We headed for Chiang Mai on Sunday the 3rd of November. Having arrived at Bangkok train station just before 08:00am in time for our 08:30 train, we found out that the train was delayed, so we spent the next 2 hours sitting around the station. It was very interesting to see how everybody stopped dead in their tracks to salute the king and queen while the anthem was being played. This happens every day at 08:00. The Thai people are very loyal to the royal family and you see pictures of the king and queen everywhere - even in people's homes. Apart from that, the wait was pretty boring, and we were harrassed by a few beggars, which wasn't too pleasant.
The train eventually pulled in at about 10:30 and we finally left just before 11:00am. The journey was something else. We had never experienced such a bumpy train ride, but the conductor made up for state of the train and tracks. He was really friendly and cheerful. The journey was almost 12 hours though and the last few hours dragged a bit, so we were very happy to arrive in Chiang Mai that evening. We caught an open air truck to our guest house, Baan Orapin, which is a lovely oasis of lush green plants and water features. Our waiter, Pepsi, who served us breakfast both mornings, was lovely. He was so polite and friendly, as was the owner, Opas. Baan Oraping is a family-run business which is named after Opas' grandmother.
We spent the next day walking around Chiang Mai and getting ready for our 5-day trek in the mountains. We had supper at the night market, which was only 30 baht per person - less than 50p! The lady who prepared the food reminded us of a mother or an auntie. She was so happy and friendly and just wanted to know all the time whether we were happy with the pad thai she had prepared for us. We duped her "tannie mamma"
The next day our guide, Jattoo, and our driver, Rambo, met us at Baan Orapin at 09:00 for the start of our 5-day trek. We were picked up in an open-air truck and were pleasantly surprised to learn that the four of us were the only people on the trek - we had our own private guide! Our first stop was at an orchid and butterfly farm, followed by a visit to a local market, where Jattoo bought some vegetables for that night's dinner. Jonathan and Matt each sampled a local delicacy - fried crickets! Yum!
We started our trek at about 1:20, armed with our back packs, walking sticks and water. A beautifully prepared packed lunch was presented to us about 1 hour into the trek. It was awesome sitting in the forest, enjoying our lunch and chatting to our guide. It was very humid, so we sweated buckets as we continued our uphill hike to the first hill tribe village, where we were offered tea and bananas by one of the local villagers. It was amazing to see their huts, which had mud floors, a few matresses, some very basic kitchen utensils and not much else.
We continued to the Lahu Outpost, where we spent our first night. We stayed in quaint huts on stilts with a lovely view across the valley and we were spoilt with a lovely Thai meal, prepared by our guide.
The next day was probably the most exciting of the trek. After a lovely cooked breakfast, we set off on a very steep downhill 2-hour hike. It was quite slippery, so Cath and I were both a bit nervous, but the walking sticks helped a lot. The downhill worked our muscles though and were were quite stiff for two days afterwards. When arrived down in the valley, we did an hour-long elephant trek, which was amazing. The nice thing is that the elephants are in their natural habitat and every so often they stop to eat some branches or bark. You could see that there was a special relationship between our guide and his elephant. Bhuto would stop every now and then to break off a piece of bamboo, pass it over to the guide, who would cut it smaller for him and then pass it back. It was so qute! Bhuto was a bit lazy in the beginning and didn't want to walk too much, and when he did, he wanted to take his own route, which was not the route we wanted him to take, as it was straight down the steep mountain instead of on the trail! With some persuasion, Bhuto luckily stayed on the trail. It was so funny when he started running and making a beeline for the banana hut at the end of the trail. He wanted his bananas. We bought a whole bunch for 40 baht and he polished off the whole lot in about 30 seconds.
The adventure continued with a 45-minute river rafting trip, followed by a picnic lunch and then some more trekking to Lisu Lodge, where we stayed that night. Lisu lodge is a lovely resort with beautiful gardens and we really enjoyed our stay there.
The next morning we visited the village of the local Lisu tribe, had another Thai massage at the lodge (the first one didn't put us off), and then started our trek over the mountain to a remote outpost in the forest, where we were treated to more delicious Thai food, before falling asleep in front of the camp fire.
The next day we walked for another 2 hours, crossing streams, and passing by a waterfall, before ending up at Khum Lana, where we had lunch, followed by yet another massage. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it. That afternoon, we attended a very enjoyable Thai cooking class, where we learnt how to make soup, a yellow curry, a pork stir fry and spring rolls. We were served our own food for dinner, and we were very impressed with our efforts (even though everyone's tasted pretty much the same, because all the spices are measured out for you!) We had an early night, because we had to get up before sunrise the next morning.
We were woken up at 05:30 the next day. Jumped on our bikes and cycled to the morning market, which sells produce to the locals and closes at 07:00am! Yes 07:00 in the morning, so you have to get there as the sun rises. It was hard to get up so early, but once we were on our bikes, watching the sunrise, we were happy as could be. We also visited a bigger market and sampled some Thai coffee, which was really nice, expect Matt had a view of a buffalo plasenta, which was not so pleasant(a)!
Once back at Khum Lana, we had breakfast and then went on a tour of the herbal garden. We enjoyed smelling and tasting all the herbs and we were quite amazed at just how many herbs were growing right there in the resort's garden. Another delicious lunch marked the end of our 5-day trek. We were brought back to Baan Orapin in Chiang Mai, where we are staying at the moment, before flying down to Krabi tomorrow to hit the beach. Yay!