Crazy Ladies and Overtaking Elephants!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Friday, April 2, 2004

Saturday 27th March
We got up late and sorted out our bags and made our way to check out. We left our bags in storage at the guest house and had poached eggs on toast and banana shakes for breakfast with the Bangkok Post (getting to be a habit!) We sorted out tickets for a bus to Chiang Mai for 6pm today. Chaing Mai is 700km away and takes 12 hours but we booked a "VIP" bus which has reclining seats and air con so we will be able to sleep. The VIP bus is actually a lot cheaper than the local bus in fact it is only 100 baht to go the whole journey which means you can guarantee it is run in conjunction with a tour company or guest house and you will get dropped off at one of the above and given the hard sell. This is actually fine by us as most of the towns bus stations are miles out of town and if you get dropped in the centre of town instead you can always walk away from the sales pitch if it gets too much!

We had a leisurely afternoon and at 5pm headed to our local street stall for roast duck on rice for 30 baht which was very tasty. We then headed to collect our bags and made our way to the bus. The bus was full of travellers mainly French and Swedish and it was a nice big modern bus with AC but not too cold and even had a toilet downstairs. We put our luggage in the hold (after checking no-one was hiding in there!) and got ourselves a couple of seats. We finally set off about 6.30 and made our one and only stop at midnight at a 7-11 service station where we bought some crisps, a packet of Oreos and a Hot Chocolate for less than 50p (can't see that ever happening on the M6 somehow) We set off again and tried to sleep the rest of the way.

Sunday 28th March
We awoke at 6.30 to the driver playing some music as we arrived in Chiang Mai. We pulled up next to a guest house called Nice Place where we were invited to have a free cup of tea and hear about the wonderful things you could do in Chiang Mai (and of course you could book immediately at very competitive rates!!) We were told about the treks you could do and how they only had a couple of spaces left for the rest of this week which worked as some people signed up straight away. If you didn't have enough cash a local was waiting by on a motorbike for a free ride to the ATM! This woman who was running the show was also trying to get you to book your Laos visa now too as we already had ours she quickly moved on to the next group and carried on her sell. I am glad we hung around in Bangkok for ours as all they do here is charge you more to send them back to Bangkok anyway.

As we hadn't signed up to anything the woman (who I have to add had slight physchotic eyes!) came to see what our plans were. I told her that at 6.30am with having had very little sleep I really wasn't interested in making any decisions at that time but would be interested in a room and maybe look at her array of tours in later in the day. She asked me why I had bothered coming to Chiang Mai if I wasn't doing anything here to which I made the decision to never book anything with this woman. One guy who she was pressuring into a Laos Visa asked if he could have 5 mins to decide whether to go for a standard 15 day visa or to pay more for a 30 day visa at which she replied, "you people are all the same you ask for 5 mins but you mean 3 hours why don't you get back on the bus to Bangkok" the poor chap didn't know where to look! She was nuts!

We eventually got away from the woman and her tour bookings and got a room for 150 baht in an OK room but not great but it would do for a day or two till we decided what to do. We walked to our room listening to the woman who had now moved on to cookery courses and Thai Massages which are 2 other things that are popular in Chiang Mai and we will most definately be interested in but just not booking here! This woman meets a bus load from Bangkok every morning and must make a mint. She tells you that the tours only run on certain days and that there are only a few places left but the truth is there are 200 companies in Chiang Mai booking everything and you can pretty much decided exactly when you leave.

We had a couple of hours sleep and then headed out to get our bearings. Its supposed to be cooler in Chiang Mai and in the highlands but it was damn warm today. The air quality in Chiang Mai city is appaling as the local council charge for refuge collection so all the locals just have big fires every night burning all their plastic and paper! There is also a lot of slash and burn this time of year where they set the hillsides alight in "controlled" fires. That said Chaing Mai is a nice city and the old town is surrounded my a moat and was once a walled city so in some places there are really tall red brick walls which were built to protect the city from invasion. They know have fountains in the moat and it makes for really pretty surroundings. The city is no longer contained within the moat and has started to spread east and now takes up a much larger area.

We took a walk down Ratchadamnoen street which on a Sunday (today) had the most amazing market where all the Thais shop as it is so cheap. The stuff has prices on so you don't have to ask and be given an inflated price then be presumed to buy. We wandered round the town for most of the day and made our way to the famous Night Markets on Chang Khlan Road which starts about 5pm, doesn't really get going till 7-8pm and stays in ful swing till about midnight. We tooka wander round and grabbed a pizza (there is only so much rice and noodles you can eat!!) We then made our way to our guest house where Simon watched a bit of footy and I went to send some emails.

Monday 29th March
Today we decided to make our plans for Northern Thailand. We wanted to go and swim in the waterfalls at Doi Inthanon National Park and visit the town of Mae Sariang on the Burmese border. We also wanted to go and see the elephants in Mae Taeng which is home to rafting and trekking and we wanted to take in a Thai Cookery Course in Chiang Mai so we can wow you with our Thai cuisine when we get back!

We checked out a few tours and stuff but none went to all the places we wanted to see without coming back to Chiang Mai each day so we decided to hire a bike and see it alone, our Lets Go guide covers quite a lot of specifics to see things yourself. There were numerous cookery courses to choose from but we chose one that allowed you to select 5 dishes in your group and then took you to market to buy your ingredients. It also included a nights accomodation at the end of the day so you could sit and enjoy what you had cooked. We booked it for next Saturday and sorted out a bike for tomorrow for 3 days. After that we will head North to the Golden Triangle and then cross over the border into Laos.

After all that sorting we decided to treat ourselves to the AC heaven of Starbucks and a couple of Frappucinos each! It was so hot again today nearly 40 degrees so after our hour in Starbucks we headed back to our room to read for a while. We headed out late eveing for dinner at a fod stall and a walk through the night markets before retreating back to our cooler room.

Tuesday 30th March
We picked up a bike, a Honda Wave, for 100 baht a day and left our big bags in storage at the guest house and headed off with our day sack. We headed down Highway 108 and dodged traffic on our way out of town. We drove the 58 km to a town called Chom Thong where we got some drinks and petrol and found our way to the Doi Inthanon National Park. We were going to go to a waterfall just inside the park but they wanted a 420 baht entrance fee which is scandalous considering it was 10 baht last year and remains that price for Thai people. Instead we took a short drive along a dirt path to Mae Klang another waterfall which although it is in the National Park there is no charge to get to it.

We went in for a dip and joined all the local children. They thought it was highly amusing that we had a go on their waterslide (a flat rockface in the waterfall) and before long they were pushing us down to get more speed up!! We played with the children for a while before moving on to a town called Hot. We stopped at a 7-11 and had an Iced Tea and a cola slush puppy before continuing along the Ping River Valley where the scenery got stunning.

It had been a couple of hours since our dip and the Ping river looked crystal clear as we followed it alongside the road for many miles so we stopped off for a quick dip in the shallow water. It is the dry season here so the water wasn't too deep. We continued on the bike but after a few hundred yards came across a whole bunch of bikes parked at the side of the road so we decided to pull over to see what was here. There was a huge deep blue pool in the river that was obviously well known to the locals so we decided to stop again for a proper swim. Although they couldn't speak English and our Thai is limited to Hello, Thank You and Please we did manage to use the International language of football and discover that one boy wanted to be Ronaldo when he was older and another was a Manchester United fan!!

We were soon back on the road which was now very much in the hills and had a long scenic ride to Mae Sariang where every driver that went passed beeped and waved and people rammed into the back of Pick up Trucks shouted and waved and smiled. The Thai people are so lovely in normal situations you think they are trying to sell you something but in most cases they are truly genuine.

We reached Mae Sariang by early evening. It is a quiet town close to Myanmar (Burma). Opium smuggling and heroin trade has brought money to the area but more and more police patrols and roadblocks are discouraging such activities. We didn't see anything sinister or out of the ordinary in fact Mae Sariang is quite a sleepy town (or maybe there is a sign there!) We checked ourselves into the Riverside Guest House for 180 baht and showered off the dust from the roads. Our room was on stilts over the Youm river and the window faced West to the Burmese mountains where the red sun dropped behind.

We headed upstairs to get a drink and sat on the balcony over the river and got chatting to the only other guest at Riverside, an American guy called Harvey who was from Atlanta and had just been to Mae Sot further South where he had been training a Burmese Karen Tribe how to set up and use a solar panelled electricity system. Once he trained them on how to assemble it and work it they took it apart and then carry back illegaly across the border and then trek for 3 days through the Myanmar jungle avoiding Burmese soldiers to their tribe and camp deep in the jungle! It was fantastic. Harvey had done a number of voluntary projects like this since he retired. We headed out to dinner with him and had a lovely meal and good conversation with a few Singha Beers before making our way back to Riverside.

Wednesday 31st March
We got up early and had a day exploring on the bike and stopping for swims. We made our way to Doi Suthep another National Park and climbed a steep and twisty road to Doi Phis summit 1685 metres up which gives amaizing views over Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside. We stayed on the top for the sunset and then made our way back down the hill for some lovely Tom Yam soup. We took a wander around a flower market and a regular market which sold everything form fine silk to Rolex Watches and wooden tuk tuks!

Thursday 1st March
We got up and headed North to Mae Taeng. We stopped at a street stall and had breakfast of sticky rice and mango which is lovely. They cook the sticky rice in coconut milk and sugar so it is sweet and then serve chopped mango on top of it and then drizzle coconut cream over. Yum. We carried onto Mae Taeng and stopped at an elephant farm for drinks. We watched the elephants at work some with people riding on top of them in wooden seats on top. They are amazing creatures and quite domesticated. There were some buffalo pulling carts and it all looked very busy. We sat in the shade while work commenced drinking our Pepsisand then made our way into town as it looked like it might rain! We got to Mae Taeng when the heavens opened and the rain was really cold. We had a bit of a look round but when the rain didn't look like it was letting up we made tracks on the road back to Chiang Mai. Then the bizzarest thing. An Elephant overtook us! It was standing in the back of an open lorry - a full sized elephant passing us at about 60kph. It looked brilliant but we were only going 40kph and as the road was slippy from the first rain in ages I didn't fancy trying to catch it to get a photo which is a real shame!

We made it back to Chiang Mai about 3.30 and headed to our guest house to read for a while. We headed out a little later to get something to eat at our local street stall near the night bizarre. We then went took one last bez around Chiang Mai on the bike before returning it to his owner.
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