Sunday, September 17, 2006

Trip: Thailand
Date: September 17, 2006
Place: Chiang Mai

Well, I just got back from the worst two day trek that I have ever been on! I booked it through my hotel - Julie Guest House. The trek started with a three hour hike straight uphill (at a 60 degree angle!) We were going so fast that it felt like we were in a race, so I didn't really get to enjoy (or really see for that matter, since the trail was poor and I kept looking at my feet to make sure that I didn't fall back down the mountain) most of the scenery. Picture doing a Stairmaster at the highest speed for three hours straight in 90 degree weather with 100 percent humidity. I was DYING! And I was the slowest one in the group! The brochure said "three hour hike" which on flat, or even mildly sloping terrain I could easily do, but it certainly did not mention anything about straight up! It was listed as a beginners hike! Ha!

So we finally got to the stop, and the view was quite lovely. We then go to this little Lahu tribal village where we spent the night in the "bamboo hotel" which was really a large version of the village houses on stilts. It felt like camp. All 11 of us stayed in one room on mattresses on the floor. (Sorry, pictures still won't post, but my fabulous Uncle Don is working on putting my blog on my personal website, so hopefully the fully illustrated version will be available soon!) The tribal village was nice; the people were friendly, there were dogs, chickens (more on those later) and children everwhere. I could also deal with the outhouse and the outdoor ice water shower...

That night it happened to be clear, so four of us went out on the porch in front of our hut to look at all of the stars (thousands of them!) We were leaning back on the railing, when suddenly we heard a large crunch and all of us toppled backwards. We originally thought that the railing gave way, but we later learned it was the bench that we were sitting on. The two guys managed to stay on the porch (guess that "single focus" comes in handy in crisis situations!) One of them stood up and the other one managed to grab on to part of the railing (how he did that in the dark during a fall is completely beyond me!) The other woman and myself, however, went falling backwards 8 feet down to the ground. Isabel (the other woman, and the only doctor in the group!) had the wind knocked out of her. I laid there dazed and confused for a bit, and then realized that I hadn't broken any bones. In fact, both of us landed on our backs, but didn't break anything. No cuts, no bruises (although Isabel says they will probably show up tomorrow). I think that it is a miracle that neither of us was seriously hurt! We were quite sore that night, however, and sleeping on the floor was not terribly comfortable! Last night I definitely was longing for a travel partner to take care of me! (Isabel had her husband with her.)

This morning, we got up early (thanks to those darn roosters who started crowing at 3:30am and didn't stop until daybreak), ate breakfast and packed. Despite pleas from Isabel and I, our guide took us racing back down the hill so we could "beat the other group to the elephant camp"! I stumbled and fell into a prickly fern which left a thousand small splinters in my arm. (Thank goodness I was wearing hiking pants or my entire left side would have been covered with them!) I came tumbling down the hill, practically in tears because my arm and back hurt so badly and then the guide (who is drunk by the way from chugging a beer at 11 in the morning) sawmy bloody arm and grabed it, which pushed the splinters back in; I screamed from pain. He then took out his machete and scraped the splinters off of my arm and hand. Isabel kep telling the guide to slow down and then she gave me some iodine for my arm.

We finally make it to the elephant camp and the other group did beat us, but there were more than enough elephants for everyone, so it wasn't a big deal at all. So, despite hiking for five hours through the jungle, I didn't really get to see much of it! The elephant hike, white water rafting, and bamboo rafting were much better. They were fun and were at a slower pace...

So, mercifully, I am feeling much better now. My arm does still hurt from the splinters, but hopefully that will have healed some tomorrow. My back is doing amazingly well considering. It just feels like a flare up of my herneated disc, which normally goes away in a day or two. I am going in for a Thai massage later to help relax my muscles...

So as not to end on a negative note, I will now tell you about the FABULOUS two days that I had before the trek of horrors. I rented a scooter (which is now my favorite mode of transportation) and scooted out to Bo Sang where they make the paper umbrellas. I visited the umbrella factory (I will insert pictures here when I can!) and learned how umbrellas are made. I then scooted out to San Kamphaeng. It was too hot for me to visit the hot springs, but the drive was really nice. So nice in fact, that I decided to continue down that road. I soon found myself surrounded by emerald green rice paddies with white water buffalo in them. I drove until the road literally ended (the jungle took it over!) and then I turned around and drove to Doi Saket which is another wat in a triangle location with Bo Sang and San Kamphaeng.

The next day, I drove into the mountains, which was cool, so I was glad that I brought a sweater. The drive there was faster, so I didn't see as much scenery. I did pass a field filled with poppies, however. I stopped to take a picture (another great thing about scooters is that it is quick and easy to pull off for photos!) when I ran into a woman who was working in the field. She stayed next to me and watched me take pictures of the poppies. I thought that she wanted to talk to me so I smiled and said "pretty!", but she just watched me until I was finished, then she walked away. It seemed a bit strange. A couple of kilometers down the road I started laughing, because I had probably accidentally discovered one of the illegal opium fields that still exists in Thailand. Well, whether it was just a pretty field of flowers or a factory for an illegal, highly additictive drug, it was still a great view! (And hopefully a good picture!)

Yesterday morning, before I returned the scooter (and left for the trek) I scooted around Old Chiang Mai and picked up some sticky rice (5 baht - 15 cents) from a street vendor. Mmmm... yummy Thai breakfast! Tomorrow morning I head to Sukhothai (home of the world's most beautiful airport). I am hoping to rent a scooter there too! In fact, I hope that Dhaka is scooter friendly as it is here, because I would REALLY like to buy one. It is such a great way to get around; you are really connected with the scenery!

So ending on that happy note, I will blog more later... Now I need to find a hotel for tomorrow...

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