After Bangkok, we boarded our first train in Southeast Asia to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. To our surprise, we had a great meal on the train in the dining car. We saw an Asian doppelganger of one Dan’s college buddies working on the train. This seems to be happening more frequently, meaning we are either missing home or there is a parallel universe in Asia. The entire train ride was about 14 hours and passed easily with the sprawling countryside keeping us company.
After arriving in Chiang Mai, we were still a little hazy from the overnight ride and took a cab to find our hostel. Our hostel was named 129/3 Backpacker which seemed to be a complete mystery to our cab driver. After about 15 minutes of driving in circles, Dan hopped up front with his iPhone and directed the driver.
We arrived in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, which holds their weekly Sunday Walking Street market. We thought we had seen enough markets in Bangkok, but this market was longer and more interesting than anything we had seen thus far. There was a good mile of food vendors, craftsmen making anything from purses to flower carvings, and a host of other crap that Jess was convinced we could fit into our backpacks.
The next morning we woke up early and headed off to a Thai cooking class. The class was hosted by Asia Scenic Cooking School, which prides themselves on being owned and operated by independent Thai women. The class was wonderful and we must have eaten five courses throughout the day, preparing each one with fresh ingredients.
We were given a choice of desserts and Dan was the only one to pick the “unhealthy fried bananas” which everyone then wanted a bite of. Jess opted for the more popular Mango sticky rice, which was equally delicious. We took the class with travelers from France, Canada, and Australia and had a great time exchanging stories over lunch.
The next day we started our 2-day jungle trek. We were paired with two guides, each with their own little twist on crazy. Our guide Chai was raised in the jungle of Myanmar and was continuously ushering scorpions and tarantulas out of their holes along the trail. Our other guide, Paking, loved proving that being 52 and having a beer-gut was no reason not run up the mountain like a teenager. The first day we hiked about 8km through the jungle, which seemed to be 90% up the mountain until we reached our campsite. We enjoyed learning about (and tasting) Thailand’s many fruit trees including jackfruit, lemongrass, mango and lychee. We made our way to a cool bat cave where Dan and a few others climbed in to see the bats. They all emerged covered in guano. (Ace Ventura reference)
The campsite we stayed at was a small village that consisted of 3 families from the Karen Longneck Hilltribe. We played soccer with some of the children and ate dinner under the stars. Right before turning into our mosquito netted pads for the night, our guide reminded us to check for spiders and told us horror stories about other creepy crawlies and snakes that have been spotted around the camp. Needless to say, it took Jessie a long time to fall asleep.
The next day we hiked about 2km to a waterfall with a swimming hole. The waterfall had a natural slide down the side and had multiple spots to jump from into the water. The trek was certainly more strenuous than we had anticipated and will definitely be a highlight of our trip. We also made some friends along the way…it’s amazing how quickly you develop relationships with others when you experience something awesome together.