Merry christmas everyone!!! i just got back ...

Trip Start Dec 07, 1999
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5
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Trip End Jan 07, 2000


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Saturday, December 25, 1999

"Merry Christmas Everyone!!!"

I just got back from my hill tribe trek in Chiang Mai, Thailand and it's Christmas! You know, I really don't mind not having a white Christmas this year :)

Let me pick up where I left off...

"Chiang Mai"

We arrived in Chiang Mai on the 20th of December with Ed... a nice slow(er) pace than Phnom Pen Cambodia! The city is nice, enclosed in a square wall and fairly small in size. To my delight, Internet access is everywhere here... really!! Sometimes you can find 10 CyberCafes lined up side by side, now that's competition! We dropped our stuff off and headed straight for the go-carts....

"Gentlemen, start your engines! - Yeee Haaaa"

The sign reads "Baby Cart 100 Bhat, 2 Seats 200 Bhat, Normal Cart 300 Baht, Special Cart 400 Bhat"... we came for the special carts :). I had heard of these from some travellers in Cambodia. These carts go fast, very fast. 100km per hour to be exact. The track is small and a few seemingly randomly situated tires are scattered across the side of the tracks for, ummm ... safety I guess... no seat belts, no roll bars, just raw adrenaline. These puppies throw you back in your seat as you fly down the track. It's a little frightening at times because you know that if you take a corner too fast you'll end up in the jungle upside down. I don't think that Thailand has the strict safety guidelines we do back home but... it's good fun :)

"Ohhh Ahhhh... the Thai Massage"

At 4 bux (Canadian) an hour the Thai Massage is the best deal in town. We tried to squeeze as many as we could in daily :). The massage is a little painful at times and consists of bending, pulling twisting and cracking. At one point the masseuse was standing on my back yanking at my contorted legs as I yelped out in pain. I can just image that it must have looked like a wrestling match!

"The Herbal Massage"

This sounded like a treat ... as good as this may sound, I found it rough ... painful to be more specific. Basically, a bag of herbs is doused in boiling hot water and pressed all over your body... so hot in fact that I think a tear may have jerked its way out during the massage. At one point I had to pull my foot away as she put a freshly doused bag on my foot... the masochistic masseuse laughed... "Ha, tourists" she must have thought... I think I'll stick to the normal Thai massages from now on.

"More Wats"

We checked out the big tourist thing here as far as Wats (temples) go... Wat Doi Suthep... I suppose that if I was very religious that this may was been cooler but I didn't enjoy it too much... its basically a huge temple on top of a hill overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, the view is nice though :)

"Shopping"

The really cool thing about Chiang Mai is the shopping. The night market here just rocks! You can buy the nicest, cheapest stuff you can imagine. The day market is also nice but consists of mostly food (fish and stuff)... My take on the markets is that the day market is for the locals and the night market is for the farangs... the tourists.

"Day 2 - Chiang Mai"

We were a little antsy to get the Hill Tribe trek started ( this was the reason we came to Chiang Mai) so we checked into our hotel... the Chiang Mai Gate Hotel. Hot shower and a western toilet, a welcome comfort after Cambodia... Although not cheap, it was part of the trek package.

"Day 3 - The trek begins"

We were lucky, we were a group of 7, perfect size. A Dutch couple, 3 English teachers from Japan ( 2 of 'em American and 1 Brit.), me and Ed... We were worried that we would be stuck with 70 year-old luggage totting tourists, fewph!

The trek agenda takes us into the north of Thailand... a trek to the villages of the Karen, Lisu and Aka tribes. These tribes migrated mostly from China and live in the jungle. The trek took us through the jungle where we stayed with the tribes, in their huts and with their families. It was quite slick.

The actual trekking was easy, the hours of walking through the jungle gave me time to think about life, work and stuff in general that I didn't have the time for in the cities. The canopy of forest in the jungle is just breathtaking. Rice fields, opium fields, wild life and spectacular sky lines, its quite the sight to see...

"Tribe number 1 - the Lisu"

Although the trek in the jungle was fun and the huts were nice... we were disappointed. Although a bit naive, we were expecting to climb through the jungle and pull 2 trees apart to reveal a hidden mystical village of tribesmen throwing spear at us... in the Lisu village we saw a brand new truck, a motor bike and I swear I saw a McDonalds... ( Kidding about the McDonalds). I guess we aren't the only tourists here :(

After a cozy fire and a little Thai whiskey we got ready for a cold, cold, cold night...

Who would have thought that Thailand would be so cold!!! Overnight it dropped to 0 Celsius. We all froze! The thought of the beach next week was all I had to keep warm...

"Tribe number 2 - The Karen"

The Karen tribes were much, much cooler, very authentic... we were the only tourists here. In this village we were the guests and they went about their normal routines. As you walk through the village you are always surrounded by dogs, pigs, chickens and just about any other farm animal you can think of! It's quite fun. The Karen are also very friendly. They live off the land and are self sufficient. Rice, chickens and pigs, that's all you need here... and maybe some opium.

"Opium"

Opium is a big part of the culture up here. Marijuana and opium grow wild ( although most of the opium is burned by the police). The nearest doctor is 3 hours away by car and opium is used as medicine. As for marijuana, throughout each village we could always catch the whiff of fresh pot being smoked. As a matter of fact, I noticed that the women had big joints between their teeth at 6am when we left... I guess it's just part of the culture.

"Tribe number 3 - Getting there"

The cool thing today was the elephants! To get to the last village we rode elephants. Ours had a nasty case of gas but other than that it was pretty cool. Riding an elephant is alot harder than you would think though. Going down steep inclines, you have to hold on to the seat with all you have! The seat is basically a piece of wood and when that elephant goes more than 45 degrees in an incline you are pretty much just holding on ... no longer sitting. It was the highlight of the trek though :)

"Tribe number 3 - The Aka"

The Aka are "funny people" as Sunny, our guide, says... The funniest story ( to me that is ) is that the Aka eat dogs here because they believe that a dogs ate their alphabet a long, long time ago. This is why they cannot write. Another disturbing one is that if a family has twins, they must kill the children before the village finds out as to not bring bad luck to the villagers. That's enough proof for me to believe that they are "funny people".

"Christmas Eve"

We spent Xmas Eve in the Aka hut... what a sweet hut! Its was a long hut with a fireplace right in the middle... finally some sleep in warmth! To celebrate Xmas the right way, I picked up some tinsel, a Christmas star and a bottle of Thai whiskey before leaving the city... The others bought a load of candy and we sat around the fire in our sleep sacks drinking tea and whiskey 'til Christmas, not your typical Christmas Eve but pretty slick all the same!

"White water rafting,... to the extreme"

They take white water rafting a little too literal here. To get to the truck on the last day we stood on bamboo rafts which were basically just that. 10 pieces of bamboo loosely strung together with leaves. You are given a stick and you float down the river for a few hours ... the rapids can be rough. You essentially use your stick to push the raft away from the rocks. We got a little worried when our guide fell in on the first rapid but our finely tuned trekking abilities (ya right) managed to keep us afloat for the rest of the ride.

The trek overall... was great!

"Christmas in Thailand"

Here we are... Christmas day, in a CyberCafe writing up my TravelPod stuff... I think I should end this here :) I am meeting my new trekking friends for Christmas dinner somewhere in Thailand... let's see what kind of crazy stuff we can do for Christmas in Chiang Mai...

Best wishes and Merry Christmas!!!
Luc
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