After having a hearty breakfast at the hotel, I set out to the Gibbon Experience office to see if they had availability to go zip lining.
The nice people at the office informed me it would be at least 1 day before they could fit me in and in that moment I decided I’d just cross back into Thailand and see Chiang Mai.
And so with that, I found myself a Tuk-Tuk for the very short distance to the border. I’d heard so many horror stories about land border crossings and yet it was so easy, there were no queues, and as soon as I got to the other side I went to an information desk to enquire about a bus to Chiang Mai. It was about 10:15am at this point and they told me there aren’t many buses that take the 4 hour journey to Chiang Mai, but I was in luck as the next one was at 10:30am… Result!!
Even better…when it turned up, I was the only passenger in the minivan so the driver said he’d drop me directly to a place of my choosing. I hadn’t pre-booked a hostel, but I had done some research and so I got him to drop me off at a highly rated hostel I’d seen on hostelworld. Typically though when I turned up it was full for the next couple of days. No worry, I found a nearby hotel for a cheap price to settle in for a night before finding a hostel.
I didn’t really do much on the first day. I had a cheap massage, a rack of ribs and generally walked about exploring. I looked for a hostel to move into online and found one with reviews at 9/10 so I moved there the next day.
The hostel was nice, the lady running it was lovely, but there were no other people! It was a ghost hostel. During my stay there I had the entire dorm room to myself every night!
With no atmosphere at the hostel, I booked myself a couple of activities.
The first one was a massive zip-line adventure called ‘flight of the gibbon’. Not content with missing out on zip-lining in Laos, I booked a day of zip-lining in Chiang Mai for a somewhat pricey 4000 baht (£80).
So the following morning I got picked up in a minivan and driven about an hour away to the park where I met the rest of my group. Apart from an Australian couple, there were mainly Chinese girls that I enjoyed chatting to. A few of them seemed wealthy and came from Shanghai and then there was also a nice girl from the Chengdu region.
We had great fun on the zip-lines, even seeing some gibbons along the way. From what the girls were saying, I think I’d found myself some admirers! There were 30 ziplines in total, some long, some short, one went straight into a spider net..
After a long day with some awesome guides and fellow zip-liners we headed back to the minivan. I sat next to the girl travelling alone from Chengdu in China and we listened to music from her phone together. An odd mix of Chinese, Korean and English featuring Avril Lavigne among others. It did make me think how far China has come though. I often get comments from people back in England of ‘aren’t you brave travelling alone in Asia’ but this Chinese girl about the same age was doing the same. I bet you wouldn’t have seen that from a Chinese girl 15 years ago.
We stopped briefly on the way back to a waterfall and eventually I got back to the hostel.
The next day I had organised to go to an elephant sanctuary.
Up to this point I hadn’t engaged in ‘animal tourism’. I don’t profess to lecture anyone on it but there are so many animals abused in Asia for tourist attractions that it puts you off. Not long ago an elephant died of exhaustion near Ankhor Wat after being ridden in the blazing heat. Oh and there’s the drugged tigers everywhere that people take pictures with too which is pretty horrible.
The place I organised to see the elephants called itself a sanctuary and as far as I could tell, it seemed genuine. The website says all the right things, you weren’t allowed to ride the elephants, it seemed like spacious surroundings and trip advisor reviews were all good. However, I will say this. I am not an elephant expert and I do wonder how obedient a wild elephant would be compared to the ones I saw.
When being picked up from the hostel, I was accompanied by 2 American families with children that were living in Dubai, and a guy that worked in finance who seemed to have lived just about everywhere in the world. The journey probably took about 90-120 minutes in the back of a jeep, with the last 30 minutes going along the worlds must bumpy and hilly dirt track to the secret lair of the elephants…
Once we arrived at the sanctuary, we were asked to wear some of the traditional clothing of the local Hmong tribe and we were given heaps of bananas to feed the elephants with. We joined with quite a few other people.
After some lunch, we were all told to get into our swimwear and we bathed, scrubbed and then mudbathed the elephants.
Soon enough it was mid-afternoon and it was time to go already. It had been a pretty awesome day, and I got back to the hostel as the next day heralded a new country for me. Cambodia.