I've taken lots of pictures but can't upload them until I'm back in Seoul so for now... just words... sorry!
Chiang Mai, Thailand:
Can I just sum up my entire Thailand experience thus far with that one word? Because there are NO words that can accurately describe what the past 24 hours have been like, and there are still so many more days to go.
Arrived early Thursday evening -- my 23rd birthday. After finding a hostel that met our requirements (cheap and clean, basically), we went out for our first taste of authentic Thai food. The verdict? To call the food "extraordinary" doesn't even come close to how it tasted.
Green curry = greatest meal of all time. Sorry beef and Guinness stew in Dublin, you've just been surpassed.
Every meal I've had here has just been out-of-this-world, whether it's a curry or pad thai or just a simple fruit smoothie. And cheap -- meals cost about $2 including drinks. Incredible.
Today was one of the most amazing, exciting, extraordinary, unforgettable days of my life. Mark, Jeanette and I booked a package tour to see almost everything we were interested in in one go -- for less than US $25.
We started the morning by driving just outside of Chiang Mai to a butterfly garden and orchid farm. Kind of boring -- I think I saw about two butterflies total and they were both a muddy brown color -- but at least the orchids were bright and vibrant. Definitely the low point in the day but no worries there because our next stop...
WAS THE ELEPHANT CAMP!
I've wanted to do this for years and never had the chance (since obviously chances to ride elephants are few and far between). I was hesitant at first after reading about some of the treatment people had witnessed at these camps -- elephants chained up and beaten with barbs and stones. This particular camp seemed to be fairly well run though.
You start the ride by sitting on a saddle, for lack of a better word, although it's more like a bamboo chair on the elephant's back. About halfway through the jungle ride, the guide let me move to sit bareback on the elephant's neck -- caused a little unpleasant chafing on my legs but well worth it. At first I was nervous because there's nothing to hold on to and I felt unsteady, but after a while it was so fun I forgot to be scared. There were 4 adult elephants in our herd plus one baby tagging along with her mother -- absolutely adorable.
After the elephant ride (of which I have about a million pictures, no exaggeration), we drove to a nearby village to see a tribe of long-neck Karens. It was very uncomfortable taking pictures of these quiet people, even though they are almost entirely supported by tourists who visit the village and buy their goods (I got an adorable quartz and silver elephant necklace, and a cute elephant silk bag).
Then it was time for bamboo rafting down the Mae Tang river. Very tame -- just sat there while a guide paddled.
Briefly visited another tribal village, the Akha, who are most noted for the women dying their teeth black. It's a disappearing tradition but we saw several older women there with the black teeth; I was too uncomfortable to take pictures of them though. It felt too voyeuristic .
Next: hiked through the jungle to a waterfall and went for a swim. The water was freezing cold but refreshing after sweating in the sun all day. Very fresh and delicious, though.
Back to the river: whitewater rafting. It's the dry season so the rapids weren't too large but still fun. Maybe level 2 rapids.
And now I'm exhausted and back in Chiang Mai for a quiet evening. We went out for another delicious dinner -- red curry this time -- and afterwards, Mark and Jeanette headed out to watch a Muay Thai boxing match, while I stayed back in the neighborhood to hang in a cafe, drink another amazing fruit smoothie and (obviously) update the blog. Even though it's something Thailand is famous for, I couldn't bring myself to watch something as violent as Muay Thai.
In short: loving Thailand, loving the sunshine and warm weather, and already dreading my eventual return to bleak and freezing Seoul.