Being awoken several times throughout the very early morning by the incessant shrieking of roosters is not the most pleasant way to begin a day. Everyone seemed to agree, particularly our Australian friend, who had 13 Chang beers the night before, and for me, coined the term “Changover.”
The morning began after breakfast with a few elephant rides. This time, after the camp’s workers insisting that everyone must go, I rode atop with the German boy in our group. The ride required holding on to the side of the bench very securely, as I would most certainly have fallen off otherwise.
As the elephant descended into the passing stream, the trainer jumped off for some reason, leaving us without anyone to steer. At that, the elephant began to go a bit wild, and we had to hold on even tighter. Finally, the rider came back and began yelling at the elephant from the shore until he was able to jump back on.
After the last of the rides ended, the elephants were, one at a time, brought into the swimming pool, which a member of our party had yesterday dubbed the ‘stagnant pool of festering hepatitis’ which no one would think of entering. Today they did. 3 people ended up getting in that pool with the elephants to scrub them and swim with them.
Both the elephants and the people seemed to be enjoying the whole endeavor and if the water were actually semi-clean or flowing, I would certainly have joined in. Though as their feces rose to the surface to bob around before whatever ultimate fate of disintegrating into the water they may have, I decided that our initial take on the water was probably best.
A short while after the elephant baths had ended, some new westerners were beginning to arrive. They were dressed in outfits specific to the elephant camp, so I assumed they were here for a multi-day stay for the camp, rather than the multi-activity trip that we were on.
We were just on our way out as they were arrived. Once again piling into the songthaeks we were off to a hill tribe village. At first glance, it didn’t seem anything too distinct from what I imagined a rural Thailand village would be like and fit in well with the surrounding area.
This was, however, the longest I have gone without seeing a 7-11 in Thailand.
We got out of the songthaew just down the road from a row of souvenir stands. After walking past the stands, a few of us walked down a dirt path leading into the village. Along the path, we got a closer look at many of the houses that gave much clearer hints as to the daily lives to be found here.
Animals were also all over the place. Barking dogs and puppies looking for attention. Lots of chickens everywhere. And one very large pig lying on top of a covered bench trying to stay out of the sun.
We spent a much shorter time in the village than I was expecting; and after the guide pulled some fresh, though rather tart, tamarinds off of a tree for us to try, we were once again in the truck heading to the next destination.
On the far side of the next village, we pulled off across the street from a park. It didn’t much seem like a park, as a power substation stood right next to the narrow entrance to the path. This would be the final path for some of us that day, as one part of the group would continue to the peak of the hill we were climbing, where they would spend the night at another small hill tribe village. It’s something I would have liked to do, but my time was limited in the area now.
The rest of us stopped at a rocky waterfall about a half hour up the trail where we had lunch. For being what was essentially a northern mountain stream some of the water was surprisingly warm. There was also a very smooth section of the waterfall that made a convenient slide into the deeper section of the pool below.
After the swim, our groups split up and we returned to the songthaek for the last leg of our trip: rafting. The drive was down a narrow riverside road (different river) and we seemed to come close to running off the edge a few times when we had to share it with lines of passenger-elephants and pickup trucks more numerous than my dive through the Mississippi interstate. Afterward, we finally arrived at our departure point.
The 2 river guides gave us a brief crash-course on instructions for when we were going through rapids and then did a surprisingly thorough check on our helmets and life jackets. They then led us to the two rafts where they arranged us according to our perceived strength and body size. I wouldn’t have thought so, but they stuck me in one of the stronger positions.
Our trip through the rapids was exhilarating and proved to be as much a race between the two boats as a rafting trip. Whenever we came up side by side, the game was to try and splash as many people as possible on the other raft. For it being my first instance trying out whitewater rafting, I greatly enjoyed it and will certainly be doing it again in the future.
Once the rapids began to calm, we were brought out of the boats and waded in the shallow water as they replaced our inflated rafts with rafts made of bamboo strung together. Four of these bamboo rafts then linked into one long chain with a river guide steering us from the front. Our weight sunk the bamboo just below the water level for most of the trip, so it was a calm, though somewhat soggy ride.
Pulling the chain of rafts closer to the riverbank, we were told to get off here at a mostly covered picnic area, complete with a couple food stands. The trucks pulled in with all of our bags in the back end. After drying myself with my convenient small packtowel, I went into the squat toilet stall to change back into regular cloths. It’s a lot easier to carry things when you have pockets.
A woman was selling framed pictures she had taken of us on the rapids for 100 baht. I bought one, thinking that would be an interesting keepsake to send back to my mother.
The group grabbed a few beers and piled back into the rear end of the truck. On the ride back, we discussed our plans from returning to Chiang Mai onward. A couple would be returning to Bangkok to leave the country. Others were staying in Chiang Mai or going farther north to Pai and Chiang Rai. I was the only one that seemed to be heading into Isan, which I found pretty surprising.
At this point, I still had my camera, as I was taking pictures during the ride home. However, by the time I arrived back at Julie Guest House, it was not in my possession. But, I guess that’s what I get for holding on to its pouch rather than keeping on my belt as I usually do. I still think it must have fallen out onto the road as I got out for someone further into the songthaek to exit.
The woman who ran my new guesthouse called up the company and I had them check the truck. I knew it was the same because they found some underwear in the back end. There had been an incident involving one of the French guys and a large hole, which resulted in him leaving underwear in the truck.
After no luck checking Julie Guest House and the surrounding streets again, I resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be finding it and had lost the pictures of this entire experience.