Travel Blog: Week 29

North Thailand – it’s better with a friend Week 29: 27.05.2013 – 02.06.2013 Monday:- Today I’d booked to do a day of mahout training. I grabbed a quick breakfast from the bakery before being collected around 8:30. First stop was at the tour office where the 7 of us sat on large inflated balls (like the ones you see at the gym to use for sit ups etc) and learned how to get our balance and a few elephant instructions; go,

North Thailand – it’s better with a friend

Week 29: 27.05.2013 – 02.06.2013

Monday:-

Today I’d booked to do a day of mahout training. I grabbed a quick breakfast from the bakery before being collected around 8:30.

First stop was at the tour office where the 7 of us sat on large inflated balls (like the ones you see at the gym to use for sit ups etc) and learned how to get our balance and a few elephant instructions; go, left, right and most importantly stop. Back in the truck for an hour or so stopping only to stock up on a massive amount of bananas.

  

We arrived at the elephants. I was a little disappointed as it was the same place I’d been to when I did the elephant trek. It was different this time though. Instead of just sitting on a metal seat on top of the elephant we got to interact with them. We were given special mahout clothes to wear and told to stash as many bananas as we could in the pockets. There were a lot of pockets and my trousers were so heavy I had trouble keeping them up. We fed the elephants, including the little ones, and got some practice sessions using our newly learned words and gestures. First we practiced as individuals then in pairs. It was my lucky day, there were 7 of us. 3 couples and me so I got an elephant all to myself.

  

We had a break for lunch which was delicious and as an added bonus we were shown how to make papaya salad. I always wondered how they got the strips of carrot and papaya so thin – I have got to get one of those gizmos!

  

 

The afternoon was spent riding the elephants through the jungle. I was given a smaller one. A delinquent teenager who did not want to play along with the rules. Stopping to eat but also occasionally charging off. It makes your heart race a tad I can tell you. Overall the elephants seemed pretty happy and carefree but had a respect for their mahouts. A pretty authentic experience.

 

  

 

 

We said goodbye to the elephants and were dropped at the rafting. Same place and experience as last time apart from our driver (what do you call the person who steers the raft?!) asked if I wanted to have a go. Just me! I stood at the front of the raft with the 3 other guys behind me. I was pretty good at this stuff. Well I was until he told me to go down the rapids. My pole slipped away from the rock I was using to push us through the gaps in the rocks and we hit another rock full on. I think I split a bit of the raft!!! The driver took over again, normality resumed and we returned safely.

  

Back in the truck and back to town. I got off at the first drop off which was some distance from my hotel but I wanted a walk. I showered, changed, packed up the things I want to send home and went in search of the post office. As well as the art and bits I’d bought I was brutal with the other things I sent back. It was quite a moment when I finally decided my bulky trainers, which I’d carried around for months but had been dormant, had to go. 7kgs in total! It felt good.

I met Nicole for dinner at the Blue Diamond veggie restaurant – which incidentally sold amazing chocolate cookies and apple pie – and we went for a wander.

  

Finally we ended up having an almost orgasmic foot massage before heading back to call it a night.

Tuesday:-

We had breakfast at usual place and saw the ladies we met couple of days ago – Denise and I forget the other name. We spoke with the owner, Addy, of the cafe who had a great outlook on life. She made enough money to get by and loved her job – better than sitting in an office!!!!

We were checking out. Today and going to Pai – a little town further north. The truck picked us up and took us to the minibus. This is where we met Adam, a Malaysian living in Germany on holiday in Thailand. The minibus was full but birth Nicole and I had good seats. It was mostly Chinese tourists who during the 3 hour journey, uphill and with 760 something turns, nearly all threw up. Windows open!!!!!! We stopped half way for a toilet stop and to share Adams fruit.

  

 

  

We arrived to the usual barrage of offers of taxi and accommodation. This time we sat back and took stock then set off to find a place to stay. Some bungalows by the bridge had been recommended. You’d think that would be easy to find, but in Pai there are 4 bridges. After a bit of tooing and froing, and lots of sweating in this heat, we found the bungalows. Absolutely charming, and so worth our perseverance. No twin rooms but at 300THB per room we had one each.

 

Once we’d settled in we walked around to orientate ourselves. It was a small compact place so in no time we had the lay of the streets. We both fancied getting tattoos so we stopped in a few of the many tattooists, trawled through their books and looked at the photos which papered the walls.

It was late afternoon and a small snack was in order until we found a good restaurant.

   

There’s lots of traditional food served here. Most of it is fried something or other and by now I was craving fresh. We found a great place – I had a mound of potato salad. Aaaaaahhhh – potatoes!!!

After a freshen up in our fabulous rooms we spent the evening browsing the night market. Loads of hand made craft items and heaps more fried food.

Wednesday:-

Nicole regularly did yoga at home and has maintained it whilst away – much admiration!! This morning I was invited to join her so with virtual class streaming to her iPad we did yoga for 30 mins followed by a meditation. Just about within my span of concentration. All good stuff though.

We found a cafe offering a buffet breakfast for 80THB. So much food – fruit, juice, tea/coffee, eggs, toast, ham and some.

  

Fantastic. Sadly, during our food wallowing session a little dog got hit by a car just by the cafe. The yelps were so distressing and both Nicole and I froze. Luckily someone with medical knowledge stepped in to help. Although there so no blood it didn’t look good. The dogs leg was hanging rather un-naturally. I’ll skip to the end of this story to put you ours of your misery. A bit later that day I found a leaflet with an animal clinic number. The number was called, the vet came and gave the pup a painkilling jab and confirmed no broken bones. The dog was going to be OK!!! Hoorah!!!!

Anyway, returning to my day. We rolled out of the cafe suitably stuffed and spent the day browsing the shops, checkin out more tattoo parlours (although it was having the opposite effect on me – I was going off the idea after seeing so many really naff designs) and just moseying around. I left Nicole at a cafe whilst I went back to my room. I just wanted to chill and in the nick of time, it began to pour down.

After the rain had stopped and the day had cooled we went back to a tattooist and…….both got our nose pierced. We were like two teenage girls. Giggly and stupid with matching studs. Priceless!!

 

Food was now the order of the day. Our appetites well and truly fixed with a falafel platter. It was here we met up with a group of people who told us of a monastery in the hills were you could do a Vapassana. Mental note taken!

Later, at the night market, we found a girl who ran macramé courses. We took Romona’s details and went in search of more important things. Sticky rice – this stuff is to die for. Can we get it in thai restaurants at home? We also found Thailand’s answer to Jack Sparrow. He looked more like him than Johnny Depp. You could pay to have your picture with him and you could even go on a day long tour with him in his 40 something year old blue VW bug. This is a crazy crazy world.

 

Thursday:-

We rented a moped this morning.we initially went for the cheapest option of 100THB but after seeing it, way too many dents, scuffs, and scratches, we upgraded. Still only 140THB and helmets, of course.

We rode out of town to have breakfast at FatCat. To call it a restaurant, or even a cafe would be stretching trades description, but nonetheless it was a wonderful experience. We met Sue the owner, walked through her beautiful garden, ate her great freshly made food, and chatted to Nancy from the States. She was also on her own pilgrimage so the conversation was deep.

  

 

  

Onwards and upwards in search of petrol – we found a little talking automated petrol pump on the side of the road.

We checked out the Earth Huts, hot springs, and the elephants to feed with bananas. Also we hiked the waterfall when I have to admit I had a strong and sudden call from nature (not a number 1 either!).

  

  

  

   

We then stopped for THE most fabulous lunch – a smorgasbord of food (boiled potatoes, banana chips, tamarind, tamarind jam, salt, peanuts, mango, passion fruit, rosella juice and fermented) of which we had seconds. We met the 48 year host who still looked like a school boy, sat in the hammocks watching the rain – we’d dodged it again, picked up Mr Magnificent (I made up that name) rooster, and took a squiz at how the earth had split in this area (in 2008, 2009 and then in 2011).

  

  

  

  

We were now in search of the Chinese village but we took a rather long detour to the Art resort, only to find there was no art. Our detour got us lost so we gave up on the idea of the village but stumbled on a place called the Womb. A did unnecessary if you ask me. It was a meditation centre and they were just about to start a Osho Meditation. It’s a shaky, dancey mediation which. Wasn’t up for but Nicole was. We flipped a coin and Nicole won. We stayed and did the happy flappy meditation. It was actually quite good fun but I think it’s a one time only gig for me.

By now it was completely dark and we’d parked somewhere out there in the darkness. No torches of course. We found the bike and raced through the dark roads back to the centre. We found a restaurant badged as vegetarian and took a seat. It was vegetarian but it basically meant chose a dish (fried noodles or rice) and take out the meat. Tah dah – vegetarian. Now for sticky rice and mango. Sadly to no avail tonight so we got magnums – 2 for 1 – think they undercharged us!!!! One last spin around the town on our mean machine before turning in.

Friday:-

We decide to keep the bike for another day which meant we didn’t need to get o town for 10. Another yoga and meditation session then show. This morning a thai massage was on the cards. Our guest house owner recommended a place and we were off. Now Thai massages aren’t exactly relaxing in fact they can be quite painful but you really do feel the benefit afterwards. Sufficiently pummelled, belt and generally abused we went in search of our daily breakfast experience. In fact it was almost midday so brunch experience.

Breakfast turned out to be at the Good Life cafe – rice with yog and smoked salmon, plus a mango shake. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

We wandered around town and I bought a couple of small pieces of art, giving the frames back to the artists, who generously let me take their photo.

Not wanting to stick around in town I took a spin on the bike on my own – what freedom and what fun. I bought a splash more fuel and took I trip along a so far unexplored road. I found Spicy Pia – the sister hostel to Spicy Tao where I had stayed in Koh Tao. I browsed a rather expensive (relatively speaking) gift shop and came away with nothing – a pleasant change for me. I also found Pairadise (the place where Adam had suggested) nice but not a patch of our little paradise. i also went in search of Romona and her macramé class. In our adventures last night out in the dark we had lost all our street maps and flyers. Anyway a stroke of luck I found the place tucked away down a side road. I suddenly remembered her instructions of looking out for a white heart. I booked us in for a 2pm class and headed back to collect Nicole.

The macramé class lasted for 4+ hours and it was just the two of us. We both surprised ourselves and made a number of things including natty little bracelets.

  

  

Worn out from using our brains and hungry we found another veggie restaurant (by the way for those of you wondering, no I haven’t turned vegetarian but Nicole is and I’m happy to go along with it. Besides some of the “meat” options are a little dubious to say the least) this time Chinese and we stuffed our faces.

  

Sticky rice at last for dessert. A spin around town then back yo the a room to do laundry and check my budget.

It was around midnight and we were both still awake so we put a T-shirt on over our jim jams and took another ride around town in the cool of the night.

Saturday:-

Got up relatively early and did yoga and meditation in the room. We then headed out and had breakfast at Good Life – fruit, yog and pancakes. Delish!

I decided to have an easy morning as I was just feeling out of sorts and wanted some space. Once I’d got over myself we both went out on the bike – out to the Chinese village. It was a strange deserted place. We were the only ones there apart from a few store owners. We visited each one and were given tea and funny coloured candied fruits in each one.

  

  

Heading back into town we stopped at a few random stores. How do they make a living!
As we cruised we found the street food market. We parked up and had a wander. I had chicken dim sum and we both had fried rice ball salad. A first for me. It’s served cold and is made up of a crushed rice ball about the size of a cricket ball. This gives it a mixed texture of the soft inner rice and the chewy outer fried rice. Mixed with onion tomato and a selection of herbs and spices only the Thai can do. Served in a banana leaf bowl with peanuts. A culinary delight. We also bought a kilo of avocados for a quid – for some reason we both craved avocado rolls which we decided would be breakfast.

    

We went for a little cruise to see the sun set and found a small brick hut where 3 rather excitable pigs were being fed.

  

 

Our last browse of the night market and more food. Papaya salad for Nicole and just a baked banana (plain!!!!!) for me. Back to the room to pack.

Sunday:-

It was check out day today – I’ll miss my lovely room. First things first. We dropped off the bike picking up a warm rye roll from the bakery on the way. Bonus – I’d forgotten we’d paid a deposit for the helmets. I was 100THB better off already.

  

  

Breakfast was on Nicole’s veranda overlooking the river. Our rye rolls stuffed with the kilo of avocados bought yesterday plus a few bananas – we’d bought I huge hand of them yesterday and needed to start lightening the load.

  

We lugged our bags to the bus station. Almost an hour later the bus arrived but it did give us time for smoothie.

    

It was a packed local bus full of a mix of locals with kids, tourists, sacks of something (maybe rice), a bicycle, and most of the post for the town. Under the circumstances I think we got lucky and got a good seat near the back with open windows.

  

It was overcast today which help keep the bus cool. All this for only 60THB – the fare being covered by 12 x 5bth tickets. Seems like a lot of paper for just a one way ticket. We stopped for a toilet break, which are always an event in themselves, after 90 mins and grabbed a magnum ice cream – we knew it would be the last luxury food for a while and so it tasted extra good.

 

  

We’d been told to get off after 2 hours. Almost 3 had gone by before the driver gave us the nod and we got off. Us 2 and a Japanese guy walked down the lane to the monastery passing kids playing in the river.

  

 

We were met by Somsee (Kelly in her old life – she’d been here 5 months and was expecting to stay years) given our white clothes, shown our huts and asked to meet back at 5pm.

  

 

We were given the low down; a book with the days schedule (although the times were a little different at this time of year) and the daily chants, some rules – preferably no music, reading, exercising in public, going around in male/female pairs, drinking or smoking. Even talking should be kept to a minimum if at all. You could wear badges such as “happy and mindful silence”. It was all a little bizarre especially as everyone was walking slowly and all in white clothes. Time had slowed down!

  

At 6:15 the bell rang for evening chanting and meditation. I chatted along to the words in my book but my pronunciation of the Thai words definitely needed some work. It was kind of nice though. Lots our hands held in prayer and bowing down. The chanting was done kneeling and my legs became numb and pretty painful. I was relieved to tentatively straighten them after the 40 minutes was up. Quite a test – try sitting like that at home for a while! Then the meditation. 40 minutes cross legged breathing in silently saying “Bhud”, and breathing out silently saying “Dho” (not like Homer Simpson – that’s doh!). Another challenge mentally and physically. I was glad that was over.

The itinerary then suggested you go to your hut for solitary meditation. I was all meditated out by now. I asked Somsee for a mosquito net and she kindly gave me hers. Her hut was way better than mine and had screens on the windows. Mine – well was basic to say the least and was open to the elements where shutters were missing from the windows and the roof rafters didn’t meet the walls. I think I was in one of the original huts. Nicole’s was even nicer than Somsee’s. Well as Klavidya would say …..it’s all part of the experience.

I put up the mosquito net as best I could for now and settled into my little place. Luckily there was bedding for 2 but only me staying here so I pilled up the bedding into a thickish mattress and hunkered down for the night. I needed the fan as it was so hot but this just blew the mosquito net everywhere. It was a fine balance but for now I could deal with it. An uncomfortable night but I did get some sleep.

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