Monday, January 20, 2014

taking a vacation (part 5)

The last section of our trip was spent up north in Chiang Mai. Once the capital of the northern Lanna kingdom it’s been heavily influenced by Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. The city and the surrounding areas were incorporated into the Thai kingdom shortly after the fall of Ayutthaya but didn’t become an official province of Siam (Thailand) until 1933. It’s a big city with a small town feel and an interesting mix of Thai and western influences. There are a ton of tourists so you’ll find many people who at least speak a smattering of English and lots of restaurants and shops that cater to western tastes but also some amazing distinctly Thai cuisine found just in the area. We spent more than our fair share of cash at some local art galleries but also hours (and again, lots of money) wandering through the huge night market.

We stayed at a guest house, which is just one step up from a hostel really. We had to buy our own toilet paper and there were no maid services but we had a private room and a bathroom. And we paid a grand total of $10 a night. Not too shabby! Plus the staff was awesome. They were there to help grant our every whim and answer all our questions. In some ways it was my favorite place we stayed (but oh how I’d hoped for one more hot bath!)

Our first night there we were enrolled in a Thai cooking class. We walked to the local market where they explained some of the ingredients and showed us what to buy and then we spent the next 3 ½ hours making 4 different dishes and eating until we were stuffed. We even came home with a cookbook so I’ll be trying my hand at a few things on my own once I’ve got a kitchen again.

Another day we rented motorbikes and drove up a winding road on the nearby mountain to the summer palace, past several waterfalls and shrines, and to a hilltribe village where we browsed the local wares and ate lunch. Our last full day in town we’d booked a tour to see elephants and tigers. We were picked up at 6:15 am by a darling local lady who drove us around all day and talked non-stop. We asked her questions about the culture and Buddhism and her life. She was a fount of knowledge! She took us up into the mountains just after sunrise and fed us breakfast which she’d bought at a market on the way and then it was off to meet the elephants. We met up with a few other people bringing our group to 6. They divided us up, 2 each on an elephant that we were told how to control (more or less) and then we ventured out into the trees where we realized the elephants really just did what they wanted. The mahouts eventually led us all back to the nearby river where we helped bathe the elephants and engaged in a water fight with the great beasts (one guess as to who won!) After a couple of hours with them we went back to freshen up (ie wash the elephant snot and mud off) and eat a snack.

Then it was off to what was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. The Tiger Kingdom. It’s basically a glorified petting zoo but you get to pet tigers! I have had a fascination with tigers my whole life, mostly because my grandmother had a fascination with tigers. She would always comment on how when the millennium came she was going to have a pet tiger. And even though she passed away when I was young, every time I see a tiger it makes me think of her. There is some controversy around any facility with human/animal interaction. Is it safe? Are the animals treated well? I don’t have all the answers but this one does seem to have a decent reputation. The animals are raised from babies and are used to humans, they’re fed frequently and watched carefully. There was a part of me that felt a little guilty about it, as I do any time I see an animal caged no matter how well they are treated. But when the alternative is for them to be hunted to extinction in the wild, well, at least there are places like this that will ensure that my children will know what an actual tiger looks like. And I had to leave my conscience with that (same with our elephant encounters).

Anyway, we paid our money and then went in to wait our turn. The enclosures are grouped by size; largest cats, medium, small, and smallest. We paid for smallest, small and large and started with the large. A trained handler goes in with you and walks you from animal to animal (there were 4 or 5 in each enclosure) where you get a chance to sit next to them, pet them, and pose for pictures. The largest ones were the most docile, basically sitting and sleeping hardly twitching a whisker while we stroked and petted their stomachs and tails and feet. They were so majestic! Seeing them up close and personal was amazing. My arm was as long as one of their feet but their paws were just like your housecat’s only bigger. And all I wanted to do was stroke one of their noses! But that’s a no-no. J

The smaller cats were more frisky. We got to pet a few but we also watched them chase each other around and splash in the nearby pool. And then we got to go see the smallest ones which were just a couple of months old. They were truly like overgrown kittens. I had one on its back while I rubbed its belly and I’m sure if it had been a little quieter I could have heard it purr! And Kat had a little more lively experience. While she was scratching one on the back it reared its head around and bit her hand! At first she wasn’t too concerned, like a kitten they just sort of nibble but soon that nibble turned into a real bite. She ended up with a nice puncture wound and three matching teeth marks. But even she agreed that it was worth it. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. And I’m certain my grandma was watching us from heaven that day.

Our last stop of the day was for a ziplining adventure through the jungle. Again I was worried that my heights thing might do me in but I had no problems (though I did do my fair share of screaming and squealing and the guides took full advantage of the opportunity to scare and tease me!) There were a bunch of zip line tracks but we also had a couple of swinging rope bridges and ladders and some abseiling as well. It was kind of fun to mix it up a bit and gave you a chance to see things just a little differently each time. The organization that did it went all out giving us certificates of completion and t-shirts and a late lunch when we finished. Our drive back to the city was a bit quieter despite our friendly guide. It had been a long, adventure-filled day and a great way to end our trip.

The next day we had to do a lot of repacking to fit in all of our new purchases and we spent our last couple of hours adding to those purchases, eating some delicious food, and getting in one last cheap massage before we went our separate ways at the airport. It was a fantastic trip and I’m so grateful that I was able to have a little bit of home around for the holidays. It made everything just that much better. That may be all the touring I get a chance to do before I leave, too. I don’t have any breaks from school until the end of the year and I’m shooting for a trip to Australia on the way home which means I’ll need to save every cent of my measly paycheck. But I think I hit most of the highlights; the cities, the ruins, the beaches, the mountains. Not too shabby!

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow, this all sounds AMAZING!! I would especially love to pet the tigers.