Monday, 7 March 2016

Jungle trekking

We just got back from our first organised activity of the trip, a 2 day jungle trek, which was so so good but we did loads so apologies for the length of this post.

The trek was booked for us by the travel agent in bangkok, and we knew little about it until a meeting at our hostel to discuss the arrangements. They're organised tours with a group and leader, exploring the mountainous jungle around Chiang Mai. As ours was booked with a number of the activities I don't know how much it was and i know you can do them cheaper in Cambodia and Laos but it was still so so good.

At 9 yesterday morning we were picked up from our hostel with all the other people going. We drove for around half an hour to a small local market. We had worried it would be expensive and we'd feel pressured to buy stuff but it turned out to be fine, and i bought a pack of pineapple to have for breakfast for 20 baht (40p). After this we drove on and after an hour or so arrived at our starting point. I'll be honest; we're not very sociable, and while we chatted to an Austrian woman on our bus we didn't chat with the others very much. This was partly due to the language barrier; in our group were 2 groups of French guys (5 in total), a German couple, the Austrian woman and a Norwegian girl who was out age. They were all very nice however.

When we arrived we began trekking. It quickly became apparent that the walking was intense. We hadn't known what to expect but if we'd been any less fit we may not have made it. Within about 10 minutes I'd be sweating more than I do if I run 10k in England, soaking through my top in a matter of seconds. A combination of the heat, humidity, and having to walk at essentially a vertical angle made it a challenge. At one point Molly described it as 'the worst thing' she'd ever done.

After about half an hour we stopped for lunch; egg and vegetable fried rice wrapped in a banana leaf. It was delicious but the portions were massive (as were all the meals of the trip) and i was grateful for the fuel as so far we haven't eaten much. Despite leaving our large luggage and valuables at the hostel we each carried a small rucksack including our water. I took around 2 litres of water and a bottle of diet coke, but fortunately there were opportunities to buy more drinks along the way.

After lunch we continued walking for 40 minutes or so. It was early afternoon and absolutely boiling, but while horrible and exhausting it was nice to do some physical activity and the waterfall was so worth it. After having a drink we all went into the water and it was really beautiful. You could stand in the cave behind the fall and it was really beautiful, and luckily we got to stop here for about an hour.

After this we walked for another 40 minutes or so, stopping for a game of football. We didn't join in, instead i ate some chocolate to really illustrate how unhealthy I am, whilst wiping sweat off myself using my trekking towel. Quite cute really.

Afterwards we walked on until we arrived at the village we were staying in. The people there have their own dialect; different to the Thai used in the city, and we were taught to say hello and thank you by our guides. The part we were staying in was owned by one family, and consisted of a group of raised, wooden huts. There were around 7 in total, one of which the family lived in, and the others used by those of us on the trek. The three of us had one, and while I really enjoyed exploring their way of life it was not the best night's sleep I've ever had thanks to the noises made by the numerous animals. We wandered round the village for a bit, using the toilet which was the most traditional we've seen. It requires hand flushing, using a scoop of water from the bucket. Whilst it wouldn't wouldn't my first choice, it was a very clean and effective toilet.

We then ate dinner as a group around the large table. There was a big selection; potato curry, a noodle and tofu dish and a big variety of vegetables, and it was all delicious. After eating we all sat around chatting, and learned that our guide, who we'd all trusted alone for a day in the jungle, was only 18, which came as a shock. Our guides were so sweet, one was called JJ, a 34 year old, and the other an 18 year old called Mr Wan. Mr Wan was the youngest son in his family and so had left school at 15 to look after his family, the custom here. He had only learned English from working with JJ sometimes on the treks which was amazing as his English was very good. JJ had gone to school until he was 18 and after a while trained to be a trekker. While unable to write or read in English he could speak it very well and had learned it mainly on the job. They were both very kind, funny men. Neither of them have left Thailand, JJ had only been to Bangkok 3 times in his life but wants to go to England to see Manchester United. We chatted with the group until 9ish when we started making our way to bed, though for a somewhat sleepless night thanks to the noises and bedding selection (i learned that mosquito nets make me very claustrophobic).

The next morning we got up around 8 and then ate breakfast with everyone. Again, it was a big portion; 3 slices of toast with scrambled eggs and fruit, with plenty of extra we could help ourselves to, and tea and coffee. Just after 9 we set off for day 2. The first (and fortunately only) trek of the day was for an hour and a half. It was boiling and a lot of it was uphill, and everyone struggled. We seemed to be climbing or going down constantly, making it very difficult to balance, and i was breathing so loudly i was worried someone would mistake me for one of the village dogs. As well as the incredible scenery and landscapes around us there were also loads of animals in the local farms and villages. We saw pigs and piglets, dogs and puppies and loads of chickens and chicks. The dogs are not interested in human attention which is really strange to see.

Eventually we reached a road and were picked up by a van. While definitely illegal in England it was such a nice break from walking in the heat. We were driven to where the elephants are kept. Prior to the trek i had spoken to our guide to asking it riding was optional. I was worried about sounding offensive to him as we were riding in his village, but the practise is extremely cruel, bad for the elephant's backs and they are whipped, cut and treated very poorly in order to be trained. He was fine with us not rising and we were supposed to feed them instead but it was too busy. Luckily we're going to an elephant sanctuary to care for them in a couple of days.

We drove on further to go rafting. Sadly i couldn't take my camera in case it for wet, but this was one of my favourite activities so far. The three of us and one other girl sat on a bamboo raft and we're taken down the river by a driver. The scenery as beautiful and we passed a lot of thai people who were so friendly and asked where we were from and that they hoped we had fun. There were tiny waterfalls where we'd drop a short distance and it was just really fun! The water was cool and refreshing too in the midday sun. Afterwards we ate lunch altogether around a large table; a delicious noodle and tofu dish with banana chips and fresh fruit, and then were driven back in a taxi with some French guys from our group who we had a somewhat limited conversation with (they asked us what French cars we liked and if we liked Arsenal- sadly neither of my areas of expertise).

We arrived back at the hostel and did a mass wash of our clothes before heading to the pool. The others are back in the room having showers and I'm just finishing this post off by the pool before heading up too. The trek was such an interesting experience; we got to see life in rural Thailand a way we never otherwise would have done, met some very interesting and nice people and it was just generally a lot of fun. But it's nice to have a proper bed tonight.

Laura x

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