Elephant riding, trekking, rafting and partying [6]

Sunday, 21 October 2012

I have recently got back from an amazing time, trekking through Chiang Mai!

Riding on top of the bus

Firstly, we started out the journey riding around in a little open minivan called a songtaew and picked up the people who would come on the tour with us. We were with one guy who I met on the train from Byron Bay, Australia called Mason, 2 French guys, 2 English guys, and a Korean girl. Our guides name was Dea, and we started off by driving for about half an hour south of Chiang Mai to the elephant riding camp. Dea said it would be a cool idea if we rode on the top of the bus so some of us got on the roof and held on to the little rack at the top which was pretty fun.

Elephant Riding

At the elephant camp we met our nice Elephant (I think her name was Mae Song or something) and got up on the little seat on the back. The Mahut (Elephant driver) rode up on the elephants head. Unfortunately he used a metal hook to dig into the elephant to make it go which was a little harsh, but I guess there are worse jobs for the elephants to have. Once the elephant knew we had bananas, she would stop every few steps and put her trunk up behind her to receive a new banana. This was cute at first but got annoying after a while. The elephant sloshed through the muddy path and came to the top where we had a nice view over rural Chiang Mai. It was a cool experience but I think at the end of the day they are just exploiting the poor elephants for these rides, being forced to walk around and around every day, where they should just be free instead. There are other elephants in worse positions but still I much prefer elephant sanctuaries, similar to the one in Chiang Mai, where they look after the elephants and give them food and let them do what they want in their own environment.

Walking through a rice paddy

After the elephant rides we drove down to where we would start our long walk to the village. The nature around Thailand is really nice, full of lakes, rivers, rice paddies, wet bushland, towering trees, and so many insects and animals. Our guide showed us many different things such as how to cut a walking stick out of bamboo, different leaves you could eat such as some nice sour tasting ones and some minty ones to clean your teeth. Different seeds and where other animals and insects hide. He really had a keen eye for all the things around the area, and could spot a little frog or a spider from ages away.

The local Karim village people

We walked for a few hours and stopped at a nice little waterfall and had a lunch consisting of noodles, pineapple and passionfruit. After walking for about 3 hours we finally arrived at the ‘village’. In reality, it was actually just 2 little huts made out of leaves and bamboo and a family consisting of about 8 people, all in the middle of nowhere! We gave some little presents to the children, and got to shoot one of the farmers guns which was pretty cool. The villagers seemed so nice with their nice little community. I wondered if they ever got lonely living out there in the middle of nowhere, but they seemed so self-sufficient with water, animals, hunting equipment and things like that. They were the Karim people, who actually speak Burmese and who are native to the area. One of the girls was only 14 but was on her second husband, and had a pair of boy identical twins and a little baby girl. They seemed genuinely happy and nice, and I could see no real complications with their life.

Our guide Dea at the campsite

We walked for another half an hour and arrived at the campsite where we would stay for the night. There were 2 locals who looked after the campsite (which again was just 2 leaf houses) and all sat around the little fire. We sat around talking for a while, cooking some local things. Dea made an awesome dinner out of all local ingredients that he had either found or bought from the market, basically curies and things. He even found a frog on the path and roasted it up. I didn’t want to try it because I thought it might taste gross but I ate some of the meat and it was really amazing! Like firm chicken but chewier and tastier. We got up to a lot of fun things that night. We got a guitar from the campsite owners house and managed to fix it up with some sticks, pieces of metal from a beer can, and a machete, and sat around playing from the book of songs they had, like John Lennon- Imagine. Then we went down to the river and set off some of the fireworks we had bought from the local market with 2 of the guys from the campsite who put the in the end of bamboo sticks and fired them around. We also found some passion fruits floating along the river and ate them. Then after most people had gone to bed 3 of us sat around smoking some of the local ‘herbs’ and talked with Dea. He was actually a really nice guy, and even though his English wasn’t perfect, and we were with a French guy and a Korean girl we still all managed to talk and laugh about things and have an awesome time! It just showed me that age, language and race don’t really matter at the end of the day.

The local dam

The next day we walked to an amazing huge waterfall and climbed around on the rocks for a while and had a shower underneath it. We crossed a few rope and bamboo bridges, walked through rice fields and dense jungle and finally finished our amazing walk. There was a dog called Bek who followed us the whole way through the trek and walked for about 4 hours, always surprising us when she would disappear then reappear back in front of us on the track.

We then went bamboo rafting, which was a little scary considering that our raft drivers were about 8 years old, and the rapids were pretty fast too. Finally we headed back to the hotel, but then decided to all go out with our guide Dea who showed us some local Thai music bars. They were cool and everyone got drunk and tried to impossibly sing along, and you even get a massage when you go to the toilet there.

Overall it was an awesome experience, but the best thing for me was being able to see how the villagers lived there. Their lives are so different there but still they are ultimately happy, and is that not what we base our very lives around? They can live here in these little leaf huts, no electricity, no medicine, no shops, no outside contact yet still live a sustainable and happy existence. I believe there are more than a few means to an end, and to see these people so happy with what little they have gives me hope 🙂

Finishing the trek

I am going for an interview for a teaching job in a nearby province on Monday, where I will teach Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They will probably be grateful for a teacher as it is a smaller province, and I will get free accommodation and a motorbike there, as well as bus tickets to and from Chiang Mai. I am also thinking of buying a little honda 150 cbr motorbike to get around, and i’m looking forward to meeting lots more people around the area, locals and expats!

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