And I thought I loved Bangkok…
Chiang Mai boasts a whole new kind of beauty; unlike the chaotic beauty that I found in the crowded streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai (and northern Thailand in general) hosts a serene, calm, natural beauty. I fell asleep early morning on the train up here, and when I awoke I found myself in the middle of a lush jungle. I was blown away by everything I was seeing outside my window, and as soon as I got into the city booked a trek into one of the national parks.
I went with a company that booked a variety of different activities and packages, and I ended up doing a 2 day 1 night jungle trek that included elephant rides and bamboo rafting. It was aaaamazing! We started the day off with an hour long elephant ride around the conservation area. Despite multiple predictions that I would fall off my elephant, I saw that they had chairs you sat in and inwardly scoffed at all my nay-sayers. However, there were 7 of us and only 3 elephants, and each elephant had room for 2 people in the chairs. I somehow ended up being the one out of the group to actually sit on the elephants neck while Grainne and Sarah sat behind me. It was pretty cool, and I’m glad I could actually sit on our elephant rather than be in a chair (it felt more legit), I did in fact have some trouble keeping my balance at times. It was hard to stay perched on her neck when she kept bending down and yanking snacks out of the ground, and going up and down slopes and roots was a bit of a struggle as well. But I managed to stay on! Woo! I had a huge smile on my face the whole time and I can now check another thing off my bucket list.
After our elephant time we began our 3 hour trek into the jungle. As it turns out, the entire 3 hours was spent hauling ourselves straight up a mountain in the sweltering heat. Fortunately I happen to love hiking and felt like some exercise would do me some good, so I couldn’t complain too much (that and I was too out of breath). About halfway through the hike we took a rest at a small bat cave, which was quite fun. Plus it was about 10 degrees cooler in the cave, which was a nice break from the muggy heat. Before going in someone asked Bond, our guide, if there were any snakes in the cave. “No,” he replied, “hopefully no snakes. I hate snakes. Like spiders.” Yech. Give me snakes over spiders any day, but I was hoping we weren’t going to run into either inside the cave.
After a creepy crawly free cave adventure, it was back on the trail. Sarah, exhausted, asked Bond if the rest of the hike was straight uphill, and what our two hour hike tomorrow would be like. His response? “No worries, you think too much. Just enjoy the jungle, take your time, look around you. Today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow.” I love it. That was his response to most of our questions.
“Is it all uphill tomorrow?”…..”What time do we have to wake up?”…..”What time will we get back into town?”
Today is today, tomorrow is tomorrow.
Kind of like hakuna matata!
At one point, Bond stopped and reached into a fern, gently turning the leaves over to reveal a small birds nest. No birds, no eggs, just the nest. He began pulling his arm away just as I noticed something and thought, what is that bright green-
“SNAAAAAAKE!!!!” Bond yelled as he leapt back, clutching my arm and peering from behind me, “Snake!” Oh. It’s a snake. (I’d like to note this isn’t the first time a male has used me as a human shield to protect himself from a wild animal.) He wasn’t kidding about his fear of snakes. The rest of the group gathered around to check it out and try to get some photos (sadly, none of them really turned out). It was beautiful, bright green, and I think some sort of pit viper. “Very poisonous,” Bond explained as he composed himself, “Out here I get bit, I die.” Woah. There is a treatment for these snake bites I think, but it has to be quickly administered, and when you are on top of a mountain, hours away from anything, you are probably going to be out of luck. This snake had probably just had bird eggs for lunch and his hand was right next to it. Talk about lucky. We continued on our way, all of us a little more wary of snakes, and finally made it to the guesthouse where we would be spending the night.
After changing out of our sweat soaked clothes and showering, we settled in for dinner. Bond cooked us some delicious sweet and sour chicken, tofu and veggies as well as some soup, and we watched the sunset while washing dinner down with a couple of beers and shots of rice whiskey moonshine. Perfect end to a hard days work.
Well, almost perfect. We sat amongst the fireflies, stargazing on the balcony together before half of the group headed off to bed. And that’s when all hell broke loose. One of the girls comes rushing back up the stairs not even a minute after leaving, “we found another snake! By our room!” Bond stayed behind-no surprise there- as I went down to check it out. Sure enough, there was a small snake, bright green in color but only a couple of inches long. We took some sticks and, using them almost like chop sticks, picked up the tiny snake and re-located him to the grass farther away from the rooms. As I began walking back towards the balcony I spotted a MASSIVE centipede type thing that was almost a foot long. I pointed it out and the other girls on the trip just about lost it. All of the sudden the fear was palpable as panic ensued and all you could hear was a variety of pitiful sounds and wails and complaints about wanting to sleep in a bed OFF the ground and not wanting to sleep there at all because something was going to crawl on them in the middle of the night. I was just sitting there, drinking my beer, glad to have been on the small Ahe atoll for a couple of weeks because it must have hardened me up a little bit. I couldn’t really be phased, we had a mosquito net and we were in bamboo rooms with actual doors, our bungalow at Kamoka didn’t even have a door. So thank you, Ahe, for making me a little more bug proof.
Some got a more restful nights sleep than others, but everyone survived the night and no one woke up to snakes or centipedes. We enjoyed some coffee, eggs and toast before the final leg of our journey, which was an easy two hour hike to a small waterfall where we would eat our lunch before going bamboo rafting. After swimming around for a little bit, I wandered across the bridge to look down at a second pool below the larger waterfall. I stood there contemplating whether or not the water at the bottom was deep when Bond, seeing me stand there looking down, yells, “Jump! It’s easy!” I looked down over the rocks, up at him, then back down. Jump, he says. It’s easy, he says. Well I don’t see him jumping…a blur rushes past me and Bond is over the edge, flying through the air down to the water below and landing with a splash. He looks up at me; he’s issued a challenge, and I have to rise to that challenge. After assurance that the water is deep enough, and that leafy branch I have to aim for really isn’t all that far away, and I won’t land right on the rocks…I take 10 whole minutes psyching myself up enough to take the running leap. Everyone is looking at me, multiple people have said they will go for if I do, but I have to go first. So (finally) I led the way, and swam away death and injury free.
The trip ended with an hour long bamboo rafting trip down the river, which I’ll admit was a bit boring at first. However, Sarah, Grainne and I got to chatting and as time went by we found it to be a relaxing end to our adventure. We were parting ways soon, but all three of us are going to be at the Full Moon party in a weeks time so we made plans to meet up there and swapped details before saying goodbye.
If you are ever in Chiang Mai, do a multi day trek. They are so much fun and totally worth it. You get the chance to see some wilderness, feel like a tiny little lost child in the big world that is the jungle, and feel accomplished as you stand on top of a mountain. Chiang Mai, you rock my world.