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Chiang Mai Pt II Hilltribe Family

What I didn’t realise is that the next 4 days would be like no other..

After a 4.30pm finish from the elephant camp I had 1 hour before I had to be at the next hotel to meet with the trip leader and group. Art was our CEO, an easy-going of half Thai/half Chinese heritage. Our group consisted of Sarah & Emilian, Lizzie & Ryan, Jess, and sisters Daisy and Lucy -all brits! It was nice for some familiar company and I already knew that this was going to be a good trip. We had some drinks together that evening at the Walking Market- the Thais are mad on their night time activity and boy, it was buzzing. We had a few beers, and Mojitos were 70 Baht (£1.35 ish!) I was comforted by the decent cd collection behind the bar and continued to choose tracks the rest of the evening whilst a game of pool commenced.

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So after trying to ram everything into my small backpack so that the weight wouldn’t be a burden, we had a 7am(!) departure from Chiang Mai to the trail head Pa Mai Daeng. This was a pretty excruciating hilly 4 hours even in a comfortable air conditioned van, I knew I had to be sick. The hill climb was unreal!

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When we arrived at the trek starting point we were joined by a member of each hill tribe, and armed with a trusty bamboo stick, or Gandalf staff as I liked to think of mine.

Walking is such a healing exercise, it can be social and yet gives you copious time to clear your mind – the perfect balance. After a couple of hours of walking through varied rich woodland we stopped for lunch. Lunch consisted of a cute bundle of rice wrapped in a banana leaf, with meats and veg, little did I know that this would be the same meal for breakfast lunch and dinner!

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In the afternoon we continued through rice fields, whilst learning about bush, food and medicinal plants and the ‘Spirit houses’ that are everywhere across Thailand. We arrived hot and a little broken at the Lahu village. The Lahu have just 7 families living in the area and it was really basic. The mud was a rusty red, the houses made from bamboo and other gathered materials. The squat toilet was essentially a hole in the ground that you use a saucepan of water from a bucket to flush – much easier for a man. The ‘shower’ haha, was an open viewed tap with a bucket. Never will I complain about festival portaloos again.

Pretty much instantaneously our group was separated, 2 of us to each family. Myself and Jess helped remove sundried corn to feed the chickens and drank tea with Langsee (our charismatic Karen village guide). Our beds were pretty good actually, a mattress on the floor with enough blankets and not forgetting the trusty mosquito net. I did get massively jabbed up by my friend Emma before travelling, so felt reassured. Food was served cooked over log fires, as we tried our very best to interact with the family that couldn’t speak any English, so I just kept saying thank you in Thai and my miming skills are exceptional now. Bedtime was early – no electricity, yet a perfect 3G signal and Nokia ringtones going off every so often HELLO, YEAH, NO TOILET’ etc.

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After a decent nights sleep we awoke to a beautiful sunlight. We were given clothes to dress in that are made and worn by the Lahu people. We visited the school, which had 1 teacher for around 4 classes(!) and bought some woven souvenirs from our family.

We left the Lahu for a long hilly climb between villages, over farmlands and grasslands to ascend the ridge line. Langsee showed us corn, passion fruit and tobacco that was drying in the sun along the way. I tried some wrapped in a dried banana leaf – think the strength of 10 cigarettes in 1!

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After a total of 6 hours walking we arrived at Langsee’s village, home of the Karen people. Here it was much bigger, roughly 180 families, each with their own noisy animals (I had a cockerel under my bed 2 nights in a row). It was a different feel here, there was electricity, a shower bucket with a door and light(!) This time we all joined together in Langsee’s pad for food and drink over a lush roaring fire. The stars looked INCREDIBLE and everyone was in really good spirits.

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Our last day was a short 2 hour walk predominantly through rivers which was lovely in the heat and so peaceful. We fed fish with local flora and took a small ride to Tham Lod– a 1666m deep cave-yeah mann! We took a bamboo raft through the imposing cave through the different chambers, lead by a lantern, it was magical.

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I’m sure you can appreciate I have condensed my experience somewhat! I know and realise that this 4 days will stay with me and remain a high point of my trip, emotions were certainly heightened and we all become a family.

 

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Soundtrack: Dead Can Dance – Spirit, One Giant Leap – I Love The Way You Dream

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Chiang Mai Pt I-Art, Elephants & Wet Pants

Sitting in Chiang Mai station, feeling relaxed and free, Blind Melon playing on my headphones sounding sweet, and I find myself reflecting on how this feels. It’s good to pause. Flying is actually really fun and liberating and completely affordable in Thailand – it will be a total of 7 flights before I reach New Zealand. The heat has been totally bearable so far, I enjoy waking up early and the warmth on my skin. It seems that everywhere is air conditioned, which is great although I’m pretty sure it’s given me a sore throat.

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I had yet another taxi ride which consists of disjointed conversation alongside tragic boyband music (they love it) and the questions 1. How old are you? 2.Are you single? 3. Why are you on your own? All light-hearted of course, my response is usually ‘it’s easier’ because maybe I don’t really know why, maybe because nobody else wanted to come? Maybe I didn’t want them to come (in the nicest possible way) It hasn’t bothered me, I know it’s really early days and the night times could be massively more fun and exhilarating with a group of friends, presence makes a difference, but it’s just how it is – it’s all good.

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Chiang Mai feels instantly calmer after the madness of Bangkok. I booked into an art gallery hotel called Art Mai? which is absolutely beautiful. Each floor is designed by a local artist and themed on an art genre – I’m on the abstract floor! My room has an easel to create art and I found myself doing a happy dance around the room with excitement.

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There are lots of boutique hotels and cafes around and the old city that hosts a night bazaar, no time for boredom. I have experienced a beautiful 2-hour long Thai massage (turns out I enjoy being squashed) and am very much enjoying the freshness and quality of the food, oh and the cheap beer.

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I have packed a lot in for my time in Thailand but tried to have a couple of days in between to relax and reflect on each experience. On the second of my free days in Chiang Mai I booked myself in to spend time with elephants and experience the day as a mahout. I was picked up from the hotel alongside a couple from France, 3 Australians and a guy from Seattle. After a quick change into what seemed to be 90’s denim prison fashion, we were instructed on how to climb onto and command the elephant. Bai – forward, Toy – backward and um, I can’t remember the word for stop…

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I climbed the elephant by holding the top of her ear, a fold of her skin, she then lifts her leg with you on it and well, you kind of make a jump for it and hope for the best! Totally strange but really good when you relax into the movement. When you’re ready to get off you put your legs forward over her head, which she then lowers and you slide off! this seemed about a 2 mile drop for me. We walked for around an hour through the forest and river which lead to us bathing the elephants, this was incredible, what powerful clever creatures they are, I really was in awe of them.

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I didn’t get the memo about swimwear so had wet pants the rest of the day -yay! I was careful to choose a company that rescued and rehabilitated elephants, rather than exploiting them purely for tourist purposes. There was no use of chairs (completely bare back and natural) and no use of metal canes or any of hideous tools. It was a case of the elephant responding to commands, whether you think mine did or not I’ll let you decide…

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Soundtrack: Blind Melon – Sleepyhouse, Guano Apes – Rain