25.01.2007 27 °C
Selling beer on overnight buses is not a smart move. Nevertheless, it was done on my eight-hour overnight bus ride from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. The obnoxious New Zealander in front of me was so drunk that the driver had contacted the police. It was literally a nightmare.
Fortunately, Chiang Mai has its own charm in certain areas. Like many Thai city, some streets with the old city are flooded with 'farang'(westerners) and young girls trying to make a living. The scene of oversized white male and petite thai girl is all too common.
I stayed with a tall Swedish woman, another victim of the torturing bus ride. I was surprised at the kind of attention we would get. Normally, by myself, I would just be mistaken as Thai, or Japanese. It doesn't take long for us to encounter our first gem scam. A local man inside a wat, claimed to have a Australian wife (with picture proof) and children, vacationing in Chiang Mai and wanted to drive us to the gem market to see monks work on handicraft without charge. The friendliness was a little too good to be true. We refused repeatedly and walked on.
We visited the Elephant Nature Park the next day, the largest rescue centre and santuary in northern Thailand, for domesticated and over-worked and abused elephants. Lek, a local Thai woman who started this project over 10 years ago, speak great English, has a passion for elephants. The sauntuary located in a valley supported about 30 elephants, including a few babies, who love bathing in the river. She also operates a jumbo express on a river boat to bring medical supplies to elephants in the surrounding villages in northern Thailand.
Our guide explained that Thai labor law treat elephants, an animal as intelligent as human, as domestic animals such as cows and pigs with virtually no holidays or maternity leave. On top of the torturing weeks of training when they are only 4 or 5 years old, a mother elephant could be forced to work for illegal logging or tourism until the day her baby is borned. There are cases where female elephants were forced to keep dragging woods after her baby was still born on the floor in the jungle. Then months old babies, who can barely walk, were forced to follow their mothers to work everyday until blazing sun. Some abusive mahouts would starve male elephants in order to prevent them to go into musk and therefore more obedient. Putting heavy chairs on an elephant back for a long period of time would actually cause deformation. Sometime I wonder if buddism is genuine in this country who claim elephants as their sacred animal?
That night, we found a little heaven ourselves, in an antique shop and guesthouse on the east of the river called Regina. My first glass of red wine.
A 3-hr local bus ride later, we arrived in a small town west of Chiang Mai called Pai. This town is known for its bohemian feel, popular for both farang and local youths, because of the abundance of hippyish bars, restaurants and gallery and proximity to surrounding mountains. I signed up with a 2-night, 3-day trekking with a local company. We were wrapped up in layers of fleece early morning before we start and quickly strip when the weather rises.
Our porters led us thru the mountains even without any visible path or tracks. We overnight in a guesthouse in a Lahu village surrounded by livestock. After a 'romantic' candlelight dinner including the slightly sweet and chewy Lahu rice and several great dishes, the Lahu children entertain us with children songs. In return, we sang a few western toons and danced like idiots.
Most of my fellow trekkers left me and another porter on the next day. We headed on a longer route to a Karen village. My porter made chopsticks from bamboo and bowls from banana leaves for lunch utensils.
Then come nap time. No point to rush under the hot sun...
A few river crossing and herds of cows grazing later, we arrived at the Karen village. My host family was very friendly. However, because of language barrier, I was only able to communicate with the owner who was quite occupied with my whisky-loving porter. We shared dinner, talked and laughed until the cats were curling up sleeping on my legs.
I arrived at Tham Lod (Lod Cave)after 2.5 hr trekking up and down river bank next morning. Tourists came in minibuses and 4x4 in groups. I followed a local woman with an oil lamp into the caves to see nature's work.