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Sunday, November 20, 2004

Sunshine & the Jungle Boy



My first trip overseas and still one of my favourite memories. Thailand was wonderful, yet very very different to what I expected and imagined. 

The flight from Melbourne to Bangkok was an omen of the troubles to come, after initially being seated at opposite ends of the plane, we were forced to haggle with the overly uptight hostesses for the privilege of two seats together, unfortunately placed directly behind the toilets and food galley (with broken head sets and no TV’s to boot). Upon arrival in Chiang Mai we checked into our hotel, before kipping down for a quick nana nap.

We had five days to kill before the other girls arrived, and had signed up for a trek through the hills around Chiang Mai which was not due to leave until the next morning. With time to kill we hit the streets for a look see, total and utter chaos, cars, bikes, people, animals and trucks all zipping around in mad disorder with no sign of a pedestrian crossing. The only sane option – a city tour with one of the overly friendly Tuk Tuk drivers.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent visiting the various temples, a little boring after you have seen one or two, “same same but different” as the locals would say. The highlight was definitely spending time with some local students who wanted to practice their English. With our limited time in Thailand and their limited English skills we were forced to tell a few tall stories.

After spending the evening in the night markets where bartering with the locals is definitely not optional, we crashed out early in preparation for the next days hike.

Our three day jungle trek was without a doubt the single biggest highlight of my time in Thailand and I would recommend the trip to all. Our guide Sunshine was partnered with a young lad affectionately called the Jungle Boy who was tasked with carrying the group’s food. Our trek group consisted of six Australians, four Swedes and one crazy Irishman

After an early start we were driven in a beat up old truck up into the hills and roughly deposited by the side of the road. After getting our gear in order we hiked into the jungle to our stop for the first night, a Karan village populated by 30 to 40 villagers. Dinner was a simple pumpkin and bean curry, chicken curry, frogs, lynx, rice and fresh fruits.

Day two was the hardest of the three days, a very early start to the day with french toast and rice soup with coriander (rice soup not good).

I am sure at times during the trek we looked like we had just gotten out of the shower. I have never in my life sweated that much, I thought only guys could sweat like that.  That said, the scenery throughout the trek was stunning and quite varied.  After traipsing through dense jungle with beautiful fresh water streams (so nice to splash cold water on the face – I am sure I looked like a beetroot from all the huffing an puffing), we would unexpectedly pop out into the sunshine of rice fields before heading further up the sparsely covered mountains

After nearly six hours of hiking, out of nowhere we broke through the foliage into a clearing filled with elephants of all ages. Sunshine our guide let us stop only for a quick drink before we mounted onto the elephants for the final hour long trek to our stop for the night.

Elephants to me are fascinating (and a little scary).  Our elephant did not wait for instructions, he decided that is was time to go and started walking off.  It was exhilarating, until I realised that there was no way we could easily get off or stop the damn thing.  One of the other guys kept getting dust, dirt and small sticks thrown at him by his elephant……his face was black when we finished. 

The hill tribes we saw on this Trek survive on only the very basics.  No electricity, minimal running water which is sourced straight from the river below, the men go out hunting, the toilets are little squat toilets which you have to flush using a bucket from one water drum and your paper goes in another drum.   Yet everyone in the villages looked so happy and content.  It made me realise how fortunate I am and how much I take for granted.

Day three was white water rafting on home made bamboo rafts.  They are long and narrow and fitted about five to six people.  The white water we encountered was not scary or very big.  At one point all the girls had to disembark while the guys went through a rougher patch.  They definitely got the better end of the deal as we had to walk around a mountain and along a path that was about 12 inches wide and by this stage it was pouring with rain.  The trail ended back at the river bank.  One of the leaders came to help us through the river bit and show us where to walk.  I got sick of waiting for a couple of the girls so I thought well it can not be that hard, he walked along there, jumped that, crossed there etc and then before I knew it I had stepped in a hole and was mid thigh in water.  It was so funny I looked like something out of the cartoons when they are there and the next minute gone.  Yes, I did the usual look around to see if anyone was watching. 

That afternoon a very exhausted group met the trucks further down the mountain for the slow drive back to our hotel. The next morning we took the one hour flight down to meet the girls for six fun days in sunny Phuket.

Our time in Phuket flew by, lounging by pristine beaches, day trips to the local sites and haggling ourselves silly at the markets. The only way to describe the markets is cheap, noisy and very crowded. To me, bartering almost became a sport – the challenge being how low you could get the price. Calvin Klein, Rip Curl, Billabong, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Diesel, Von Dutch, DKNY, all the popular brands were represented.

While in Phuket we took a day trip by speed boat out to Phi Phi island. A bit of a cliché for Thailand but at the end of the day it really is a fantastic place.  The snorkelling was amazing, so many fish and sea creatures of such beautiful colours - I even saw a purple eel. 

Our trip ended with two nights in Bangkok, our hotel was very fortunately connected to a shopping centre at least twice the size of Chadstone if not bigger. Sadly our time was limited and I was unable to make the trip across to the River Kwai – definitely on the list however for future adventures.

Our last night before the girls flew back to Australia and I headed off to Dubai was spent in some of Bangkok’s less seedier establishments and involved a copious number of cocktails and way to much dancing.

Beer of choice: Beer Chang

     
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