There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai, and if we had the money, we would be doing a lot more. But we don’t, and therefore have had to be quite picky about what we do. I wanted to see the long neck tribe (Karen tribe) which are native to this area, and Adam wanted to see a waterfall. Luckily enough there was a 1 day trek that encompassed this and more. Why don’t you go it alone and not pay for a group trek ? Some people may ask. Quick answer: you can’t, well not easily enough, and you definitely can’t go for a trek into the jungle unaccompanied. There are no path signs and no actual pathways, just rough ones which have been tramped out by lots of groups passing through over the years.
We got picked up at 9am by one of the converted trucks (songthaew) by a man and his pet squirrel. Yes, you read that correctly, his pet squirrel, what I initially thought was a man with a hunchback was his squirrel keeping cosy under his coat on his shoulder. Once everyone was picked up (10 of us in total) we began the long drive up the mountain which steadily got steeper, windier and dustier. We got chatting to people on the ride there and enjoyed the drive up despite the conditions. First stop was at the Karen (long neck) tribe. This is the tribe, funnily enough, where the women extend their necks from the age of 5 by wearing metal rings and adding a new one on each year. They also wear these rings on their calves. It is not just beauty driven, they initially wore this rings to protect themselves from their life and their work in the dense jungle. The rings on their neck would protect them from tigers attacking and killing them and the rings on their calves would stop the cobra strikes and bites. This tribe still live and work within the jungle in very traditional way. Just now tourism is a big part of their life, and probably a great financial help.
After visiting the tribe we continued our drive up the mountain and we then stopped off at an Elephant camp for our lunch before an elephant ride. Lunch was lovely; Pad Thai, can’t go wrong and it gave us all a chance to have a good chat too. We then were quickly diverted to the elephants, “elephants now, let’s go” our guide told us. No 5 minute warning, now or never seemed to be the ultimatum. This part I was not too comfortable with, especially after having such a positive experience in Koh Chang (see previous post: Ban Kwan) as it was all very rushed. Some people came in from a trek, quickly hurried off their elephants, and then we were rushed onto them again. No break for the elephant and climbing onto them via their head wasn’t the nicest way to go about it either. We began a beautiful walk along the river via a very narrow path (narrow for me and you to navigate) and a not so pleasant walk back along a busy mountain road, in which every time a truck came past the poor elephants weren’t too happy and backed up right to the edge of the road, where there was a steep drop I might add, and then turn to see what was approaching them. Quite nerve-wracking for a wimp like me. On a positive note, we got to feed them on the way round, our elephant wasn’t that bothered, but the elephant nearest to us was and kept searching us for more bananas, and upon finding we had none left gave us an unsatisfactory snuff through her trunk. Cheers big ears.(Pun most definitely intended.) After a safe dismount from our elephants we jumped back in the truck and drove even further up the mountain and stopped off at the beginning of our walking trek. Lots of other people were hanging around, either just coming back from the waterfall or about to start it like us, all with a guide. We began our walk in at a good pace on quite even grounding. The further we got in, the less path there was and it turned more into scrambling. Personally I enjoy walks like that, it makes it more interesting, but not all did and there was a lot of slipping and cursing! I enjoyed it until we had to cross water over bridges with no hand rails. But then that’s me and I have the grace and balance of an overweight ballerina. We got to the waterfall after about 45 minutes and of course Adam was the first one to strip off and fully submerge himself in the ice-cold water. The Argentinian lads who dared it first and then gave up quickly followed suit as did a few friends from our trek. After taking everyone’s photo who was already in there, I braved it myself and to say the least, the temperature was bracing and quickly took your breath away when you went under the full force of the waterfall. Lovely and fresh though. After we got out we had to dry quickly as our guide had had enough and was off. Wet feet, shoes on, quick don’t lose them!
Back into the truck, back down to the elephant camp (no elephants though, all finished for the day hopefully) and we were to start the last leg of our trip; white water rafting! We all donned the life jackets and helmets, split into groups and lifted the raft down towards the water. Our instructor was fabulous on every level, he said his English wasn’t good but he underestimated himself, he gave us great instructions and worked his arse off the whole way down to make sure we didn’t get stuck over every rock. The man was performing acrobatics at the back whilst we thought we were doing all the work.
There were some fantastic rapids and some smooth quiet parts which were so serene and peaceful and in which we spotted an elephant grazing on the mountainside. The important part is we beat the other team down the rapids and then got onto a not so exciting bamboo raft, which consequently sunk. Not as enjoyable and a bit of a let down after such a great raft down. Either way, again, our guide became a gondaler and directed us down the rest of the river.
All in all, we had a fantastic day and met people from all over the world; Hawaii, China (but living and studying in Aus), Germany and Argentina. Shame we couldn’t have spent longer with them.