Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
92Trip End Aug 27, 2010
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The overnight sleeper worked out pretty well for us and we arrived in Chiang Mai having had a decent amount of sleep. Aside from our first encounter with squat toilets, the only negative was that having woken up groggily to an offer of breakfast, we accepted (assuming as per the previous train this was a complimentary service) however, four breakfasts later, we discovered that these were not free and were indeed very expensive given the caliber of food received (think cold fried eggs)
Despite the drivers attempts to take us elsewhere, it was a short journey from the train station to the hotel inside of the old city of Chiang Mai. It should be noted here, that there aren't too many "normal" taxis here. Alongside the tuk-tuks, the most common form of taxi is a saamlaw – which is essentially a covered pick-up truck with a pair of benches running the length of the truckbed on each side. Our hotel (the Parasol Inn) is fantastic for the price we’re paying. We arrived just a few hours before the Sunday night “walking market”, which is a huge market with all of the usual offerings quite literally on our hotel’s doorstep. We had fun exploring the market and enjoyed more street food and made a few small purchases. When we arrived in Bangkok, we remarked on just how cheap everything was. However, we’ve now discovered that, in comparison to LopBuri and Chiang Mai, Bangkok is relatively expensive!
After studying all of the options available (and believe me, there are many many options in Chiang Mai) we settled on an activity for each day and booked it all through the hotel (with bargaining, of course). Our first activity was a half day cooking course. We were picked up from the hotel and driven out of the city to a Thai house, where we were taught to cook some traditional Thai food (with assistance from our two distracted junior chefs)
Thailand is a great country and so far feels like one of the safest places we have visited. Safe enough, that after six weeks of inactivity, Sarah decided to go for a run around the outer edges of the old city. The old city was a square, walled city with water surrounding the walls; the water still exists, but most of the walls are gone, other than the four corners and the gates (which have all been restored). It takes a special talent to get lost while running the four sides of a square, but Sarah managed it….when she rolled into the hotel an hour after leaving, there were some worried faces to greet her! (Surely that scowl on Derek’s face was concern over Sarah’s safety and wasn’t related to a delayed dinner….right?)
After an early start on Tuesday, we embarked on one of the most anticipated activities of the trip… half a day learning how to be Mahouts (elephant trainers). We were transferred to the elephant camp in a saamlaw with another eight people, which was a bit of a squeeze, but made for some entertainment. We stopped a couple of times en route to pick up supplies. Alex was quite excited to see how many bananas (his favourite fruit) were had loaded into the saamlaw and a little disappointed when he discovered that these were for the elephants and not for him
We arrived at camp and changed into our mahout clothing (see pictures) and with command sheet in hand we set off to learn how to work with elephants. First job of the day was to make friends, so we had great fun feeding them bananas… especially to James Bond, a seven month old baby elephant, who had to have his bananas peeled for him! Did you know that elephants eat 250kg food every day... no wonder they seem to swallow most of it whole! Next, we learned three different ways of climbing on to an elephant, and had a chance to practice each. Once on board a bare-backed elephant, how do you control it? Quite simply with a small stick, a few key commands and lots of kicking behind the ears! Come to think of it, this might just work with Alex.
After learning how to drive an elephant, it was time to take them for a walk and give them a bath. The four of us were assigned one elephant and we all climbed aboard. Derek graciously decided that Sarah could “drive” (no head for heights) and with the kids sandwiched in between, off we went. It turns out that without a real mahout dragging it by the ear, an elephant is much harder to control! The biggest problem was stopping it eating and keeping it moving, though given that she was pregnant this need to eat constantly is quite understandable
All too soon our elephant training was over and we rode the elephants back to camp where we had a great lunch before heading back to town. The experience of working so closely with such magnificent animals was amazing and something I’m sure all four kids will remember forever.
Tomorrow holds yet more animal magic in store. Until then…