Thursday, 19 December 2013

Monkeys and Turtles and Crocs, Oh My!

Welcome to part 2 of the Thailand blog. This is the trekking section of Umphang. It was fun... I think.

I have no idea what we have just ordered. Noodles I hope.
We had just landed in Mae Sot, the town of nothingness, and after asking the reception staff where the local food places were, we headed in the direction of a little Thai style cafe. Nobody there spoke any English, so working out what they served was difficult. There were many pictures of suspicious looking fish all over the walls and after a waiter called his friend who spoke a little English  (which achieved nothing); we finally managed to order...something... from a lady who appeared to work there.

Some kind of noodle soup with possible fish bits in. Let’s just politely eat a little, leave, and go buy a chocolate bar.
The mysterious food arrived and it was the noodles we expected, except with some strange white balls in it. There was no way I was trying it, so after a small bite Mike discovered that it was some kind of fish. We politely ate around the fish, paid, left, and went to the local 7Eleven and buy some chocolate (although I did feel like I had to hide it as we walked back past the noodle/fish place).

Saw a praying mantis on the street. Good job it was just the one as I don't know what the plural is.
The noise of the crickets in this town is huge and they are all over the place. Making sure that I didn't stand on any whilst walking back to the hotel in the dark, I practically fell over trying to avoid a huge one on the pavement. Turns out that it wasn't a cricket, it was a bright green praying mantis! He was just walking along the path and was about the length of my finger. Not something you see every day.

Phrase of the day: That's the dog that was eating out of the bin. I recognise the floppy nipples.
There are stray dogs everywhere in Thailand, and especially Mae Sot. It doesn't matter where you walked, you could see at least 3 dogs at any one time. There was even a car park full of them. Obviously, being strays, they have to get food from anywhere that they can, including bins. One very thin looking pooch was eating as much as he could out of a bin black that was lying on the road. I'll be honest, I just wanted to take them all home and look after them. Sadly, that just isn't possible.

The reception staff looked horrified when they thought we wanted to buy a monkey.
Mike discovered that nearby to our hotel was a Gibbon Sanctuary who rescue and look after monkeys and gibbons that have been previously neglected or abused. Though this seems like a simple mission, explaining it to people who can only speak very broken English can be very interesting. After trying to find out whereabouts this sanctuary was by asking the reception staff, their confused faces suggested that we had asked for something completely different. They thought we have come to buy a monkey, which is completely illegal in Thailand! Eventually they worked out what we were actually asking, and the sound of their relief was certainly amusing! Oh the joys of the language barrier!!

Sun cream-ed up, mosquito repellent-ed up and ready for trekking... I think.
This was the day of the beginning of the big trek. The trek that I had been dreading since it was booked many many months ago. I put on my sun cream, my mosquito repellent and my walking shoes and jumped on the back of a pick-up truck for the 3 hour journey to Umphang. Maybe it'll be fun...

It doesn't matter where you are in the world, you will still get stuck behind a tractor!
On a 3 hour journey up mountains and in the middle of nowhere we got stuck behind a tractor! Luckily (I think) we had a driver who does not like to be stuck behind anything, so with his foot down we finally got past it. It's amazing how two countries on opposite sides of the world can have the same road problems.

Pretty sure we just saw a duck herding a load of cows. It’s like a sheepdog. It's a cowduck!
The statement speaks for itself. A heard of cows, a duck chasing them, need I say more?

Cows in the countryside are like monks in the city. They are all over the roads!
So in my last blog post I mentioned that there were Monks everywhere. Wherever you look in the city you can usually see bright orange clothes wandering around, but in the countryside the story is slightly different. There are cows everywhere! In the fields, at the side of the roads and in the middle of the road. They would just lay there. They didn't even flinch when we drove past. Crazy cows.

I couldn't imagine living up here.
It's quite a weird thought knowing that there are thousands of people living in the hills of west Thailand. These people do everything on their own. They farm, they raise animals, and they build their own houses. They hardly need the outside world and it's kind of nice. But I do wonder whether the people there, especially the kids, know that there is anything else in the world that they could do. I'm sure they're happy with their life, but I doubt that it was their own choice.

I'm not sure what this sign even means.

The road sign below was everywhere on the road to Umphang but I'm not sure what it even means. My guess is: 'When a tree falls down it will start a fire and deer will run away.'

Monkeys and turtles and crocs, oh my!
The trek begins! The first day of the trek is pretty easy for us. Just 3 hours floating down a river with three strange Thai men. The wildlife is pretty cool too. We saw a couple of monkeys, a crocodile and a turtle jumping into the water. Unfortunately, the wildlife peaked pretty early in the trip and all we saw after that was a few birds. But still, a very nice boat ride.

Just chilling out on a raft with strangers who are talking Thai to each other. I feel awkward.
Only one out of our 3 trek guides could speak English, so throughout the majority of the trip they would chat to each other in Thai. This is obviously what should happen, but it was still a little awkward. On the bright side, we managed to make a few nicknames for them. The English speaking guides name was Mi, so that's what we called him. However, we didn't know the names of the other two men. One had a machete that he used for everything so of course he was called Machete man. The other guide had a funny voice which sounded a little like Zippy from Rainbow, so he was called Zippy. So imaginative, right?

You know you're English when you feel guilty for letting other people do all the rafting whilst you just sit there.
Machete Man at the front, Zippy and Mi at the back, and Mike and I just sitting there in the middle, admiring the view with wet feet and numb bums. I did want to grab a paddle and help a little. At least the scenery was pretty.

Hot water springs and life jackets. A little over cautious I think.
First stop from the boat was for lunch. This included chicken and rice wrapped in banana leaves, actual bananas, and lots and lots of huge red ants! Afterwards, we had a nice dip in the natural hot springs in the jungle. It was lovely, although we hadn't taken our life jackets off after getting off the boat, so we did look a little silly knees deep in the water wearing buoyancy aids. It was very warm though. Beautiful!

Time to camp in the middle of nowhere. Literally.
Our second stop seemed to be on the side of the river on a small hill of dirt. As the guys put the tent up, it became apparent that this was the place we were going to camp for the night. It was noisy and full of bugs, but it was true jungle camping.

You have not been 'proper' camping until this is your view.
Seriously, this was the middle of the jungle. Staying at a camp site with toilet blocks in the Lake District is not proper camping. Amazing.

Coffee in a bamboo cup made by machete man. Best way to drink it.
Machete man had been busy. Before we stopped at our resting place, we had stopped for a couple of minutes at the side of the river for machete man to chop down a whole piece of bamboo and put it in the boat. It wasn't until dinner time that we found out what this was for. He had made us our own bamboo cups and stirrers! On top of this he had also made us a bin bag holder, toilet roll holder and candle holder. This guy was awesome. He needed nothing in life besides his knife and the jungle.

Check out this candlelight dinner.
Using the candle holder that had been made earlier, we had our jungle cooked food. Most of it had been brought with us from the village, but there were a few leaves that had been picked at the same time as the bamboo was chopped down. Admittedly it was not to my taste, but Mike enjoyed it all.

Bed at 7pm. That's new.
Dinner has been eaten and darkness has fallen. I had no idea what we are supposed to do now, so we retire to the tent and sleep. It's only 7pm and we had to get up at 8am. At least we would be well rested!

Argh! Mosquito!
It's bed time and we find a huge mosquito in the tent. It was just sat there between us, watching over us and there was no way I was sleeping until the tent was completely de-bugged.

Mi and Zippy in a tent, Machete man on a DIY hammock. Obviously.
Machete man needs no tent. Machete man is a real man! (See machete below!)

After a bit of forest cooked toast we left Zippy on his raft and we were off to trek to the waterfall. I am really not looking forward to this!
Surprisingly, jungle toast is pretty nice. Cooked over some kind of jungle made grill, it was a good breakfast to start to day off with. Afterwards we got ready, packed up, and set off down the river to the starting point of the 'uphill trek'. We said goodbye to Zippy who was taking the boat back and we started the trekking. I was very anxious about this. (Maybe this explains why I was putting on make-up in the middle of the forest!)

That was NOT and uphill walk. That was a bloody climb! I died after 5 minutes.
Holy crap! I was dying. I mean seriously dying. I couldn't breathe and this was proof that English was not a strong skill of whoever wrote the trek description! This was not an ‘uphill trek'. This was a bloody climb! If my right foot is in level with my left knee when I take a step, then it's a climb! The difficulty of this climb combined with my anxiety and panic about the fact that I was struggling meant that this was not going to end well. Sadly, we had to turn around and hope that we could get back down the hill in time to get on the only boat that was passing today. I felt awful and really embarrassed. I bet this didn't happen to many people. It was horrible.

Ha! The look on Zippys face was amazing. He didn't understand.
Floating back on the boat to the pick-up point, one positive thing did happen. As we were paddling along we spotted our previous boat tied up against the river bank and there, stood staring at us, was Zippy! He had absolutely no idea what was going on. As far as he was concerned we should have be heading up the mountain. The look of confusion on his face was absolutely amazing. I wish I had gotten a photo, but that face will never leave my memory.

Back to Umphang village because I'm rubbish. I'm sure the guides find it funny though. Let's try again tomorrow.
Still feeling pretty crappy about the whole thing, I waited with Mike for the truck to pick us all up and take us back to the village. I must admit though, it was a very pretty place to wait at.

Round 2. We will hopefully see the waterfall today.
After a (mostly) peaceful and comfortable night, we got up and got ready to set off to the waterfall by truck. I did feel a little bit better about the whole thing today, but I would be even happier once we were back on track. We said goodbye to the resident dog, and started the journey back to the jungle.

At the waterfall rest stop. These are the worst 'toilets' I have ever seen, and they are being guarded by a giant spider!
These were not toilets. These were over flowing holes in the floors that you have to squat over to do your business. Even going by Thai standards, these were awful, and to make it worse they were being guarded by this... thing! (PS, he was the size of my palm!)

After a short walk (and a bit of rain), we are finally at the waterfall. It is beautiful and lovely to swim in, although there is a very strong current.
A half hour walk away from the spider was this beautiful sight. The waterfalls were absolutely gorgeous. These are the biggest waterfalls in Thailand and not only could we look at them, we got to swim in them. This made up for everything!

Gah! I'm wearing Mike’s shorts.
Whilst getting dressed after the waterfall swim, I managed to rip my trousers on the way back down. Having nothing else on us that was suitable, I had to wear Mikes swimming shorts. This is not a good look! (And no, I do not have a photo!)

Did that monk just take a photo of us?
I might not have a photo, but there is a Monk somewhere in Thailand with a picture of me on his iPad. Seriously, what kind of Monk takes an iPad to a waterfall in the middle of the jungle? More to the point, what kind of Monk takes a photo of wet looking tourists on his iPad in the middle of the jungle?

There are only about four days of rain in Thailand during November. Apparently one of those days had to be the day we went on a 3 hour, 8km walk through the forest.
Rain rain rain. Not cold rain, but rain. The walk on this day was much better than the 'walk' from yesterday, although the muddy terrain certainly tried to stop us. I had finally got one thing right on this trek. I was wearing the right shoes for this walk. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Mike. In his Vans, he was slipping and sliding all over the place and even though he didn't actually fall down, it was very fun to watch. Even Machete man (the man with no emotions) found it hilarious. We made it in the end. Wet, but in the same condition that we started in.

This is a cool little village. 
It was nice to see this little community when we arrived. There were little dogs everywhere and children just playing outside the houses. Everything here had been built by the people that lived here, and any money that they made had to be from the tourists that visited them on the trek. This meant that, of course, we had to buy a couple of things from one of the young tribe girls who showed us all the things she made. This wasn't a bad thing though. They were very pretty!

Wet! Oh so wet!
Everything was wet, and it wasn't drying. Even after being hung up for hours, it still wasn't drying. This was the point of the trip where I was just longing for the hotel in Mae Sot. The hotel had my dry clothes.

There is no way that I am going in there!
As I said before, practically everything was made here by the tribe. This included the toilets. There was one western style toilet, and one Thai style toilet. The western style toilet appeared to be sat in a puddle of... stuff, while the Thai toilet, though dry, had a huge hole in the wall for everyone to look in on you. On top of that, they were down some very uneven steps with no hand rail and no lighting. I was supposed to go down there after sundown? Not likely!

Puppies everywhere! They had a few dogs wandering around the village and since neutering would be highly unlikely here, there were puppies all over the place. There must have been about 50 here, and all the size of my shoe. They were so adorable (although we were told that the kids aren't exactly loving towards them). Once again, I just wanted to take them all home with me.

All you can eat buffet in the jungle. I'm impressed!
This was our final night here in the jungle and we were presented with an outstanding amount of food. We were even told that we could just ask for anything and they would bring it out. It was like a feast! On top of this, our guide and the guide with the Holland couple really opened up and we had some great conversations. It was a fantastic night and it was interesting to find that they act and joke pretty much the same as we do here, especially after a drink or two!

We were asked if we were okay to share a room with another couple from Holland. They did not mention that this room was also full of screaming children, or that we would we sleeping on a wooden floor in the corner of the family’s living room.
Oh. My God. This was awful. We were sharing a house (without actual rooms) with a family of about 5 adults and 10 children, plus the couple from Holland that were staying there also. Clearly there are no rules when it comes to guests in this place because the noise was unbearable. It had been a long day and I just wanted to sleep, but the chance of sleep was pretty much zero. Also, there were no beds. There were very thin mats on hard wooden floors. Not good!

Worst. Night. Ever!
Honestly! Put me back on the jungle floor any day. This was uncomfortable, noisy, and I woke up every few hours. The cockerel that decided to test out it lungs at 6am didn't help either. With a bad back and dodgy stomachs (stupid feast!), we attempted to get off the floor and stretch out a bit before we had to leave.

Packing up and ready to board the elephant.
I was so happy packing my bag knowing that the next time I unpack it will be in a lovely clean and bug free hotel. We rounded up our wet things and headed out to the balcony of the hut.

Pretty much had to jump off a balcony to get on the elephant. It is so uncomfortable too. Only 3 hours to go.
Elephants are big. We are not. This means that in order to get on the elephant we had to climb off the balcony and on to the wooden box that was the seat on the elephants back. It was instantly uncomfortable as we had to sit on our rucksacks with our legs dangling over the wooden bars and combined with our bad backs from the night before, this made for an unpleasant ride.

The mahout (driver) just poked the elephant behind the ear with a knife because it didn't want to cross the river. This is awful! I don't know what to do.
This is awful. Though it started well, we soon got to a point where the elephant had to cross a pretty deep river. The water was up to the elephants eyes and she was not happy with it at all. She decided that she didn't like it and started to turn back. The driver was having none of this and started to hit her on the head with the flat part of his knife. This went on for some time until the mahout decided to really get the message through to her by slowly stabbing her in the back of the ear. The noise coming from this beautiful creature was horrible and I was almost in tears. I didn't know what to do. We were in the middle of nowhere with no idea of how to get anywhere. We couldn't just get off. After this though, the elephant did cross the river and things settled down. Still, this was just unpleasant.

The knife has now been put away, thank god! This elephant is having to do some hard work to get up this jungle mountain.
Whether it was because we had gotten past the hardest part, or because the driver sensed our disapproval, but the knife was put away and he just spoke to the elephant to give her direction. Even though this made the rest of the journey a little better, it would never take away the fact that he stabbed her, and no matter the reason, I will never be okay with that. The jungle being mostly mountain meant that this elephant had to do some amazing climbing up and down to get through it all, and all this on some very tiny paths! I was very impressed with her. Well done Elephant!

I am battered and bruised and will certainly been looking into charities that focus on elephants like this when I get home.
Wow. Although it had its ups and downs, it was still an unbelievable experience. The thing we were sat on was definitely the most uncomfortable thing I had ever sat on and the bruises on my legs and back were bigger than my hand! It was memorable to say the least. There are a few charities that work with similar animals in the country with I would say are worth checking out if you are concerned at all.

Such a wobbly bamboo bridge. Don't look down!
This bridge is 7 sticks of bamboo wide which are all tied together and hovering 20 feet over a river and I'm expected to walk over it? What could possibly go wrong?

(See that thin line on the picture below? That's the bridge!)

After 4 days in the jungle, I just had the best shower ever!
It was clean water in a clean hotel and I put on clean clothes. It was amazing. I have never been as happy as I was that day. Also, there was a real bed! Bliss!

Goodbye Mae sot and the jungle. We're off to Chiang Mai for some relaxing. To the duck plane!

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