My four-star hotel in Chiang Mai was good times! The room was huge and even had carpeting- the first time I’ve seen that in Asia. I even did a little workout in the room!
Chiang Mai has the feel of a small city. There aren’t any big buildings and things are sooooo mellow compared to Bangkok.
The first night I got together with a couchsurfing group, and the one girl, Mah, is local and just started running a guest house right in town. For couch surfers, the first night is free, so I took her up on it. After that I paid 350 baht (about 12 bucks) for a room with AC. She runs a cute little shop that serves tea in the same building. It was a very nice, relaxing experience staying at her place!
The next day I went on a hiking (or “trekking” as they call it here) excursion with a group. It was 4 Germans (1 couple and 2 of their friends), a French couple and a Japanese girl. The French couple were the friendliest, the Germans mostly wanted to hang out together and the Japanese girl didn’t know much English.
The first part of the trip was an elephant ride, and this was by far the highlight of the trip!
Pretty cool being on top of one of those things. The guides explained that the elephants are “rescues”, and that they are treated really well despite what people often say. They have full explanations as to why the elephants are chained (for their safety), and how they train them with these poking sticks without hurting them. I’m not sure I buy the whole story. It still seems to me that the elephants aren’t exactly free, and are being exploited…but yet I’m not passionate enough about the topic to boycott the experience!
Apparently, elephants only sleep 4 hours a day, and spend the rest of the time eating! They need a lot of food to sustain themselves, and it’s really hard to overfeed them. We gave our elephant about 24 bananas on our ride and she was still asking for more!
After the elephant ride, we went off on the hike. It was HOT out, close to 100 degrees, and we didn’t start until around 2:00, the peak of the heat! The hike itself was average. It was challenging enough, but the scenery was not spectacular.
We hiked to a village where we were staying. Got there at 5:30, and there was NOTHING to do, and no where to go! So I was stuck with this group who mostly didn’t speak English for like 5 hours until we went to bed. It wasn’t good planning on the tour. And, the funny thing was that our tour guide really didn’t speak decent english! He was super high energy and trying to constantly joke, but nobody ever knew what was going on, and there were tons of questions that just went unanswered.
The sleeping was interesting. One big room with all of us next to one another. Not exactly my four-star hotel! And, the family who lived there was throwing some big party that night so there was a lot of alcohol and music until late. Somehow, I managed to get 5-6 hours sleep between all the madness and sleeping on a pad on the floor! Many people didn’t sleep much that night.
The next day took forever to get going! They finally gave us breakfast around 8:30, and we didn’t get out of there until 10. Hiked to a waterfall, which was sorta nice, and then to a bamboo raft trip, which was really hot and kinda lame, then back home to Chiang Mai.
That night I got a massage and it was the best Thai massage of my life! It seriously fixed me! A whopping $6 too.
The next day I caught the bus to Pai. It’s a little hippie town 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. Totally happy I came up here! It’s been so relaxing. There’s not much to see or do here but the vibe is super mellow and there’s some interesting stuff.
I saw the most incredible band the first night, called Prema. There are two guys playing all these instruments. There’s a sitar involved, a digereedoo, a flute, some electronics, drums….and the one guy performs a magic show with some insane yoga moves during the show! Here they are on myspace http://www.myspace.com/premaom I actually bought the CD afterward too. It’s amazing to get that kind of entertainment for free in a little bar in a tiny town in northern Thailand.
Last night I hung out with my neighbors at the place I’m staying for a few hours. Both solo travelers. The girl is doing permanent travel, and just got here from Nepal (from Monterrey, Mexico originally). It was super interesting to hear about both of their stories. She was actually traveling through Syria very recently while all the craziness is going on! The guy she stayed with (from Couchsurfing) there just got out of jail- put there for saying some things against the government on his blog. She said this is one time where the media is under-reporting how bad things are there. She didn’t sound scared but didn’t stay in Damascus long, and her Syrian friend ended up leaving the country a few days later, in fear for his life.
The guy, from Australia, had done an insane hiking trip in Nepal, pretty inspiring. He’s teaching English in Chiang Mai now and had a lot of good insight on Thailand and Thai people.
Heading back to Chiang Mai in a bit, then Bangkok, then Cambodia…it’s a mad rush to the finish line of May 13th!