A November 2001 trip
to Chiang Mai by lcampbell
Quote: This journal covers the first week of our one month trip to Thailand with a company called Intrepid Small Group Adventures. We spent the first week in Chiang Mai and the surrounding area. For weeks 2-4, see my journals about Kanchanaburi, Khao Sok National Park, Krabi, and Bangkok.
We spent one week in the Chiang Mai area. Our group size was nine, and we were all ready for the first part of our month long trip together with Intrepid Small Group Adventures. Everyone was easy going and ready for anything. I was happy that we had such a friendly and diverse bunch. There was a retired couple from Canada, a couple in their 50s from Switzerland, a 30s couple from Sweden, us, and another American woman from Seattle.
The highlight of this week was definitely the four day Hilltribe trek (complete with elephant ride).
Other tips: it is safe to eat at the street food carts that you see. Everyone from our group did, and no one had any stomach problems. Bottled water is available everywhere at a cost of about 10 baht (25 cents) per liter. Internet service is all over Chiang Mai at 1 baht (2 cents) per minute.
Once in Chiang Mai, it is common to hire minivans or songtaews if you are travelling in a group. We also walked a lot, and there are taxis and tuk-tuks available. I do not recommend trying to drive yourself (see my Bangkok journal) in any part of Thailand.
The same family runs a small (four table) restaurant on the property and also a guide service. We were able to send our laundry out from the reception desk. We were also able to lock up our valuables in the safe at the reception desk. I especially liked the reading area out in front of the reception area – it was shady and comfortable. The whole property has trees and potted plants. There are a couple small ponds. The service was great and the family was sweet.
The best part about the Lannathai Guesthouse is the location. It is located on a small quiet street with little traffic. But it is about a 5 minute walk to the main street and the Night Bazaar. I would definitely stay at Lannathai Guesthouse again.
Email address: Lannathai_GH@hotmail.com
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 9, 2002
41/8 Soi 6 Loikroh Road
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Attraction | "Doi Suthep – Wat Prathat"
To get into the temple from the parking area, there is a series of 300 steps to go up. The sides of the stairs are bodies of serpents intricately adorned with colored glass. At the top, the first thing you see is the giant gold-covered pagoda. The story of the pagoda is that it is built over a "relic" of the Buddha. Nobody knows what the relic is… it could be a lock of hair, or pretty much anything. The relic is said to have been brought up the mountain on the back of a white elephant. The elephant reached a spot near the top, turned around three times and then laid down. This was a sign that this was where the temple should be built.
There is a panoramic view of Chiang Mai from the Wat. The Wat is extremely clean and well kept – it is considered to be one of the most special places in Thailand and is therefore one of the few temples lucky enough to receive aid from the government for upkeep. Most temples are kept entirely by donations and by hard work by the monks.
A few of us from our group received a blessing from a monk (after which a small donation is expected) so that we could have a safe backpacking trip for the next 4 days. We were each given a string bracelet that we are supposed to wear until it falls off (mine has been on over a month). Monks are not allowed to touch women, so our tour guide tied our strings on for us. At sunset, the monks started their chanting and we stayed to observe for a while. There were very few people left at the Wat, so we enjoyed the peace before heading back down the mountain.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 9, 2002
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (Doi Suthep Temple)
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50300
We went with a trekking company called Siam Adventures. I would definitely recommend this company – I was so impressed! The company is owned by a man named Charin and his wife. They both work as guides, and they employ one other guide named Thom. Both Charin and Thom joined us on our trek, so we felt like we were getting special treatment. Charin was amazingly knowledgable about medicinal plants, animals, forestry, tribal culture, folklore, and natural resources. Thom was more shy, and took a backseat to his boss, but his own skills shined through enough for us to know that we would have had a great guide even if Charin had not chosen to join us. The third person helping to guide our group was an apprentice named Santisuk. He is a member of the Karen tribe and is 14 years old. The tribal children only attend school until age 12 or 13, so Santisuk decided to learn the guide business. Charin said he would apprentice until he is about 20, and then he will be hired as a guide and will be able to take groups on his own. He is slowly learning English and other skills – he is getting opportunities through Siam Adventures that he wouldn’t normally get. And he is earning a great deal of money for his family. Along our trek, men and women from different villages were employed for one or two days to carry the baskets of our food, or to help with the pack of one woman who injured her ankle.
We started the trek with a 2 hour songtaew ride to the entrance of the National Park. Then we hiked about 3 hours total, with plenty of rest breaks. One of they challenges of group trekking ...
CONTINUED IN FREE FORM ENTRY
Hilltribe Trek – Siam Adventures
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Near the tables was a stage where traditional Thai dances were performed every night. There is no charge to watch, and is great for dinner entertainment. At 9pm inside the same building was a Thai kickboxing (Muai Thai) exhibition. We were told it was free so we went to watch. It is free to watch, but in order to sit down, you have to purchase at least a beverage. We waited about a half hour, but since there weren’t enough spectators yet, the match didn’t start. We got tired of waiting and being stalked by the waitor, so we left. The fighters were just teenagers anyway, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch.
Outside all of the exits of the building and on all surrounding streets, there are countless vendors of countless different wares set up in small boothes. We had seen similar boothes in Bangkok, but the sellers in Chiang Mai were ruthless. They applied more pressure than we had seen in Bangkok. The prices also seemed higher, so make sure to bargain hard at the Night Bazaar. It is expected, and just remember that they will not accept a price if they are not making a profit. So do not feel guilty if you think you paid too little for something – you didn’t. They will also tell you stories and use guilt… don’t fall for it. You will hear the same things over and over and eventually become immune. But DO try to look past these tactics and chat with the vendors. They are all just very nice people trying to make a living. They do quite well actually – many have nice cell phones and cool clothes.
My best advice on shopping and bargaining is that as long as you are happy paying a certain price for something, do not worry if you could have gotten it cheaper or not. In fact, there is about a 100% chance that you could have gotten it cheaper, so it’s not worth fretting about it. Also, try to save your shopping until the end of your trip – you will have a better idea of approximately what you should pay for things. And often you will see the same items over and over. Unless you think something is truly unique, you will see it again later.
104-1 Chang Klan Road
Chiang Mai, Thailand 50100
+66 53 235 575
So they were floating there waiting for us to climb on…. But how fast was this water moving? Were we going to go over rapids in those things? Well, life is short, right? So we got on and headed with our guide down the river. The guide was not a guide in the sense of telling us about the scenery – he was the raft driver. He stood on the front of the raft (good balance is a job requirement) and steered with a long bamboo pole.
One of the couples on another raft got their driver to let them try steering. One of them did well for a while until the water got moving too fast for him. His good natured guide immediately jumped to the front and saved them from crashing. The girlfriend also gave it a try but promptly ran the raft into the riverbank. It was quite amusing from my perspective. These drivers were definitely skilled and strong.
The river portion of the trip lasted about an hour (plus the two hours to drive there and back). It was a good trip overall, but I was sort of disappointed in the amount of trash I saw along the river banks. I know that is to be expected in Thailand, but it did detract from the trip. The total cost of the trip was 365 baht per person (about $8 or so), and overall worth it. A fun afternoon.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
We did this for a while until we reached the wall and moat around the old city of Chiang Mai. The brick wall consists of original intact sections, restored sections, and piles of debris where the wall used to be. The moat sections have been improved with fountains and other decorations. After following the perimeter for a bit, we turned into another neighborhood. We didn’t know where we were, but there were no tourists there at all, which was refreshing. Eventually we strolled into a food market. Being in a non-tourist area, I was forced to practice speaking some Thai. Somehow everyone managed to communicate, and we ate grandly (although we did skip the pig snouts, ears, and feet).
At this point we determined that we were lost. But we decided to stay that way for a while and see what else we could discover. We found some great Buddhist temples that were like none of the others we had seen. So far all of the temples we had seen glittered with gold and sparkled with color. They were shining jewels that stood out from the cement and traffic. Here we found two temples that were abandoned. One of them had a plaque that said it was abandoned at the end of World War II. There were huge cement pagodas with no adornments but a few offerings left by passing folks. Someone had put a small Buddha statue on one of the cement ledges. There were plants growing out of the cracks in the concrete. It was a stark contrast to what we had seen before – they looked lonely and spooky. One of the cement pogodas had a small building next to it with a Buddha statue that seemed newer or restored. Beyond that, there were no buildings, no monks in saffron robes, nothing. I found it fascinating.
Finally we decided we had to find our way home. This actually ended up being quite easy. With my few words of Thai, I was able to ask for help and get us pointed in the right direction. Everyone was very helpful and full of smiles. They especially appreciated my attempts (poor attempts, I should say) to speak their language. They were very encouraging. Eventually landmarks looked more familiar and we got back on to my limited map and made it back to the guesthouse. It ended up being a fun and adventurous day. I definitely recommend getting lost!
Wandering around Chiang Mai
The streets of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand
We rode elephants for about an hour as part of our Hilltribe trek. There were two people plus a mahout on each elephant. There is a wooden seat on the elephants back to sit on which is not very comfortable. Great view though! The mahouts generally sat on the elephant’s neck, but ours jumped down and motioned for one of us to try sitting on the neck. My husband isn’t very flexible, so this wasn’t comfortable for him, but it was just perfect for me. The elephants skin is dry and thick – I wondered if it could even feel my hands resting on it’s head. Our elephant was sort of the leader of the group, so she was very well behaved. Some of the other elephants were younger and got easily distracted by all the snacks along the trail. I looked back once and the elephant behind us had a whole tree in it’s trunk! All of the animals were very gentle. I found the river crossing especially fun. Sometimes they just walked in the river for a while rather than on the bank. One of the mahouts sang beautiful songs during the whole trip. The whole experience was great – elephants are beauties!
Chiang Mai, Thailand
All meals were provided and prepared by our guides. What a delight to be served a fabulous noodle dish for our first lunch right on the trail. The meal was served on banana leaves that were picked by our guides along the hike. No washing dishes for this bunch! After lunch we passed through a small village of about 40. It wasn’t much farther until we reached the village where we would spend the night. This village was called Ban Pa Gluay (village of bananas) and it had 140 people (21 families). The village was situated along a creek and was surrounded by lush vegetation. The homes were all made of bamboo with grass roofs, and they were raised up on stilts. It was strange to walk on the bamboo floors – I felt like I was going to fall through. Always remove your shoes before entering the buildings. We were told that in this village, the men and women sleep in separate buildings. Our group was allowed to share a building, but the women and men had to sleep on separate sides of the house.
There were ducks, chickens, roosters, and dogs and cats wandering everywhere. The birds we useful for food, of course, but they also took care of the bugs and kept the village clean. The pigs took care of the droppings left by the smaller animals and kept the place clean in that respect. My husband particularly liked the water buffalo. We all relaxed until dinner – some writing in journals, some playing frisbee with the village children, others taking a walk. Dinner was glorious, and afterward, we chatted with our host Chakla, who was also sort of the head of the village. He sat with us while smoking his pipe, and then he shared some of his homemade rice whiskey. Love that moonshine! Regarding our night’s sleep: Did you know that roosters start crowing at 3am and don’t stop until 7am? I didn’t know that, but now I do! I actually got used to it the 2nd and 3rd nights and it didn’t bother me any more.
In the morning, Chakla and his wife performed a short ceremony to bless our group for a safe trek. We went up to them one at a time, they said the blessing, and then they wrapped colored strings around our wrists. We were told to keep our hands in fists, palm up, while the blessing was being said. Then when the strings were cut, we were to slowly open our fists, which raises the blessing up to the spirits. The pieces that were cut off were placed on our shoulders, and were to be kept there until they fall off on their own. We were told by Charin to each give a 10 baht coin before we received a blessing. This was also the village where we left the gifts that we had brought. Of the three villages we were to visit, Charin said that this one was the poorest. Paula (our Intepid trip leader) had instructed only to bring useful items like socks and blankets, and definitely only things made of materials that can break down (for example, no plastic) otherwise things would eventually end up as litter. Chakla decided which families were the most needy, and they were given the blankets, etc. that we had carried in.
We headed out onto the trail again, and before too long we reached a larger village – 300 people, 62 families according to Charin. We could tell that this village was better off than the one we had stayed in. The homes were more established with gardens growing food, extensive farming, and they had a school financed by the government. Charin said there were 125 students that come from surrounding villages (11 from the one we had stayed in) and they stay with the teachers during the week and go home on the weekend. We got a tour of the school and were amazed by how much the kids loved school and how well behaved they were. We visited during lunch, and discovered that the kids (oldest one 12) prepared the entire lunch themselves, and when it was time to clean up, every kid pitched in and helped. Older kids helped the younger ones, and there was no distraction or argument.
We hiked for a couple hours, including two river crossing (yes, there are leeches), and arrived at a small camp on the river. This is where we would start our elephant ride! See the separate entry for Elephant ride description.
After about one hour on the elephants, we reached our home for night 2. We were not in a village but instead at a camp on the river. The nearest village was a Lahu village that chose not to host foreigners in their village, but ran the camp about 10 minutes away so they could still get the tourist income. Can’t say I can blame them – I wouldn’t want my kids influenced by western culture either. Anyway, we had another excellent dinner followed by telling stories, joking and singing around the campfire. Charin was so hilarious I thought maybe he had too much rice whiskey!
On the third day we hiked about 3 hours total. While it wasn’t a great distance, the hill we went over was one of the steepest I have seen. A couple girls that were returning from school hiked with us, and kept showing off by running ahead and then waiting for us as we huffed and puffed up the hill. Sometimes they would hold hands with Paula and I, who seem to attract children as we had stopped in another small village where two little babies (toddlers, really) immediately threw themselves into our arms and wanted to play. So of course we had to (not to mention that we had fallen in love instantly).
We reached Ban Yai Oulle, the Akha village where we would spend our last night, with plenty of time to goof off. Charin explained that we had hiked in a big loop and were actually quite close to a road, so therefore this village has seen a large number of tourists, and they make a good deal of money from the tourist industry. With the whole afternoon to fill, we all found our own entertainment. One couple went for a walk around the village and told us they ended up helping a woman in the rice fields. A couple of us spent time playing with two boys for a while, and then our guide Thom asked us for a favor. He has a guitar that he keeps at the village, and he knows how to play Hotel California (the Eagles are very popular in Thailand – who knew?) but could we please write down the words for him. So we searched our memories, and eventually got them all. But we never did end up singing it with Thom playing – I guess we got busy with other stuff, including eating fried bamboo worms. They are quite a delicacy, and we were told it would be rude to refuse them. I actually really liked them and ate many – they taste like greasy popcorn.
After dinner, some village kids performed some songs for us. Then five of the village women gave us these beautiful traditional Akha hats and invited us to join them in a circle. They sang Akha songs and showed us how to dance to them. They women spent a lot of time laughing and smiling – we thought because we were so bad at dancing, but it turns out that one of the Akha woman kept messing up the words because she was from another village where the songs are slightly different. Charin told me that one of the women was a shaman, which I guess is unusual to have a woman shaman.
On the last morning, the Akha women set up a mini market. Everyone tried to spread their business around and make sure that all of the women sold things. Charin encouraged us to buy from one woman in particular, who the village head had told him was having very hard times (her husband left her with two small children and a mother who is addicted to opium). Paula also gave her a hat and sleeping bag, and Charin had me bring her some food. After a short tour of the village and seeing the spirit gate to the village which protects them from bad spirits, we only had about a 1 hour hike to where we were met by our trucks to bring us back to Lannathai Guesthouse in Chiang Mai. We were all exhausted by happy to have had such a great experience.
Port Angeles, Washington