Tuesday, 19 November 2013

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Letters from Thailand, part four

part 1 here
part 2 here.
part 3 here.

Chiang Mai - Elephant Sanctuary

12 April 2013 at 10:25
This is first chance i've had to get to an internet cafe to use an actual computer and it is down some dodgy street full of hardware shops so I will try to be a bit more brief. Also, I didn't have any small change and the woman was mega grumpy and told me to go get change and funnily enough I didn't need to buy anything from a hardware shop so I had to walk miles and so I'm not impressed.
Whilst working with the elephants we were staying in this little guesthouse resort in the countryside of Chiang Mai. The little houses we stayed in were gorgeous wood cabins surrounded by jungle and felt like tree houses. The family running it were unbelievably good hosts and the food they served us was amazing and they just constantly asked if you would like more. I ate quite a lot. With your cups of tea they also gave you little sachets of sugar that had proverbs and life lessons written on them, which is always a nice way to start the day. I still have a cold from the air con on the coach but they were so helpful telling me where to get medicine and giving me cups of hot water.
However the downside of sleeping in the countryside is the insects. Tuesday night I walked up to the wood cabin to get my purse when in flew behind me what I initially thought was the world's biggest moth. It was the size of a small bird and so of course my solution was to just run out and lock the door behind me. When it came to bedtime I did what anyone would do, and got a boy to man up and catch it for me. It was actually a huge preying mantis, like from bugs life, with big long legs and beady head and everything.
Wednesday morning after a gorgeous breakfast of fresh passionfruit and fried banana it was time to meet the elephants! There are nine elephants and each one has their own Mahout, who looks after them and trains them. We were told how although Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants, they have a much larger brain mass which is why they're able to learn commands. They looked really well looked after and were free to run around, it was really nice to ride them on their backs as well rather in the big boxes you see strapped on some elphants. There was a baby called Dodo who was dead cheeky and greedy and would just run inside the shelter where you'd be sitting and he tried to eat my water and someone's camera. We got to feed them tons of bananas and you pat their head and say 'bon'. Actually touching and feeling an elephant is so odd, their skin is so thick and rough and their trunks are so strong and flexible. We changed into the traditional outfits of the mahouts and learnt the basic commands for when riding an elephant. As soon as we were offered the chance to practise for real I jumped at the opportunity and it was amazing. You sit right on their head almost and they kept shoving their trunks upwards at your face for more food. It was important to be very loud which I was very good at thanks to all my experience at having to shout for Jethro when he runs off, the elephant was just like a big Jehtro really. After lunch we got to ride the elephants down to the river where we had to scrub them clean and chuck buckets of water at them. They flapped their ears when they were happy.  There was two of us on each elephant and then little baby Dodo came along too and was so cheeky. You could chuck water at him and he'd spray you back. They are so friendly and obviously like being surrounded by people because they were so well behaved. Splashing around in the river with elephants is definitely the best way too cool off in this hot country.
The second day we rode them down to the river again and the novelty certainly hadn't worn off. As you walk along their sneaky trunks just grab at anything green they walk past, and one naughty one even wandered into someones back garden to grab a snack. Some people in the other half of our group who had done it the previous day had found it quite scary, but it is odd how quickly you become comfortable with it. They seem to live a happy life with a constant supply of bananas and one of the ones I rode was 19 months pregnant, so there will be another baby for Dodo to play with soon. This has definitely been the highlight of my trip so far and I would definitely do it again.
Thrusday afternoon we arrived in Chiang Mai city where we are staying in a seemingly lovely hotel. The outside is brightly decorated and has a pool with two chicken ornamants the size of me either side of it. Then our rooms are shoved round the back and very dark with big signs saying any lost property is not the hotel's problem.
We've got 3/4 free days here that have already been very jam packed but I'll explain in another note. I want to leave this internet cafe because I'm the only one here and the moody woman is playing a movie really loud and giving me dirty looks.
Love x

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Letters from Thailand, part three

Part one here

Part two here

Chiang Mai - Jungle trek

8 April 2013 at 11:28
Sunday morning our overnight coach arrived in Chiang Mai. The horrific bus journey was the first time i've wanted to go home since getting here, I've been fine with the heat and the bugs but the air con has driven me insane. The whole night was spent shivering, at about three in the morning I realised I could turn the fans above my head off, but it was still cold. We then got a big tuk tuk bus to our guest house where we were split into two smaller groups, half doing trecking, half playing with elephants. After only 2 hours sleep I wasn't sure which one I'd rather do half asleep. I ended up in the trecking half. Another bus journey later we were left at the side of the jungle with a new guide, Sooty, which made me smile but miss my cats.
Trecking through the jungle was amazing and we saw so much of the rural lifestyle out here! Sooty carried a machetti and would just chop away at the trees and show us how to eat bits of bark. He also made us each big walking sticks out of thick bamboo cane and had us eating termites and wild growing chillis. We stopped for lunch by the river where he handed us each a little parcel wrapped up like fish and chips but inside there was warm rice and chicken. We swam in the water and it was warm but quite still and muddy. We then continued trecking through the farmland, passing skinny cows and water buffalo. The second waterfall we stopped at was gorgeous and there was a long skinny, springy tree growing down from the side of the cliff then inexplicably curving up again and wrapping round another tree and it made an excellent swing. The whole experience was just so peaceful and so beautiful it's hard to believe you're really there. I went exploring to take some pictures of the wild, criss-crossing tree roots and saw a little toad and then thousands of skinny spiders with white bodies swarming round the tree.
Eventually we made it to our home for the night, a rural tribal village at the top of a mountain. Skinny dogs surrounded you everywhere and there was an adorable puppy and I just knew it didn't have rabies and so allowed myself to play with it. The villagers are so polite and respectful, they cooked us food and served us when really it was us that respected them. Their way of living is so simple, no electricity or running water, and we watched them making fabric for their clothes. The young children dodged around us with a mixture of fear and fascination and sold us little handmade bracelets. Some of the older children were running around with big knives and one of them seemed to have a gun, but it would've been insulting to run away from their hospitality screaming so I tried to block bad thoughts out my head. We ate tea, delicious green curry again, out in the open watching the sun go down and you can see for miles. Once we were bored of card games a local man came over and broke a thin reed up into lots of little sticks and set them down in patterns and made a game of it, setting us puzzles. I was very good at this and he shook my hand. We all slept on the floor of a big bamboo cabin and I quickly made sure I had a bed with a mosquito net. It was covered in holes and so totally useless but I felt like I was in a safe little den, which was nice as I could hear the dogs howling and fighting all night in the pitch black.
Waking up and eating breakfast, which was tons of fresh fruit, on top of a green mountain was surreal. We soon set off deeper into the jungle and I loved it so much. The steep, slanted paths reminded me of the route I jog through the big woods at home and it felt nice and familiar. However at home home all the trees grow vertical, here they are growing in every direction. You'll be clambering over and under them, then balancing along one to cross a river. It was challenging but like an obstacle course and was totally rewarding as we eventually arrived at a massive waterfall. The sight was beautiful and the water was so cold and refreshing. There was a huge collapsed tree tactfully positioned over the centre and as soon as I saw someone else jump in this reassured me that it wouldn't kill me to do it too. Usually a million possibilities run through my head with things like that of all the bad things that could happen and all the ways I could die, but today I just jumped and it was amazing! Sooty chopped us up some fresh watermelon and pineapple and soon we set off again.
We then reached a little village where a pickup truck came to take us to our next adventure and we were all packed in the truck bit with the door hanging open which must be so unsafe but there was a lovely breeze. We arrived at the side of a river and were given more rice for lunch then were told to leave all our bags and shoes and follow Sooty down to the river. There we climbed onto these long bamboo rafts in small groups and went punting down the gentle river. Ours kept sinking slightly and the guy steering us seemed quite useless compared to the others so ours kept rocking and straight away my bum was soaked. We kept crashing into rocks and at one point he got out to unjam us and I stole his steering stick and got to stand up and steer the boat. Despite my weedy arms I think I was amazing at this, until we hit a rocky area with fast flowing water at which point I just screamed and sat back down leaving us to freestyle. But I have lived to tell the tale so no harm done. Pretty soon it's Thai new year which is a festival of water where they all just throw water at each other and to get some practise in all the thai people we passed on the river banks chucked buckets of water on us and shouted Happy New Year! They also handed us drinks and shook our hands so I'll forgive them!
We're now back at the guesthouse and I'm very exhausted but the past two days have been such new experiences and so much fun. The next two days is finally elephant time! After speaking to the others who have just done it I am very excited!!!
Bit of an essay but I've just done so much!
Love xx