Beer, food, elephants and aeroplanes. Travelling; weeks 7 & 8
Food, beer, elephants and aeroplanes. Travelling; week 7 & 8
Thailand is a country where you can feel slightly more at home than in the rest of Southeast Asia. For a while it's nice to be able to go to a 7-eleven, eat a magnum gold and ride on some relatively good transport. After that you want a bit more excitement, a bit more of not knowing whether your bus will take 10 or 15 hours to get to it's destination and sometimes it can be nice not knowing the actual price of anything, ever. Last Sunday we had arrived in Chiang Mai and were ready for a chilled out week or so involving elephants, Pai and some westernised comforts.
After a hellish journey through the mountains of Laos we found ourselves a lovely German owned guesthouse and settled down for the evening. Luckily we had managed to check in to a hotel with an adjoining restaurant, Breakfast world, which I'm sure you can work out from the title what it serves. Day 1 in Chaing Mai was a lazy day we didn't wake up until 11 and visited some temples, which we'd missed after some time off of them. Ellie had been so excited about spending some time with elephants and we made sure we visited the booking office to book our day with them. When we arrived at the office we were told they were fully booked until July 29th, the day after we were due to leave Chiang Mai. Ellie nearly cried and after a few minutes they worked out they could squeeze two more in to the 26th, not quite sure how they went from being full to having spaces but there was no need to question it! Having sorted out the most important things for the day we found a coffee shop that was air conditioned and provided brief respite from the midday heat. Ellie ordered something that resembled a caramel frapp from Starbucks and I was enticed by a traditional red lime soda. It tasted just like cherryade but a Thai version.
We decided that we'd go to Pai the next day, a town about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai so we sorted out a bus for the day and rewarded ourselves with some Mexican food. There's only so much Pad Thai one person can eat and the beef chilli nachos were worth every feeling of guilt. From Loco Elvis' Mexican restaurant we took a tuk tuk to the night bazaar. I don't quite know how big the night market is but if you walked the whole thing including side roads it would take up at least 2 hours of your evening. It all got too much and we decided to stop for a Chang listen to some live music and chill out.
Our bus left for Pai the next day around lunchtime and for the first time in a long while a 3 hour journey actually took 3 hours. Taking in the 762 curves on the mountain roads to Pai was okay when the bus was full of tourists. The journey back however was very different. I'm being polite when I say that Pai is full of hippies. Even the Thai people here have dreadlocks, serve drinks out the side of VW camper vans and listen to reggae. It's a tranquil place with a small river running through the bottom of the town which consists mainly of just one street. We arrived at about 3/4pm and were pleasantly surprised when the main road turned in to an array of street food, bars and tattoo artists (don't worry, we haven't got tattoos, yet!). We tried out some of the barbecued food walked around the town and headed back for an early night. The next day after having pretty much explored Pai the day before we had heard that the top sights were out of town and dotted along the main road from Chiang Mai. We visited Pai Canyon, not quite the Grand Canyon but a good introduction, a WW2 bridge, which in true SE Asian sightseeing fashion wasn't actually from the war, and had indeed been built in Chiang Mai in the 1960's and transported via land and put in to place. We also managed to get to the hot springs which was definitely an experience, naturally hot water flowing in to different rock pools with differing temperatures was good fun and very very quiet as it is 'monsoon' season. Heading back from the hot springs we stopped off for some 50p noodle soup and headed to the temple on the hill. Although unfinished this 70ft carving of Buddha was pretty cool and from the top, Pai Valley made for a great photo.
That evening we dined out on the street again, this time trying the locals favourite, deep fried banana and Nutella sandwich. Not sure if it will take off back home. We headed back to Chiang Mai the next morning. This time the bus was not full of tourists but instead Thai people, who are apparently very prone to travel sickness. The 3 hour journey was filled with constant retching, bags full of sick being thrown from the window and crying babies. Fun fun fun. With the rain starting to show it's face we couldn't really take in any sights that afternoon, the evening was spent watching Muay Thai @ the Thapae Stadium. It was definitely worth the money, we had managed to get bargain tickets, saw 3 KO's a technical KO and a Dutch fighter being chased around the ring by a Thai fighter. With a lot of time in Chiang Mai the plan was always to do very little each day which suited us both perfectly well. We managed to go to the cinema, which was definitely worth doing. The ticket costs just 170 Baht (about £3.40) for reclining seats in a cinema that puts ODEON to shame. Hercules is worth a watch if you haven't seen it yet and we treated ourselves to a Northern Thai curry that evening and a couple more drinks ready for our big day at the elephant nature park the next day, which has been written by Ellie.
"On 26th July 2014 I had the best day everrrrrrrrrr!!!! We spent the day with beautiful elephants at the Elephant Nature Park. We left Chiang Mai at about 8am with our group of 4; 6 other people were booked in for the wrong day so didn't turn up, it was amazing! On the way we were told about how a Thai lady called Lek had founded the park to look after elephants who had been treated badly in the illegal logging and tourism industries. Almost 80% of the 39 elephants at the park are disabled from accidents whilst working or were blinded by their mahout (the elephant's trainer) for ignoring instructions. Luckily, they now live in the 300 acre park with only boundary being a river and are free to roam around without chains. Even though the elephants aren't related they have formed a couple of small herds which we met throughout the day.
We fed the elephants and got to watch them, stroke them and just hang out with them! It was really interesting but also heartbreaking hearing their stories. An example of one of their stories is the elephant we washed at the river... She was forced to work in the illegal logging trade despite being pregnant and she gave birth to her baby on the hill which fell down the steep slope and died. She was so upset by this that she refused to work so her mahout stabbed her In the eyes and fired sling shots in her eyes to make her listen to him but it just blinded her. Unable to work she was put in to a breeding programme by her mahout and was mounted a total of 29 times by different male elephants breaking her back and causing her to have two broken hips. Depressed, ill & unable to conceive she was deemed useless by her trainer and her life was spared when Lek decided to purchase her and take her to her reserve. When she was rescued and brought to the park one of the elephants befriended her, they are now inseparable! When we were washing her, something spooked her and her best friend immediately came to comfort her!
Two of the herds had baby elephants which were sooo cute. The rest of the herd protect the baby fiercely which was nice to see but a bit scary when the baby wandered off then let out a little call to the others which prompted the staff to shout 'watch out, they may run' followed by 4 huuuuge elephants running towards the baby, but also towards us, to help!
The whole day was amazing and sooooo fun to hang out with the ele's ! It did leave a bit of a bitter taste though, especially when driving back to Chiang Mai and seeing all the tourists riding elephants having learnt what those elephants go through. We watched a video at the park that showed what happens to young elephants in order to make them suitable to be used for tourism. When elephants are about 4/5 years old they go through a ritual called 'phajaan' where they are trapped in a small cage and tortured for up to a week in order to break their spirits and make them comply with whatever their mahout orders them to do. This is when they are forced to take a rider on their back and are hit with a hook which the mahout will then use to scare them later so that they do what they're told. The video was horrible!! I think it's just that other tourists don't know about it all otherwise I doubt every tour agency in Chiang Mai would be selling elephant treks! Poor ele's!!
Anyway, it was a greeeeaaaattt day and was so nice to see the elephants roaming around happily and eating so many bananas, watermelons and squashes! I want to bring one back to Wales."
The next day was a Sunday and we headed to the Chiang Mai Women's Prisom Correctional Facility. They offer massages at a good price by current inmates who receive a portion of the money when they are released and also gives them a line of work to go in to. The massage was great and they are very very strong women, we were speculating as to why they were in prison but I'm sure our imaginations were running wild. From the prison we headed to the monastery where a scheme is run by local monks who invite you in to ask any questions about Buddhism, their life as a monk and anything else you want to. From the monks it was time for more markets. On Sundays Chaing Mai's main road turns in to a walking street the roads are filled with market stalls, the temple grounds full of food vendors and mingling around are tourists and locals. The rain started though and after a hot hot day it was nice for the temperature to drop down a few degrees but it meant that we went back to our guesthouse and were penned in by the rain! We were due to leave to fly to Bangkok the next day and prepared ourselves for our trip to Burma. We arrived in Bangkok and took a train to the central station before finding a place to stay for the night. We knew we had to stay nearby as we'd have to be up around 3am to catch the 4am train back to the airport. It would have been a lot easier had the rooms at the airport hotel not been $120 per night.
At the airport we'd dropped our bags off and weren't sure what to expect in a Burma. We arrived in Yangon (Rangoon) yesterday morning (Tuesday) and are now 5.5hours ahead of GMT. What greeted us when we landed was a country that's relatively new to tourism. Having only opened it's borders to tourists on 28 day visas in 2012 it's still a relatively new experience for everyone involved. The people here couldn't be nicer, on a par with the Vietnamese at the moment but probably going to surpass them. We have been in Yangon for a day already and are spending the rest of Wednesday here too before heading to the Inle Lake tonight. From there we plan to see the 3000+ temples of Bagan and then make our way, by boat, to Mandalay for a couple of days before heading back to Bangkok on August 5th.
There is pretty poor wifi in hotels and there isn't really any restaurants so we're more cut off than anywhere else in Asia. Also there isn't any roaming of foreign networks so we're without a phone for the next week. We'll blog again when we get back to Thailand.