Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand
12.07.2010 - 18.07.2010 33 °C
So i am heading for Indochina, probably Laos first. Myanmar has sapped the life out of me though, physically and emotionally. I need to get myself back. I always fancied going to Chiang Mai so I spend a week there to try and get my mojo, do a little of what i fancy. Cue an average of 2 massages a day, one day I had THREE!! Well at around £3 an hour it would be terribly rude not to so why not? There are some truly amazing little spas and massage places in Chiang Mai and all are dirt cheap. Think I worked my way through most of your average massage menu, you name it, I had oil massages, thai, foot, shoulder, head and massage by a blind person. It worked wonders, I started to feel blossoms of myself again.
I was actually a little disappointed by Chiang mai itself. It was a much larger city than I expected, a lot more traffic than i had hoped and the whole place very geared towards tourism. I couldn’t seem to get away from fellow English people enjoying a pint or 10 in the many English bars. I thought this place would be, well, more Thai. Pretty city though, especially within the city walls, surrounded by a moat. The old town was full of quaint little streets lined with colourful flowers, temples dotted around everywhere. The food in this city was also fantastic and very cheap. I adore Thai food. I stayed in a great guesthouse in the old town where for a tenner a night i lived like a princess, well in travellers terms anyway! Big bed, private balcony, aircon, TV, wifi, free coffee, friendly guesthouse owner. After Myanmar this was just the ticket, satisfy my craving for a few home comforts. Chiang Mai gave me a much needed holiday.
I found some time when i wasn’t being pummelled to go on a couple of daytrips. The first of these was to the Baanchang elephant rescue sanctuary, where they care for about 15 previously abused or distressed elephants. There are a number of elephant sanctuaries around Chiang Mai, established as far as I could see, in response to demand from tourists for more eco-friendly ways to spend time with these beautiful animals. Many tourist attractions and treks around Northern Thailand involve elephant trickshows and rides on seats strapped onto their backs. These activities are considered to be potentially harmful and stressful for the animal. The Baanchang sanctuary is maybe not the best known and i am not sure the most ethical either as they still allow you to ride on the back of an elephant to exercise them, albeit bare back riding. I didn’t really see the harm in this though other than thinking they must have had some kind of training to understand the commands and allow you to ride them.
This was a real fun day with a great group of people. I partnered with Matt, from Colorado USA, to care for an elephant between us. Our elephant was called Mae Moon and she had a baby that followed her everywhere, called Faasai. First things first we had to change into our Mahout overalls, very unflattering baggy blue trousers and buttoned shirt, with a bamboo hat. They looked more like surgical scrubs! We then fed the elephants HUGE amounts of sugarcane and banana, either straight into their mouths or via their trunk, whichever they decided they wanted. These elephants need about 300-400 lbs of food a day!! We then had a lesson on how to get onto the elephants back and what commands to use to get the elephant to go forward, stop, and sit down so that we could get off. It was a very weird feeling sat on the bare back of an elephant, it wasn’t terribly comfortable and kept feeling like i was going to fall forwards. The hair of the elephant was real rough, like those old brown welcome mats for wiping your feet and i had red marks on my inner thighs after riding. I did rather enjoy the flapping ears against my legs though, natural air conditioning. We did also joke that the baby provided us with a good footrest; we had the luxury executive version of an elephant ride!
After a little trek on the elephant back through the jungle it was time for the best bit of the day, washing the elephants. We joined them in the muddy lake with our buckets and brushes. The elephants looked they were having the time of their life lolling around in the water, spraying themselves, and us, with water from their trunk! Faasai, the baby, kept disappearing completely under the water and was being rather cheeky. I fell off the back of Mae Moon a few times as she was moving around so much, but at least it was a soft landing into the lake. This was the most fun i had had in a long time and it took me several showers to get all the mud off!
Another day I had a go at zip lining and abseiling through the jungles just North of Chiang Mai. I had never tried this before so thought i would give it a go. This involved wearing a big harness and a crash helmet then letting a very cheeky Thai man to peg me onto a wire between two trees then letting go to fly through the jungle. Some of the wires were very fast and we had to brake by applying a wooden stick behind us and jigging the wire up and down. Sometimes, we didn’t slow down enough and went crashing into a tree! We would also sometimes go in pairs ‘like a honeymoon couple’ according to the guide. To be ‘same same but different’ (yes I know, what an irritating expression!) sometimes we would try and be ‘superman’ and do the zipping without holding on. I laughed a lot this day. The abseiling was the most fun if just a little scary. A few times we had to be dropped down quite a distance to reach the next platform in the jungle to progress. They would basically make you freefall most of the way, like a bungy jump, let you hang for a while to ‘enjoy the view’ then drop you down the rest of the day at a more ‘civilised’ pace. The last drop, hilariously known as the ‘Happy Ending’ nudge nudge wink wink was a not so funny 50 metre drop. A long old way down gulp! After a few last minute doubts if i would survive this i did it, let go and it was FUN waahhhaaayyyyyy J
Final evening in Chiang mai I checked out the Saturday night market, nothing too special to be honest, not sure what the fuss is about. I got back into my routine though in asian night markets, walking round and sampling different foods from the street vendors whilst taking in the atmosphere and having a little browse. I will miss Asia so much.