Just a quick apology for the long delay between entries, Tom and I have caught Dengue Fever and have been ill for what feels like the last 10 years. We are starting to recover now but it might take me a while to catch up with the blog: I'll explain all about the Dengue in a future entry. xxx
Following our night around the campfire we didn’t have to be up until 9am, but the cockerels and dogs made sure that we didn’t get too peaceful of a lie-in. Once we were all up and ready we sat down to a breakfast of boiled eggs, toast, jam and Thai coffee made from water boiled over the campfire. Everyone was chatting about what an awful nights sleep they’d had on the bamboo mats but I had to confess that I had slept like a log: since we’ve started traveling I have turned into my dad, I can sleep anywhere! Once we were all packed and ready to go we said goodbye to our giggly camp friend from the previous night and headed back out into the jungle for our second day of trekking
. The walk was a lot easier today as we were mostly going downhill the entire way and we only had to walk for about 2 hours. Along the way our guide shouted for us all to stop because there was a poisonous snake ahead of us. At first we couldn’t see where the snake was when all of a sudden we spotted a really thin luminous green snake blocking the path ahead of us. It was probably about 4 feet long and, I have no idea how it managed to physically do this, but it was bent into a W-shape in the middle of the air with only its tail and head touching the floor! By the time we got our camera ready it was slinking back off into the jungle and we could only get a quick snap of it as it camouflaged into the leaves and vines.
We were walking for a few hours when the trees suddenly started to disperse and before we knew it we were all standing in the middle of a tarmaced road! Everyone was pretty surprised to have come back to the modern world with such a jolt and we walked along the road for a little while before we came to a village. The guide told us that this was a hill-tribe village of about 300 people. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that life evolves and there is no reason why tribes people can’t enjoy the luxuries of modern life, but I was quite surprised when we entered the village and saw that they had satellite TV! It was such a strange sight: the houses were made of reeds and bamboo poles, there were pigs rolling around in the mud, the children’s clothes were falling off their backs and yet there was a satellite dish the size of something that belonged to NASA
. We got a quick tour around the village and bought a couple of trinkets off the kids before we were quickly escorted out of the compound: it was obvious that tourists like us get shuttled in there everyday to gawp and take photos and the people who live there actually hate the whole experience. I left feeling slightly disappointed with myself for having been part of it.
Afterwards we got collected by a pick-up truck and taken to our next activity of the day: bamboo rafting. I love riding in the back of a pick-up because it makes me feel like a proper adventurer but today I would have preferred to have been inside because the local children had decided to start celebrating Thai New Year. Thai New Year is called Songkran and is celebrated each year in April with a week long holiday and a 3 day nation-wide water fight: there is no way of avoiding it, if you are outside during Songkran then you will get wet. People basically set up camp outside their houses or in the main streets with huge vats of water and throw it over anyone that is passing by, that includes people on bicycles, people walking, people in cars with their windows down and people on motorbikes. There is no way of saying to someone "please don’t throw water on me, I don’t want to get wet". Before you have even got the first word out they will have thrown a bucket of water over your head. So during Songkran people put their money and phones in little water-proof bags and don’t take anything valuable outside with them because you are guaranteed to get utterly soaked from head to toe. Songkran doesn’t actually start for another 4 days but the kids in the local villages have decided to start celebrating it early so as we drove past in the pick-up truck there were children lining the streets with buckets, water pistols and hosepipes who threw water at us as we drove past
. Because we were all perched on the edge of the pick-up it was only really our backs that got wet but as we were driving along one of the girls shouted there were about 20 kids up ahead with buckets and hosepipes. We all started to cower down in the back so we didn’t get too wet when the driver of the truck drove straight up to the kids, stopped the truck in the middle of the road and took the keys out of the ignition. The children went mental!! They climbed on top of the truck with their hosepipes and soaked us to the skin. We had bucket after bucket of water thrown on us and pretty soon the back of the truck was flooded, we were drenched and our bags and everything in them were dripping wet. The kids were screaming with laughter and we all just sat in the truck with our jaws on the floor not believing what had just happened. The water in the floor of the truck was literally flowing over the top of my feet and pouring out of the back of the truck. Some of the people on the tour were a bit unhappy that their belongings had got so wet but Tom and I tried to explain that you can’t really get angry during Songkran, it is just part and parcel of the festivities.
We arrived at the bamboo rafting point and made our way down to the river. Bamboo rafting basically consists of tying 5 pieces of bamboo together to make a long plank, then sitting on it along with 3 other people and floating down the river while a nice Thai man at the front steers it with a big stick
. We were separated into two groups and set off. It turned out that it didn’t matter that the kids had soaked us after all because we were all drenched after 2 minutes anyway: the bamboo floats slightly below the surface of the water so you are actually sitting in the river the entire way. The river is the life-blood of the local community and there were tons of people lining its banks having picnics, swimming in the water and floating next to us in home-made rafts. We were rafting for about an hour and it was an amazing experience. The first half an hour was very serene as we floated gently through the jungle waving at the families sitting on the banks: the sun was shining and I was having a brilliant time. Before too long though more and more people were sitting along the banks and playing with the water and suddenly we found that we were rafting through the middle of a local community gathering. The only way I can describe it is to say that on both sides of the bank there were people cooking and eating in little picnic shelters, there were some bars and cafes, children were playing in rubber rings. Above our heads there were cables going from one side of the river to the other and people from the cafes would send over food to the other side on trays by a rope and pully system. It was bloody amazing!! There was music playing and people were laughing and splashing us as we floated by. There were banners and posters everywhere celebrating New Year. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger and people were splashing us more and more. Before too long we were having the most almighty water fight with the locals as we floated past. People were abandoning their picnics and wading out into the water to join in, kids were jumping onto our raft and climbing all over us, I have never laughed so much in all my life. What a fantastic experience! People were shaking our hands, saying 'happy new year, happy new year’ and then splashing us until we nearly fell off the raft
. But we gave as good as we got though and considering we had no buckets or water-guns we put up a valiant effort! Tom thinks that out of all the activities we have done so far on our trip that bamboo rafting was the most dangerous: I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it is certainly one of the most fun things we’ve done. Once the rafting was over we all tried to get dry and headed off in the pick-up to our final activity of the tour: elephant riding.
We made our way to a local elephant sanctuary and were taken to the platform where we would meet our elephant. The elephant ride was for one hour and took us through the jungle. We sat on little seats strapped to the elephants back and pretty soon we were off exploring the jungle. I felt a bit precarious sitting so high with nothing to hold on to, plus whenever the elephant walks your body ends up swaying around and around like jelly. The ride was incredible: a once in a life time experience! The scenery was stunning, the views out over the misty mountains were unforgettable and seeing it all while perched on top of an elephant made it feel hundred times better. Towards the end of the ride our elephant got a bit sniffly and sneezed three times, covering my legs and feet with orange snot… which I didn’t mind too much because apart from that he was a lovely elephant.
Afterwards we were taken back to Chiang Mai where we said goodbye to the rest of our tour group and had a well deserved nap before we went out for some tea
. Later that evening we were having a look around the local night market when we heard someone shout ‘Hey, Australia friends!’. We didn’t think anything of it and just kept walking around. But the shouting continued and got louder and closer: ‘Hey, Australia friends!’. We turned around to see what was going on when we realized the shouts were aimed at us! Stood in front of us were a couple from Birmingham that we had met in Australia and became friends with over Christmas and New Year! You could have knocked me over with a feather! How often do you bump into an old friend at home, never mind while you are traveling around the world and just so happen to randomly bump into two people you met nearly 4 months ago!! None of us could remember each others names so we had a good catch-up in the market and filled each other in on what we had been up to. We must have been talking and laughing for at least an hour when they had to go back to their hotel to pack their bags because they were flying to Bangkok in a few hours time. We had got on with them really well when we met them in Oz so it was so nice to see them again: when we first met them they were the closest thing we had seen to Northerners for such a long time (they don’t come from London, so that’s good enough for me) and I loved hearing their Brummy accents!