On the road to Chiang Mai
January 12, 2013, Saturday
Day 3 of G
It is still slightly dark out but I can see some scenery. We are in hill country with lots of vegetation and no people or houses. It looks pretty lush out there and impenetrable.
We were one of the first to get our bunks undone and made back into a sitting area with a table. I tipped the bed man 20 baht and he seemed so grateful that it made me feel bad. I had asked Andrew before I gave the man the tip if I should tip him and Andrew looked suprised and said that it wasn't customary but that the porter would greatly appreciate it. And so he did.
I just found out that the poor little bed man has to sleep on a very small bench that is next to the bathroom stalls and in the room with the sinks. Yuck. No wonder he talks to himself and grimaces all the time.
The "sweet little waitress" asked us if we wanted to order breakfast. We said no and she said the train was running very late and wouldn't arrive until noon. I should have asked her "noon in which part of the world"? So we ordered. I had shrimp and rice soup with tea, orange drink and apple slices and Jeff had a ham and cheese sandwich with fries, apple, orange drink and coffee. 100 baht@. Mine was slightly better than mediocre and Jeff really disliked his. He drank both of the orange drinks and ate 1/3 of a very small sandwich. Then he promptly puked. Luckily he made it to the nasty bathroom but barely. It's a long thin hallway with lots of obstacles. He seems ok now but took some Imodium. I decided to take some too because I'm afraid something might be brewing inside me and I can't think of a much worse fate than having diarrhea and having to use the train bathroom.
I told Andrew that the waitress said we would arrive at noon and he checked and our arrival in Chiang Mai should be closer to 10. Scammed again.
Another lesson I have learned is to always pick a middle of the car berth on a sleeper train. One end is by the bathrooms and the other end is where the cars connect so it is a much louder place to sleep. Plus the people who smoke are supposed to do it between the cars so not only do the doors open and shut quite loudly and frequently but the smoke billows into the car when the doors open. Poor Chris, Ray, and John had the pleasure of the end berth. Even worse Chris has quite the head cold today. However, they are all still in good humor this morning.
Andrew is reading "Papillion". Apparently you can by books very cheaply here but they are poorly photocopied versions with decent covers. His book is missing 5 pages so far and the printing is pretty bad. I opened it to a page and read "and he took a twig and stuck it up his arse" which cracked up Ray, John and Chris. Chris commented that maybe it wasn't Papillion after all but a mans version of 50 shades of gray.
10:40 and Chiang Mai is nowhere in sight. The train is stopped again in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we weren't scammed. It looks like my tiger experience and elephant show and ride may not happen.
Arrived in Chiang Mai just before noon. My apologies to the waitress. Some of us joined all the luggage and rode to the Mandala House Hotel in a songthew. These are red covered pick up trucks with two long benches that are open in the back. They are pretty common here as well as the tuk-tuks and the ubiquitous motorbikes. The motorbikes carry 1 to 4 people. 3 or 4 people squeezed onto a bike is quite common.
Chiang Mai has a population of about 250k. It is located in a valley surrounded by hills with many different small hill tribes in them including the "long necked" women who elongate there necks with necklaces from a very young age. It is a horrible practice and continues because it is profitable for the tourist industry. I would have liked to have done a trek into the hills.
It was a quick ride to the Mandala House. +6653272488. It is down what seems to be paved alley but is a street. The pool, small but nice, is across the alley from the hotel. It is a great location. We can walk to the night market, the Thapae gate, good shopping, used bookstores and the 2 Wats that I most want to see. There are 7/11s everywhere and also some Burger Kings, KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks.
Our room is quite nice. It has a queen size bed and a twin. Which is great because Jeff is now turning interesting shades of green. He immediately got into bed and ccovered himself with both blankets. and it wasn't cold in the room.
The bathroom is ok but a little weird. The toilet tank is clear and filled with gross dark brown water but the water in the bowl is clear. There is a spray hose on the wall to clean the bowl. The shower is a good sized walk in but not exactly clean. The water only gets lukewarm.
I abandoned my poor sick husband after getting him a sprite and making sure there was nothing else I could do for him. It turns out that John had a bad 24 hour intestinal bug the first day of the tour so we think that is what Jeff has. Andy had it several weeks ago but his lasted 4-5 days. I shudder to think about it.
A group of us immediately left in a van, 100 baht@, and went to the Maesa elephant park for a show and a ride. For the ride you rent the elephant so I had to pay 1200 baht myself plus 200 for the show. The others paid 1200 per couple. So I invited Andrew to join me for the ride because I had to pay for it anyway. He gallantly offered to pay but I declined because I was going to pay it anyway.
The elephant show was fabulous! The elephants did all sorts of things with their mahouts and then "played soccer". They carried the balls in their trunks, placed them, waggled to get in position to kick and "danced" when they got the ball in the net. There performance rivaled professional NFL players after they score a touchdown. Then the elephants painted for us. The paintings were incredible and sold for 2000 to 6000 baht. Unfortunately we had to leave the show early to go for our rides. Andrew and I were the on the second elephant to leave and the last to get back. We get on and off the elephants from a raised platform so it is quite easy though you do have to step on the elephants head. They don't seem to mind. The mahout sits in front of the saddle (?) straddling the elephants neck. The ride is very slow and ponderous and going downhill is a little hairy. You really have to push yourself back so you don't slide off. If yo let go you would slide through under the front bar and off the elephant. Andrew almost lost his flip flops several times when the elephant waggled his ears. We walked up and down a pretty narrow path and then through a river. It took an hour to go a very short distance. I found out from Andy during the ride that this is not a not for profit business. I thought we were helping the "unemployed" elephants by paying to see/ride them. Now I'm uncomfortable that we are actually exploiting them though they did appear to be well cared for. Ray who also came with is also uncomfortable with the elephant scene.
I was going to try and go to the tiger experience but after the ethical dilemma with the elephants I decided not to. No reasonable sane self respecting adult tiger is going to let strangers pet/ hug them repeatedly. Frommers didn't mention the elephants or tigers but gave the night safari very bad marks because of how the animals are treated. I pointed this out to Andy and he was surprised. I don't think an organization that promotes itself as conservation minded should encourage these activities. Even more than that they should be aware of these problems and be educating us.
We returned from the elephant ride just in time to immediately turn around to go to the temple of Doi Suthep to see the sunset prayers of the monks. I checked on Jeff first and he was still miserable huddled under the blankets.
We took two vans up the mountain/ hill to the temple. There are 300 stairs but I cheated and took the incline. My thighs are still sore from Wat Arun and I didn't want to slow up the group. It ends up the stairs are short and easy and would not have been a problem though going down them in the dark was interesting. The temple complex is very pretty and the monks were interesting but a little bit of a letdown. I'm not sure what I was expecting. The view if Chiang Mai from the top of the hill with all of the sparkling lights was very pretty in the dark. My camera batteries were having issues so I missed some good shots.
As soon as we returned to the hotel it was time to walk to the Night Market for dinner and/or shopping. I checked on Jeff first and he was still miserable. Asked me to bring him back some bread when I returned. It is not so easy to find bread in Chiang Mai on a Saturday night after 8! Most of the group walked a few zig zagging blocks over to the market. There was chaos everywhere. Lights, noise, smells, traffic, people. Definately overstimulation of the senses.
The market is huge and sells everything incredibly cheaply. The main eating area has 15 stalls and all of the food is fresh and prepared after you order. Incredible fast food. They don't take money but you have to buy tickets. I had two fresh Thai spring rolls, a seafood noodle dish and a small Chang beer for 120 baht. Afterwards some of the couples left to shop while Ray, John, Claudia, Sonya went to a bar and I went back to the hotel to check on Jeff. On the way we passed several "ladyboys". I know that they work hard at it but the majority of them are really beautiful. Life just isnt fair is it? And I mean that in so many dimensions.
The walk back after I left the group was a little creepy but Andy assured me it was safe. It's just that it was vert dark and quiet down the alleys and there were several turns to take.... Of course it all worked out fine.
When I got back to the hotel Jeff was still feeling cold so I had to go get another blanket for myself. Then it was time to see if I really had access to w-fi! Of corse not. It took going to the front desk and resetting everything. 20 wasted long moments later it finally worked. I managed to copy my entries from Evernote to paste into the blog site and that actually worked as well. Unfortunately I coulnt download any photos because they were too big and i was too tired to figure it out. My apologies dear readers that I did not have the energy to proof read or spell check my writing. So I'm sorry for any absurdities that my grammar, spelling or auto correct may have caused.
Then back to the room to check/write emails and try to figure out my camera battery problem. Finally 1:30 a.m. and I had to crash.