Friday, 6 March 2009

Trekking in Chaing Mai

clam fishing

I am fairly exhausted after three days up in the hills, but although I have had a good time and I have met some nice people, a level of disappointment lingers. I guess I had read so much about trekking in Chaing Mai that my expectations were never going to be met.

I was picked up early in the morning, first of the group, that co-incidentally was mostly from Catalonia. We drove South, away from the main tourist treks, but before getting to our destination we stopped at a market to buy our last provisions. And it was there that I, finally, found my hat. After 6 weeks looking for the perfect hat, I now have it. As with all these treks we stopped at a temple, I guess it's always a way to fill up one of the days. I had exactly the same experience last October when I was in North East Thailand.

Not sure about the boots and shorts look...


The view was great, the Buddha was large, but you can't help feeling that, sadly, when you have seen one you have seen them all. I love religious art, and I have spent hours visiting temples of different religions, but Buddhist temples are fairly 'samey'. Nevertheless the view from the top of the hill was breathtaking, with the paddy fields and villages below us.

I almost lost my pants...again...

We stopped at a waterfall in the middle of a forest to have a dip, it was nice and refreshing as the day was getting really hot. We are at the height of the dry season and at the moment Thailand is busy back burning.

I am not completely sure what my view is on this. Back burning is a traditional way to protect areas from potentially bigger fires. In Australia they decided to stop doing it as Melbourne citizens were complaining about the smoke, but they have now suffered the worse forest fires in living memory. However, at the same time, burning all these leaves is creating a cloud of smog that covers the whole North, increasing substantially the pollution levels.

Somehow I couldn't stop thinking about Bridge Over The River Kwai...

We eventually reached the camp for the first night, very basic large huts for people to sleep in, one for cooking and one for eating, and some seating by the fire.

Tan has had too much Moonshine...

Breakfast being prepared for us...

Tan, our guide cum cook, started to get really 'lairy' and we soon discovered that he had been hitting the local 'moonshine' as soon as we got to the camp.

I was warned by one of the group that drinking it may cause blindness, but then I remembered the priests at school saying the same about something else, so decided to try it.

Somehow one of my lingering memories of this trek will be getting an ipod out and listening to a Spanish Sevillana in the middle of Thailand. The moon set early that evening and the stars completely covered the sky. I have never in my life seen so many, not even in the desert, it was a truly magnificent spectacle, one that made the trip worthwhile for me.

Then an early start for our 8 hours of walking across the hills. It was hard work, and it got harder as the day progressed as the sun inflicted on us got stronger. Sometimes the dry hot wind hit us and you could hear as all sigh simultaneously. Other times we walked under the cover of bamboo arches with just the sound of the river and a gentle buzz from the cigarras to accompany us. The great thing about trekking around this part of Thailand is the amount of waterfalls and rivers, just perfect for a dip and a quick swim. Local children seem to head there straight from school just to jump in the water.

One thing that puzzled me were the dogs. Dogs joined the walk in different parts and walked with us, maybe for two or three hours, sometimes for a whole day. When we got to a settlement they were fed by the locals and then carried on with us. Other dogs would then stay behind, but none of them seemed to have owners or homes, they were true hippie dogs....

Bad first was only a burst blister!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The camp for the second night was on beautiful flat farmland, and I must say that dinner was excellent. We followed it with some cards and a bit more moonshine, though we all decided our guide turns into Gollum when he drinks it....I freaked out a bit when he said 'You strong man, we Thai small, but small and sweet'.

Our last day could have been tourist hell and for some, it seems, it was.

We started the day rafting but the river was too low, as we are too far into the dry season. We then did a bit of bamboo rafting and finally an elephant ride. But I wish I hadn't finished on that.

I couldn't help but feel saddened by the image of the magnificent animals chained. It is true that they looked well fed and kept, but I felt that I was supporting a practice I didn't agree with. My elephant driver let me get off my chair and sit on the elephant's neck and I loved the fact that the elephant took revenge on me and Carles, from time to time spitting on us!!!

On this type of organized trip so much relies on the dynamics that build between the members of the group. I really got to like the two British lads, but then again who could not like Simon's easy laugh, and also Crystelle, from France, and Carles one of the guys from Catalonia. However, some of the other people just seemed to take pleasure in complaining.

Just writing this, I've realized that it was a great experience, though maybe I am just too easy to please. There was no white water rafting as there was no white water, but I had a laugh so I am not going to complain.

I am off to Laos soon, so excited...

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