Sunday, November 12, 2017

Chiang Mai 2/6/17-2/10/17

I mentioned that I was only going to Chiang Mai for 4 days, I may have neglected the reason.  Roland decided to ditch work for a few days and bail on his coworkers during the middle of a business trip to Australia to come visit me.  I told him to pick any place in South East Asia and he picked Cambodia so I had to get there when he did and that left me with 4 days in Chiang Mai.

Anyway back to the story of whether or not that guy (in the tourism place) knew what he was talking about.  First he made me pay cash and didn't give me a phone number to call anybody.  He just told me someone from the hotel would pick me up at the airport.  He also told me that this was the only place that had space for me to stay in Chiang Mai for my dates ( I found this to be ridiculously false).  Anyway when I landed in the airport I got stuck there for far too long and no ability to call anybody.  All I had was the name of the hotel and the expectation that I was going to get picked up.  Eventually I hopped on a random wifi network and spent a few minutes trying to identify a phone number.  When I eventually found it I called the hotel directly.  I found that the guy who responded spoke almost no English but repeated the word taxi.  So I eventually did take a cab which the hotel guy did after some prodding pay me back for but it was not worth the several hours of frustration and confusion I had to deal with.  On a side note finding the number did lead me to reviews and I was appalled at how bad the reviews were of the both the hill tribe treks and the hotel itself.  As the feeling of doom and gloom set in I decided to go to sleep and hope for the best despite the fact that the room was one of the ugliest rooms I'd ever stepped foot in (smelly restroom, dingy lights, uncomfortable bed and sheets: you know the whole 9 yards of hell).  It is worth mentioning here that when I got to the hotel I saw my name on the wall with an airport pick up sign so the guy at the tourism office had been right that I was supposed to get picked up but the hotel had just failed to execute.

The next morning I woke up and was itchy all over (I think the hotel had bed bugs).  Yeah, it was a fantastic place...

I wandered outside bleary eyed and sleepy but on time to catch the trek pick up.  Two hours later I was still sitting on my ass waiting to get picked up and annoyed at everything and everyone but I had made friends with the other guy from my hotel on my trip.  Eventually Andy and I did get picked up in the back of this awfully cramped pickup with a black canopy (aka hot as hell).

This is where stuff started to turn around (even though out of 8 people there were only 2 girls and 6 dudes, yearp sales dude is back to being full of crap).  Anyway the truck stopped at a market where we had a last chance to snag some food before heading out.  I introduced several people to longan and young coconut because, let's face it, that's my job.  Then our truck carried us up into the hills.

This is where we started our trek and it started with an amusingly constructed set of bridges.

Yes this next one is held together by bike chains.

The best part was how uncomfortable some of my new friends were on the rickety bamboo structures.  The bridges did have a purpose though, they were there to help us meet our new friends which is why people braved them despite the disturbingly brown water below.

Getting to meet our new friends

Who then gave us a ride
And occasionally put up with me asking for a picture

Eventually we had to continue away from our new friends and we started walking into the hills.  One nice thing about this trek is that there were pit stops that had small coolers of water and soda set up on the trail for us.  One of them even had a small range.

I did start to get really good after a little while

The tool of the trade, remarkably simple but incredibly effective
Nailing this shot was probably my favorite part of the day.  It did take some practice but it was totally worthwhile.

As we walked we were consistently treated to moments like this.  Every bend in the trail seemed to hide a view of a small farm hidden in a valley.

As we wandered closer to our evening stop in a small village we started to see a few residences which often included one of these big guys though their lives didn't seem particularly pleasant.
Just one more picture perfect farm hidden in a valley

After we got to the village we set our packs down and had a few hours to wander around before dinner and evening activities.  It was a very interesting combination of new constructions, collapsing buildings, animals wandering around, and kids playing.  A few of us even found the school at the top of the hill and played a little impromptu soccer with some of the kids.  None of us could communicate at all but it is really amazing how universal the pursuit of a game can be.  Also puppies.

And yes I know that what follows is a lot of soccer pictures but I had too much fun not to post them all

As it got darker we decided to wander back down the hill towards dinner, made a few more puppy friends and found this cool garden (yes that is a dragonfruit plant)

Also this is the obligatory picture of dinner (green chicken curry)

After dinner they brought all the kids down and had them sing songs for us which turned into a session for them to ask for money for the school (yes I found this incredibly irritating mostly because before dinner we had several women come by and try to sell us trinkets, and they refused to take "no" for an answer)

The next day involved more hiking but I was on very limited battery so I have few pictures to show for it.  It was still pretty and still very very hot but the food was good and the valleys were pretty. 

Lunch stop, the old man that lived here played the weird string instrument hanging in the back incredibly well.  It was rather remarkable that an instrument that looked like that could produce such music.

Small pretty waterfall despite the really gross water
Our evening lodgings

I have very few pictures from this evening but it was a very interesting night: We made sweet sticky rice in bamboo that was incredibly delicious.  First, you put the rice and water in the bamboo and leave it in the fire.  When you pull it out later you have to break the bamboo open to get at the rice and it comes out wrapped in the inner lining of the bamboo like a prepackaged morsel of a purple rice based dessert.  We waited for it to cook by sitting around the campfire telling stories while watching the stars on an impeccably clear night.  My favorite part of the night though was getting to put my Daydream (the VR headset I can put my phone in) on everybody's heads.  I dropped people in Australia or New Zealand and laughed as they lost track of time.  The best moment was when I put our 19 year old guide on a glacier in New Zealand.  He had been trying to play the role, stay professional and take care of us.  Then he saw snow for the first time and he turned into a giggling six year old kid.

The last day of our trek involved far less trekking but we did have to hike back out to the road where we met a truck which took us to our last activity.  

Open truck is way better than the closed heat trap we started with

Bamboo rafting was mostly a quiet ride but there were a few hair raising moments involving some rocks and things.  It was fun even if our buts got wet.

When we eventually got back into Chiang Mai I immediately chose to give up the money spent on said hotel and move into a much nicer and cleaner hostel (it cost me 9 dollars).  A few of us met up to hang out that evening and what follows are a few pictures of the food we found.

So gross
Yes I tried him, no I didn't like him
The awful food stand they came from

The positive change of direction
And the real reason Thailand is awesome

My last day in Chiang Mai was just a chance to walk around the old city and visit some temples before catching an evening flight to Bangkok where I could catch the very late flight to see Roland in Phnom Penh.

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