Since my last post I have crammed a lot in as I’ve travelled north. Same same, but different as the Thais would say (no I don’t understand either!).
So after one too many Chang beers in Ayutthaya (that stuff is strong), I caught the night train to Chiang Mai. Met other travellers straight away which was a relief after the solitude of big bad Bangkok. I saw some more temples in the day before meeting the others for a meal in the evening, in a restaurant complete with the man-and-synthesiser dodgy cabaret that is so typically Thai. I’ll never complain about Westlife cover versions again!
As usual some of the English translations on the menu were mystifying. So, deciding to pass on the Fried Jew’s Ear (a bit extreme and not filling enough, I thought), we all stuck with what we knew and had a good laugh at the meal and at the night market, browsing through the silk, suspiciously new films on DVD, cheap clothes and deadly weapons. Yes, that’s right we’re talking Kill Bill style numchukkers, swords and, my favourite, torch/stun gun. Unscrew the light and you could zap a tuktuk driver into driving more safely. Unfortunately the market trader refused my request to try it on one of my new friends!
All of us had booked the 3 day trek into the jungle, so that’s where we headed the next day. Our guides were real characters – Nong and Tee (or Mr T as he preferred). When we arrived one of the rangers gave me some Thai whiskey and we embarked on the full cardio vascular exercise that I hadn’t expected to volunteer for! Mr T spent most of the time trying to make us believe there were tigers and monkeys in the bushes so, consequently, when he saw a green tree snake we thought he was joking and pushed him towards it. Then we saw it! No damage done we trekked until the evening when we stayed on the floor of a big hut in a village of only 27 people. Someone brought a guitar so he was the entertainment around the campfire that night.
After little sleep (the pillows must have a dual use as pads for Thai boxing practice) it was more of the same until we reached a stunning waterfall – our base for the second night. After a dip in the water we tried the whiskey around the fire that night and slept a lot better than before! Apparently, for some reason, in my sleep, I tried to have sex with the bloke I was sharing the small hut with. I blame the whiskey, but it does get lonely in the jungle at night…
The third day was when we rode elephants, trying to avoid the sprays of elephant snot that they were using to cool themselves with. It was great fun to feed them afterwards. Despite initially ignoring me shouting “Trunkie want a bun?”, the elephants soon saw what I had and we saw some serious trunk action as I passed them the food. I tried to give something to the baby but this trunk came from nowhere to snatch and eat what I was holding. I guess Mum didn’t want the little one spoiling his dinner with snacks, and who am I to argue?
A little more walking (during which time we passed a massive ‘Opium Tree’, according to Mr T, yeah right) we finished with rafting. In hindsight it was possibly a mistake to not put my contact lenses in, as I couldn’t make out obstacles until it was too late – hence we crashed a lot and everyone overtook! Near the end some locals on the bank shouted at us to divert our attention, knowing that there was a tight part of the river just ahead. It worked of course and we became wedged against rocks (every Thai’s a joker). I was the only person who managed to lose my foot between the bamboo logs, just extracting it before we crashed again. The whole trek was a great experience, but it was nice to return to some home comforts. We all went for another meal in the evening, together with Nong.
I had an early morning start for a day trip further north the next day. On our way to Chiang Rai we stopped at hot springs (despite Thailand having no volcanoes). It was here that I saw a cute little monkey riding a dog. As I crouched to take a photo, the dog came closer and the monkey jumped on me! Not content with the photo of a monkey’s butt flying through the air at close range, I reunited jockey with dog and tried again, to much better effect. Next stop was another spectacular temple, still in construction but pure white and well worth seeing.
We then visited a hill tribe, different to the ones on the trek, and got some great photos with the tiny people with black teeth which they get from chewing a weird concoction of tobacco and other stuff. I volunteered to give it a go but lasted about 30 seconds. Someone else lasted a few minutes but spewed up 10 minutes later!
Next was the Golden Triangle, where the Me Khong river separates Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. I thought we would have a relaxing boat trip here and laughed when I saw the speed some of the smaller boats were going – until we were handed life jackets and got in one ourselves! I don’t know what the Thai fascination is with these boats powered by converted truck engines. What’s the rush? After a few minutes on the water, we went to an island that is actually part of Laos but you don’t need a passport. Basically a tourist trap where they are pushing Lao whiskey, complete with a snake and scorpion in the bottle. I guess you’re not supposed to swig from the bottle…
On the way back we visited Maesai, the northernmost part of Thailand (it says so on a sign!) at the border with Myanmar. Get this – Thais actually shop in Myanmar as it is cheaper, even with the 50 baht per day requirement. The last stop was a temple in a cave, 200m up a mountain. There were monkeys everywhere, most of them scared of humans. Guess who chose to speak to the bad-ass monkey of the bunch? That’s right, and he went for me, nearly causing me a heart attack in the process, the stupid, grumpy, red-faced little shit…
So that’s it in the north – a couple of things to do before catching the night train back to Bangkok, but much better prepared this time!