Monday, March 28, 2011

Elephants, Brachiosaurus women and other Chiang Mai-zing tales

In Thailand, my life is measured out with day trips (and overlong bus journeys).

I've been critical of package tours in the past for making the travel experience too pampered and robbing it of any independence. But when you're scurrying all over the country on a visa-imposed schedule and trying to fit in as much as you can, stepping on the conveyor belt to enjoy the same identikit tourist experience as thousands of others before and after you is the most convenient way to get it all done. Not to mention it's so damn cheap.

I probably had another one of the best days of my life this weekend on a packed day trip out of Chiang Mai, which ticked off a whole lot of firsts: my first elephant ride, my first rafting trip, my first swim in a waterfall and my first hammock. I also hung out with a great group of trainee yogis. What's not to like? Join me on the road well travelled!

Butterfly and Orchid Farm

This felt tagged on to bulk out an already generous schedule, but was still fun for five minutes. Even if plants are boring.

Butterfly: check

Orchids: check. Now where are my goddamn elephants?

Dave accessorises his safari suit (deliberate wardrobe choice) with a pretty flower.
Dave becomes the prettiest flower of them all

Jumbo Camp, Elephant Valley

There may be 'Dave takes advantage of exploited elephants' photos coming soon

I've read up on the treatment of elephants in Thailand's tourism trade, and some of it isn't pretty. So it was with a pang of guilt that I climbed on the back of quite a dour-looking preggers jumbo (look forward to more guilt later) for a white-knuckle trek up and down a hill.

I'm glad I've ridden on an elephant (it was more fun than a camel), but I probably won't do it again.

Lisa mounts the jumbo like A Man (the rest of us girls used a cheating platform)

Up the hill

Back down again. Check out that guy's casual elephant riding style

Drama as Jumbo Jr. breaks free from his chains!

But instead of going on a tourist-trampling vendetta, he just reunites with his mum.
I don't want heartwarming - GIMME BLOODSHED

Chickens think they're people

Jungle trekking

A 30-minute jungle trek was rewarded with a dip in a totally refreshing waterfall, which made up for not being allowed to plunge into the appealing lagoon on Mae Koh Island last week.

A nice mix of perilous paths and rickety walkways, I had to draw on my preschool obstacle course training at Gutterscroft Playgroup Boot Camp to help me through. The views weren't as incredible as Taroko though - I've been spoiled.



Weird how nature can be so accommodating (again again)

Waterfall. There are photos of me in it, but nobody should have to see that

Rafting down Mae Tang River

I was an indoors kid, so when my friends went out rafting, paintballing and heavy petting, I preferred to stay in my room writing illogical stories about talking wardrobes. (Only joking - as if I had friends!)

But Thailand has changed me, and I've now had enough great life experiences to be allowed to die in a reckless activity that was a hell of a lot of fun. At least I was insured for once. Though after my dodgy Egyptian camera was finally finished off on the fake rapids ride at Dream World, I wasn't going to risk my less dodgy Thai camera on the real thing (but there might be photos coming soon).

Elephant bath time shenanigans

Karen tribe village

When your introduction to Padaung tribes is on a childhood visit to a Ripley's Believe It Or Not Odditorium, it's a little hard to shake off the sense of otherworldliness (and as if I was ever going to travel to those impossibly distant countries where they live!) So it was good to finally see these people in the elongated flesh.

I felt guiltily like I was on a safari for freaks when I walked into the welcoming Karen village, camera at the ready to snap the first Brachiosaurus-necked woman I laid a lens on, but I alleviated this guilt by throwing money at the problem. For a change.

While I'm not sure I'd enjoy being ogled for my traditions by snap-happy tourists every day of my life, they seem to be doing okay out of it. Now I just have to see those plate-lipped duck-face guys - those are some real freaks.

There are worse places to live

Try Me

Rellling in Northern Thailand.
Want to know what the other guy's doing with that magazine? I'll show you:

Thai people can have a shit sense of humour too

Some hot chicks

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