Baby elephants, sky bars... and sickness bugs
23.06.2013 - 01.07.2013 35 °C
There's not a whole lot to do on Phi Phi.
We lounged on the beach reading and sunbathing, dunking into the clear, blue waters occasionally to take a break from the baking sun. Even here, on this tiny island in the Andaman Ocean, we managed to watch the first pulsating Lions Test in a bar, slurping on a beer.
If there was to be anywhere that we splashed out on nice accommodation, it was surely here. Making a small dent in our travel funds, we lived in an idyllic beach bungalow surrounded by palm trees and an ice cold pool for three days. The local wildlife were even kind enough to show their faces, in the form of a poisonous lime green snake with piercing, yellow eyes and a mammoth spider, which stalked our balcony late one night. Sophie laughed while I whimpered every time I passed the tree where the snake had once been.
In the evenings, we often popped back down to the beach - after a dinner of pizza and cocktails - to watch the dazzling fire shows on the water's edge. Twirling petrol infused sticks into the air and catching them again, the guys who perform are incredibly talented. Not so the drunk Brit who kept thinking he could take on the blazing skipping rope. Brits abroad eh, they're all the same.
There was one thing which had plagued me from the first time I came to Ko Phi Phi - I had never been to the infamous viewpoint, which people marvelled at. I was determined to go this time round, so we made the sweaty hike up through the jungle until we stumbled upon the rocky crag.
If the beach looked beautiful from the ground, then the view from here was something else entirely. Beyond the luscious carpet of green jungle lay the two bays, Ao Ton Sai and Ao Lo Dalaam, with the water even more colourful from the vantage point.
The days seemed to whirl by, and before long it was time to leave for the northern town of Chiang Mai.
A short boat ride and bus to Phuket airport left paradise behind, and I knew then that I'm unlikely to go back to Phi Phi anytime soon, if ever again. A little commercialised it may be, but nobody can dispute the natural beauty of the wonderful island.
No sooner had we arrived at our hotel in Chiang Mai than I spent the entire night, and much of the following day, in the bathroom. Sophie had had the same experience on our last night in Phi Phi. Illness, the scourge of travellers.
Feeling sorry for ourselves, it took all the energy we had to sit in bed all day and watch terrible films on TV.
With the illness subsiding, we braved the city of Chiang Mai. I say city in the loosest sense of the word, as the leisurely pace of life makes it seem more like a small town.
Intent on savouring a Thai massage, we found a pink cottage offering an hour-long massage for just £4.
The two women set about pushing and probing our bodies for a full hour. One massaged my feet - a task which should be wished upon nobody - while it took all of Sophie's effort to not laugh for the entire hour. The lady ran her hands over my bum as I lay face down, which was a dangerous game to be playing considering recent events. She then asked me to turn over, and ran her hands over my eyebrows. I'm not sure if this was part of the head massage or whether she was in awe at the size of my bushy brow and couldn't resist the temptation to touch.
Fully relaxed, we headed to Chiang Mai night market, where there were masses of fake football shirts, elephant statues and souvenirs crafted from recycled Coca Cola cans.
However, Sophie's goal once we had booked the flights to Thailand was to see elephants. She had bought elephant trousers and elephant keyrings as we travelled around Thailand, but the real fun hadn't even begun.
We drove into the jungle above Chiang Mai in search of Baan Chang Elephant Park as the sun rose over the city and before long we could just glimpse them in the distance.
Changing into our fetching clothes to transform us from tourist to mahout - elephant trainer - we grabbed a basket of sugar cane and bananas and fed to giant animals. And when I say giant, I mean massive. Four tons of massive elephant towered over us.
They lumbered to us with their rough trunks reaching out to grab the food, before they curled it towards their mouths and snapped the robust sugar cane with ease.
It was soon time to practice riding the elephants and they seem even taller when you are sat on their back. Shouting the commands "nunlong" (down), "kwae" (turn left/right), "bai" (forwards) and "how" (stop) made us feel even more like mahout, although in truth, the elephants' carers were guiding them every step of the way.
Before long, we were riding the elephants through the jungle - with the help of the mahout, of course. We stopped for a rest after about half an hour and it seemed that the sole male elephant in our group had become a little bit excited. With the mahout still on it's back, he mounted a female elephant not once, but twice. The five year old girl in our group - much like the rest of us - did not know where to look!
Once all the elephant frolicking was over, we guided them down to a small lake, where the huge animals waded into the murky water. Armed with a brushes and buckets, we soon followed, as both elephants and people had a whale of a time. At the instruction of the mahout, the elephants thrashed their trunks around and squirted water over all of us. One elephant relentlessly sucked on Sophie's shirt as the mahouts rolled about with laughter.
It was without a doubt one of the best things I have ever done.
On our last day in the Thai capital, we got lost in the narrow walkways of Chatuchak market - which our guide book had described as "the market to which all others are compared". Round one corner were tiny pugs dressed in ridiculous clothes. No sooner had we turned the next corner than we were dragged into a roadside cafe by a screaming lady.
However, we saved the best until last.
On my previous visit to Bangkok, I had regretted not visiting one of the city's infamous sky bars.
Perched 63 floors above the ground, The Dome at Lebua is the world's highest open air bar. Needless to say, the views did not disappoint.
Umpteen members of staff pointed us in the right direction and pressed the floor number in the lift, and we were met by a string of violinists playing to the people eating in the exclusive restaurant in The Dome.
As we descended the steps outside, the views were breathtaking. The sun was setting behind the golden dome, and as far as the eye could see in every direction was the vast city.
At £16 for two drinks, it wasn't the cheapest round I had ever bought, but it was certainly worth every penny.
I'm writing this now in Shanghai, where we have spent our first day in China gawping at the glistening skyscrapers which are infinitely taller than those in Bangkok. Tomorrow, we are heading to Tibet, where we will have little contact with the outside world.
Apologies for the lack of pictures in this blog, but you'll be able to see baby elephants, sunsets from sky bars and many pictures of Tibet on our return the civilisation in a little less than two weeks.
Thanks for reading!