Hopefully over the next two years I'll be sharing some amazing stories and photos, from what I know is going to be a life-changing experience.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chiang Mai Adventures

One Day Adventure Tour
While Sarah was at her meditation course I booked a one-day mixed-bag excursion. We didn't all fit into the back of the truck so I got to ride up front with the driver and our guide, Off. That was only slightly awkward. One of our stops along the way out of town was to pick up Red Bull for my two companions. Guess they weren't joking about being hung over.  An hour later we reached an elephant...I'm not sure what to call it... It was a farm place with an outdoor seating area, kitchen, whatever other buildings, and elephants for riding. The walk down to the "loading stand" had a pair selling bananas for us go feed our elephants. Of course. I rode in the seat with a girl from California, while her boyfriend sat on the neck and the mahout walked behind. We followed a path through the jungle. The antics of our elephant provided much amusement. She would walk a few steps than put her trunk on top of her head, requesting a banana. No banana, no movement. Good thing we had lots of bananas. Towards the end of the ride she decided a detour down the ravine might be fun and stood poised with front foot ready to step down. I'm sure she found our protests amusing, until she was pulled away and back on track by her mahout.

 After lunch we drove up the road to a path that eventually led to a waterfall. It started out pretty tame then turned into a proper hiking trail. After coming down a small ridge we came upon a kitten, just sitting there on the trail. Guess we weren't in the heart of the Thai jungle after all. Soon we reached the waterfall complete with bamboo platforms, and a family with another kitten. They must have been the owners of the 711 beside the waterfall (annoying the photo didn't turn out).
After trekking back we drove up the road to where we would start the white water rafting portion of the day. We are taught the basics by our captains then led to the launch site. While getting ourselves into rafts we watched another group come down the river and spill people as they went over the nearest set of rapids. Our group must have been more competent as we didn't lose anyone, although I think our captain tried. It was incredibly fun, and highly amusing to drift by some local huts, complete with satellite dishes. Yup, heart of the jungle. Instead of being dropped off at the beach, we transferred to bamboo rafts. They were definitely not designed for 7 people, and turned into semi-submersibles. We ended up soaked and only rafted for 2 minutes. I'm pretty sure the whole thing was just to entertain the locals.
Our last stop was a hill tribe village visit, which was not something I wanted to do. The idea of entering people's homes just to gape at them didn't appeal to me at all. As it was, we never actually encountered anyone until the very end where some ladies were dressed in traditional costume, selling souvenirs. Yes, the info about the hill tribes was interesting, but I still don't think we needed to invade their lives.
After that it was another slightly awkward ride back to town. As is usually the case, the day was fun because I was with a good group of people, doing things we don’t normally do.

Magical Elephant Tour
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Chiang Mai was to go on an elephant trek. After looking at a few we decided to go with the one being advertised by our hotel as it was also the same one friends had done. The ride out to Baanchang Elephant Park went quickly as there were lots of interesting people to talk to in the van, including an American couple who live in China, who were teachers and are now taking full time Mandarin classes. We had lots to commiserate over and compare. They had their adorable young daughter with them, who later slept through the entire elephant ride.
Mmmm...sugar cane
When we arrived we changed into denim shirts and long shorts, which I later realized was needed to stand up to the roughness of the elephant's skin and hair. We fed the elephants and learned about where each came from. Most worked in illegal logging or for entertainers. Some were friendly, some were skittish. All were lovely, but, not surprisingly, my favorite was the baby, who had been born there. They were chained to posts, and our guide explained that this was for a couple of reasons. First, all of the elephants are from different places, and don't necessarily get along. Also, if they escape, which they sometimes do, they head to the nearest village, eating everything, which annoys the villagers.  Escape is a problem because these are "house" (domesticated) elephants, who come from long lines of domesticated families; they don't know how to survive. I understand this, but still wonder if it's more of a question of survival involving eating crops because there is so little undisturbed jungle left, and people calling that nuisance instead of adaptation.
Next we learned and got to practice the basic commands for riding bareback, including how to get on/off, and going in different directions. And yes, I definitely got to ride the baby. We broke for a delicious lunch then headed out for our ride. I sat in front, as Sarah could see over my head (advantage to our difference in heights). Although I was "driving" really the elephants know which way to go, plus their mahouts are close by. Halfway through we stopped for a break. My elephant tried to steal my water bottle, so I poured water down her trunk (with mahout permission). I thought she would drink it, but instead she sprayed herself, and me, to cool off. We shared the rest of the water while everyone else stayed out of the way. Sarah and I switched spots and we continued to the pond at the bottom of the property. Being on this the back felt a lot more like riding a horse, but was also less stable as it was easier to slide forward when going downhill.
The best part was undoubtedly washing and playing in the pond. There was lots of splashing, and that was just the mahouts. The whole day reminded me of the career I considered  for a long time...I love my job but ahhh...the company of animals...I may need to start volunteering at animal rescue centers during holidays.

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