Saturday in Chiang Mai 2/17/2007


Busy day today! Up early to be ready for the day tour to pick me up. Had a nice group of 14 of us, 6 from Czech Republic, two from Austria, two from Japan, 1 from Belgium, 3 from USA. Our guide Tom spoke excellent English and was a very good guide. We drove about an hour southwest (I think he said!) of Chiang Mai, and our first stop was for elephants. We took an elephant ride into the hills, then through a river to get back to our starting point. Those elephants are voracious eaters! We were advised to buy some (inexpensive) bags of bananas and sugar cane to feed them, and they were definitely needed! The elephants would only go a few steps before stopping and demanding food. They reach back behind them with their trunks to get it Ė and if their own riders donít come up with anything, theyíll go looking on someone elseís back! Funny, and a little annoying after a while. The ride itself is pretty comfortable, their gait is slow and rocking. Some of the elephants had drivers on board; for others, there were some men on the ground that followed along and kept most of the animals more or less in line. I shared my elephant with the Belgian Ė we didnít have a driver, but didnít really need one. It was a pleasant ride through the lightly forested hills Ė a dry sunny day, not too hot. Going through the river was really just like being on the trail, since the water was low Ė we didnít get splashed at all. Very pretty and peaceful.

After the elephant ride, we drove a short way, then started walking a narrow rough track (wide enough for a car, but not worthy of being called a road). About 20 minutes of walking up and down through the hills, we saw lots of banana trees, mangos, pineapples, lychees, some teak, and other things too. Some of the up hills were a bit stiff, but never a very long grade. This brought us to a small Hmong village, one of the hill tribes of the area. We were invited into one of the homes Ė no idea how real it was, but it certainly looked basic enough. One room hut, maybe 15 x 20 feet; one quarter of the space was filled with huge (maybe 100 lb?) bags of rice, their food supply. Two women were there, by a small fire on the dirt floor, using a small stylus heated in the flames to make black designs on cloth Ė intricate patterns, obviously traditional designs. The older woman was dressed in black, with wide bands of intricate cross-stitch embroidery on her sleeves and down the front of her tunic. Quite beautiful needlework.

Outside, we had a chance to try shooting with their crossbow (not easy to aim true!) And look around the simple village a bit. Lots of things for sale, pretty much the same stuff seen in the markets in Chiang Mai. Then back on the hiking trail again.

20 minutes or so of hiking through the hills brought us to Mae Wang falls, a lovely falls on the Mae Wang river that runs through the area. Folks who had more complete information about the dayís activities had swim suits along and went into the water there Ė my hotel didnít tell me this was part of the dayís activities, so I wasnít prepared. But it was pleasant just to sit and enjoy the water and the day. Probably healthier too.

Another 15 minutes hiking brought us back out to a real road where our van met us. We drove to a Karen village, another of the hill tribes, where we saw weaving in progress with a body loom Ė got to try it too! The huts here are of a different style, raised on stilts where the Hmongís were single story right on the ground. The Hmongs used a sort of thatching for their roofs, the Karenís use layers of huge local leaves (I donít know what kind they are). The Karens like to chew betelnuts, as you can easily tell by their black teeth. Not sure if the Hmongs do or not, but none of the ones we saw did, anyway.

Lots of livestock in both villages Ė the Hmongs had their chickens in simple cages Ė high domes they can just set down anywhere in the village and let the chickens forage in that spot. The Karen livestock was just wandering around loose. Again, I donít know if that is typical of the tribes, or just of those individual villages.

After the Karen village, we stopped for lunch at an obviously popular restaurant with tour groups Ė there were half a dozen vans there when we arrived. We had a room of our own, where we sat on mats on the wood floor to eat. The food was very tasty Ė my favorite dish was a combination of cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, pineapple and onions, stir-fried together. Unexpected but really delicious. There was a curried potato dish (I think they were potatoes, anyway, though itís the first time Iíve seen them here); and a chicken and pepper dish as well, plus plenty of good jasmine rice. And fresh pineapple for the finish.

Another short drive brought us to bamboo rafting! This is where I was really annoyed by the lack of preparatory information from the hotel or the tour brochure (the hotel arranged my reservation for the tour). Found out that a) we were going to get wet and b) couldnít wear athletic shoes, so I had to go barefoot Ė walking through the dirt and down the hill to the river. I trod very carefully! The bamboo rafts are interesting, just 8 or 9 poles wide, at least 20 feet long, with cross-pieces at the ends and in the center. We sat, two people across, four people to a raft, on bamboo crosspieces just one layer high, so we were only a few inches out of the water. Our feet were on the lengthways poles, which meant they were always in the water because the rafts ride low. And any time the raft tilted the slightest bit, our seats would go into the water! So it was definitely a wet experience. But it was fun Ė the river banks were pretty, most of the time heavily vegetated, sometimes rocky banks, here and there a village or hut built down to the water. One place we saw some elephants in a riverside field. There wasnít real whitewater, but there were a lot of little rapids, and I was glad we had a skillful, low-key raft guide for our particular raft. Some of the others were intentionally splashing their riders (and yes, those folks were dressed for it, so they didnít mind) but the four of us on my raft didnít really want that, and we didnít have to put up with it. Still, the backs of our pants were soaking wet by the end of the one-hour trip down the river.

That was our last activity for the day Ė then a long drive back to Chiang Mai, where I attempted to watch the scenery but kept dozing off instead. No wonder, it was a busy day!

Tonight I went over to Payap University (I gave it the wrong name in Thursdayís entry, forgot to double-check before I sent) for a party the music students threw for the seniors Ė this is the end of the school year here, so they are giving the graduating students a big send-off. Something they do every year. Even though I donít know the language, it was illuminating to me to see these students, in light of all the graduate students we get from Thailand. The university students here are much less independent and in ways much less mature than their American counterparts. Iíve observed that at times with our Thai grad students, but hadnít realized just how prevalent it was. Helps me to understand them better.

Tomorrow Iíll make an early visit to a special temple on the mountain outside of town, before my flight back to Bangkok. Iíll be sorry to say goodbye to Chiang Mai. Itís been delightful.

By the way, in case you're wondering, I still don't have my real voice back. No singing voice at all, and only a faint echo of my normal speaking voice. Sigh.

Love to all,

Carlyn

Last updated 12/07. Copyright 2007 by Richard C. Morenus. Questions? Send email to richard.c@morenus.org