Elephants, Waterfalls, and Bamboo Rafts

I just got back from an incredible weekend in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is a ten hour bus ride north of Bangkok.  Chiang Mai is close to the Burmese border in Northern Thailand.  I was there with my roommate, Addie, as well as two other exchange students.  Thanks to the fantastic recommendations of another Spider (thank you, Dora!), we packed a lot into a three-day weekend.

We took the night bus to and from Chiang Mai, meaning we had three full days there — Saturday through Monday.  Because we had such a short time, we wanted to make sure we made the most of our stay.  Through the hostel that we were recommended, Libra Guesthouse, we were able to book a 2-day, 1-night “trek,” which ended up being incredible.  Our trek started off Saturday morning with a stop at Mork-Fa Waterfall, in Doi Suthep Pui National Park. The water was freezing, but the sight was incredible, and in the end, very refreshing.  After the waterfall, we stopped for some delicious lunch (vegetable fried rice with fresh pineapple). and then we headed to yet another national park, which was home to hot springs.  When I say hot, I mean hot — upwards of 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius.  It was at this point that we begun our “walk through the jungle,” as it was advertised on Libra’s website.  Well, let me tell you, this was not just a casual stroll. This was, in fact, a 5-hour hike through the jungle.  The walk provided us with incredible views of the mountains, and in the end, it was fantastic, but certainly not what we were anticipating.

On our hike, we came across a few “hill tribes.”  Hill tribes are essentially groups of people — most of the time not recognized as Thai citizens — who, over the past few centuries, have migrated from China and Tibet, settling in the border between Northern Thailand, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar).  It was wonderful to be able to see a different part of Thailand, and to learn a little bit about the hill tribes, especially because most of our guides on the trek are members of those hill tribes.  So after five hours of trekking, crossing many unstable bridges made of bamboo, and finishing every last drop of our precious bottled water, we finally made it to our campsite for the night.  We bundled up quickly, because unlike Bangkok, where the temperature never drops below 85 degrees F (30 Celsius), it was freezing.  We had a delicious freshly made dinner by our guides (fresh fruit with homemade chicken and potato curry), and spent the evening sitting around the campfire, hearing hilarious and inappropriate stories from our guides, as well as learning an elephant song that none of us could quite understand. I must also mention that we were joined by eight crazy Russians on this trek. They did not speak a word of English, but somehow thought that speaking Russian very loudly to us would help us understand what they were saying.  After they had a few drinks that evening, it certainly made for an interesting campfire.

After a freezing cold night with only a thin, damp mat separating us from the bamboo floor, we woke up on Day 2 of the trek, and before we knew it, there were elephants in the river! We could not believe our eyes – our guides were on top of them, washing them, and the elephants casually strolled out of the river towards us, at which point we were able to feed them and touch them.  We were then mounted on the elephants – at first sitting on a contraption they had tied to the elephant, but wanting the real jungle experience, I opted to slide down and ride on the elephant’s back.  We spent about an hour just wading through the jungle and the river on the elephants.  A truly incredible experience.  Instead of hiking back down the mountain to get back to our starting point, we opted for a more relaxing variety of transport, taking a bamboo raft that our guides made for a two hour trip down the river.  Definitely a fun way to end the two day trek!

For the last day of our trip, once we were back at the hostel in Chiang Mai, we were able to see the many sights of the beautiful city.  These included the Sunday night market, the Night Bazaar, and many Buddhist temples, including the most famous temple in Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep.  Doi Suthep is situated in the mountains above the city — about a 30 minute drive away.  It has incredible views of the city, and like many of the other temples we have visited, the beauty of the temple was breathtaking.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend! And I have to say, for anyone who is wondering… the weekend was unbelievably cheap.  For the entire weekend, door-to-door, bus, taxi, food, water, trekking, hostel, everything; the weekend came to a grand total of $140 USD.  Not bad, right? Still on a high from this weekend, Addie and I are certainly excited to plan our next adventure…we have our sights set on Cambodia next!

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