Wednesday, January 5, 2011

“Can we ride the elephants??” (Part 2)

The next morning came quickly. We had signed up for one of the famous “how-much-can-you-possibly-fit-into-one-day” Chiang Mai tours. And it was amazing! We started off with an early breakfast at the guesthouse, followed by a quick meet-up with Sara and Tabitha. The van came for us early – I believe 8:30 or so – and we were off to fill our day with touristy Chiang Mai favorites. Of course I only signed up for one thing…to ride the elephants! The rest of the day’s activities were amazing as well but riding the elephants was exactly why I wanted to go to Chiang Mai in the first place.

The elephant riding portion of our tour took us about an hour outside of the city. Once we made it to the elephants, we were quickly herded across a wooden planked bridge towards what I remember to be a bamboo tower. We climbed the towers Noah’s Ark style and shared our ride with another member of the group. I climbed in first and Jonathan got a picture of my excited/“oh Christ, I’m going to fall off this thing” face and boarded the elephant himself. Then off we go! At this point it’s important to remember we were riding an elephant. So when I say off we go what I really mean is ‘if we go any slower we wouldn’t be moving’. But I was in kid-mode and didn’t care how fast we were going. We were atop our elephants for approximately an hour, with JP and myself bringing up the rear. There were several people in our group so there were numerous elephants in front of us, each moving as slow as the one before it. I’d explain our ride in detail but outside of my child-like excitement it was what you might expect an elephant ride to be. When you go up a hill, hold on. When you go down a hill, hold on. Make sure your hands and feet are inside the basket on top so you don’t hit a tree. Oh and, for the elephants, mind the baby. Yes, a baby elephant rode alongside our elephant, making sure to look like a tough guy the whole way. There were several times when the baby would go around our elephant and come to a fallen tree (a small fallen tree, but a fallen tree nonetheless) and pick it up and move it so he could be like momma. Don’t get me wrong, elephants are by no means the cutest or fuzziest animals in the world, but I fell in love. So much so, I tried to name our elephant. I wanted a unique name – something that screams ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ but was much more exotic. The results? Nothing. About a minute after I decided I wanted to name him I was distracted and forgot the entire process. But for my story’s purpose, I’ll call him Howard.
The tough-guy

So after riding Howard through the forest (or jungle) for an hour, it was time to head to our next adventure. So we dismounted Howard, said our goodbyes and headed for the bus. The next stop brought us to a village – I was slightly unimpressed and completely forgot most of the details of that visit. But this village, if I remember anything, was a village of Burmese natives that travelled to Thailand and made it their home. Their specialty was scarves. Of course we were told we could buy them. We didn’t.

The next undertaking had us on foot. We hiked for approximately 20 minutes and came to an amazing waterfall in the middle of the jungle (or forest). It was absolutely incredible. We decided to take pictures on the rocks in front of the waterfall so I handed Sara my camera, took off my shoes and started jumping rocks. Naturally, they were slippery and I almost fell several times, mumbling obscenities the entire way. Once out on the furthest rock I was able to bounce to, we took our pictures and then headed back to the others. I just got my shoes on and looked up when Jonathan yelled my name across bamboo bridge. I looked up and was told to ‘come quick’. There was a little store across the river – I believe entirely made of bamboo – and the owners of this store sold soft drinks, water and beer to all of the travellers coming through on their tours. This store also housed a female dog that had just had puppies! To make a long story short, I was almost more excited about the puppies than I was the waterfall.

We continued our journey on foot through the forest (or jungle). We came to a clearing that brought us back near the village we had been to earlier and had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Once we made it back to the bus, we all boarded and were taken to a local restaurant where we grazed on amazing Thai food and were on our way to the last stop.

A few minutes down the road we stopped again, this time to roll up our pants and sit in some water. We were told to leave our shoes in the car, along with the rest of our belongings, and head down to the river. It was time for a little bamboo rafting, which consisted of me, Jonathan, Sara and Tabitha (plus our guide) on top of a raft that was made of about 8-10 long pieces of bamboo and were roped together. They told us to take off our shoes because our feet would be completely submerged under water – there was nothing under the bamboo. Conveniently, we got the wise guy of the guides and were almost all completely soaked by the end of the ride. He’d tilt the raft to one side, making us scramble or crawl to the other side to stay on. Then he’d lean to the other side, to continue the madness. Needless to say, we didn’t stay dry. We were even offered beer by a few Thais that were on holiday. They noticed the farang laughing and desperately trying to stay out of the water and asked where we were from. “America? Welcome to Thailand! Want a beer?” We tried but no success.

Finally, at the close of our rafting adventure, we again boarded the bus but this time headed back to the city of Chiang Mai. It was time for a shower and a nap and some food. This time we were successful. Jonathan and I eventually met back up with Sara and Tabitha for ice cream and one last beer before we turned in for the night. (I have to throw in the small fact that we saw an elephant walking the streets of Chiang Mai. No joke. He was guided by someone of course. But still, it was an elephant walking down the street.)

Heading to the train - on our way back to Bangkok
The next day was a blur. We spent most of the morning packing our stuff and running to the train station to make sure we secured tickets for that night. Wouldn’t want to miss class the next morning. The rest of the afternoon was spent roaming from coffee shop to coffee shop, wishing our papers would write themselves. We eventually found the courage to work on them.

That evening we caught a train back to Bangkok. This ride was much less pleasant than the ride there, not only because the ride was bumpy, which made it nearly impossible to sleep, but it was also filled with school work. Once we reached Bangkok, we had four days before leaving for Krabi, which meant papers and finals were our top priority. We were glad to get out of the city for a weekend. Bangkok is great, but it’s by no means a good indicator of what the rest of Thailand has to offer.

- Brandy

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