Chiang Mai, Thailand: Part 1

Monday, June 8, 2015

We went to Chiang Mai which is a few hours to the north of our city Phitsanulok for an unexpected holiday. Our coordinator Van came to us on Thursday and said that there was a Buddhist holiday on Monday which means no school so she said that we should go somewhere for the weekend. So we hurried and got the last bus tickets on Friday to Chiang Mai which meant leaving at 11 PM and arriving at 4 AM. So worst bus ride of my life.  

We got to our hostel around 4:30 AM and although I confirmed that there would be someone there to let us check in...there was not. So we plopped down in the lobby (shown above) and slept there for a few hours until reception opened up. I actually slept way better on those pillows than the bus so I wasn't complaining one bit.

We had booked a two day tour with a company that included some fun things and a night in the mountains. Sounded perfect. They picked us up and our group included a guy from the UK and a couple girls from France. They were are really fun and enjoyed getting to know them. They probably thought we were crazy, loud American girls...but hopefully we weren't too terrible. They drove us about an hour and a half outside Chiang Mai into the mountains and stopped in the middle of the road. They pointed towards the direction of a house type of thing and said "lunch." Because of the Buddhist holiday, pretty much everyone in the country was on holiday and when we walked in for our lunch there was a group of Thai people eating. It looked liked we were intruding on their family reunion or something but they didn't seem to mind.  Hospitable as always those Thai people are. And lunch was yummy pad thai right next to a field with roaming cows. Perfect.

After lunch they took us down the road to a place where they do "elephant encounters".  We got to take them down to the most disgusting of all ponds and bathe them. I'm not sure what kind of tree it is but they chop up and pound down bark and then you can use it to scrub the elephants and when it's wet this soapiness comes out of it. Also the elephants like to eat the bark so they kept trying to steal it from our hands to eat. Crazy! They're the sweetest too.

After the elephants we were doing a little hike to where we were sleeping that night. We were under the impression it was going to be like a 3 hour nature walk and it turned out to be about 7km straight up a jungle mountain. Straight up! It was the hottest and the greenest and we were blazing a trail in some parts. Luckily our tour guide was the Bear Grylls of Thailand.  

His name was Bee and he was THE coolest. He's a little monkey going up the trail leading the way and then running back to the back of the group to make sure the slowest ones were making it through the jungle okay. He brought a piece of cardboard and was fanning us at every stop. It was a few seconds of cool air and I loved it every time. I was dripping in sweat because it was so hot and humid, to the point where I stopped wiping my sweat away and just let it rain.

He also whipped out his machete and cut us all bamboo walking sticks. Those things came in handy and made the trek a lot easier.  I fell a couple times on slippery spots and my stick kept me from eating it hard. At the end of the trip he cut as all off a piece of the bamboo. I love mine. He carved "Jan" into mine because apparently in Thailand my name is Jan instead of Jen.  I told a lady my name when she asked what it was and she goes, "Oh yeah! Jan like January." And I said, "Sure, yeah." But that's another story.

The hike was so so hard. I kept thinking okay maybe this will level out at some point but nope it just kept going up. Up, up, up.  I kept hoping Bee would want to show us some other nature-y thing so that I could stop and breathe on this sauna hike. I keep underestimating the hikes here.

Bee also made us hats from the leaves. Ok so he's better than Bear. Am I right?

And he showed us a peanut plant growing along the road and pulled off a couple for us to try.

View from the top, we finally made it!  I was walking towards the back of the pack during the last uphill and Bee stayed back to walk with me. What a guy. He had been doing that all day, walking with everyone in the group, holding our hands over the hard parts and making sure everyone was doing okay. He said, "I will carry you."  And I laughed because I thought he was joking and he said, "The group yesterday had a hard time and there was a girl that couldn't make it so I carried her and 3 backpacks." I was like what!!!?????  So I said, "No, Bee. I'm gonna make it to the top." So he smiled and started singing Let Her Go by Passenger and we did a little duet. Bee said, "I love that song. I don't like it. I love it." When we got to the top he pointed to where we were staying and he said, "You did it and I didn't carry you." That felt pretty good :) 

This was the little place we slept for the night. Would you call that a hut? There were dogs and chickens and pigs all over the place. There was a guy building another little hut next to where we were sitting so we watched him cutting up bamboo to build the hut. They're pretty crafty and quick because that hut was practically built within the little time we were there.

Bee and a guy that lives up on the mountain making our dinner. Stir fry vegetables and rice. Delicious as always. Best camping I've ever done. We just hung out for the night, ate food, relaxed, sat by a fire, played some uno, and went to bed early so that we would be well rested for the hike tomorrow.

So I slept really good until 7 AM when I woke up the most horrendous sound I had ever heard in my life. I laid there trying to figure out what it was and finally realized it was the pigs next to us. I was sure they were getting slaughtered so I got up just to check.  Nope, they were just running around playing. There were also roosters and chickens running underneath the floor (because the huts are up on stilts) squawking away. Remind me to never live on a farm (or in a Thai mountain village).

The next morning we of course had to hike back down. After a few minutes of walking along Bee suddenly stopped and lifted up a big rock and started poking down a hole. Of course we were all like hmm what's happening? And then he said, "Tarantula. I saw his web. He's in there.”

So Bee takes a stick and after poking around for awhile pulls out a tarantula!! They are as huge and scary as I dreamed they would be. I thought he'd just run back down the hole but he just sat there crawling slowly letting us check him out. We asked Bee if he was nervous and he said, "Yeah, he's not my friend." So that made me take a few extra steps back. After we all got a good look Bee just pushed him back down the hole and put the rock back over and we took off.

We stopped by this little village in the mountains where a lady was selling things. There's lots of different tribes in the mountains that speak their own dialect and speak about as much Thai as I do. Many of the older people have never left their village in the mountain even while younger people might go to school or sell things down in the city, but otherwise they're self sustaining up there. 

Bee just climbing a huge tree of course. The next stop was this fun little waterfall where we hung out and swam and jumped until it started raining.

We stopped by a little waterfall and it felt so good to cool off and hang out.

When it rains it pours in Thailand. But don't worry, Bee macheted us some huge leaves to us as umbrellas.  He cut a little hole in his and used it as a poncho.

After we finally got to the bottom of the mountain we went on a little bamboo raft ride down a river. I got to stand at the front and push the raft along with a bamboo stick. After about a minute of doing that the bamboo raft guide says to me, "Be careful." Pointing at the water, "Alligator." I was like, "Ok, ummm….."

If you find yourself hiking in Chiang Mai, don't do it without Bee. We found him through Panda Tours but that's his number there too. 

That night that we got home we went shopping in a market because Chiang Mai has the best markets in all the land.  This little girl was popping her head up from under a table and was cracking me up. Also I got big wooden elephant that I'm in love with. If you have requests...better let me know because I'm going back in a few days!

The next day we only had a few hours before we had to leave to go back to our city so we decided to walk around and go to temples in the city.

We didn't get very far before it started sprinkling. This guy in a taxi/tuk tuk kind of car started slowly following us and we waived at him that no we didn't need a ride. We thought we'd just sit under some shelter until it stopped raining. But he knew better. He sat there and flashed his lights at us and waited. We were like what is he doing? Then it started POURING. Pouring buckets like it does here and we couldn't resist the taxi man any longer. Smart guy.  He took us to a nearby temple where we'd be able to go inside and get out of the rain.

We got there as monks were reading their rules. 227 of them. It was long but really cool to see. After awhile we walked around the temple which also had ruins. Beautiful as always.

This monk is named Tan Pra Maha Kajjana. He is an enlightened monk but not the Lord Buddha. Long story short....he is so incredibly good looking that other monks would mistake him for the Lord Buddha which was a problem. One guy even thought he was so good looking that he said if he was a woman, he would take him for his wife. That's no good though because monks can't lust so for his punishment he was turned into a woman.  Wanting to avoid any other problems for monks, Tan Pra Maha Kajjana decided to exchange his good looks for a fat, ugly body which you see pictured above. So selfless.

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