Chaing Mai and back again...
We arrived in Chiang Mai in the afternoon and had time just to relax and enjoy the lack of rocking train motion, although Janice and and I continued to feel it for the better part of the day. Chiang Mai is a beautiful city, very clean and with lots of neat places to explore, and in close proximity to lots of great trekking.
We explored the night market that evening but wanted to rest early for our big elephant trekking day the next day. Janice had a glorious half hour foot massage ($5) to finish the day.
The next morning we were picked up at 7 am to head off on our trek. We were joined by two other couples from California and Australia. We headed out of town towards Chiang Dao. We stopped at an orchid farm on the way, which was actually better than we expected. A neighbor here gave us some amazing orchids and we were unsure the best way to grow them till we saw this farm. We arrived at the elephant camp and got right to it. It was in a beautiful location, right on a jungly river. We had to cross a rickety rope bridge to get to it. We fed the elephants, watched their mahoots bathe them in the river and then saw a demonstration of their logging skills. Since logging has died out in Taiwan, lots of elephants and trainers are without work so this elephant trekking has become their livelihood. After the demos, we were ready to ride.
Our ride took us about 90 minutes. You're up quite high and they go through some pretty steep and narrow jungly stuff. Halfway through we stopped at an aboriginal village (actually more of a shopping stop, no one really lived there) and then headed back. From there we went for lunch at a really nice restaurant, connected to a beautiful retreat center. We had a chance to grill the Australian couple about travelling around Australia.
From there we went for our rafting trip. This was really the only disappointing part of the trip. The rafts that you could take from the camp were amazing looking but ours were kind of in farmland, not jungle, on a fairly small stream.
We had seen the ones at the camp and were quite excited so ended up a little disappointed.
On the way home, our guide offered to take us to Tiger Kingdom where you can see and pet tigers. Everyone seemed game so we stopped, but instead of it being 100 baht to walk around, the only option was to actually get in with the tigers, and that cost anywhere from 300 ($9) to 1300 baht. Being suckers for something unique, the kids and I decided to go for it and Janice stayed on the safe side of the fence. We figured we'd never get this chance again, because civilized countries would never let tourists get in cages with 500 pound carnivores. It was actually really thrilling to be that close to a tiger, probably because it's my favorite land animal. Makena was too small to go in with the big tigers so she got to play with the cubs. That was so cool. They were active and very playful and she was totally in love with them.
This was a really stellar day, one which we will not soon forget. Part three soon.