25.06.2008 - 03.07.2008
I feel like so much has happened since our last blog posting. We made it safely to Thailand and right away it felt like we had come back to the comforts of the modern world. We quickly got out of Bangkok and made our way north to Chang Mai and got to experience Thai hospitality first-hand. My Aunt Dee has a long time Thai friend Addy that I started e-mailing when I knew when we would be in her home town of Chang Mai. I had always heard about Addy and thought it would be great to finally get to meet her. I had told her when we would be arriving and we were completely surprised when her and her sister were there waiting for us at the train station (how nice). But their hospitality didn't stop there. They helped us get bus tickets for the next day and then drove us to the bus station to show us where we would be going the next day. They then took us to their home since they insisted that we stay with them for the night and we dropped off our bags at the house. We hopped on motorcycles and they showed us part of the city and took us out to dinner for some yummy Thai noodles. As if that wasn't enough Addy offered to do our laundry and come back from work the next day to help us to the bus station. We graciously declined the last two offers of hospitality since she and her family had done so much for us already. We were only in Chang Mai for the night but will be returning tomorrow and look forward to spending a little more time with Addy. It is so hard coming from a culture that hardly makes time for friends and family let alone someone you have never met, to know how to return the generosity shown to you. But we will see what we can do.
We then headed west from Chang Mai towards the Burmese boarder to the small town of Pai. As soon as we got off of the bus in Pai and were not swarmed by touts we knew we were in a great place. In fact, nobody approached us. It was such a change of pace from what we had grown calloused to the past couple months. Pai was a nice peaceful, artsy/hippie town surrounded by jungle that rents motorcycles for the day for about $3. So we got a "hog" for the day. I decided I would rather ride than drive so we shared the bike. Breezy quickly realized two bodies on the smaller bike makes turning a little tricky. We didn't get in too many wrecks that day. We came out with only a couple minor scrapes and bruises and made the mental note that we need two "hogs" next time. We did get to see a couple pretty waterfalls and a wat (temple). We also met two Americans who ended up setting us up with an amazing jungle trek.
Most tourists that flock to Northern Thailand go on a trek around the hills/jungles to visit some of the existing hill tribes. Unfortunately most of these treks have become commercialized and touristy. We were hoping to find a trek that would get us away from tourists to really explore the jungles and see how the hill tribes still live. Thanks to our American friends that we met in Pai, Meredith and Collin we found just that. We met up with them again in Mai Hong Son a few hours away from Pai. They had a contact name of a tour guide recommended to them by a guy that works for Lonely Planet. As luck would have it, we ended up with a great group.....Collin and Meredith, Joe and Charlie both from the UK and Christina originally from Germany and then our wonderful guide Chan. The group met the night before our trek to discuss price and we were all shocked when Chan said his price was double what we were all expecting to pay. He explained his costs and we explained our budgets. We managed to negotiate to a rate that we were all happy with and we were ready to go jungle for 3 days and 2 nights.
It didn't take long for us to realize that Chan knew what he was doing in the jungle. Our first day we spent walking up a valley of the jungle along a river. We saw amazing large spiders, crazy bugs and beautiful but poisonous caterpillars. Which Breezy got to experience first hand when we found the caterpillar on his shirt. He was about to grab it but when we showed our guide he quickly grabbed a leave and told us it was poisonous. Yikes! Within a couple minutes we could see where the caterpillar had been when Breezy's neck started welting up. It looked like he had boils all over his neck. Yikes again. Again, our guide came to the rescue and rubbed some ointment on it and within the hour Breezy was back to normal with a great story to remember.
Our first meal!
Our first night on the trek we got to stay in a village that hadn't seen westerners for at least 3 months which was cool. We westerners hung around watching the pigs, goats, water buffallo and the incredible scenery around us, while our dinner was being prepared on and open fire inside one of the bamboo homes. We also got to see the different steps that rice takes before it can be eaten. I never knew how much went into rice, I have a whole new respect for the food. We were then able to grab a cusion on the floor and take in the best meal we all had had in weeks. We quickly came to learn why Chan normally charges twice that of his competitors. The feast was amazing.
That night we all slept in one of the traditional homes which was made of mostly bamboo and was up on stilts. It rained most of the night which gave the whole experience a neat effect.
The next morning we were off again to tromp through the jungle. We all realized that we were really getting the true experience. We never saw another westerner. The trail was non-existant at times with Chan having to machete our way through the overgrowth. We had lunch in the jungle and watched as our chopsticks were carved out of bamboo in front of us. After lunch we got to see/hear gibbons in the jungle. What an amazing experience to feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and then to hear and see the monkeys. That evening we stayed in at a camp. Which consisted of a bamboo hut and a toilet. We had a campfire, another amazing meal and got to drink out of bamboo cups that Chan made for us.
Our sleeping quarters.
Not only was our trek amazing but we couldn't have asked for a better group of people to be with. We had a bookie and a profession tree climber in the group, two professions that I didn't realize still existed today. We all got along great which made some of the tougher moments in the jungle easy to get through. I don't think I have laughed so much in a while. We are actually looking forward to meeting up with some of them again in Laos.
Our trek eventually came to an end. It was a little sad but I was ready to be done. Between falling in the mud, getting stung by some sort of jungle wildlife, getting my butt (not sure how) eaten alive by god knows what, and just the creepy crawling things everywhere I have never appreciated the fact that I do not live in the jungle.
I will wrap up this very long blog so Breezy can post some photos for you all. They were taken with my camera, so they are not nearly as good as the photos from NZ and Tassie. But something is better than nothing. Hope you all are well. For those of you in the states.....have a safe and festive Fourth of July!!
Toni and Jason
The 7 smurfs(that was our group name!!) minus Toni. left to right -> wonder dog, Me, Joe, Charlie, Christina, Meridith, and Collin.
Another meal being cooked.