Chiang Mai – Day 2

Chiang Mai – Day 2

Today marked the day I was most looking forward to for the entire trip – our day with elephants! We had a 3-course breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, thai soup, and banana pancakes at the hotel with the most amazing orange juice I’ve ever had, and then we met our transport at 8 AM outside of the hotel to head to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We climbed into the back of the truck bed which had some covered bench seats and were pretty crammed in there as we picked up another 7 people.

We sat across from 2 Canadians who quit their jobs and were traveling for months through Asia and were going to end in Australia. They were really nice and we had great conversations about our travel adventures over the two hours it took to get to the jungle. We bonded even more as it started to downpour while we drove and we got soaked! We were driving up very windy mountain roads and eventually turned off onto a mud path that went almost straight down. Not only was it muddy, but the heavy monsoon rains had turned the dirt road into a part mud-slide, part river! We were scared out of our wits that we were going to slide off the 4 inches we had between the roadside and cliff. It definitely reminded me of the crazy ride I had up a jungle volcano in Guatemala – just as scary, but knowing how we survived that ride, I had faith we would somehow survive this one.

We eventually stopped on the path and parked. The drivers made us get out of the truck and the rains subsided for about 10 minutes during our hike down the very muddy forest path. We had to forge through a waterfall and go over some very small wooden bridges before the sky’s faucet decided to turn back on and drench us again. Talk about an incredibly fun hike! It was gloriously muddy so why not just embrace the monsoon season – when in Rome right?

We finally came upon a long, dry, and inviting wooden hut. Our guides gave us shirts to change into that had big pockets to hold bananas for the elephants. The rains held-off as we walked up and back down a hill into a valley where the elephants were! They were so majestic! There were three adult females, one was 55 years old, and three toddlers that were between 2 and 4 years old.

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We walked up to them and said “bon bon” to tell them we had bananas. The elephants were all about the bananas, knew where our pockets were and kept trying to stick their trunks into our pockets to grab more bananas. It was so cute and just goes to show how smart they are…

The tip of the elephant’s trunks was soft but the rest of their skin was very hard and leathery. They were also covered in 2-inch long, black hairs that stuck straight out. The hairs flung mud everywhere when you tried to pet the elephants, but I didn’t care and I got mud all over the place. We fed the elephants all of the bananas we could and then the guides took all of the guys back up the mountain to bring down what looked to be bamboo shoots for the elephants to eat. Boy do they eat a lot! We fed the elephants for about an hour before they took off up the hill towards the huts. We followed them and washed off at some water hoses overlooking the waterfall.

Our lunch of stir fried veggies, chicken wings, and fried rice was waiting for us after we got cleaned up and we ate lunch while watching the elephants swim in the rapids under the waterfall. I don’t know if I will ever be able to top that lunch experience.

Watching the elephants play in the river at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand

We chatted with our fellow tourists, some from Chili, Spain, Canada, and Belgium. They were all really friendly and we swapped stories and talked about world politics. It is always interesting to hear other opinions about world events, especially those from different countries. All of them had similar views on our Donald Trump situation, and we talked about the differences in Texan accents and view points from Texans in cities vs. the more rural country side. All of the people we talked with seemed very down to earth and worldly.

We moved to the edge of the hut and watched the elephants frolic in the water and up the hillside for a while. One of the baby elephants decided to come say hi, despite his handlers best attempt to lure him away, stepped carefully over the fence, and scratched his bum on the mud right in front of us. It was super cute. Eventually, the handler got some bananas and persuaded the elephant back down the mountain to the rest of the pack.

Baby elephant joining us for lunch at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our guide told us it was time to make the elephants a snack of rice and banana balls, so we helped make those and then got into our swim suits to head down the muddy path to the mud bath area. All of the elephants were delighted at the banana ball treats and, after feeding them, we smeared mud all over the elephants. Our guides picked up piles of mud and threw it on us to get everyone into the experience! The mud was so deep that my legs sunk until the mud was at my knees and we got covered just like the elephants. The only thing I did not like about the whole day was that the guides were yelling a lot during the mud bath time to get everyone excited and were throwing mud around, some of which got in my eye. Also, one of the guides kept running up to the guys to rub mud on them in a bit too-touchy-feely kind of way. *Shoulder shrug* – but, other than that, it was a bunch of fun!

Once we were basically covered in brown, we all headed to the river to wash off the elephants. Since the monsoon rains were so heavy in the morning, the river was rushing and was too strong for us to full get in the river, so we stayed on the banks. It was still a blast to splash around with the elephants and watch them roll around in the water. The babies were especially playful and would fully submerge themselves by laying on their sides under the water. I could have stayed and watched them there for hours and hours.

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The experience ended waaay to quickly and we headed back up to the hut to wash off and dry off in the sun for a few minutes. We had some tea and cookies while drying and one of the guides told us that the guide who had been rubbing mud all over the guys earlier had a girlfriend who was a lady-boy. I totally knew it! The guides were saying some pretty crude things about each other which was surprising but really entertaining. Got to love a good culture shock!

Once we dried up, we hiked back up the path to the truck. The rainfall from other areas converged at the waterfall, turning it into a super strong rapid that we wouldn’t dare cross, so we had to take a different path back to the truck. It was all uphill and a bit of a workout! Our guides kept stopping to pick flowers and were being very playful – a very strange but fun pair.

One the plus side, the jungle road had dried up. There was no way the truck could have driven up that slippery, muddy mess of a path we drive down to get to the Sanctuary. Once we got piled into the truck, however, we realized it was taking a while for our guides to start the truck. I looked out the window and saw our guides flinging wrenches in the air while pointing under the lifted hood of the truck. I couldn’t imagine getting stuck in such a remote part of the jungle in monsoon season!

It turned out the carburetor wouldn’t start so we all had to get out and push the truck backwards up the hill so our driver could turn downwards and get momentum to spark the engine. Thankfully, we had 4 strong guys and all of us girls / lady like guides to push the truck. It took about 15 minutes to get it turned around and the driver kept yelling about break problems (not a funny joke!) but we finally got the engine started. Crisis averted! We barely made it back up the mountain path and there was quite a communal sigh of relief once we made it to the main road. All-in-all, with the mountain issues and traffic back in Chiang Mai, it took about 2 hours of driving and good conversation to get back to the Rachamankha Hotel.

My sneakers and clothes were totally covered in mud so I tried to wash all of as much as possible. Re-wearing clothes in Thailand sounds like a good idea, but between the tours where you get super muddy and all of the humidity, there is no way you can re-wear anything without washing it thoroughly first.

Anyways, we got cleaned up and then took off to find something quick for dinner. Street food was insanely cheap compared to our hotel. Per the recommendation of one of our Canadian tour mates, we tried some street grilled pork and friend wontons for 10 BHT total ($0.30 USD) which was amazing! We then found a little restaurant and I ordered “the best noodles in Chiang Mai”, Khao Soi, to try something different. Gosh was it good! It was like a chicken curry with thick ramen type noodles. Ryan’s Pad Thai was also scrumptious and, in total, our 2 entrees, spring rolls, and two drinks were 200 BTH – $7 USD! While we opted for nice hotels on this trip, our fellow elephant tour friends were staying in nice hostels that were $4 USD per night and living on about $20 a day. It is amazing how different the costs are in Thailand!

A delicious dinner in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My mud inflicted eye was really starting to bug me at this point. I was really afraid I had gotten pink eye or something from the elephant park mud that had flown into it earlier in the day and needed to flush it out more with eye drops and water. We walked back to the hotel so I could do so, and then relaxed by the pool listening to the birds before heading to bed.

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Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, Alaska

There was an hour time change through the night and so I got an extra hour to sleep in! Despite having and interior room with no windows to gauge time, Ryan woke at the crack of dawn and went down to breakfast. I told him I would get up at 9 AM and meet him. Right at 9, he barges into the room and tells me that he and his family saw Orcas and whales off the side of the ship, so I hurried through my wake-up process and ran upstairs to see. Alas, all of the whales had disappeared, however, the view itself was enough to take my breath away. We were in a channel surrounded by huge, snow-crested mountains that had skirts of lush greenery whose colors were the definition of evergreen. Cascading from the pockets of snow were waterfalls that ran the length of the mountain all the way down to the water we sailed upon. I have to say, it was the best breakfast view I’ve ever had.

We had about 2 hours before our boat went ashore, so Ryan and I decided to jump into the hot tub. The contrast of the hot water and cool touch of the air mixed with the mountain views was just great. Not to mention the added bonus of the jets massaging our caves which ached from running up and down the ships stairs between floors!

Eventually, it was time to run back to the room and get ready for our whale watching excursion in Juneau! We had a quick-lunch onboard the ship and I tried to get the “world renowned” crab cakes that were on display in the lunch que, but they hadn’t made them yet so I had to go with a burger. I was disappointed but I quickly shrugged that off as we debarked. We had about 1.5 hours until we needed to meet our tour guides, so we walked down the wharf to the shops. We tried on some hats and looked through the chachkies. Ryan and I took off a bit further into the town of Juneau which is packed with fun shops and yummy looking seafood places. After some window shopping (even though I wanted to buy everything) at this adorable shop called Trove, Ryan and I rendezvous with his family and then met the Harv & Marv’s tour guides by the boat. The pointed us to our 20-person shuttle that was our transport to the marina.

It was about a 20-minute scenic drive to the marina where our ship and Captain, Captain Steve of the Merlin, was waiting for us. Steve was very nice and was quick to help us on our private boat to head out before any of the other boats beat us.

Whale watching with Harv and Marvs in Juneau, Alaska

After taking off from the dock, the hunt was on to spot a spout of a whale. It took about 15 minutes before we came across a breaching blue whale calf! The mother was close by as well and both of them kept popping up to the surface. We even got to see the mother’s tail a few times! We watched them for about 30 minutes and then they disappeared.

We took off down the waterway, passing bald eagles and sea lions along the way! The sea lions kept popping their heads up out of the water – super cute! We finally found another set of baby and mother whales right by a glacier. The baby whale was playing and kept bobbing its head up out of the water. It was such a cool site, especially with the backdrop of the white mountain tops. Absolutely breathtaking. I loved everything about the experience. Especially seeing the other boats crammed packed with people who did not get a private boat. For $20 more, it was totally worth doing!

A blad eagle in Juneau, Alasak

We sadly had to head back to the marina and then back to the cruise ship harbor. We had until 10 PM to board the ship, so Ryan and I walked around downtown Juneau. We bought some trinkets in town, and Ryan was hungry so we stopped by Deckhand Dave’s Fish Tacos food truck so he could get some delicious Rock Fish tacos. They were not only reasonably priced, but the bite I had was so yummy.

I, personally, was saving my stomach for some Alaskan King Crab since I didn’t get my fill from lunch earlier. Luckily, Tracy’s King Crab Shack was on the walk back to the ship so we stopped by. While I just wanted a crab cake initially, we ended up with a combo so we could try a crab leg, the crab bisque, and crab cakes all at once. Oh My Gosh! It was so fresh and delicious! Not only that, but the location right on the docks with the buckets of crab legs whizzing by for other tables made the experience just so much more.


With very full bellies, we walked back to the ship, watched some live music in the Piazzo, and went to bed!

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

5:15 AM wake up to start our trek to Antigua, Guatemala for volcano hiking! Who needs sleep on vacation anyways…right? We had a quick bite to eat and took off to a Burger King about 30 minutes away to meet up with a few more of Cass’s friends who were going to make the climb with us. We went down some very bumpy roads in Cass’s old Jeep and made a few wrong turns while trying to navigate, but eventually made it to the coffee farm below the Acatenango volcano for our ride half-way up the volcano. The farm was beautiful, full of greenhouses and lush coffee forests. Cass’s friends hopped in the front of the truck that was driving us up the mountain and the “core four” of us hopped in the bed of the truck for one of the wildest rides I have ever had up the side of the volcano.

Coffee farm below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, GuatemalaIt started out nice and easy, driving through the dark green, lush coffee forests at the volcano’s base, but quickly turned into a windy dusty trail as we hit the mid section. Hair flying everywhere, skin looking tan with the dust layers, butts getting bruised from bouncing on the truck bed’s uneven floor, we were having the time of our life hanging on for dear life! As we got higher and higher, we entered the jungle level of the volcano which was dense, moist, and covered in moss. It was truly beautiful but we were also driving up at a super steep angle at a very fast pace not to lose traction, so we were all trying to hold each other in the bed of the truck as bump after bump tried to fling us out! Talk about exhilarating! I definitely had a nice round of bruises after that ride.

We finally made it to the drop-off for our hike. At this point, the forest had grown thin and there were lots of ferns and birch trees without leaves. The scenery – I can’t describe it. It was just so… extraordinarily different from Texas! Unfortunately, the elevation got to Janine so she stayed back with one of our guides at the car, and we took off on our hike. The higher we got, the more the ground turned into volcanic sand, making it very hard to climb up the steep side of the volcano. We rested at a plateau covered in delicate yellow flowers about half way up the trail and realized we were above the clouds. It was incredible.

Above the clouds atop of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

From that point on, the trees stopped and it was volcanic sand all the way up. I swear, for every two steps I took, I slid back one step in the sand. There were no hand rails and the fall would have been a deadly one, so we faced upwards and onwards. You could hear the rumblings of the active volcano next store, named Fuego (Fire), echoing off of the boulders near the peak of our climb. It was terrifyingly exhilarating and the view / feeling of reaching the top was something I had never experienced before.

We walked the circumference of the volcano’s mouth, trying to stay erect as the super strong wind attempted to blow us away, and we found some wind cover between some rocks for a lunch stop. We watched the clouds roll over Fuego while it erupted as we ate and soaked in the view. I couldn’t believe this was just day 1 of our trip!

Atop of the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala

 

The view of En Fuego Volcano from Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

The hike down was just as scary as the way up, but thrilling as we basically slid down the pumice sandy section of the mountain. There was an adorable blonde dog hanging out at the half-way plateau. He decided to join our group and followed us all the way back to our truck. I gave him the second half of my ham sandwich as a reward and we piled in the seat portion of the truck this time on the way down. We learned our lesson for sure! The dog followed our truck all the way down the mountain, and even tried to help us when the truck got stuck in a muddy ditch at a hairpin turn on the volcano trail! We almost had to push the truck out!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Once we got off the volcano trail and onto an actual road, Cass, her friend Isa, and I stood in the bed of the truck and held onto the bar over the cab, hair flying in the wind singing songs at the top of our lungs, soaking in the experience as much as possible while racing back to the coffee plantation. Upon arrival, we shook out all of the pumice stones from our shoes and walked through the greenhouses full of poinsettias. It was really pretty and a nice end to the crazy morning before saying goodbye to Cass’s friends, hopping in the car, and driving back to Antigua for the rest of the day’s adventures.

Pointsetta garden below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, Guatemala

Volcano hiking tips:

  • Bring a warm wind jacket – the top of the volcano is very cold and windy
  • Wear hiking boots and sweat wicking, high socks. You can wear sneakers, but your shoes will get filled with sand and you may not get a lot of traction
  • Wear warm leggings for easy movement on the way up
  • Bring snacks & water so you have plenty of fule for the hike. It gets hot under the sun on the lower sections so hydration is key.
  • Use plenty of sunscreen as the altitude and thin air makes the sun extra potent
  • Try and find a good hiking stick for added hiking leverage
  • Wear a backpack for your things (camera etc). You will need your arms for balance so a purse is not recommended
  • The mid-way hike takes about 3 hours. Unless you want to do the whole day hike, find a service that will take you up half-way with a guide. You can also spend the night at the top of the volcano if you want – just make sure to bring very warm equipement and sleeping gear
  • Have extra cash for guide tips
  • Don’t forget your camera and selfie stick