No Paddle, No Fun!

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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Meeting the Group and Visiting an Orchid Farm

I was the first to be picked up for the day tour I had arranged the previous day. We picked up four more people: a newlywed couple from China who were on their honeymoon, a guy from the Netherlands, and a woman from Southern California. I sat in the front row with the woman from California and we talked a lot about life and travel. She was Filipino and told me that whenever she visits her relatives in the Philippines, she always makes a side trip to visit another Asian country. She recommended that I visit Ayutthaya when I got back to Bangkok so I kept that in mind. Our first stop was an orchid farm. I had no idea we were going there because I didn't look much at the details of the tour when I signed up.
Orchids are one of my favorite flowers and it was nice to see a variety of types and colors at the farm.

Long Neck Village

After leaving the farm we continued on to a long neck village. We pulled up to a hot and dusty shadeless village and I immediately felt conflicted by this portion of the day. Some of the little girls were heavily made up and put on big smiles for the cameras. But all of the women looked very serious and I wondered what was going through their heads as people got up close to them to take pictures. Were they annoyed? Bored? Frustratrated? I think maybe I was more sensitive to this after the way people reacted to me in Vietnam with the pointing, staring, giggling and taking pictures of me without asking. But then I think of the way many travelers, myself included, photograph people abroad, especially in the third world.
There are many places were locals love to come across foreigners and have their pictures taken, but this is not always the case. Asking can make a huge difference. Being in a such a contrived situation where these women are basically photographed for an income I think is what made the long neck visit so awkward. There is a lot of controversy over these tribes, but it's hard to know what's true and what's not.

Elephant Riding

We were next taken to the elephant riding area. The woman from California and the Dutch guy went ahead with the elephant riding while I had delicious lunch with the couple from China. The wife didn't speak English, but the husband did.
We talked and he would translate back and forth. When the other two came back, we went off to ride the elephants. I had looked forward to this, but to be honest, it wasn't as fun or interesting as I had hoped. The scenery was nice though. We went through valleys surrounded by mountains and splashed across rivers with the elephants using their trunks to cool themselves off with water from the river. Elephants are great but I think instead of riding one, I'd prefer to come across one in the wild (without getting trampled by it).

Two Kinds of Rafting

Before rafting we stopped at a lovely swiming spot that wasn't too crowded. From there, we went down to the river where we would go rafting. We put on our life jackets and met our rafting guide who was wearing jeans, a beanie and nothing else.
I thought this was strange rafting attire. He was a skilled rafter but not a skilled guide and we got into a lot of messes. He was pretty entertaining though. If people stopped paddling, he shouted out such encouraging slogans as, "No paddle, no fun!" and "Paddle, I say! Paddle!" He would often call out for the left side to paddle when we meant the right side and vice versa. We kept spinning around and getting caught in the bushes.

It was the dry season and the water was low so we also kept getting stuck between rocks. There were often raft traffic jams along the river. One of the things that can help get the raft dislodged from the rocks is to have everyone in the raft bounce in their seats. We did this a lot. All the groups were doing it so we had company in looking like complete idiots.

We got stuck in front of a village were all the kids splashed us with water as our guide got out of the raft and tried to push us off the rocks.
I bet they were thinking, "What a bunch of silly tourists rafting on the rocky river in the dry season!" We were relieved when we finally got to a rock free portion of the river. At this point, we switched to two bamboo rafts.

This was by far my favorite part of the day, very serene. The man from China decided to stand on the back of one of the rafts and row while singing Chinese folk songs to his new wife. She eventually joined in. They both had beautiful voices and their singing was a wonderful addition to drifting slowly down the river on a bamboo raft.

Stumbling Upon a Kindred Spirit

After dinner I walked around town and hoped to eventually check out one of Chiang Mai's reggae clubs. I ended up on a dimly lit street and noticed I was being followed.
A local guy was trailing me on his motorcycle and asking me a bunch of questions. He had a really creepy look in his eyes that told me I needed to get away, ASAP. I quickly walked to a main street where I found a tuk tuk. I asked him to take me to Moon Muang Road, a street that was described in my guidebook as full of "farang". Farang = tourists. Not my original plan for the night, but I figured it would be a good place to find other foreigners and feel a bit safer.

We drove across town to Moon Muang. I got out of the tuk tuk and the creepy guy was still there, he had followed the tuk tuk. Annoyed, I quickly walked to a bar down the street. I saw a girl sitting by herself. I asked if I could join her and explained my situation. The guy finally disappeared and she seemed happy to have company. She had just arrived and Chiang Mai and after parting ways with a group of travelers.

We had been to a lot of the same places and talked about anything and everything while nursing our Singhas. She said in one place she visited, some people told her that they are "not nice" to black people. Once again, I explained that there were a few sketchy situations, but many people had been nice. I told her I thought people often talked to me more because they thought it was strange to see someone like me by myself in Southeast Asia. She told me she thought it was "badass." I was still in one piece as I approached the end of my trip and I was beginning to agree.

We discussed how traveling through South East Asia can really turn your beliefs upside down. Even though it is a well traveled part of the world, I always felt like I was encountering subjects that challenged me.
She told me that she was a vegetarian and had ended up eating meat when she was invited to be a guest of honor at an event in a remote village in Laos. She didn't want to offend them. We talked about the pros and cons of solo travel. I think it was her first solo trip and she said after awhile, she found that she was rarely by herself, even if it was just hanging out with someone for a few hours like we did that night. It was a great conversation and a great way to look back at the amazing experience I had. We talked until the bar closed and then went our separate ways.
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Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes