Chill time

We picked an eco-lodge (Chai Lai Orchid Lodge) about 55 kms southwest of Chiangmai, in the mountains, that was both reasonably priced, came highly recommended, and was a social enterprise to boot. The income from the lodge supports an organization called ‘Daughters Rising,’ which focuses on teaching uneducated ethnic Burmese girls the skills, and helping them to develop confidence so they can stand up against the traffickers that raid the communities of ethnic minorities for the Bangkok sex industry. I am glad we didn’t go to the red light district which is presented as family friendly entertainment for tourists. I am afraid that even such innocent visits feed the industry.

We arrived late in the dark and had to cross, by foot, a swinging rope bridge high over the river. We were fed two fabulous Thai meals (Pad Thai and Tom Kha) and then were led to our comfortable but not fancy huts where we slept until the first batch of roosters woke us at 4:30; a second alarm came at 6:30 followed by loud music (Thai? Burmese?) and then the trumpeting of the elephants that are living right next to us.

The mornings are cold and I had to dig deep into my duffle bag to find something warm but we quickly learned that the cold only lasts a very short time. Mid-day temperatures are in the high 20s.

From our little porch we watched fellow lodge guests ride two elephants to the river for their morning bath and then had breakfasts while more elephant activity was going on right under our noses.

After breakfast our first order of business was a Thai massage, a whole body one for me and a leg and foot massage for Axel, whose foot problems are responding well to the various massages he has had. The masseuse said a little prayer before starting the massage. It is a reverent business here.

In the afternoon we were trucked a few kilometers up the river and boarded a raft that was made from thick (4 inches) and long (18 feet) bamboo poles tied together with rubber tire strips. Although we could have punted ourselves, and Axel even considered it, we were happy with our local punter/guide who navigated us expertly down the stream. It is the dry season and the river is low, so one can get very stuck with the long slender rafts, especially through narrow rocky openings.

Unlike us, the urbanites from Chiang Mai who go into the mountains for weekend fun, punted themselves. Rafting here is like canoeing on the Ipswich River on a weekend in the summer but without restrictions on alcohol. The rafts were loaded with cases and coolers full of beer. Drinking beer in a canoe is one thing, but drinking and rafting here requires more skill. This kind of rafting requires one to stand up on the slippery bamboo poles and becomes increasingly difficulty as the beer supply dwindles. By the end of the rafting trip many of the boys were hardly coherent (they practiced their little English on us: goodbye, I love you) and some had given up and sprawled down on the raft with the, more sober, girls, having taken over the punting. It was quite amusing. Counting the empties I calculated that on some rafts the average consumption was about 10 cans a person.

By the end of the trip one glides past countless little decks built in and on the river out of bamboo and palm leaves where families picnic. Spraying the people who glide past is part of the entertainment, especially for the kids who are everywhere in the ankle or knee deep water. It was all good and (mostly) innocent fun and unlikely to cause accidents. But when the rainy season starts and the water is 5 feet higher and moves with great speed down the mountain I can imagine that not all rafting trips end well.

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