Our cabin at Chiang Dao Nest, outside of Chiang Dao, Thailand
Our last day in Ho Chi Minh was mostly spent waiting around for our flight in the early evening. We might have done more but it was insanely hot and then rained like crazy. We had a lovely pizza lunch (fries smothered with cheese for Anica) at Pepperoni's and then looked around the streets and side streets until it was time for our car. The chihuahua got to accompany us again and Anica was over the moon. The delicious food at the airport helped and our upgrade to flying with Bangkok Airways (when we paid for Pacific) was nice too!
We got in late (plane delayed by an hour) to Bangkok and headed straight for the public taxi queue where we were lucky enough to draw a driver who had no real clue where our hotel was, despite directions written in English and Thai. Eventually we found it (not him) and after arguing over the price we paid him (more than we wanted but less than he did) we were led into the only hotel on our trip which we knew nothing about beforehand. We booked through wotif.com which Ben and Jane (the Australian couple from our Beijing-Hanoi train) had recommended. The place turned out to be in the middle of nowhere but close to the airport (for our flight to Chiang Mai the next morning) and we had a lovely room the length of a football field :P
Next morning we had a huge breakfast on a very small table. At one point there were 12 glasses of liquid (water, juice, milk, coffee or hot chocolate for each of us). We were very amused. Breakfast was delicious though and after checking email on the computer in the lobby it was time to check out and head for the airport.
The Bangkok Airport was amazing. Huge, with flights going everywhere imaginable. Lots of shops and restaurants. Apparently our carrier - Air Asia - is the only domestic carrier to go out of the international airport. Our flight was on time (well, twenty minutes late but that's on time in Asia) and our car was waiting for us at the other end. Car? It was a huge air-conditioned minivan waiting to take us the 90 minutes to Chiang Dao, halfway between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Our "resort" there - Chiang Dao Nest - proved to be incredibly rustic. It's comprised of small cabins cooled by screened windows and fans, with attached bathrooms. The scenery is stunning though and the food, god, /amazing/. Wicha and her husband Stuart own and run the Nests (there's two) and Wicha does the cooking for Nest 1 (European cuisine) and her sister does the cooking for Nest 2 (homestyle Thai cuisine). Wicha was trained as a chef in London and it shows. We're not saving a lot of money here on food by Thai standards but by Canadian, we'd have to pay 3-4 times what we're paying to get an equivalent meal.
The main building/restaurant at Chiang Dao Nest
Today, after a delicious big breakfast and trip up the 510 steps to the nearby monastery (Wat Tham Paplong Temple),
A determined Anica on one stretch of the monastery's steps
Here's what we climbed up to see
and we managed some very hot and spicy Thai food at Nest 2 before climbing through the also-nearby caves with a guide (paid 100 baht to be shown through 4 caves with a gas-lantern for light). Very cool. All of it.
Yes, very cool. Not just the gourmet cuisine in the "we're-practically-camping-it's-so-rustic" setting, but also the things to do around here, and the views. We've had a lot of rain, but not constant, so that means there's been an ever-changing mist rising and falling over the mountains. The "nest" is hemmed into this narrow valley, and when we were at the top of the monastery we could see down its length, to the next mountain range, which may have been across the border in Burma.
View from the Wat Tham Paplong temple
The caves were great, too, because we just walked over, not expecting much. It's a good thing we were guided, though, because we never would have thought to squeeze through the narrow openings that led to the next big vault. In this way, we saw four separate caves. It seemed the higher the ceiling, the more bats it had. Anica had expressed some worry about this, but she was very brave, and really enjoyed herself. Nor did the very large spider frighten here (actually, I think it was the biggest spider I've ever seen, just sitting there on a rock in front of us when the guide raised her lantern).
Bats in the Chiang Dao cave
When we got back, Anica got to play with the owners' son and a couple of other boys. They played soccer with our inflatable ball, and "What time is it, Mr. Wolf," where the steps were counted in Thai. Jenn and I chatted with Wicha and some other guests, and worked up an appetite for another fabulous dinner.
Today we got breakfast and walked up the 500 steps to a monstray, and took of are shoes. after that we walke to nest 2 and had a delicious Thai lunch. Walked to Chiang Dao cave (!) nd saw some baby and grown up bats and fee sacred fish (outside the cave).
Feeding the sacred fish - and they were very well-fed indeed
Walked back to nest 1 and played ball with Joseph (their son) till 7:00. We had some yummy sasuge and pizza with him and me and my mummy had some chocolte cheesecake. Said good night and walked back to cabin and went to bed. Good night.
Possibly the best day of the trip so far, and certainly our best sightseeing tour day. Through Chiang Dao Nest, we arranged a full day of activities, and we were lucky to get a really nice tour guide named "Tory." He even sang songs and told children's stories to Anica. Today was also the first day we haven't had rain since we left Saigon, so it was great timing that way.
The first part of the day was all about elephants. We went to an elephant training center, where elephants who would have once worked in logging now work displaying their skills and carrying tourists. First we saw them have their bath, then we moved to an amphitheatre where we saw a display of the traditional skills like stacking logs.
Who's giving who a bath?
And also some non-traditional skills like painting with brushes! Anica also got to feed bananas to a mother and baby. Then, the best part: a 90-minute ride along a riverbed. We sat on benches atop an elephant with the handler in front of us. Anica and Jenn shared an elephant, so I got my own.
Aside from being jostled a bit, it was pretty comfortable. Everyone shouted whenever an elephant peed or pooped, and that's always a hit with Anica.
We had a packed lunch at Tory's house, which is also a coffeeshop. Because it was packed by Chiang Dao Nest, it was exceptionally good. Much, much better than the lunches I pack myself for work!
Then we toured the hill tribe area. The five tribes we saw have come originally from Burma, China, even Tibet, and now have full Thai citizenship and education. But the land is set aside in a reserve-like system and the villages have few modern conveniences. We did see the famous "long-neck" ladies of the Karen tribe, which was actually kind of sad. A girl Anica's age had her first neck rings on, for instance.
Anica and a girl from the Karen tribe, both age seven
Meanwhile, fewer than half of the Karen women still wear the neck rings. One of the big reasons they still do is for tourists. Like us. I guess we were a part of the problem today.
The Palaung tribe, on the other hand, seem more involved in making teak products, and we wandered through their village without being bothered by "hawkers." Not so with the Akha tribe, whose children were very persistent in trying to sell their products. "Ten baht, ten baht" went the refrain.
Escaping the Akha hawkers!
Their adult women are the ones who wear the crown-like hats. Another tribe's women wore multiple belts, or waistbands, including ones of silver. So, although the villages looked similar, there was lots of variety among these tribes.
This whole area was so scenic. We saw Chiang Dao mountain from farther back, which is 2250 metres above sea level. We saw rolling hills, rice paddies and "mountain rice" fields, forests of teak, rubber and bamboo, and also the "Colourful Cliff," so named for its white, red and brown streaking.
Finally we finished the day with a 40-minute bamboo raft ride. We took off our socks and shoes and floated (swiftly, because of all the rain recently) down the Ping River. "See you in Bangok in ten days," joked Tory, as he drove off with our footwear to meet us downstream. Anica has wanted to ride a bamboo raft since she got sick on the last day in Yangshuo, and she was delighted by today's ride.
Anica tries her hand at "steering" the bamboo raft
When we arrived back at Chiang Dao Nest, we knew we were tired enough and soon would be hungry enough, to enjoy another great meal tonight. The only thing that's cast a shadow on this day is that Jenn has three dozen mosquito bites from yesterday, despite her best efforts with the deet. I have none, but Anica does have a couple. The big concern is that they're from daytime and/or dusk mosquitos and could carry Dengue.
Today we had some Breakfast and met Tory our tour guide. the people on the tour where called Rob, Jenn and Anica, nobody else (ha ha). Probly about 30 min. till we got to the Elphant place, fed baby and mommy and watched them both move logs.
Anica feeds the baby elephant at the Chiang Dao Elephant Training Centre
rode a Elphant for hour and a half and saw Lisu village,
Children of the Lisu tribe
rode back and went to vist the Karen long necks. Went to have lunch, and saw Palon belts, Karen big earring, and saw Akha poor (tribe). Went bamboo rafting and went back to hotel. rested, had dinner, good night.
A quiet day around the "nest" today. We did opt for the Thai massages, however. Jenn and I had them side-by-side for two hours. At times, I must admit, I felt like we were being simultaneously beat up by two middle-age Thai women. Perhaps you're familiar with Thai Boxing, where there's lots of punches, and some kicking, too? Well, Thai massage seemed simliar. Someone once described it as yoga done to you, rather than by you. Very apt. That made it tricky for me, since I can't even sit cross-legged, I'm so inflexible. My masseuse called over to Jenn's and they both had a go in an effort to get me loose enough. There were parts of it we really liked, like the hot compresses, and it certainly was an interesting experience, but we both agreed it wasn't really "our thing."
Today we had a very yummy Breakfast and I did my diary and played ball with Daddy. After that we got my nitendo and I played for a long time. Then whell Mommy and Daddy had a Thai massage I played with Alice and Joseph. Me and Joseph decided to play Docter. (Dr.) Joseph was a worlds nomads Docter, and I was reciptan with a pretand passport checker and a box with one mento inside (real). Had dinner. Good night.
We were delighted to see that Tory would be our tour guide again today. He took us to "The Queen's Gardens," where orchids and many, many other kinds of flowers, trees, and vegetables were cultivated. Appartently, the Thai Queen comes every month, and is so relaxed in Chiang Dao she drops the royal wave bit, and usually does some karaoke. She keeps a modest vacation home on the garden grounds, which we did see.
Then we went to a waterfall, which was really fun, because you could climb across it and even up it. The ground around it was slippery, but the rocks of the waterfall weren't at all, and Anica climbed right to the top. Keeping on a theme, we drove next to a hot springs and we changed into bathing suits and immersed ourselves. It was hotter than any whirlpool/hot-tub I've ever been in, just bearable, really.
Finally we had lunch. We asked Tory if there was somewhere we could eat our packed lunches that didn't have a lot of mosquitoes. He then drove us to our final tour stop, a Burmese-style temple at the top of a hill. We ate right in the temple, cross-legged on a mat. The only other person there was a guy working on the pagoda. Tory is a Buddhist, so we figured it must have been okay, but we still tried to be respectful. At least, until he encouraged Anica to have a go at the prayer bells and gongs. Now a seasoned traveller, she asked, "Does it cost?" Since the answer was no, she cut loose.
Meanwhile, the view outside was irresistably spectacular. We could see the whole of the valley, and the Chiang Dao and Lady mountains across from us. It was the best view we had from up high in this area, and a great way to end the day's sightseeing.
NOTE: although we initially don't have any photos uploaded from Oct 10th, there are a few more from Chiang Dao in our photo gallery.