Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Thailand - Chiang Mai

Jan 26
Arrive in Chiang Mai after a short 75 min flight from Bangkok. Take a taxi over to Julie's Guesthouse, which is a great guesthouse and good spot to meet other travelers with pool table and lounge area. Also, can't beat the cheap rooms ($4 two of the nights and $3 for each of the other 2 nights) with hot water showers! We decide to rent scooters with 2 other travelers we met, and off we went, darting through the crazy traffic of the city. It was actually pretty dang scary at first, and I was glad I got that travel insurance after all...but before you knew it we were whizzing in and out of traffic like the locals! We tore all around the town, stopped at this great spot for a bite to eat, then shot to the top of Do Sumui to watch the sunset from a temple overlooking the city. Great view and very pretty temple. Then we buzzed down the mountain, flying along under the weak headlamps from the scooter, wild ride! We then proceeded to be lost and driving around the city for 30 min trying to find the guesthouse (which was tough to find b/c it was down a little alley). We finally made it through the confusing network of streets, and quickly headed off to a Muay Thai boxing match (main event was a Swede vs. Thai). Very fun to watch, and very good seats close to the rink. We then headed to a bar with our friends, and it was a loungy place where you had to remove your shoes. I had sandals...and when we left at the end of the night, well, I guess someone liked the way those sandals looked, b/c they were long gone! Sheeesh! oh well, I am sure I can find some new ones for cheap.

Jan 27
Had breakfast at the guesthouse b/c we were in a rush. Not very good and an expensive at $3, ah well. Head off for a day of Thai cooking class. When I read about this in the Lonely Planet, there is no way I thought I would actually do it. But, after several positive reviews, I thought I would give it a shot...especially b/c I LOVE Thai food! We have a great group going, and first we start at a market to see where they shop and what to buy. We then head to the cooking school, where we chose 6 diff courses to cook and eat during the full-day session. It was so fun, and the food was so good. I have this amazing video of the flame from my wok shooting 3+ feet into the air, I really loved it. The video is hilarious, and I will post (along with pics) when I can get a decent internet connection. Ed and I grabbed a late dinner and beer at a bar called The Beach, where they had a local band blasting American tunes. If I closed my eyes, I would think it was a cover band in the US, funny.

Ok, let me take a minute to give some insight in using bathrooms here in SE Asia. It is a disgusting experience for the most part, and they do vary greatly from one to the next. Some do have western toilets, but I am going to explain the majority of the others. You walk into the bathroom to see 2 footpads and a hole in the ground. There is never toilet paper, but instead a little thing that I will refer to as a "butt sprayer." First off, who wants a soaking wet butt? Secondly, does that really do the job? I have not had to use or tough one of these yet, and I can only hope I am never in a situation where I have to. If you are using toilet paper, you can never put it into the toilet, and need to place it in a trash bucket in the bathroom. Gross. Ok, after you use the toilet, there is then a bucket filled with water next to it (normally way too close in my opinion), where you dip in a small bucket type contraption and dump water into the "hole" in the ground to flush. I really hate to do this, and usually cover my entire arms with sanitizing lotion after entering one of these types of toilets. In the hotel room, there is no seperate shower. You have a bathroom with a toilet and basin, then just a shower head sticking out of the wall. It is like a powder room with a shower head (normally with only cold water). Therefore, the ENTIRE bathroom gets totally soaking wet whenever you do shower, very crazy.

Jan 28
Today we are departing on a 2 day trek through the countryside and remote villages in the hills a few hours outside of Chiang Mai. After being in the tuk-tuk for about 1.5 hours, we stop to see a "waterfall" and have lunch. It was such a pathetic sight I did not even take a picture of it, I hope it gets better than this! We drive another hour, and get started on our trek. We hike for a few hours,, through a village, enjoying funny stories from our guide as we go. We arrive in a small village of 60 people where we are staying for the night. We have a good dinner, hang out at a campfire drinking, dancing and singing...good times! The accomodation is...well, what do you expect in a remote village? There was 1 big open room for the 9 people on the trek, with sleeping mattresses that were about 2" thick and 2 thin blankets. It got very cold at night up in the mountains, and I was glad I brough my fleece. Went to bed, and the 2 thin blankets were proving to be quite inadequate for the temperature (probably low 40's). So uncomfortable, FREEZING cold. I had one blanket covering my lower body, and the other covering my head, and nearly froze to death. It was like camping in the fall without a sleeping bag, no good. Then the roosters started going...I check my watch, 4am. Ok, Mr. Rooster Man, there is NO WAY the sun is coming up now. they go again at 4:30, 5am, etc...not a good night of sleep!

Jan 29
After a terrible night of sleep, embark on 3-4 hours of hiking out of the mountains. Ride an elephant...which I was very excited to do, but it wasn't as good as it was cracked up to be. Very slow, and the elephant was begging for food with his trunk the entier ride, and if we didn't give him food, he would snot us with his trunk...grreat! Also, the elephants were not treated very well. Off to bamboo rafting, now this was REALLY fun! It was like 10 big pieces of bamboo strapped together, and then down the river you go. 4 people per raft, one in front and bag with long poll pushing us along. The other 2 on my raft fell in going down a rapid, very funny! Beautiful scenery during this, and throughout the entire trek, lots of fun. Head back into town and back to Julie's Guesthouse.

Jan 30
Have a huge pancake for breakfast, then off to an big downhill mountain bike ride. It was really expensive at $70, and I nearly didn't do it, but heard good things about it. So, off we went. We started at the top of the mountain, had a short uphill climb all the way to to otop and then started the extremely technical descent. It was amazing downhill biking, the best I have ever done. I had 2 crashes, but luckily not too bad. I went down a few sections in total fear, but was stoked when I got through them. The vertical drops were huge at some points, big rocks everywhere, I mountain bikers dream! Head out to dinner at a really ritzy restaurant Ed had found during the day, and it is a great meal, very cheap, and had the nicest bathroom I will see in SE Asia. Very loungy vibe, cool. Go to the night bazaar to do a little shopping, street prositutes keep calling out to us but we ignore them and continue on.

Jan 31
Ed and I wake up without a game plan for the day. I was supposed to head to the beaches of Thailand next, but other travelers have continued to rave about Laos. We do a bunch of research, and decide to try to catch a 3pm flight. But, it is already 1pm, so we have to hustle to the airport. We arrive at the airport at 2pm, and luckily they have room on the flight, so we jump on. I feel like I am on the show Amazing Race sometimes when I travel! Good times! Only a 1 hour flight to Luang Probang, Laos. I can't believe we actually get a snack on the flight, what airline gives you that!!


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