Feb 10-11: Camping is always a mixed bag. Personally I love it, but sleep and personal hygiene have to be sacrificed. Same was true with this trip – except for personal hygiene. The camping facilities were awesome and we camped right by hot springs so it felt more like a luxury spa than a camping trip sometimes. They even had full body Thai massage at camping headquarters. But I’m getting ahead of myself...
Gig and Aum picked up Tanya, Chris and I at 10 AM sharp. Their truck was laden with camping supplies. On our way out of town we drove through another market. Handicraft Village, it was called. Then we hit the mountain range where our campsite was and drove, and drove and drove.
We drove up the mountain and again back down, driving through rivers, cowherds and various other obstacles. The road was torturous (by this, I mean twisted as all hell). It reminded me of winding up the mountains in Switzerland. Except this road was thankfully two lanes and mostly well paved. At one point Tanya had to close her eyes because, ahead of us, we could see the road slanting down the mountain at an impossibly steep angle! But, never fear, Gig and his trusty Suzuki (pictured) took good care of us. As we drove through the mountains Tanya and Gig pointed out that there were tigers here. I was quickly assured that the Tigers did not venture to the campgrounds because they like the higher altitudes.
On the way up the mountain we stopped at a mountain village for coffee and snacks. Also, we heard about these cherry blossoms and flowering trees on the drive. Unfortunately, it looked like the blossoms had all peaked and, while there were some flowers on trees, it was hardly the spray of color the park’s brochure made it out to be.
We arrived at the campsite after hours of winding around the mountains. Tanya and Aum leaned across me and I hid behind a baseball hat so I wouldn’t have to pay the exorbitant fee for farang. Farang (pronounced fah-lahng) is Thai for foreigner. The fees for national parks are about 60 bht for Thai (or Thai-appearing, like Chris apparently) and 400 bht for farang, 200 with student ID (which I thankfully had in our previous day’s trip to Doi Inthanon). At campsite headquarters we hiked a long trail along a rushing stream to a 6-tiered waterfall. On the way to the trail we passed an enormous tree covered in undulating beehives (click on that picture)!
The trail was very peaceful and well maintained and after a while we arrived at the first set of stairs to climb the waterfall. The walkway was wood and cement and the cement was made too look like trees, snakes, lizards and natural things. There were kids playing in the stream (where it was lass rapid-y and more babbling). Each tier of waterfall had a different characteristic. One had caves, another was a tall cascade, another was short but very powerful with fallen trees, and so on. It was quite a long walk and the path was lined with bamboo trees and other exotic looking flora.
After our long hike the guys bought eggs from a vendor in these baskets to boil in the hot springs to eat while the ladies (me included) got massages. After the massages the tent was miraculously put up and the eggs were eaten. We went back to camp and started cooking dinner.
Dinner was fried chicken and ramen noodle made by Aum. I think there was even more but I was really full after just the ramen so couldn’t eat much. After that we sat around listening to Gig’s oldies (Chubby Checkers and the like) for a bit and then went to bathe in the hot springs. The hot springs were pumped into these giant bathhouses that we rented for 20 bht a person (that’s less than $0.75). We set my camera up on timer and got a picture of us.
After we went back to camp we pretty much went to bed I think we listened to some Che Guevara and then Thai folk music first). The night was long and the ground was very hard (I didn’t bring my mat so it was Liz v. rocks for the night) and I spent most of the night watching the shadow of the campground cat play against the tent (very friendly kitty) and listening to the unreal sounds around me. There were these singing frogs that would start and stop in fits and the constant sound of a stream gurgling. It was the kind of mixture of sound that people use to create sound machines, except it was real.
In the morning Aum made rice porridge with pork and eggs and we set off, back toward Chiang Mai, passing expansive rice fields along the way.
On the way home we stopped in Lampang, a city with an elephant camp and training school. Elephant camps are where they train elephants for labor, tricks, and such. The one we went to has a huge elephant hospital, training grounds, an elephant conservation area, museums, and uses elephant dung to make fertilizer, paper and some sort of usable gas product. It was very elephant-friendly (however most elephants did wear a chain on one ankle for when they needed to be kept in open stalls).
This camp, called Mahout and Thai Elephant Education College also accepts all people to train as mahout, elephant handlers, and there were even some Americans at the school while we were there – they have full packages where you get lodging, adventures in the forest/jungle and get to train elephants. There was even this little American boy who was handling one of the elephants in the show we saw.
We were at the camp for nearly three hours, soaking in the incredibly hot sun, eating lunch, and basically just milling around. Tanya brought a Step 2 study guide and actually studied during some of the time. I milled around and watched people take elephant rides and assigned personalities to some of the elephants that seemed to be just milling around like we were. Then it was time for the elephant bath. Busloads of tourists (Thai and farang) were dumped off and bunches of elephants and mahout started heading into the water. Some came by to saw hi to the audience first. The bathing was really fun to watch. Some elephants just loved the water and would dive in head first, just their big butts in the air. Others would roll from side to side. One kept trumpeting. The mahout would scrub them and somehow manage to stay on top of an elephant part to keep out of the water.
After their bath the elephants performed in the Elephant Show. For this we paid a small fee and we got to watch demonstrations of what the elephants are trained to do. I’ll skip most of the details but basically elephants are trained to move logs in a billion different ways: carrying, pushing, kicking, sliding, dragging, etc. There were also tricks demonstrated. Two elephants painted pictures and a bunch of others played musical instruments and did other tricks.
After the show we bought some sugar cane to feed the elephants and got to pet them and give them lots of attention. I came across the young elephant and the little American boy mahout and heard another American on an elephant ask him “isn’t this the most amazing thing in the world?” and the boy just shrugged. Then the girl said back, “I see that look on your face! You love this!” As they were sitting on their elephant’s necks and letting them eat sugar can from the audience’s hands. Can I say jealous? For those interested, they have 4, 6 and10-day long programs that include lodging and all this education (you even learn to make elephant medicine and how to treat them in the hospital). It appears to be just a few hundred dollars a person. Definitely something I’d love to do in the future if I have the time and money! I kept the brochure just in case.
Overall, it ended up being a long day – hot sun, long, bouncy car trip (again at unknown and ungodly speeds) and when we got home we barely had the energy for dinner. Then I found out that it was my last chance to check out this weekend-long event in Chiang Mai where they close off the Old City at night and fill it with vendors. It’s called Walking Street and it’s like Ann Arbor Art Fair on methamphetamines.
We went, I spent more money, and came back and collapsed. I didn’t want to take many pictures there: first off, it was dark out, and secondly, it he streets where packed and I didn’t want to keep going in and out of my bag for fear of pick-pocketers, but I did manage to capture a shot of a ton of people getting traditional Thai foot massages on a street corner. Aum thankfully has friends in high places (security guard tat the red cross) and we managed parking in their lot (parking is impossible near the Old City during this event). I slept incredibly well and was incredibly grateful for Tanya and Chris’ short, little, sticky couch!