Wow! Where do I start? I have had the most amazing time in Chiang Mai! The Readders has been hanging out with Hill Tribes, trekked up and down mountains, taken a bamboo raft down the river and ridden the back of an elephant into a tribes village! I have met the most amazing people and made life long friends…this is one experience I will never ever forget!
As so much happened over the 8 days tour, I think it’s easier if I list some of my experiences down in order of days!
Saturday 6th April
After my hectic arrival in Bangkok and dodgy tuk tuk ride to my hotel..I check into my room and flop onto my bed..ahhh the aircon is kicking in and cold air is slowly filling the room. I know I’m sharing a room with another person on the tour but I haven’t met her yet..so I start unpacking..flip flops first – my poor feet feel like they’re suffocating, they’ve been crammed in my hiking boots for hours and at 34 degrees odd, it feels so nice to get them ‘naked’ !
After much faffing about, I suddenly hear the other side of my hotel room door clicking and clunking…it must be my roomie! I’m wondering what she’ll be like and of course, wondering if she’ll like me! As soon as the door opens, that’s it, we’ve clicked straight away! Frankie and I fast become acquainted and take comfort in the fact that we’re both single travellers and decide to explore some of Bangkok together before meeting up with the others. Frankie is wicked! She is so sweet, much younger than me too so I feel bit protective of her (and eventually the other people I meet too!)…Frankie made me forget about the home sick feeling that started rising up in me (which happens each time I’m alone) and hopefully, I did for her too.
Later in the evening, we meet our tour group and our tour leader Ken. Ken is an out-going, chipper kinda fella who kept singing ‘Call me maybe’ haha! The rest of the group are equally as nice, few couples and the rest all single travellers too. The plans for the week sound amazing and we all can’t wait to start our adventure! Later in the evening, we all went out for dinner together to mingle and do the ‘get to know’.
Today was a bit of an explore day. Ken took us for a walk around China Town, then we visited Wat Trimit (Golden Buddha Temple) which was amazing! Then we had free time before we took our overnight train to Chiang Mai so we all decided to take a trip to Chatuchak Market….hectic just doesn’t sum up this experience hah! It’s definitely something you have to go and see and I do highly recommend it but just be careful! If you’re with other people, you will get split up so make sure you have their numbers! This market is one of the largest in the world presenting over 9,000 stalls! You can literally buy anything you want from clothes to food to animals…yup, pretty shocking but you can buy squirrels, chickens, dogs!
In the evening we took an overnight train to Chiang Mai..this journey was the funniest and by far, the most enjoyable overnight train I’ve taken so far! Ken warmed us up with a little whiskey and then showed us where the ‘party carriage’ was at hah! It felt so surreal to be on a train, drinking and partying with my new friends! Every now and then the train would jolt and most of the beer would end up on us rather than in but what an experience! Finally, we all decide to hit the hay and get some kip before arriving at Chiang Mai!
Wow! Chiang Mai is so beautiful and the difference between the North and South of Thailand is vast! The North seems to be more laid back, life is in the slow lane and I certainly feel this place is more focused on the spiritual side of Thailand too. There are beautiful temples (and monks) everywhere…none of us want to leave!
So we check into our hotel and then Ken briefs us on what are options are for the day…in fact, we slightly changed his itinerary by all wanting to go to see the Tiger Temples! I’d heard of this place..you can have your photo taken within close proximity of Tigers!! So later that day, we all arrive at Tiger Temple in Chiang Mai and join the que of tourists all wanting to see and be photographed with the Tigers..You have to pick your Tigers ‘size’ which made me chuckle…so if you could chose your death (should anything go wrong)..would you like that with the big, medium or small cats?! Hmm…gotta go for the big cats right!
So we’re all waiting inside patiently…um, ok, maybe patiently isn’t the right word..but you can imagine, we are all terrified – you don’t just have you photo taken next to the Tigers…the keepers are encouraging you to lay your head on the tigers bellys or pick up their tails and place them over your top lips in moustash style hah! We’re all exchanging looks of ‘I can’t believe we are doing this!’ but brave it and go on into the ‘Tigers Den’ when called…
Oh my Buddha (as the Thai people say over here!)…wow, this is absolutely TERRIFYING! The keeper beckons you over one by one and you sit at the back end of the Tiger while your friends take your photo! You can take as many photos as you want (as many as you feel comfortable with anyway!) hah. I think in each of my photos, I have a rubber looking expression, half scared and half amazed..my face and body language not really knowing quite sure what to do haha! I laid my head down on his belly thinking that with each breathe in and out that this Tiger would suddenly turn around and swot me like an annoying little fly!? Phew, with that over with, the keepers then let you have you photos taken with 2 more big cats! Oh my Buddha, we are all petrified and almost wishing the experience to hurry up and be over and done with! Wow, goodness me though, looking back on those photos, I can’t believe we all did that! I can’t wait to upload some photos to show Mum and Dad!
Later that evening, we all had a meeting to be introduced to our tour trekking guide as the very next day we are due to embark on our hill tribes tour! We are told what to pack and also what to expect over the next couple of days. It sounds like it’s going to be really tough but the adventure of a lifetime!
So it’s 9am and we’re all up and raring to go! Our taxi is waiting to take us to the local market for supplies (bug sprays, torches etc) before taking us to visit Mok Fah Waterfall before lunch…this was our treat before the trek!
Wow! We pull up at Mok Fah Waterfall and we’re all instantly in our swimming gear and dive in! My minds transported to a scene from the film ‘The Beach’, it’s stunning! Surrounded by lush green trees and a huge fast pouring waterfall = splashing and mucking around with my new friends! It was so refreshing too! None of us wanted to leave when Ken called us back to the jeeps but it was time to move to our next stop for lunch.
After a much needed lunch of fried rice and vegetables, we were taken to our first trekking point. It looked like we stopped in the middle of nowhere (in a forest). Ken and our hill tribe tour guides waited patiently for us all to douse ourselves with our bug sprays and sun lotions and of course strap ourselves into our trekking shoes.
This was seriously hard work! We trekked up and down mountains climbing over rocky roads and slippery trails! We all did so so well though! The heat was hard going and the constant going up and down mountains made your calf muscles ache and your t-shirt feel like a wet suit but we kept each other going knowing that we would all soon be at the first hill tribes village.
We finally made it after 5km’s of trekking! Phewie! Forgetting the pain in our legs and feet it was now our eyes that were in awe of everything around us! We were in a real life hill tribes village! I couldn’t believe it..people still live like this and seemingly very happily too. The hill tribes were living in basic conditions of wooden / straw like huts..there were animals in wooden pens such as cows, pigs and chickens, children playing, women washing clothes in the river…it was just like we’d all gone back in time. We were shown our quarters and then introduced to the villagers. I loved it! I still get goosebumps now thinking about them all. We brought the children gifts of chocolate, biscuits and toys and couldn’t wait to hand them out! They were all to line up and receive a gift one by one..I’ve never seen such a small face lit up with so much joy to be handed a biccie! I was quite overwhelmed actually, I think we all were.
Later in the evening, the hill tribes cooked us up some tasty grub and then we drank and played silly games before bedtime! We needed an early night for Wednesday was going to be even tougher!
Today we all got up at 7am for brekkie and repacking as we’re all off to stay at our next hill tribes village. Again, on go our bug sprays, sun creams and hiking boots as it’s an even longer trek to the next Karen Village.
Definitely an ‘Oh my Buddha’ day….we covered 13km’s of pure trekking! I was actually surprised at how much endurance I had / have! My legs weren’t hurting too bad either but we kept each other encouraged as today we had an extra special treat in store….an elephant trek!
Along the way Ken points out tarantula burrows! Wow…he poked a stick inside and out popped at least 6 legs! A big, black hairy (and rather peed off) tarantula threatened us to ‘back off’. I can’t believe I’m seeing this…this is the stuff from David Attenboroughs TV programmes! This is amazing! Ken is antagonizing it with this stick and the spider is coming further and further out of his burrow attacking the little stick (well, rather that than our fingers hah!) and Ken isn’t afraid one bit! I got some close up shots as well as a video clip, loved it! Oh, the link below should take you to the video I published on Youtube! Tarantula in Thailand
After 5 hours of pure trekking (and sweating!) we finally make it to the elephant camp! We settle down for lunch and wait for the elephants to be prepared for our treks! As soon as the elephants arrive, everyone was in a stunned silence! Wow, they are huge…we just can’t get over their size and beauty! We watched them being drinking and splashing themselves with water and then waited to be called up!
Getting on the elephants was fun hah! Sean, Stacey and I all clammbered on up and held on for dear life! Stacey and I were sitting in the carrier on the back of the elephant and Sean was literally sitting on his head haha! It was a bit like being on the camel ride I went on in Gran Canaria although on a much much larger scale! You had nothing strapping you in so you really had to hold on tight! Our elephant seemed quite happy plodding along to the next camp but the elephant behind was stopping every minute to eat bamboo or pick up sticks etc haha!
Near the end of the ride you start to get into the pattern of it all! Wow, what a way to arrive at our next camp! Once we arrived at the ‘elephant’ drop off point, we all gave our elephant a couple of bananas to pay for our fare and then we met our new hill tribe hosts.
This camp was more developed than the last and again, the people were happy as larry with what they had / have. I remember seeing one young boy playing in the river with his brothers and sisters and one of his arms were missing, he had a mere stump where his arm should have been but he seemed completely unaware and was so happy splashing about without a care in the world.
In the distance, the tribes men were building bamboo rafts…that was our transport for our way home tomorrow! Wow, we couldn’t wait!! A trip down the river by boat!
This is our last night with the hill tribes. Again we were treated to dinner but we had the chance to help prepare it tonight..all hands on deck, we made a tonne of spring rolls, laid the table and then helped serve up. Afterwards, we played games, bought some handmade bracelets from the hills tribe women and then all slept under our mosquito nets in our bungalow hut.
Time to leave the camp today and head back via our bamboo rafts! Again, we’re up early so it’s all up washed, packed up and ready to leave. We head straight for our rafts!
Our raft felt the sturdiest as the other 2 groups had to have theirs reinforced hehe! So at the front we had the ‘captain’ steering us out of trouble, in the middle is the person helping to keep the raft going along smoothly and the person at the back again helping to guide the boat along.
It was so much fun, hard work but heaps of fun! We were all singing songs along the way keeping the happy vibe going…we had 5 hrs to keep this up and we knew eventually our arms were going to start aching. Plus, our competitive side kicked in, we didn’t want the other 2 rafts to reach our first stop off point before we got there right!! 😉
So, we’ve all had a go at ‘punting’ in the middle of the boat but then Ken asked me to be the captain whilst the tribesman did a quick repair job! Wow, I loved it!! I even managed to guide us through some mini rapids! It was such a challenge trying to keep the boat steered away from rocks etc but what a rush. It was the challenge of wanting to keep everyone safe plus keeping ahead of the others hah! Ken even said to me, ‘You make a good captain’ woo hoo!! So I was really chuffed with myself! Today, I learnt that I really do have a lot more endurance and strength in my lil arms than I realised! Hmm, think I’ll be taking up trekking and canoeing when I get home!
During our first lunch time stop, Ken cries out ‘Helen! Where’s Helen?’ (typically, I was um, in the ladies!) He knew I was wanting to see a snake and had obviously seen one from all the ruckus I could hear going on from beyond the wooden shack! ‘Come quickly!’ So I go running out to where the crowd were and we see 2 snakes (in Ken’s words….) ‘making the sex’ haha! He said it was such a rare thing to see that not even the Hill Tribes see that! Ken quickly scared the snakes off afterwards as he said the Hill Tribes would eat them!
Once we’d finished our bamboo rafting (and yes, of course we beat the other 2 teams hehe!)..it was a truck ride back to Chiang Mai hotel 😥 We all got freshened up and then went out for a BBQ dinner. The BBQ dinner was interesting…there were mini BBQ’s in the middle of each table and you literally go up, chose your meat / food and then come back to your table and fry it all there and then!
After that, a whole group of us stayed out Thursday evening to party until the early wee hours!
Ouchie! This morning we’ve all woken up with hangovers and sore heads! Thursday nights shenanigans! We all had so much fun drinking and dancing the night away! And it’s funny, the little things that I will never forget such as coming back to the hotel with Stacey and finding Sean passed out in the corridor and tucking Frankie into bed ahh bless haha! We still laugh about that now when we catch up!
So today is officially Songkran – the Thai New Year..they splash water over you as a means of cleansing you for the NY ahead..so getting rid of old / staleness I guess and ready for the new. As I mentioned, we’re all hungover and in need of a Maccie D’s! So off we go in search of a hangovers brekkie…and there is a full on water splashing fest going on outside! You just couldn’t walk past anyone without getting wet, well, soaked I should say. I got a little bit annoyed as my spare camera battery stopped working and even after it’s been dried out, it’s still not working but hey ho, not the end of the world and it was fun at the time!
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to pack up the remainder of our stuff to take the overnight train to Bangkok. The journey back was so sad. None of us wanted the trip to end! We’ve shared an experience together than none of us will ever forget and plus we’d made some fab friends along the way! I am really looking forward to meeting up with everyone again though in a few weeks and again once we’ve all finished travelling!
I am so so glad I did this trip! We did a lot in 8 days which doesn’t sound a great deal of time but it’s certainly something that will stay with me for life!
Then Saturday afternoon on the 13th, we’d finally said our last goodbyes and then all went our separate ways. For me…it was off to Don Meung Airport to catch a flight to Phuket to head for Posiden Bungalows……