Wait wait, before I even start, a little note. I started up this blog almost entirely for myself. It would be a way to relive some of these experiences after I got home: like a beefed-up version of the travel journal I keep. I knew my folks would follow along, but if your last name isn't Cooper and you're reading this right now, I'm honestly, genuinely flattered. The comments and emails fire me up, and while I'm having a good time, there are definitely times where you're bored or lonely or uncomfortable and maybe you walk into a 7-11 just to be a little more in your comfort zone*, and it's really nice to hear from my friends at home. So thanks for your comments and emails and generally keeping up with the travels. I really mean that. Thanks.
* - Big failure. Foreign baked goods next to individually packed 3"x5" floppy disks? I am very far away.
Last I checked in, I was in Kanchanaburi, no? Oh, right, elephant rescue. (No Mom, "hephalump" is not Thai for elephant. It's from Winnie-the-Pooh.) Well, from the elephant rescue I spent another day in Kan, and then booked an overnight bus up to Chaing Mai. You know how on buses you always hope you're next to cute chick? I was next to sleepy dude. Sleepy leany dude.
I should mention, until that bus trip, I was traveling like a Thai. Public buses, standard, 3rd class trains, etc. "A" for authenticity, but if you want to meet other tourists, it's not the way to go. You're right Jake, that little spiel was totally unnecessary to the story, so erasing it's the right thing to do. Confused, Dear Reader? That's 'cause you only get to see a snapshot of right now as you're reading, and you have to piece together the evolutionary history of this paragraph. And you can!, because of this bizarre vestige. Vestiges are the key to unraveling evolution histories! And now you know.
So, I'm weird and like evolution. But you knew that.
Okay, back to the real story. The Panda House guesthouse is 2 days old and I'm room 105's first tenant. For $5 a night, I was not expecting hot water! It's the first hot water shower I've had since I left the States. Okay, so maybe it's not the Drake, but there's certainly nothing to complain about...
IF YOU'RE A MIDGET!
But hot water makes up for the Willy-Wonka proportions. The lady who runs the place is so sweet and a couple of her brothers are trek guides, so let's book a trek through her. 3 days, 2 nights in the jungles north of Chaing Mai, so just a couple hours from the northern border. But that leaves tomorrow morning, and I have a day here.
Chaing Mai is beautiful and full of neat history. The Sunday market is fun to poke around (bought some pants for myself and my bro), and you eat street food while poking through random stuff for sale and listen to the elderly band playing very nice music and collecting money for the Chaing Mai Center for Old People (word for word) and you're sandwiched between the old city walls and the moat just outside the city walls. 700 years ago it kept Burmese invaders at bay.
I think I like this Chaing Mai place. Maybe I'll stay a bit after the trek. But now, the trek.
Since there are only two of us on the 3-day, we join up with some 2-dayers for the first day, and after the first night, we'll go our separate ways. The first day of hiking is tough, 25% because of the terrain, and 75% because Lee was told his 6-year-old son would be able to do this trip (real jerk of a travel agent, huh), so Stephan and Ammanuel (yes, with an A) and I took turns carrying the poor child. Bamboo forests are way more pretty than this photo makes it look:
Once you get a bit up in elevation, the temp drops maybe 5 degrees (thank Buddha!), and the views become terrific, which again, this photo doesn't convey well:
The first night, we split into 2 and 3-dayers. The 3-dayers, who will be getting up earlier and going a different route, are:
Me, your humble narrator. (10 points if you get the reference...)
Bond, the guide. Definitely a cool dude. Nickname is James Bond because we tourists can't pronounce his real name (though if you see him with his machete and camo pack chopping through the bamboo, he's clearly Rambo). He's from the Aka hill tribe, and lives as a trek guide now. He's 26, and has been speaking English since he was 25 (hey, his native tongue is a hill tribe language, so Thai was already an effort). Speaks English pretty well considering, but sometimes I have to just laugh like I understand.
Stephan, the Frenchman. Really cool guy. I mean really cool. I hope I'm in that kind of shape when I'm 35. After I post this entry, I'm gonna grab a bite and head to a bar with Stephan. Just got a cool, open view on life. He went on the same trek just a week ago, and liked it so much he's doing another. We were at a cave and he said last time he saw a monkey here. Cool! We saw a bunch of bats, but no monkey. That night, he was so happy to have seen the same monkey again.
"Wait, Stephan, you saw a monkey today?!"
"(heavy French accent) Did you not?"
"Dude, you gotta point that stuff out to me!"
"(accent) I am sorry, truly. You did not see him? He was sweeping."
"Oh. You mean monk."
Here, on the left is Stephan, my guide is shirtless, and on the right is one of the Red Lahu hill tribe people.
Now, sorry to break it to you, but that's the last photo I have of the trek. See, my camera battery indicator has 3 bars. Here's what it should indicate:
3 bars - 60-100%
2 bars - 20-60%
1 bar - 5-20%
0 bars and flashing - 0-5%
But here's what it does indicate:
3 bars - 80-100%
2 bars - 2-80%
1 bar - you have about 5 photos left
0 bars and flashing - there is no 0 bars and flashing
So nightfall of the first day was my last photo. I shouldn't really blame the camera - I forgot my spare battery - but I wanted to rant about that stupid bar system. Man is it annoying.
Without photos, the story's not nearly as fun for you to read (and for me to write!), so, just two highlights.
This waterfall is two-tiered, one drop right after the other. The first drop is maybe 7 feet, and the second is 15-18'. Now, the first drop somehow has a damn-near perfect waterslide part. It's kinda fun in theory, but 7' is really short. If only there were something fun with the 15-18' drop... Bond says the base of the second drop, maybe 7 feet wide of river, is deep enough that you can jump. What? This isn't a very big river: no way, right? And to answer, Bond jumps. Oh wow. Oh wowza. I make the decision that I'm not leaving this waterfall without jumping. Now, Dear Reader, a little aside.
When I had to take swimming in camp, the lowest level was low 1, and up to high 4, then you went to diving (low and high 5). I never went past high 4. It's not that I wasn't a strong enough swimmer - not at all - but jumping head-first into water? No thank you. So I swore off diving. The point is, I don't have a lot of experience jumping into water. To this day I've never dived into water head-first.
Looking down from the rock edge was too intimidating; I'd never jump like that. So I decided if I started running towards the edge (not that intimidating), by the time I actually came to the edge, I'd have no choice. Bond outlines where it's safe to jump, and I take about 10 big steps back. Damnit, I really wish I had a photo! Stephan took a photo for me, and he'll email it to me eventually, but it really should go here. Not exactly Greg Louganis, and I'm probably making it out to be a bigger deal than it really was (I mean really, 18' max...), but for me, mark it as a Big Deal. (The 2nd and 3rd and 4th times were a lot easier).
And on to highlight number two...
The Opium Den.
You know, I suddenly realize I don't know how much of this I oughtta post online (though of course I didn't partake - I've never even had a cigarette), and I want to get a nosh anyway, but here's a nice line from my journal, verbatim:
"... in an opium den, and I'm the guy drinking tea. They're cleaning a pipe, I'm heating H2O. Hello college!"
Alright, I'm out. That thing I wrote in the beginning? Just wanted to mention that again. I mean it. Thanks.