3rd January – Hill Tribe Trek

Had a sleeping bag and 3 heavy blankets over me last night.  Freezing cold and rock hard bed, but thanks to the layers actually got some sleep.  Was in bed pretty early since there’s not exactly night life in the mountains (though did spend an inordinate amount of time just staring up at the night sky), but like everyone else woke up throughout the night.

Actually have a shower with a tiled floor here, so was able to have one without fear of mud or insects which was something of a relief, and after breakfast went to go see the Long Neck Village.  Where all the woman, including the young girls have a number of gold bands around their necks.
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It’s not a big place, only holds a handful of houses and a small market area for tourists.  Like the outside, all the houses here are on stilts, and are relatively bare bones.  At the entrance, they have information on the nature of the gold bands (the whole ‘if they remove them they can’t support their head’ thing is a complete rumour – its not the neck so much as the ribcage getting pushed down that creates the illusion of a long neck), and the second you make your way over to the ‘shopping district’, a young woman with a significant number of bands comes over to speak/sell to you.
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She was also a pretty talented guitarist (had heard her last night) and there was a CD of traditional songs she’d performed as well as jewellery and other obvious trinkets.  Decided to buy one and also bought a few other things too.  Was very interested in buying a replica of the gold bands – but they’re very heavy.  I’m astonished that the woman don’t feel this around their necks – but probably similar to weights or braces.  Hurts to start with but you eventually adapt.

This would be the shortest hike since we also had extra activities included in the price today, and headed off down a (thankfully mostly flat) route towards our first stop.  Along the way, we did spot a tour group and a slightly frantic guide who had apparently lost 2 of his group, but he rushed ahead and eventually passed us again with some sheepish tourists following.
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It was another waterfall, and we were told we could swim here too, but if we didn’t we’d leave after 10 minutes.  I was game, but my suit and sandals were still kind of wet from yesterday despite being out drying all of last evening and night, and nobody else wanted too, so wasn’t gonna hold us up.

Instead, decided to climb up the hill and get a closer look at the waterfall (is sure all of you have heard this story before…).  Thankfully my common sense is still smarting from the first day, so once I get to a point I’m not 100% sure I can actually get back down, I stop and appreciate the view.
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That was our only hiking stoop for the day, and after another 90 minutes we had left the forest and hit a dirt road.  Views were still incredible, but we were now walking with a purpose – there was a van waiting for us somewhere along it who would take us to lunch.

Of course, what our guide said and what happened were 2 different things.  We waited at one point, and then kept walking forwards until the road split and sat for about half an hour, swapping emails and the like while our guide called multiple numbers on his phone.  Finally, he urged us back to our feet and took us over a bridge into the town that had been just 2 minutes away.  There, we had to wait just another 10 minutes before a red pick up truck arrived – the metal boiling hot and having to climb on the wheels to get in it.  I bagged a seat on the top of the roof and got to enjoy the wind and the view.
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Lunch was at a small restaurant, and consisted of a large pan of noodles in some kind of soy-related sauce with chicken.  Actually very nice, though something I discovered you could get sick of if you ate too much, before our guide got a call and said the Elephant Riding was quiet, and we’d best go now so we wouldn’t have to wait too long.
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Oh, the elephant riding.  The one thing that, if it hadn’t been included I wouldn’t have done – I don’t enjoy the experience, and the care of the animals is always so unsure.  Thailand is…troublesome when it comes to animal rights.  Some places are actually very well run and – although probably not up to western laws – seem to care about the animals.  There are elephant sanctuaries and companies that are like this, but don’t think the one our company went with is one of them. I understand that chains and the bull hooks (thankfully only for tapping at least) are pretty standard amongst the elephant riding, but when our elephant didn’t want to go in an area, they would throw dung in the direction required, or actually in the poor things face.  It was hard to enjoy because I wasn’t sure the animals were being cared for, and will be mentioning it when I review the tour itself.

Afterwards, it was off to the bamboo rafting – the last item on the list and in a new bus.  Sadly don’t have photos as we were told to keep anything we didn’t want wet in the bus, and it would meet us at the finishing point.  When we got on the raft, it was pretty clear why they’d said that – the rafts are made of around 9-10 thick trunks of bamboo, tied and fixed together with additional bamboo and tyre rubber in 3 places.  It floats…but once you set foot on it, water seeps through the holes and submerges it in a few inches of water where you sit.  Shoes and trousers are instantly wet – thankfully I’d considered this a possibility beforehand and had worn the muddy waterfall trousers, the water could only improve them.

When I heard rafting, I assumed it was similar to white water, but no silly brain, there are other forms of rafting than that.  Its mostly sailing down a wide (but very shallow) river and enjoying the scenery and quiet.  Every now and then the ground would be a little too close and scrape the bottom of the boat, but it was relatively smooth for the most part part.  Of course, the best moments were when we did came to a small collection of rocks and have to do a little white water style over the rapids.  There was never anything hideously big, in fact the one drop that was more than a few inches (a good several feet waterfall style stunner) we had to get off the raft and walk along the rocks until it had cleared the dangerous part.

We’re sailing for around 45 minutes, and its a nice way to end off the trip, even if at the end of it I’m completely drenched and a little worried about how I’m going to dry before we leave.  End up changing my pants and trousers, and accepting my sandals are going to have to spend all day in the sun again.
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At this point, the tour was officially over, and we packed up into the minibus to head home.  However, the minibus was also working as a typical Chiang Mai minibus too, so along the way picked up a dozen travellers and locals all heading back to Chiang Mai too.  Its actually a very effective form of public transportation all things considered.

Since we hadn’t gone swimming, and the traffic wasn’t awful, we got back into Chiang Mai at a pretty good time.  After 2 days of roughing it, I was happy to get back to Mandala and enjoy the more-than-I-can-afford perks before I headed to Bangkok’s dormitories again.  And just to make things extra nice for me?
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Yes, that is a four bloody poster bed I have.  How frickin awesome is that?

My first point of call is a shower, and reorganising my bags for tomorrows transport – also sending off an emergency laundry so that I wont have to worry about it in Bangkok for a few days – before going to see what Chiang Mai’s like at night when its not New Years.  First impressions?  A LOT quieter.  Though the gate looks strangely lonely without the huge market and teeming crowds.

I don’t go too far, mostly exploring the streets up and down Thapae Gate and exploring all the the small ‘soi’ streets.  Have another helping of pad thai, though this time from a street restaurant (third of the price and twice the size, much better).  Chiang Mai’s just a nice place to be – certainly wouldn’t mind spending more time here in the future.

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About Batale

I am an aspiring writer - though since I haven't written anything original in about 2 years, so calling me a writer is like calling a man who makes dinner every night a 5 star chef. I started this blog to force me to write. From the 1st January 2013, I intend to update this blog every day. If nothing interesting happens, I'll write about something that does interest me, whether that is a movie, a book, something I've heard about, or even some of my stories growing up.
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