12 07 2010

Well we are back in Bangkok again waiting for our flight to China. This feels like the end to another chapter of our trip. We will finally be ending our journey through SE Asia and entering the world of Asia Major and more specifically China. I must admit that I am a bit anxious about entering China. I have been there once before and one thing I know is that it is one of the more difficult places I have ever travelled through. Well as mentioned in my previous post we decided to finish off our time in Thailand by taking one last motorcycle trip. We rented a bike in Chiang Mai and made for the mountains to the west. After navigating through the chaos and traffic of the city we finally got on the mountain road. Traffic thinned out and the road began to wind its way through the forest and it began to climb into the hills. The driving was really fun, the road was in great condition with two full lanes. The stretch between Chiang Mai and the town of Pai is reported to have 1,840 turns so it kept things interesting. We made it to the town of Pai in about three hours were we grabbed some lunch and then continued on to a lodge that someone we had met on our first motorcycle trip had recommended. It had rained a couple of times so we were really happy to get someplace and change out of our wet cloths. Cave lodge was a really neat place and well off the beaten path. It was owned by an Aussie who has lived in the area for over 30 years and who had discovered and explored some of the more than 200 caves in the area. After drying off and settling in we just relaxed and enjoyed the peaceful jungle setting. We finished off the day with dinner and then swapped stories of our travels with the other guests of the lodge. The next day we got up and explored one of the most impressive and famous caves in the area. Shiera another guest at the lodge joined us for a guided trip through Tha Lot cave. It was a fun outing, there are three chambers off a main cave that cuts a nearly 800m long and 30m high hole through the mountain. A river runs through the entire cave and we had to take a bamboo raft down stream in order to access the second and third chambers. The cave is also home to thousands of bats which we could hear overhead as well as approximately 300,000 swifts that leave each day to hunt for food in the forests. One of the other inhabitants are the fish who live in the stream and survive on the bat and bird droppings that fall into the water below. After our two-hour tour long through the cave we returned to the lodge and got the bike. We decided to head for the town of Mae Hong Son near the Burmese border for lunch. After two hours of mountainous riding we arrived and grabbed a bite to eat. We then stopped by a temple overlooking the  town and lake below. One of the things that makes this area famous aside from the scenery are the Long Neck Karen villages. I am sure most of you have seen pictures of the women who live there, they are known for the brass rings that they wear around their necks in order to make their necks appear longer. These women are actually Burmese refugees and the rings do not actually stretch there necks but instead push down on their collar bones to give the appearance of a longer neck. We travelled to one of these villages which felt a little awkward at first because you are really there to just look at people. The village was mostly made up of craft stalls and since we where there on our own as opposed to a tour we really stood out. I felt uncomfortable taking any pictures but after seeing how poor these people where we decided to buy a few things and at that point the women where more than happy to pose for a picture with you. After our trip to the village we made the long ride back to cave lodge and made it just in time for a well deserved dinner. The next day we got on the road before 7am and headed back towards Pai where we grabbed some breakfast. We then decided to change-up our mode of transportation for a little bit. Our new ride of choice was 47 years old, her name was Mumba and she weighed over 8000lbs. Well if you haven’t guessed we went for an Elephant ride. There are quite a few elephant camps in the area mainly because the animals used to be used for logging but now with the decline of harvestable timber they have fortunately found a new and much more humane role in the  eco tourism industry. Elephants are truly staggering creatures and it isn’t until you get up on the back of one do you realize how amazing they are. They are curious and obviously very intelligent and it was really great fun just wandering through the jungle riding 10 feet or more above the ground on her back. One thing we realized is although the Mahout (elephant guide) has some ability to control and motivate our elephant, she ultimately decided when she was going to walk and when she was going to stop and browse through some vegetation for a bit. It was quite scary when she decided there was something next to the steep edge of the trail that she just had to eat and she would move over leaving you looking at a 25 foot drop over her head to the ground below. After our ride we returned to her shed where we got to feed her some banana tree stalks and then we finally said goodbye.  Again I cannot begin to describe how amazing it is to stand eye to eye with such a massive yet gentle creature. From the camp we continued our ride back to Chiang Mai. At this point we where quite sore from riding so much and after 7 hours on the road and one more stop at another temple high up on the mountain over the city we finally made it back. We grabbed a quick dinner and made our way to the train station for yet another night train back to Bangkok. So this is it, the next post will hopefully be from China. I hope all is well with everyone at home and that everyone is enjoying their summer.




One response

13 07 2010

Hi Andrew and Justyna, The pictures are great and I am always so happy to get them. Your large companion is cute but don’t plan on my baby-sitting one of those. I draw the line at dogs! There seems to be a circle on the bottom of the cave floor in the picture of the fish. Did you notice it?
I too am hopeful all goes well for you both in China as I have heard how sketchy that country can be on people traveling on there own. I had a dream you brought back a shell I asked for and got detained for smuggling contraband. The thing had a creature still living in it you hadn’t noticed. You know my imagination. If you have a shell- toss it!
All is well here. We had blood work done today for our yearly check-ups and then met Artie and Marian for lunch, Nice time. You have to see the nice pictures he took in Florida that the local news paper printed on the front page in color. Beautiful.
You both take extra care as I know you will. Look forward to hearing from you soon. Love, M,D,M

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