For our last day in Chiang Mai we went on an all day trek through the countryside. This included a hike into the jungle to see a waterfall, a visit to a rural village, whitewater rafting, and, one more thing. . . what was it? Oh yeah. An elephant ride.
Our day started bright and early with a long drive into the Thai countryside. We shared the back of a pickup truck with our fellow trekkers: a girl from Long Island, a Vietnamese girl, a Danish guy, and a Japanese fellow with a Thai girl who we suspect were on their honeymoon.
But we didn't take any pictures of them, so here's us! Colby should be paying us for all the branding they're getting abroad. (That's a Colby Ultimate jersey I'm wearing, for all the uninitiated readers out there).
Beth smartly foraged a giant jungle leaf to shade her from the harsh Asiatic sun. Who says New Yorkers aren't outdoorsy?
As our truck rattled along the dirt backroads the enclosure filled with dust and exhaust fumes. Taking my cue from the canine world, I stuck my head out the window for some fresh air.
Our approach to the waterfall took us past traditional Thai homes whose occupants still practiced a traditional subsistence lifestyle. (Mostly, subsisting on selling soda to tourists.) Here we see Beth tackling a perilous creek ford like a champ.
Eventually, we reached our destination, a mighty waterfall beset by foreigners frolicking in its misty spray. For me, waterfalls will always call to mind a talk by Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, in which he compares human life to being a droplet in a waterfall. Before we are born, we are one with the river, but as we fall we separate, and have difficulty because we attach to our current state, and forget that we will be a part of the river again soon enough.
As we sat eating our pad thai from bamboo leaves, I watched a bare-chested young French man smoke a hand-rolled cigarette with his back to the falls. He seemed miserable, to be sitting there smoking, in some beautiful location in the prime of his life.
Beth and I have been watching the TV show Mad Men during our down time, and this handsome young man puffing away reminded me of the show's protagonist, Don Draper. (Spoiler alert!) We recently watched the episode where Ms. Draper reveals to Don that he is connected with everything in the world, and the only thing preventing him from being happy is his belief that he is alone.
I think Don's feeling of loneliness and Suzuki's feeling of oneness are two sides of the same coin, two little truths that give us some grasp of the big truth of our human life. It feels like people on this continent tend to emphasize the oneness side of the coin, while people back home like to focus on independence.
At any rate, there are still sights to see. Our next stop was a rural village, populated by a Thai minority who have roots in Laos and China. It was also populated by alot of chickens.
And these two goofballs, who followed us through the whole village, giving us high-fives and inspecting the contents of our bags. Sometimes the older one would clock his little brother, bringing him to tears. Yes, even in Thailand, older brothers are jerks.
We saw some piggies being prepared for a wedding.
And Beth even managed to capture a rare glimpse of brotherly affection. Or maybe he was just luring him in for noogies and a wet-willy.
Finally, we reached the end of our trek - an incredible hour-long elephant ride, complete with a feeding session.
We mounted our elephant with the help of a specially-built platform. The 'driver' sat directly on the elephant's head, directing her with a system of heel-taps to the face, ear pulling, and butt-shuffling to steer left and right.
The pictures do a poor job showing how high up you actually are on these things. The couple in front of us had the smallest elephant of the three, and we were on the largest, easily 10 feet off the ground.
Like horses, elephants can't resist the urge to snack during a ride. Unlike horses, elephants use their trunks to tear up entire bamboo trees and snap them against rocks before eating them.
Two new things I learned about elephants: they really like bananas, and the ends of their trunks are actually really slimy. I guess when you use your nose to eat it's important to keep it clean.