Trekking, tribes and charging baby elephants

Decided to do a two day trek in the hills, visiting a couple of tribes. Loved the activities but didn’t think much of the first guide (who managed to lose 3 of the people in the jungle…fortunately they managed to find their own way to our camp!!). Also didn’t like having my arse eaten by a load of evil insects while we sat down waiting for our guide to return… OUCH!

Showering in a river was a new experience for both of us, but still very pleasant after sweating buckets on the walk. The next day we swam in some waterfalls, did some white water rafting (which was far safer than our truck ride to the water!) and did some more elephant riding. Before we arrived here, we’d already been told about a very ‘naughty’ baby elephant. We spotted it quite quickly when half way through our elephant ride, a baby elephant came charging through the jungle, hotly pursued by its mahout (elephant trainer). All the fully grown elephants were quick to step out of his way (fortunately we were holding on!) and eventually the mahout managed to jump on his back and slow him down. The other baby elephant was really cute too and kept touching us all with his trunk. I think Elephants are my favourite animals…unfortunately Alex doesn’t think our garden is big enough to have one as a pet 🙂

Looking back at the banana farm Lizzy makes a new friend

Swimming in the waterfalls Overloaded? Not for Thailand!

Elephant bath! Karen long neck tribal lady

Ban Chang to Chiang Mai

As we prepared to leave, Lucy took us to Pattaya train station to get tickets for the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, only to find out that it was completely sold out. (Note: we had tried to book tickets over the internet, but it had failed 🙁 ). We were about to make a plan B, when a Thai lady who spoke very good english came up to us and explained that she had 2 tickets that she was about to return for that same train. WOW! Great! Even better was that for returning tickets you only get 50% back, so we agreed we’d pay 70% so we all walked away happy. EVEN BETTER STILL: they were both lower births in the train, so we had more space and less light, so we both slept rather well as we trundled along for 14 hours to Chiang Mai, where we are writing this.

Things to do here: cookery course, massage course?, trekking, riding elephants, visiting hill tribes, day & night markets… should keep us busy!

Ko Samet: Sun, Sea, Sand and a bit of sick!

Got a speedboat to Ko Samet, a gorgeous island near to Bang Chang where we spent the weekend with James and Lucy, lounging on the beach, swimming in the beautiful water and eating and drinking lots whilst enjoying some fire-dancing 🙂 Unfortunately, Alex and I forgot to take our anti-malaria during the day and so took it several hours after eating…the results weren’t pleasant, but thankfully very short-lived!

Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet Lizzy jumps for joy at Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet

A reclining meal on Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet Fire show at Ploy's, Sai Kaew beach, Ko Samet

Pattaya: Prison, Prostitution, The Slums & a Children’s Centre

As planned, we joined Lucy on a few projects she’s involved with. We’ve handed out food and drink in a couple of prisons. Prisoners generally only get 1 bowl of rice per day as the money allocated to feeding them doesn’t seem to make it to them, they also have no changes of clothing and no washing facilities and there’re generally 8-10 men for a cell which in the UK would house 1 person. We heard that the week before we’d visited an American had been locked up having been mistaken for being drunk when he was actually diabetic.

We saw a jewellery project ‘Freedom Stones’ that Lucy is managing which helps women and men to leave prostitution by giving them an alternative source of income whilst also training them in business management and budgeting. The necklaces & earrings are beautiful so once the website’s up and running, it’ll be well worth a look.

Handing out food, drink, clothes  and providing some basic first aid in the slums here was very different to the soup run I was part of in Nottingham – mainly because there were loads of young children. Also, there was no moaning and trying to get extras. The Project also did a kids ‘class’ which so we tried to follow the instructions in Thai (much to the kids amusement) and played with them for a while. We were really pleased that there were some native Thais on the project too so it wasn’t another project where it’s just the rich ‘farangs’ (the slightly-derogatory Thai term for foreigners) dishing out charity. I guess projects with just westerners, even though they’re beneficial, can also seem patronizing and help to maintain a power imbalance (hence we didn’t take any photos of this ).

We also spent an afternoon at Mercy Children’s Centre which houses and cares for kids who are at risk. Later we did an impromptu computer class with some of them and joined them in their ‘play time’ picking up a few Thai words along the way!

Ban Chang with James & Lucy

Our sleeper train to Bangkok from Surat Thani Arrived in Pattaya via an overnight sleeper train (see left) and bus where we were picked up by our friends Lucy & James for a week enjoying their hospitality in Ban Chang. We spent the days mostly with Lucy (see next entry for what we got up to) and the weekend in Ko Samet (also see another entry!), but we did also do some other stuff…

A Kratong floating in the Whilst we were with James & Lucy it was the Thai festival of “Loi Kratong” (or “Loy Kratong” depending on how you feel like spelling it today *). From what we understand you make a kratong (floating raft with banana leaves, a candle and 3 incense sticks) and float it out on water (sea, river, pond, paddling pool – whatever is closest). We think it is meant to symbolise having your sins taken away from you, but it’s not all that clear! James’ school was having a big celebration, so we went along and enjoyed the food & dancing – even if we didn’t really have a clue what was going on!

Later, we floated our kratongs in the sea which is a rather lengthy 30-second walk from James & Lucy’s (no, we’re not envious at all!). There were also HUNDREDS of chinese flying lanterns being launched which are so peaceful and beautiful as they float off into the sky and become stars – unfortunately very hard to do justice with a photo so we’ve not uploaded any. The peace was regularly broken by people throwing fire crackers & fireworks – sometimes landing just a few metres away from us. Fireworks here are exciting in a whole new way!

We had a lovely week with James & Lucy and they made us feel very much at home. (Thanks again if you’re reading this!)

* – as an aside – there is no standard way to go from Thai script into Roman script, so one word can be written a whole load of ways. e.g. one hotel we’re staying in is called Mitapap, Mittaphap or Mattapip depending on where you look! It’s pretty much their way of working – there’s no single right way necessarily…

Khao Sok: The jungle & cave of death!

Our tree house in Khao Sok
Lizzy swinging in the vines in Khao Sok jungle
Staying in a jungle tree house with all the bugs and bats in tow :-S – very thankful to have a mosquito net in the room!

Did a very cool trek to the jungle, having to cross a lake and wade &  swim through swampy waters before heading into a uber dark cave and towards an underground waterfall.

It was only after we’d come out of the cave that the guide told us that 6 people died two years ago doing the same thing when a flash flood hit and they drowned!!!! Would NOT have done the trip if we’d known that! Our guide apparently saved his tourists by turning back – he spotted leaves coming in with the water. A British woman was the only survivor in the other group, staying in pitch darkness for 20 hours before she was rescued! Our guide told us that the government park rangers put up warning signs the day after the incident and said that they’d always been there…
The entrance to Khao Sok cave