So we are back to civilization, and not so thrilled about it so far.
Our three day trek in Northern Thailand was unique, exotic and relaxing.We had two tour guides: Sam and Jay, both speak English well, very nice and fun to be around. We started by driving about three hours north of Chiang Mai, to a neat small town called Chiang Rai, where we had lunch, and visited one of the most modern temples in Thailand(The White Temple, my absolute favorite and a photographer delight). From Chiang Rai, we started by taking a long boat tail ride through the Mekong river,where we had our first elephant sighting. Right there, on the river bank, a giant beast flapping its ears and drinking water! Not a sight one sees everyday! After about an hour boat ride, we started trekking through the mountains. It was amazingly beautiful, and exceptionally hot. We were thankful for the fresh breezes that greeted us once we started reaching the top of the mountain.
After about three or so hours of hiking, we reached our destination for the first day: Lahu village. The Lahu hill tribe immigrated to Thailand from China many years ago, they have their own language and don't speak Thai well. Our accommodation for the night was in one of the village bamboo huts. It is amazing to see people living on only life basic necessaries! Sam cooked delicious Thai dinner for us, and we chatted about life in Thailand until bed time. It was a great day!
The second day of the trek involved more hiking, a swim in a waterfall, delicious Thai food and accommodation at Akha village in another bamboo hut. During our trekking trip, we realized the various uses and importance of bamboo, from food to tools to construction,bamboo is widely used in Thailand. Sam also carved a bamboo cup for us while we were hiking, a very nice touch, and great souvenir from our trek.
We spent the third day mainly in the car, driving all over Northern Thailand, and visiting amazing places like the Golden Triangle, the ancient city,monkey cave,beautiful lake where we had lunch, the White Buddha, the Dragon Buddha, and another hill tribe called Karen Long Neck village. Women in this village were copper rings around their necks since they are kids, and as they grow, these rings push down their shoulders extending their necks. It felt like exploiting people walking around their village to check them out, but Sam assured us that they like it, and it is a way for them to benefit financaly by showing off their culture. They were very nice and friendly.
After our three day trek, we headed back to Chiang Mai just in time for the Sunday Walking market, and a much needed Thai foot, neck and shoulder massage. Ah, an absolute delight.
The following day we hired a taxi to take us to the Thai Elephant Conservation center, about an hour south of Chiang Mai, where we spent what might be one of the most memorable experiences in our lives riding elephants and learning about their lives from their mahouts. It was an amazing experience and we had great time with our elephants and mahouts. Elephants are truly the gentle giants. They were smart, sweet and obedient. And I was happy to see that they were well treated. I will write about that in more detail when I get home.
After three days at the elephant camp, we caught the plane to Bangkok. The journey was uneventful, we got our luggage, got hassles by various taxi drivers in our way out to the legitimate public taxi counter, where we got a ticket assigning a metered public taxi to us. The drive from the airport to our hotel took about half an hour. Traffic was fine, and I didn't think Bangkok drivers do a worse job than Rome's, so I felt fairly safe.
Our hotel in Bangkok is great, and staff is very friendly and helpful. The city is hot, noisy, polluted and smelly. The river and canals are extremely dirty, and there are many annoying people, who are trying to misdirect tourists for reasons that I can't figure out. The Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha Temple are absolutely magnificent, and the trip to Bangkok is worth it if only to visit them. The reclining Buddha is huge, and very elegant, and the Temple of Dawn is unique and attractive. Other than that, we really don't like Bangkok much. We have couple more days here before going home, and I am researching ways to get away from the city, we'll see how it goes.