Days 65-75: This episode will cover Bangkok and chang mai. Totally different experience wise, but post-trekking I am feeling somewhat lazier than usual. Bangkok is a thriving and colourful city, its vibrance was the first thing that hit me when wondering about the mass of street stalls and markets. It is most definatley shopping central. As you may all know, I am about 70% gypsy. I was in heaven, hand made shoes and leather bags, reams of fisherman trousers, beads, flowery dresses, the lot. At 2 pound a piece you can get slightly carried away. I tried to stick to what I 'need', but as I am learning on this trip, you really don't need a lot in life. We stayed for the next 4 days in mini hotel. 200 Bat a night (approx 3 pounds) per room, and off the main street, so not quite as noisy. A good find, as you have to walk through a shoe shop to get to it!
Bangkok was an amazing dynamic of travellers, holiday makers and people simply stopping over. Its reputation of seedy discomfort did not prevail. Whilst you can find anything the heart desires if you try hard enough, it was a partying, buzzing atmosphere that you felt as you walked around the backpacker area of Bamlamphu. The street food here was amazing, slighty more accessible than cambodia, and feeling a bit more hygeinic than vietnam, you can buy any number of bbq meat squewers with chilli for 10 bat each, pad thai for 25 bat (thai fried noodles with cabbage, bean sprouts, sauce, egg etc), tasty, spring rolls, 25 bat for 3, a pot of fried quails eggs with soy sauce for 20 bat (very good!), fresh fruit shakes (any fruit and veg of choice). As you can imagine, after a few drinks this proves very tempting. Oh and I forgot, amazing crepe/pancakes, with banana, chocolate, honey, coconut, whatever takes your fancy.
Whilst here I experienced the least painful bikini wax on the face of the earth, may have to make monthly trips here just for that purpoes! Had a manicure and pedicure for about 2 pounds 50, bought a couple of dramatically flower filled dresses, and ate ridiculous amounts of street food. We also visited wat pho, a temple in the centre of bangkok, with the biggest golden lying down buddha in the whole of asia. A river side walk there highlighted the depths of bangkok. Tiny streets of wooden houses, markets filled with buddhist relics, steam filled alleys selling indescribable foods, that smelt amazing but looked horrific. One night we experienced a ping pong show, funny, but somewhat dull, this is one of the most hyped up tourist attractions of bangkok. I won't go into details, some of you can guess what I'm talking about. Bangkok was most definatley a reintroduction to civilisation after the lack of development in Cambodia, I loved it.
After 4 days of city dwelling we got on a night bus to chang mai. In the north west of thailand, chang mai is well known for its trekking experience and for its elephants. We arrived here at 6'0 clock in the morning, looking shadows of our former selves after only a couple of hours sleep. We had resorted to telling one another stories to while away the hours on the bus journey, 12 hour trips are not fun. We got dropped off at a hostel rather than the bus station, and as is so often the case, where enticed into booking a hostel and trek then and there, rather than zombying it around the town. We paid 1,900 bat each for the 3 day trek, about 30 quid. Then retired into our hostel room for a few hours, before reappearing as renewed, less sleep deprived individuals. Our hostel has a shallow, strange tasting pool, that entertained us for the remainder of the day and chang mai has an extensive night market, where we picked up a few more pressies (which I am now having to lug back to bangkok).
We got up at 8 the next day for our trek, unbelieveably excitable. The trek was from Pai, a neighbouring town and included staying in the jungle in tribal villages, elephant trekking, waterfalls, bamboo rafting and extensive up hill walking. Our group was about 10 people, mainly from the Uk and Australia. For the first 3-4 hours of the trek we were pretty much mud skiing around. It was raining and the kind of trekking conditions that would have cancelled a trip in the UK. Half of us had fallen within the first hour. The guide fashioned bamboo walking sticks for us so that we could pivot our way down the hills. I started to realise just how much your fitness levels drop after 2 months. We eventually arrived in a small tribal village at the bottom of a valley, literally in the middle of the jungle. We were all soaked to the skin, mud splattered and pretty tired. My shoes were small mud pools that would inevitably not dry and we were then informed there was no running water or showers. There was however a waterfall. A small muddy climb away and a natural beauty. We all clambered up the mud slide of a hill, fearing for my life, with a 10 ft drop next to me. Stood under the cold water fall in my underwear, and felt very far away from home. We ate well that night on thai curry and crunchy veg, everyone sat up with the family playing card games, drinking strong whisky and smoking opium. This village was really only one family. An older man, probably in his seventies, had adopted his grandson after his mother had died and father disappeared. It was Jawat, the 9 year old boy that highlighted the real poverty in these vilages. He was the most playful and happy child, and loved the backpackers, as he had no friends out in the jungle. He couldnt attend school as it was too far away and he had noone to walk with. He played with everyone and took a shine to tom and sat up that evening until the last person went to bed. When the backpackers didn't come they ate very little. We hadn't realised when we ate our dinner that they survived on the left overs. Our guide jakaw (we called him jacob)told us the villages recieve only 500 bat for the night, when you consider there we 10 of us, all paying 1,900 bat, the money is obviously not going in the right direction.
As the majority of the trekkers were on 2 day trips, we were slowly being coerced into doing the same. By the next day I had no dry clothes whatsoever, the climate here is colder and damper and nothing dries. I had also slept on an ants nest, ever get that feeling something is biting you... well this time they really were, as the sun rose on our wooden shack, filled with 10 damp backpackers, sleeping on ant infested blankets, the problem became clearer. It would seem that ants don't like the rain either, and foolishly, I had slept next to a hole in the floor. My pillow, fashioned out of an old blanket, was covered in them, and I had an extremely bumpy forehead as a result. Had we not also fought for hours that evening to get the flea ridden dogs off our bed, simply to avoid this very scenario, I probably would have taken the itchy forehead better. I will confess there was copious amounts of ant moaning.
However, the mood soon changed. Whilst we began our day with soden, mud filled shoes, wet clothes and trekking through mud streams up almost verticle hills, we made it to the elephant village. Peering at them through the trees as the locals showered them in the river, the were truely amazing creatures. The stride so elegantly, such huge animals, never stumbling. There were 3 elephants each carrying 4 of us. One on the neck and 3 in the seat. A baby elephant followed its mother for the whole journey. The iron seat must have weighed more than all four of us, and yet they carried us all like a small ruck sack. We rode on the elephants for an hour. Through rivers, the midst of the jungle. Their handlers walked, bear foot, talking to them all the way. They understood, left right, etc, like the commands you might give to a dog, but the elephants were more gracious. We were dropped off in the midst of nowhere and after a further hour long trek we came to another village for lunch. Vegetable noodle soup, we were so hungry. Tom retreieved 2 leaches from his blood soaked shoe, and we were off again. The last hour was spent on bamboo rafts along a river about half an hour away. Having been told it was fairy impossible to fall off, we were expecting more of a river cruise. It would seem we had the least experienced guide. After 10 minutes we were all floating down a dirty, insect filled river, having been launched off by poor steering. It wasnt th last time. At one point my ankle was hooked onto toms steering stick and I was being dragged down stream. After numerous scratches we were safely back on land. Relieved that our cruise had been turned into a hap hazard white water rafting trip, to end our trek on an exciting note.
The next day we hadnt tired of elephants. We woke somewhat hungover after a night of cheap cocktail buckets and dancing to reggae. We set off, with a lift from Jakaw to the maesa elephant camp, just outside of chang mai. It cost 240 bath each and was money well spent. Within it there was a nursery. The baby elephants let you sit with them, pulled you into the air with their trunks and put hats on your head with their trunks. We fed some of the older ones with sugar cane and bunches of bananas. The show was amazing. The younger elephants, played foot ball, one as goal keeper. They actually had victory dances when they scored. They played instruments, blew darts out of their trunks and exhibited a variety of tricks wih their trainer. The older male elephants showed teir strenths as workers, by simulatneously lifting large wooden pilons with their trunks. We were in awe of them, their mannerisms were almost human, the way they celebrated a good trick, played with one another...you have to see it with your own eyes. The finale was elephant painting. Having had a heated discussion with my family in yorkshire before leaving, mum I quote said whilst watching a video on you tube 'its just someones arm in an elephant trunk costume', we had to prove this was real. It was amazing, their trainers simly put the paint on the stick, and they painted flowers trees, all different colours and styles. One of the highlights of our trip.
We spent the next couple of days lounging around. We couldnt get an overnight bus, it would seem every backpacker in thailand was heading for the full moon party on the 16th of august. Including us. We eventully booked a bus. Before which I treated myself to an aromatherpy thai massage, well worth 7 pounds and tom and I revisited utopia for another all you can eat bbq and reggae band extravaganza. This time tom decided to steal the mic, and sing a slightly out of tune version of 'so sally can wait'. He was loving it, and whilst I'm sure it wasnt enirely his fault, there weren't many people in the bar to see the end of this set. Our overnight bus to bangkok wasn't the best. No sleep and arriving in bangkok, only to catch another bus that same night to chumporn. We got there at 5 the following morning. Then got on a boat at 7 am for a 3 hour journey to Koh Toa. The journey of hell, but worth it for a taste of paradise.