02 June 2012

Roosters Revenge
Tourist Police

Woke up early from a fairly rough night. As we are not used to sleeping on the floor, the bed was pretty uncomfortable. But on top of that the rooster from last night decided to crow all night long. It would crow next to our hut and get a reply from further up, then reply etc. etc. We are sure this is the roosters revenge from the antics of yesterday evening!

Also one of the americans snored most of the night, and one of the japanese guys started talking in his sleep.. By 7.30 we were happy to get out.  The rest of the group was up, but as the 2 japanese were on a 3 day hike, they were not coming with us today. They will take a different guide for a walk up the highest peak around.
Breakfast was served at 8.00 and was quite disappointing. We were told an american breakfast, but got white bread toast with cold scramble eggs and jam.. The americans felt the need to explain that they do not eat this for breakfast in the US. Unfortunately there wasn’t another option, so we ate it as we knew there was still a lot of walking to be done today. Luckey we were both not feeling to badly, although energy levels were low, and Anna was already grumpy with the prospect of another day like yesterday.
Hoping todays walk should be mostly downhill, we were proved wrong right away. The first few kilometers were further steep up hill. Oh, that’s harsh this early! Anna is not happy. It got better a bit later when the path flattened out.. Up and down through the forest. Today we are not trying to keep up with the americans, but our pace turned out to be only a little slower, and we caught up quickly everytime we fell behind.

A nice relaxing swim after a hard walk

Steep down and through the rice paddies for an hour to visit our second village. It is also a Karen village and we stopped only because our guide needs to pick something up from his house. He lives in this village with his family. Another half hour to the waterfall. Here we break for a bit and have a swim. The water is refreshing after sweating it out during the trek, and the force from the water coming down fells like a massage.  There was a cavern behind the waterfall that you could come out of straight into the downporing water.
Another hours walk to lunch. By now we are all starting to doubt if we will even see an elephant.. We are now on better paths and back in civilisation. When we hit bitumen our guide organises to take us the last few k’s to the restaurant in a toyota ute.

How many tourists can you fit in the back of a ute?

Pack the seven of us in the tray and of we go. It was a bit like driving around Mimili with a group of tourists on the back.  Everybody seems to be happy to finally be done with walking, and the breeze feels good during the drive. Half way through we pass some elephants in an enclosure along the road, and we start to believe again that we might get an elephant ride there, although we were joking that although promised an hour and a half on an elephant, we would only get to drive past them an hour and a half before going back to Chiang Mai. Lunch was ok, nothing special, back in the ute to the elephants. We pass the group we saw before again and head passed them to our elephants.  More jokes were made.

Our Elephant, and the new love of Anna’s life

The first elephant that caught our eye was of course the biggest bull with massive tusks. We need to walk past them and across a bridge over the river to an elephant mounting platform. Big boy comes up first and Andrew and I are the lucky ones first on. The Americans thought that because we were at the back for the last day and a half we had been at the back, and now the elephant was setting the pace we could go at the front.  The rider sits on the elephant’s head/neck and we sit in a metal basket just behind its shoulder blades. The skin was actually softer than I had imagined despite all the hairybristles. Of we went. We were already told that we were just doing a round through the jungle, instead of a trek with them, but now it does not make a difference any more. This is great! Ok it is not very comfy, you get shaken about a bit, and when he goes downhill you have to hang on for dear life not to fall out of the basket..

Andrew on an Elephant

A few minutes in Andrew is asked if he would like to swap places with the rider and sit on his head. The elephant driver is hanging sideways off the elephant while Andrew climbs forward to sit on his head, before the driver swings himself up to sit beside Anna.  This was right before the steepest decent on the course. He hangs on and becomes our elephant rider. It was hard enough to hang on when you had the rails of the basket, and Andrew had real trouble staying on the Elephant as we descended.  It was tough hanging on with your knees with a creature that’s shoulderblades move a couple of inches up and down every time it takes a step.  Andrew managed it, but is still not sure how.
As we are on the bull and the rest of the group on females, we seem to be the leading elephant. Although Sunji (the 25 year old we are on) doesn’t seem to feel like it all the time.. He is more interested in eating. The professional takes over from Andrew again. Later Anna is asked to sit behind the head and the driver takes place next to Andrew in the basket. This is awesome! It is not easy to get your legs around its neck, you and up almost in a split, but it is a great feeling sitting on such a powerful animal. You can feel its shoulder blades move under you. Anna is loving it and scratching Sunji’s head and ears. We thing he likes it as he keeps bringing up its trunk. It’s pretty high up, but according to the guide, the elephant will not let us fall. It clamps in your legs with its ears going down steep hills. We make it to the river but Sunji does not want to cross it. The driver is standing on his butt yelling “Bon bon”. We assume this means “go on and walk”, or something like it. Suddenly Sunji loads up his trunk and decides to cool himself and us down with a bit of river water. That’s why the driver is standing on the elephants butt. It is the only place to stay dry.. Anna is soaked ans Andrew is not much drier. Especially as Sunji is now enjoying himself and keeps on going. Oh well, were wet now so we might as well go with it. Anna is trying to get Sunji to spray the other elephants and the rest of our tour group, but after every “bon bon” she ends up the another lot of water on herself. Very refreshing! It was interesting to see how well trained the Elephants are, and their bond with the drivers.  Another driver on a different elephant dropped his thong (flip-flop) in the water.  Sunji used his trunk to pick up the thong and passed it to Anna to give back to that driver.

How to ride an Elephant in style

Eventually we make it across the river and that is the end or our ride. We could have stayed on there all day. We have been very lucky as the other people in our group were not given the opportunity to ride the elephant out side of the basket as we did.
Next up is the rafting. This is done on the same river, so it is only a short drive. The americans need to catch the 17.00 train to Bangkok, so there is not much time left for the rafting. We get split up between 2 bamboo rafts. They are about a meter wide and about 7 meters long. On the front we have a local getting us down the river with a pole.. It starts of easy and very relaxing. This is the way to travel.. cruising on down.
We come across a few rapids and our drying clothes are soaked again. After about 45 minutes our rafting is over and we are loaded back in the truck to head for Chiang Mai.

We are back at that hostel, get our bags and check into our prepaid room. We are not happy though with our trek. Even though there were some great moments and highlights, this was not the trek we had booked. And Anna describes the first day as pure torture.
We decided to talk to the hostel about this and let them know we are not happy with it. We took are itinerary to the booking place and told them our tour did not at all match what we did. Day one was supposed to be a 1.5 hour elephant ride to a Meo village for lunch and then a 2.5 hour walk to the Karen village for the night. Instead it was a 5 hour speed hike with nothing else. The second day was supposed to be a 1,5 hour walk to a waterfall and an hours walk to lunch and then a 2 hour rafting session. Up to lunch was as we expected but then we still had to do the first days elephant ride, which was now turned in to 40 minutes and the 2 hour rafting went to 45 minutes. Basically we asked for our money back, as we were not told about the changes in the itinerary and by the time we found out it was too late. (we were half way up a bloody mountain) According to them we were told in the information session the night before we left and a refund was not possible as the expenses were already made. They were calling us liars and trying to ship us off with a “But you did get to sit on an elephant”. They offered us a 500 bath refund. We told we did not find that exeptable and would go to the tourist police. Ok a bit extreme maybe, but if you book a tour, you want to get what they tell you you will. Little things might change. But an easy leisurely jungle walk turned into a grueling full day power march! We decided to skip on the small refund to put in an official complaint, so that in the future, if other tourist complain, it might change.
Then we had to find the tourist police.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  It is a way a way out of the old town, and a good twenty minutes by tuktuk.  I think this is to make any complaint serious enough to go there.  We also explained the issues to the police officer on duty in the tourist police building. He contacted the hostel to get them over for a meeting. Not what we wanted. We thought we were just putting in a quick complaint and be done with it. During the three way discussing with the police and the hostel it came out that this 2 day tour had changed itineraries 8 years ago. The agent we booked with in Bangkok had still sold us an (very!) old version. This of course was not the hostels fault, and once we discovered this, the meeting became a lot easier. We still put in a complaint, but this time about the booking agent in Bangkok. apparently there have been more complaints about her. (The americans also booked through her and had the same issues) The hostel promised to expand on the info during the information meeting by giving tourist their own new itinerary for the trek. Luckley it was now easy resolved. The hostel offered us a free half day tour for tomorrow and a nights accommodation. This was not necessary, but we do appreciate it and happily accepted.
On a down side : All tours in Chiang Mai need to register with the tourist police before they take a group out on a trek. Apparently our guides had not done so and they might be in a bit of trouble over it. This was of course never our intention,as our guides were really nice guys and we did enjoy the time we spend together talking. Hope all works out well for them.

Dinner in an out of the way part of town, with a nice strong Irish coffee for dessert.


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