Pachyderms, pummelling, pad thai and paddy fields . . .

17 Feb

And so I wave goodbye to Sukhotai, and hello to Chang Mai. The landscape unfolds behind grimy bus windows, and slowly the featureless plains of central Thailand give way to hills – or at least i think they are hills behind the grimy windows and shrouded in a haze of pollution. The fruit from the market goes down nicely with its dip of chilli, sugar and salt.

I’m pretty certain I could live in Chang Mai – although the markets are absolutely crazy and go on for a completely unreasonable length. On Saturday, there’s a Saturday Night market… and on Sunday there’s a Sunday night market. The rest of the week, there’s a night market in case you can’t do without the shopping. But there are bargains to be had – a messenger bag for 120 baht will do nicely for my journal, and at last I can replace the bracelets I left in Penang. Oops.

The streets are full of street food vendors – I can recommend the spring rolls…. and the noodles…. and the sticky rice… and pretty much everything there is, actually. I do wonder if the locals look at me as Yul Brynner returned (sans Deborah Kerr, this time).

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There’s a trek booked the next day, and ten eager tourists are duly delivered to the hills outside Chang Mai… and into the tender care of the mahouts and their elephants. I’ve never ridden an elephant before, and it’s quite an experience – with a 20 baht bag of bananas in one hand (for the elephant, not for me) we set off accompanied by a couple of babies too (who also want their share of bananas). While an adult can happily grab a banana using the end of it’s trunk, the babies still need to wrap their trunks round the bananas. And it’s surprising how quickly a grown elephant can go through 20 baht’s worth of bananas – but fortunately there’s the elephant equivalent of a truck stop for refuelling.  Fabulous fun, though, with the elephant (Toyota, for some reason best known to the mahout) stopping at the oddest places to reach back with his trunk for another banana.

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It’s a shame when the ride is over.. we leave the mahouts to kick back and relax, and the babies to stock up on milk from a 4 litre container.

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From there, it’s a walk in the jungle – although this trek has been done a few times – and a stop off at a local village. These people have come over from Burma, and although now integrating into Thailand, they still hold their own culture, language and customs.

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We cross paddy fields and soya plantations, with makeshift irrigation and lots of manual labour..

Trekking (5)Trekking (2)Trekking (1)

and arrive at Mae Wang waterfall, for a cooling swim (it’s darned cold water) before trekking on.

Mae Wang Waterfall (7)Mae Wang Waterfall (3)Mae Wang Waterfall (11)Mae Wang Waterfall (10)

And then, finally, to river rafting on bamboo rafts. It’s dry season, so it’s relaxing rather than racy, but the raft drivers conspire to make it interesting by rocking the raft, running into rocks and splashing us with the pole. The locals we pass do their bit to splash us too, and there’s some inter raft rivalry too. I’m reminded of a leisurely day out on the Cam in Cambridge.. without the Pimms and strawberries

After the rafting (2)

Sadly, no photos, apart from the souvenir one from the raft company (yep, it really is like Alton Towers here).

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Time for the sellers of souvenirs to come find us.. but my brain is buzzing away on a wicked hypnotic metaphor and story from the rafting….

Sunday night market tonight… this one is even bigger, and seems to spread right across the old city. I decide to take time out for a massage on the street corner.  An hour later, i have been pummelled, hit, pulled, poked, stretched, twisted and otherwise abused. It’s oddly relaxing… and very strange to do it in the middle of a busy market street. And at 150 baht, it’s got to be a bargain.

Drifting off to sleep is easy tonight – and I am up early, woken by the rooster outside the bedroom.

I’m on my own today, Lisa having opted for the cookery course, so I have more time to linger in the temples in the Old City.. I feel an incredible sense of peace, calm and tranquillity in each of them, which resonates with something of peace deep inside of me, growing stronger as i feel it becoming part of my purpose and destiny. I take some time out to think, and to dream today, realising that this trip has become something of a pilgrimage, and something of a learning experience too – both intellectually and at a deeper, soul level too.

The streets are unrecognisable during the day: the markets that even spread into the temple grounds have been cleared away, and the monks resume their duties. I spend an hour with a young monk from one of the monasteries discussing Buddhism, world faith, the difference between South Asia and North Asian Buddhism – and the future of Buddhism and the coming of the fifth Buddha. His English is excellent – and his depth of understanding is too. I learn loads very quickly!

DSCF1089DSCF1091Wat Phra Sing (10)Wat Phra Sing (7)Wat Chaiphrakiat (2)Wat Samphao (3)

And on to my final encounter – the opening of Java Junkie which is a great little coffee stop in the middle of town – Klaus, Ann and Stephanie make me very welcome, and the Valentine’s Day biscuit is welcome too.Java Junkie Opening

And a night at the Riverside Bar – a chance to impress the locals with a little bit of bluesy dancing (it’s all that there’s space for) to the Thai rock bands that are playing – half a dozen assorted musos crammed onto a stage, and playing a cross between The Killers and the Blacke-Eyed Peas, all with a wonderful Thai accent.

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It’ll be a shame to leave Chang Mai – it’s an easy town to fall in love with, with a huge energy and buzz, and a deeply spiritual heart.

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