Ciarán & Elaine's Travelog

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trekking in Chiang Mai

We booked a three day trek from Chiang Mai into the surrounding hills. Leaving Chiang Mai we were first brought to see the 'Long Neck' and 'Big Ear' (!) tribes who have fled to Thailand from Burma. As the name suggests they've got long necks and big ears.

The girls begin wearing rings on their neck when they're 5 years old and until they're 25 a new ring is added each year until eventually their neck is freakishly long. They say that it doesn't hurt at all but we can't imagine how that's possible considering the weight of the brass rings. They're taken off once or twice a year to be cleaned but apart from that they're worn 24 hours a day. The reason they say they wear the rings is to protect them from tigers!, so that they look more like they're tribal symbol the dragon and to make them look ugly so that the men from the other tribes don't take them!

After that it was on to the elephant camp where we had lunch and then a ride on an elephant which was just brilliant. The elephants were massive and we were in a little seat strapped to its back at first. He lumbered up through the mud along the side of the mountain with quite a steep drop off, it was quite scary when he lurched from side to side.

We had an elephant keeper sitting on his head/neck who steered him with different commands and his feet - he'd rub the back of his right ear to make him go left and vice versa. When we got down from the side of the hill the keeper got off and Ciaran rode on his neck. He says that he could feel all the huge muscles in his head, shoulders and neck and felt like he was going to fall off at any minute. We couldn't get over how hairy his head was (the elephant, not Ciaran!). I stayed safely tucked up in the little seat and we wandered down into the river where he started sucking up the water in his trunk and spraying it all over us. Considering he'd been spraying snot at us for the past half hour this was quite enjoyable!

As we rode back to the elephant camp he stopped for ages to eat lychees from the tree and then lumbered back up the hill. Back at the camp we fed him a bunch of bananas, it was great when he took them with his trunk from our hands and then tossed them into his mouth. Such a fantastic experience.

We met up with the rest of the group who were doing the trek; Scarlet, Haylie, Luke, James, Kelly and Jeremy and along with our guide, Chin, we jumped into the back of a truck and were driven to the beginning of the trek.

The beginning of the trek was really steep with about 1 1/2 hours of climbing uphill, crossing streams on some of the best Thai engineered bamboo bridges (they were terrible, I don't know how we didn't fall in!) and scrambling up muddy banks. After about half an hour one of the girls decided it was too steep for her and gave up and turned back. We spent about 3 or 4 hours walking through the Thai jungle it was really beautiful but so humid and hot we were all completely drenched in sweat.

We reached our village for the first night which was with the Meo tribe who were refugees from Burma. This meant that although many of them were born in Thailand they could never be issued with Thai passports, just an ID card stating that they were part of a hill tribe if they were lucky enough to be born in a hospital. If they were born in the village they couldn't receive the ID card and so therefor could never go further south than Chiang Mai. Makes us realise how lucky we are.

The village was made up of little bamboo huts on the side of a hill in a valley with a big waterfall at one end. After a hard afternoons hiking it was so refreshing to jump into the waterfall to cool down. Our sleeping area was a long bamboo hut with mats on the floor and mozzie nets, definitely not 5 star tonight!

After a great dinner cooked by the guides and some of the people from the village we all sat around having a few drinks and chatting to any of the locals that could speak any English. Then it was off to bed for a fairly sleepless night with 8 people tossing and turning in one little room....

Day 2 of the trek

Waking up to the sound of all the jungle was really amazing. Unfortunately we'd both been eaten alive by mosquitoes during the night with Ciarans legs taking a particularly bad biting.
After breakfast we set off again up the mountains through bamboo jungle. We walked for another 4 hours, stopping to explore some bat caves and then for another swim at a different waterfall where we saw a small stripy watersnake battling against the current. Some of the guys were jumping from the cliff 20 ft down into the plunge pool below - quite cool looking!

Eventually we reached the village of the Lahu tribe where we would be staying for the night. We were supposed to spend another 3 hours hiking up to another waterfall but the rainy season has come 1 month early and the sky was black so it seemed like a better idea to just hang around the village instead of risking getting caught in the rain.

We spent an hour or two wandering around the village which consists of about 10 bamboo huts to house the 60 people who lived there (including the ladyboy shopkeeper). There were chickens, pigs, dogs roaming everywhere and we spent a while playing with the kids who are absolutely wild. Then the rain started pouring down it was really torrential, I've never seen anything like it. We sat inside our hut which was our bedroom, living room and kitchen all in one and watched the rain outside until eventually we could barely see outside the door it was falling so heavily.

That evening pretty much all the men from the village came to our hut and sat around playing the guitar and singing Thai songs (every now and then a bit of Bob Marley would slip through....). With Chin, our guide, cooking dinner on an open fire in the middle of the hut it was definitely an unusual evening but really great fun with plenty of chang beer floating around although I didn't fancy any it was good to laugh at everyone else getting a bit too merry.

Day 3 of the trek

After a surprisingly good sleep I woke up and waited for all the others to surface. Chin, our guide, who's a really funny, good hearted guy eventually woke up at about 11am absolutely dying from the excess of the night before. He really was in a bad way and tried to convince us to take a short cut, an easy 40 minute route downhill instead of 2 1/2 hours uphill but we decided that we were here to trek in the jungle so thats what we should do and headed off up the mountain.

The start of the trek was particularly steep and for about half an hour we were regretting not taking the downhill option but eventually the track levelled off a bit and we were up in the jungle again. Poor Chin was completely wrecked though, he looked like he was going to collapse at any minute, stopping with his head against the tree muttering 'why oh why', not the most inspirational leader but it made us laugh!

Eventually we reached a little house in the middle of nowhere, we had some lunch and then jumped on the back of a sangthaew and were driven to the river where we jumped into a raft and went lubber lafting (white water rafting) for an hour or so. It was good fun particularly because the water level in the river was low and the raft kept getting stuck on the rocks.

After the white water rafting we went bamboo rafting. We'd never heard of this before but it was a lovely way to end the 3 days. The raft was basically some bamboo poles tied together and we just sat on them while a guy 'punted' us down a really calm stretch of the river.

That night, after a much needed shower, we went to the Riverside bar and restaurant and had a
great evening listening to Thai bands singing western songs with their Thai accents, we never realised a Killers song could sound so funny!


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