Ok, so to pick up where we left off: After spending the night in Mae Sot we got up early in order to go have breakfast over in Burma/Myanmar. We took a songtao to the border where we passed through Thai immigration, walked over the bridge that crosses the river dividing the two countries, and paid our 500 baht and left our passports at Burmese immigration (they make you leave the passports as collateral so they know you will come back!).
The changes were immediately noticeable - the streets seemed much busier and a bit less tidy (aka dirtier) plus most of the men wear sarongs (longhi) and the women all have on an all-natural sunscreen face paint applied in large circles to their cheeks and forehead. Our guesthouse owner had applied some of the same face paint to the females in our group so we were getting some pretty strange looks from locals. We had a line of push-cart/tuk-tuk drivers following us down the street wanting to give us a ride but we luckily encountered a very nice man named Zwa who offered to show us around. He took us down the main road and up a side street to a local bakery/tea shop. They brought us platters of burmese pastries and naan as well as herbal tea and another tea with sweetened condensed milk. We then headed over to the local Wat and bought small offerings to be given to the buddha (consisting of a flower, a paper decorative stick, a candle, and an incense stick). There are four main buddhas on the temple grounds - one for each cardinal direction. Our guide also showed us the altars dedicated to the 8 days of the week (Wednesday is split into morning and evening). Each day has an animal associated with it and, based on the day of the week you were born, it is said that you will share some of the character traits of that animal. On your birthday, you go to the altar and they dump cupfuls of water on your head (equal to the number of years).
After the quick tour of the Wat it was time to head back over into Thailand but overall it was a very eye-opening and worthwhile little side venture. After crossing back over into Thailand we met the songtaos, went back to the guesthouse to have the fried rice we had ordered for dinner, and then loaded back into the songtaos for the 6 hour drive to Umphang. We stopped enroute at the Pha Charoen waterfall and then again at the Umphang Hill Gibbon Sanctuary which houses over 50 animals rescued from the tourist trade where they are drugged up and put in bars to entertain tourists. They were very cute and some of the them let us scratch their backs! One even stole V's shirt off of her backpack and they had to fish it back out of the cage! After the gibbon sanctuary it was a long haul up to Umphang in the backs of the songtaos - we chatted and played games and tried not to puke.
After arriving in Umphang we had dinner at the resort, checked into our rooms (most of our accomodation has been very nice, these were definitely the worst of the trip thus far - we had trails of ants on the walls and cockroaches in the bathroom and the AC didn't work and the beds were rock hard planks), and packed our daypacks for the 3 day trek. We left the next morning after breakfast by launching 3 rafts into the river next to the resort. I was with Jen, Shira, Bobby, V, and Emily plus two porters in my raft. We rafted for about an hour through the dense jungle under the massive limestone cliffs, then stopped at a natural hot spring for a quick soak. We continued on for another couple of hours, stopping on a small beach for lunch. After arriving at the trailhead we hiked for 3 hours to the campsite (very steep uphill for the first hour but the rest of the trek was fairly flat). Once at the campsite, the porters set up our tents under the huge tent shelter on the concrete and cooked dinner while we went and bathed in the nearby river. After dinner we stayed up playing card games, drinking rice whiskey, and singing along to the Thai tourist with the guitar.
The following morning was October 2 - Happy Birthday Lauren! We ate breakfast then trekked an hour through the jungle along a raised boardwalk to the Thee Lor Su Waterfall, the sixth largest in the world (200-300 meters high and 5 football fields wide!). We played around in some of the slightly less powerful side cascades and pools for a few hours before returning to camp. We had lunch and continued our trek for another 3-4 hours to the Karen village of Kho Tha. The hike was fairly level but there was a lot of mud and several fallen log bridges to cross.
At the village we were greeted by a group of curious children and lots of pigs, cows, chickens, and dogs running about amongst the houses raised up on stilts. We stayed in the guest longhouse which consisted of bamboo mats on a raised platform covered by mosquito nets. We headed to the river for a quick swim then changed into our clean clothes (clean...yeah right) and went on a quick village tour. We saw the open-air school and soccer field and met with the village chief to ask questions about village life (through Moses, our guide/translator). Then it was off to dinner where they had slaughtered a whole pig in honor of Lauren's birthday (ironic since she's Jewish and doesn't eat pork but interesting nonetheless).
The following morning we ate breakfast and waited for the elephants to arrive. 9 elephants and mauhots (their handlers who live with them in the jungle) plus one super cute baby elephant arrived at about 8:30 am. We had two people to an elephant. Our packs were loaded into the basket on the elephants back and then we sat on top of our packs. Very cool! The trek through the jungle lasted about 5 hours and I got super muddy since our elephant decided to splash us as much as possible and run me into low hanging branches at every opportunity! At the end of the elephant trek we were met by songtaos for the 30 min ride back to the Umphang Resort. That afternoon, we took the songtaos back to Mae Sot, took some much needed showers, and ate at a very nice restaurant called the Bai Fern which had western and Thai food.
The next morning we loaded up into AC vans and drove 5-6 hours to Chiang Mai stopping at the Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, the oldest wooden Wat in Thailand from the 15th century. We checked into our guesthouse, the Mandala house (very very nice!!), around 3:30 pm then split up into two groups to go get our Thai massages. I got Swedish because I'm a wimp but several people got Thai and enjoyed it. After the massages we headed to the Night Market and the Kalare Center for some Thai style food court food. I bought several great gifts and then we all met up again at the Riverside Bar for some live music and drinks. And that brings us to today!
Happy Birthday to me! Yay! After breakfast we split up into two groups for the Chiang Mai Challenge Scavenger Hunt and Thai Cooking Course (I was in the group that did the scavenger hunt first). We had two hours to run around Chiang Mai taking photos and answering the various questions on our checklist. Now we have a couple hours to kill before our afternoon cooking course so here I am, typing the longest email ever. Tonight we are going to a falafel restaurant for dinner then out dancing. Tomorrow we get picked up early for our 2 day caving, rock climbing, rappelling adventure before returning to Chiang Mai for two more nights. Until then!