Saturday, 31 October 2009

Mae Taeng

One of the attractions of the Chang Mai area is the chance to head up into the hills and go trekking for a couple of days. It's a really popular thing to do and the market is pretty cut-throat. It was very difficult to split out the expensive and exploitative ( of both tourists and locals ) from the cheap and crap, but we seemed to manage it with the help of the guest house staff.
We started off with about an hours drive in the back of a pickup to a 50' waterfall. Really nice to cool down in it, but painful if you stood under the main part of the flow. A short hop up the road took us to some geothermal pools. Just what you need in the heat of Thailand..
And then the trek proper. It was probably about ten kilometres long, but it was much very up hill and down dale, and in the temperature and humidity it was pretty tiring.

We passed through a couple of isolated villages on the way. The hill tribe people here are very much separate from the rest of Thailand. You might just get a moped along the tracks, but certainly nothing bigger. They live an agricultural life up in the hills and supplement their income by selling food and drinks to the occasional tourist. We passed through Karen and Lahu tribal areas. The Karen are the folks that you may have seem with multiple brass rings round their neck, though apprantly this is only really done for the tourists. Bah.

The views along the trek were great. Lot's of interesting wildlife ( giant grass hoppers and beatles for example ) and lots and lots of forest and jungle.

We stayed the night in a hut in a Lahu village. It was a pretty basic arrangement, just blankets on the hut floor, but after the exertions of the day and the slightly cooler nights up the hills, we had a really good night's sleep. This was despite the squawks, grunts and growls of the village dogs, cats, chickens and pigs as they indulged in dawn games of tig. The showers were in the local river, which was fine until you realised that there was alot of elephant crap floating downstream as you stood there in your pants scrubbing away....

Next day we needed to continue our trip along the river ( the Mae Taeng ). We thought that seeing as we had suffered the elephants crapping in our bathwater the previous night, we might hitch a ride. Very serene, very quiet, but a long way up from the ground. Much better than horses though, but they did seem to poo and eat continuously which explained the profusion of floaters in the river.

Final leg of the trip was on a bamboo raft. It was about a 25' x 5' affair lashed, very skillfully together with grass. Once loaded, it sat about 2" below the water, but seemed pretty stable for our voyage past slumbering water buffalo. Steering was via some long bamboo poles, not unlike punting. We did navigate a couple of minor rapids (yep - Athena got wet again) which added to the excitement as did spotting the small, but very fast, snake swimming towards us.

We're leaving the Chiang Mai area now and started heading North East towards the border with Laos.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the capital of the Northern provinces of Thailand. It's quite a big city ( might be the second city in Thailand at around two million ), but it has quite a small town feel. The central area of the town, and the bit that's most interesting to tourists is a 4km square surrounded by what remains if the old city walls and a fully intact moat. Not for swimming in . ..

Inside the walls are numerous Wats, temples, monuments, markets etc etc. The main Wat is very sacred in Thailand as it is the place where an elephant carrying a fingernail of Bhudda finally dropped dead about eight hundred years ago.

We've been staying in a really nice guest house ( Libra - recommended ) and have discovered a fantastic food market just around the corner. It seems to be some kind of cooperative system where you ask for what you'd like to eat and drink from a common menu and then various stalls whip up food and drink depending on their various specialities. Really tasty food, as fresh and it could possibly be and all for the bargain price of 1 pound each.
We've also explored beyond the city by hiring a snarling beast of a motorcycle ( okay, it was a whimpering 100cc step-thru.. ). About sixteen kilometres away is Doi Suthep. It's another famous Wat. Impressive, but not as good as the ones in town, but it was worth the journey as it sits on top of a big hill and affords a top view of the entire city ( bit hazy, so no nice photos ). Also up there were the Bhupin Royal Thai Winter Palace Gardens ( nice if you like roses and stuff ) and a glorious water fall ( which Athena fell in ).We also found clumps of giant Bamboo. Just in case you wondered how tall it can get, have a look at this vid. I was thinking about how big the local Panda's must be !

Monday, 26 October 2009

Train - Bangkok to Chiang Mai

We're in Chiamg Mai. It's the capital of Northern Thailand, quite close to the border with Burma.
We got the train here from Bangkok. It takes twelve hours, but, wait for it, it's in an air-con carriage and included a nice bit of lunch. Never has second class felt so good !
The first bit of the journey was a bit dull. We travelled across lowland rural plains of paddy fields, coconut groves and banana plantations for about seven hours. You could see why food is cheap and plentiful in Thailand.

Things got a bit more interesting after a town called Uttaradit ( which I will have just spelt very badly ). The train started to climb and weave as we entered a continuous tunnel of dense green jungle and forest that only broke occasionally to reveal rivers and lush mountains. It was all very picturesque, but only lasted for a few hours before the sunset.

We arrived in Chiang Mai at about 9pm, hopped into the back of a pickup and got dropped to a hotel with an ELVIS PUB SINGER !!!. And Thai Elvis rocks, uh huh.. Anyway, a quick bowl of spicy fish soup and vast shrimp and to bed. We need to sort out the next few days of action from here.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


We've been in Bangkok for the last few days. It's a pretty intense city, especially after a long flight and especially if you're too tight to pay for a direct flight and spend an extra few hours touring the airports of the Gulf...
I have some rather mixed memories of Bangkok from my last trip hear 12 years ago. The squallor of the Khao San Road flop house we stayed in was a bit much in such a hot city. Happy to say we're staying in a place with air-con and a shower and we've had a fabulous time. Flash huh ?
The sights in Bangkok are pretty special. We've seen reclining 30ft Bhuddas, 20ft standing Bhuddas and even the elusive emerald Bhudda. The Royal Palace and adjacent Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho are an amazing combination of religious architecture and ancient Thai art. The city is littered with hundreds of amazing Wats, but to be honest, you get used to them very quickly and having seen the best few, you start to just take them for granted and bearly notice some of them. Crazy.
So, what else have we seen and done ? Well, we've manged to avoid the 30 baht tuk-tuk scam on numerous occasions. We travelled the rivers and survived the loony-tunes boats with engines mounted on the stern with long prop-shafts and whirling propellors flapping about. We've gawped at the Royal Barges ( big Thai style ceremonial canoes ), failed to find China town, travelled the subway ( very good ), tussled with 'lost' taxi-drivers, stuffed our faces with fantastic food from night markets, happened upon China town by accident, been invited to 'ping-pong' shows ( didn't know table-tennis was so popular here... ), enjoyed a Thai Ska band and dancers ( ! ? ! ), got confused with the tonal subleties of the language ( no matter how many times it's explained to me, I can't hear the difference between the words for dog and horse ), toured the 19th century teak mansion built by King Rama V after his tour of Europe and been amazed by the collections of ornate Thai arts contained within.
Last night we treated ourselves by heading out to a Thai Boxing match ( how much ?!!! ). It appears to be an 'anything goes' type of fighting. Punches, kicks, elbows and knees are all used and it's pretty brutal stuff. We saw one fella stretchered off uncouncious... Here's a little bit of video for the blood-thirsty. We're off for some tea and a beer. We've an early train Chang Mai to catch tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Off Again

The weather is definitely starting to turn nasty in Blighty and the clocks are about to change, so we're off somewhere warmer and shinier before my shorts freeze up. First stop will be Bangkok. Stand by for more as soon as something interesting happens.