa! After this dip we moved on up the hill to our overnight stop.
This was a Hill-Tribe village, housing 30-40 families in raised wooden, very basic, houses. We chilled out with our fellow trekkers and enjoyed a guide cooked tea of Thai green curry and green beans fried with tofu, Very tasty. Nut then confused us with some "baby games" where you have to rearrange sticks to make shapes in a certain number of moves. Later on we were joined by a local 11 year old boy who was so funny and expressive despite not speaking a word of english. It was amazing to watch as he played checkers with Nut, we felt we understood everything he was saying as he talked smack with the guide. He was quite a character, the evil boy genius!
Following a suprisingly good nights sleep in the hut we walked down to another waterfall for a much needed morning wash. This was probably the nicest as the pool was good and deep, still had the small nipping fishes in it though! We walked back through the forest and had a Phad Thai lunch at the same place. It was then time for river rafting. We all boarded these bamboo rafts and were pushed gondala style down the river by a small boy. The "rapids" were fairly tame but we had a good time relaxing in the cool, elephant dung infused water. Following this it was time to return to Chiang Mai and our hotel. We were very nervous following our last room at the hotel so full of trepidation on check in. They actually gave us a really nice room though with fully working A/C and a mould free bathroom.
We had dinner with Andrew at a cool Thai restaurant in the famous Chiang Mai night market and sampled the city's speciality dish, Khow Soi a deep fried noodle dish in a coconut creamy sauce. This restaurant was run by an austrailian and also happened to have the cheapest beers we found which was why we chose it! We took a wonder around the night market and ran into the Dutch family from the tour and ended up going for another beer at our favourite restaurant. It was a really good night.
Thats us up to date for now. Unfortunately due to unknown computer issues we can't upload photos right now but we will try to get those online real soon. Thanks so much for comments its really nice to read them.
Tom and Charlie