Thailand with G Adventures, Part 1

As I said goodbye to one of my favorite places in New Zealand, I was preparing myself for my first trip to Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia has long been on the backpacking route because it’s cheap, easy to get around, and there are lots of travelers about. However, this would be my first trip to a non-English speaking country and I was scared to death to do it by myself. So I started researching small tour companies geared towards independent travelers, and I decided to go with G Adventures who had several trips in Thailand to choose from. I signed up for the Roam Thailand tour which started in Bangkok, went north to Chiang Mai for the first week, and then south to the Gulf islands the second week. It was a jammed packed itinerary and wicked fun with awesome people.

My flight arrived in the wee hours of the morning of February 25, and I had booked a room at the nearby airport hotel in order to get a few hours of sleep before meeting my group at the Bangkok Centre Hotel, which was downtown. I had prepared myself, but still exiting the airport to feel that wall of heat hit you quickly reminded me I was now in a tropical zone. After a few hours of sleep, I headed back to the airport to catch the skytrain, which is the monorail that would take me downtown to the hotel. There were no activities planned today, but I met up with a few people from another tour who took me to Khao San Road on a Tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are these 3 wheeled motos that ferry people around the crazy Bangkok traffic to their destination. I was introduced to a new concept not used in Western civilization normally, bartering. Fares for taxis and tuk-tuks must be negotiated and you have to know when to say no and walk away. I let the others do most of the talking. Khao San Road is Bangkok’s travelers’ getto with shady tuk-tuk drivers willing to give you a day tip around the city in exchange for stopping at the favorite gem stores and overpriced tourist traps.

Bangkok tuk-tuk

One of Bangkok's many markets

That night was the group meeting with our G Adventures tour guide, Willie, who is a local Thai. The next day the group went on a walking tour of one of Bangkok’s many markets, took a canal tour, and toured the Wat Pho temple with the giant reclining Buddha while eating yummy street Thai food. It was an introduction to the sights, smells, and heat of Bangkok. I don’t remember the last time I had sweated that much without going to the gym. My water intake has increased considerably since arriving. Afterwards, we headed for the train station to board the overnight train to Chaing Mai.

Thailand is a big country, but it’s well connected by planes, trains, and buses. The overnight sleeper trains allow you to depart in the evening and arrive in the early morning at your destination. There are two sleeping berths, an upper and a lower bunk with curtains that provide a modicum of privacy. However, the lights remain on and I experienced a very disrupted sleep with all the braking and movement of the train. Too bad this trip had four sleeper trains on the itinerary.

We arrived in Chiang Mai in the early morning of February 27 to meet with our local trekking guide, Sammy who would give us the rundown of our three day, two night trek to the hills to visit the hill tribes. This is the one moment I was glad I had taken my sleeping bag with me. The nights were apparently going to be quite cool up in the hills. Chiang Mai is vastly different than Bangkok with a cool, laid back atmosphere where everyone rides a moped. We visited Doi Suthep, which was up a mountain and after a 45 minute ride in the red songthaew, I was feeling a bit queasy. The next day we departed in the songthaew for the first part of our trek, which included a side trip to Mork-Fa waterfall, in which we took a refreshing dip. After lunch, we got dropped off at the insertion point for the trek and put on our packs. I managed to fit everything I needed for 3 days into a 22 liter pack including my sleeping bag. I was very proud of this. Most of the first day of trekking was downhill, and it wasn’t easy. It was steep and slippery in spots due to all of the dried foliage. However, once I got my bamboo walking stick, things got much easier. We arrived at the Me Jok Village around sundown and took a tour of the village, which was full of farm animals and very cute puppies. Our accommodation was a guesthouse with 13 mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets. We even got to assist with the dinner preparation with the spring rolls. The local food was very good.

The first hill tribe

Homemade springrolls

The next day, Willie our tour guide told us that there would be about 4 hours of walking and then launched into a very evil laugh about the hill we would have to climb. Now, I had done a lot of tramping in Arrowtown over the past 2 months so I wasn’t worried about it. I should have been more worried about the brush fire we had to walk through after the steep climb. It is the dry season and part of the forest was burning next to the track. After the walk we arrived at the elephant camp for lunch as we would be riding elephants the rest of the way to the second hilltribe. The elephant ride was a nice break after the walking.

The brush fire we walked through

Elephant rides

The third day was bamboo rafting for 4 hours. Basically we got to sit or stand on bamboo and take in the scenery. After all the trekking, the rafting was a welcome break. For the final day in Chiang Mai, we went to the women’s prison to  get Thai massages. The massages are done by Thai women as part of their rehabilitation training who are due to be released from incarceration within 6 months. It was wonderful as I was quite sore from the trekking. Afterwards it was back on the night train to Bangkok to start the next part of our adventure, the Southern Sojourn.

Bamboo rafting

 

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