Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Maharajahs and elephants doing Dylan covers

Following our morning playing potential man eaters, fooling ourselves that it was as safe as playing with tabby cats, we headed off to play with some even larger local wildlife.

About half an hours drive from Chiang Mais' Tiger Kingdom is Maesa elephant ranch. Set in acres and acres of picturesque jungle and flatland, it was established 40 years ago by a Thai, to take in some of the hundreds of working elephants that were being abandoned in Thailand as motorised transport became a cheaper and more convenient option than elephant power.

Our tour started with buying some bananas and sugar cane to feed to the baby elephants in the nursery area. The elephants had been trained to take the hats from their mahouts and place them on our heads. cool trick. The next ,which was even more impressive, was to take twenty baht notes from our hands and pop them into the shirt pockets of the mahout, never to return. good wees!

We then went off to catch 3.30 elephant to the jungle. After clambering aboard and being fastened in (with good reason it transpired) we set off up a one in three mud slide on our reluctant 45 year old banana processing plant.

A very slow, rocky but enjoyable ride later, we clambered back down, provided our transport some payment in the form of sugar cane and went off to watch the elephant take a bath in the local river and get ready for the big performance.

A few elephants playing football, trumpeting tunes through harmonicas, painting pictures, playing darts and building log bridges later, we headed back to rendezvous with Nikkorn ,our driver, stopping only to have a look at the elephant art gallery where for as little as £100 you yourself could own a peice of art painted by an elephant. Apparently the place holds the Guiness world record for selling the most expensive peice of elephant created art. A snip at amere 25000 pounds.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Breakfast with Tigers

We met our driver for the day, Nikkorn, and headed south of Chiang Mai to A place called Tiger kingdom. We were the only people there and we sat down for some breakfast whilst watching the staff quite happily popping in and out of enclosures and stroking fully grown tigers.
We finished up breakfast and decided that the only sensible thing to do next was to get into the tiger cages, guarded only by a fat man with an 8 inch length of bamboo and a few of his mates.

As the gate to the cage slammed closed behind us, the keeper mentioned in passing that it was best if we didn't let them bite us!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

us vs. the reds and Doi Suthep temple

The saga of the Chinese visa continues; this morning we were up at the crack of dawn again to get to the Chinese consulate in Chiang Mai. We spoke to the girl behind the desk and at first she wasn't going to accept the trans Siberian as an acceptable way of getting out of China. She then told us that getting the train in from Hanoi isn't good enough either and that she would have to talk to the ambassador and see what he though of such an off the wall idea. She also told us that we would need to have a ticket in to China to proceed with the process.
Off we went to find ourselves some flights to China to prove to them that we didn't want the 50 pound visa solely for its aesthetic value, but we were in fact going to use it to visit China.
After a bit of searching on the Internet the cheapest we could find was about 200 pounds. We remembered that the previous day we had seen an Air Asia shop in the city center and went to try there. 60 quid lighter we each walked out with a ticket to Shenzen in China.
Back we went to the embassy to try our luck again. The woman told us that the ambassador had OKed our train ticket out and that we could go ahead with the process. After a lot of form filling we gave in our applications and were told to come back on the 6th October. "Wait a minute, that's weeks away."
"oh, yer we're closed all of next week, but we can do it for tomorrow for and extra 800baht"
So tomorrow is the day when we find out if they will let us in or not.
On a more interesting note, this afternoon we hailed ourselves a pickup truck and headed up the mountain road to Doi Suthep temple, mostly to get out of the heat and smog of the city and to have a look at the panorama of the city.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

After losing a few lazy, hazy days, sat on a picture perfect beach on Koh Chang, we finally got the momentum together to get the only truck out of our deserted beach Paradise at 8 AM on Monday.
After about an hour up and down un-tarmacked mountain roads we got back to the ferry port and sailed across to Trat on the mainland. From there we waited about an hour and got on a "VIP" bus back to Bangkok. Our double-decker VIP bus was painted in full Finding Nemo livery and had a sound system more akin to a super club than a tourist bus. The owners of said bus had also installed a loud speaker on the exterior so that they could shout abuse at hapless nearby motorists while the huge bus, full of nail biting tourists, swayed from side to side as they cut them up on blind corners!
Having survived that part of the journey we arrived at Bangkok Ekimie bus station and took a cab across grid-locked Bangkok to the Northern train station.
Half an hour later we were aboard the 7.35 special express to Chiang Mai. A 15 hour sleeper. Moments after we had found our bunks, the carriage attendant came past to check our tickets. After taking one look at us she hurried off and came back with a card table and an Ice bucket full of beers. She handed us a menu to peruse and an hour later we were sitting down to a four course meal whilst chugging our way north out of Bangkok.
A few games of poker and bottles of Singer later we retired to bed.
I was woken this morning to the sun streaming in as we meandered our way through the lush jungle forests of northen Thailand. An hour later we had arrived in Chiang Mai.
We checked into a three person room at a place called Julie's guest house and set out to send our postcards, use the internet and get a few beers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Koh Chang, Easy Rider

Arrived on the last ferry from the mainland to Koh Chang two nights ago. Took 5 hours on the bus from Bangkok to Trat (the ferry terminal). Really nice island south of the capital. We found a backpackers place in an area called lonely beach. We got huts right on the beach for 60 baht each. About a pound a night. The food here is amazing. Thai curries three times a day.
Yesterday me and Casey got bikes and drove with Jay on the back into the unknown, hoping to circumnavigate the entire island. We stopped along the way to have a look at a few waterfalls. The scenery on the cost roads was amazing.
After driving for 3 hours we realised that the road didn't in fact go right around the island, it was getting dark, a tropical storm was brewing and we were at least a 3 hour drive from where we were staying. We were running on fumes, there was nowhere to get any more petrol and the roads were partially blocked by landslides from the storm the night before.
We decided to press on, and after negotiating some of the scariest and muddiest roads and tracks I have ever been on, let alone driven a motorbike, with passenger on, we arrived at a place called tree house, long beach. Miles from anywhere full of rasta looking Thais smoking weed, whittling swords from driftwood and drumming along on their bongos to various Lee scratch Perry and Bob Marley numbers.
After a few bottles of Chang and Singer we retired to our palm roofed hut on the beach.
We woke up this morning early in order to try and return our bikes to the other side of the island.
After asking around, a Thai pointed me in the direction of a hut down the beach where I might be able to find some petrol. I started wandering down the beach with crabs scuttling out of my way on both sides.
I clambered over some dead trees towards the hut. As i did so I looked down to see a dark blue and purple snake about 2 foot long, but very skinny looking back at me. I started backing up a little and as soon as I did the snake shot for cover.
When I got to the hut the place was deserted. As I wandered around looking for any signs of life a bald headed french guy arose from his stupor in a hammock under a tree.
After explaining the situation the guy lit up another spliff to help him thing how best it could be resolved.
After hearing his plans to turn his rusty jeep, two scooters and a hut on the beach into a Paradise resort for a good 20 minutes, the gange wore off a little and he suddenly remembered why there was someone else in his island Paradise. After a further 20 minutes searching for a siphon tube he decanted me a litre of two stroke from one of his bikes and sent me on my way.
3 hours later, me and Casey arrived back at the first place we stayed on the other side of the island. Returned the bikes and asked about getting back again. The next cab is in about 18 hours so after writing this I'm off to get myself a cocktail and have a little swim, Hard life!