There was a giant spider outside our sleeping room this morning. Giant, and bright yellow. And that was the most interesting thing that happened until we all tried to get onto our bamboo raft (other than breakfast, which is always exciting). The raft didn’t quite sink, but it didn’t exactly float, either. So we all trooped off again, while they lashed another two poles on. Lashed, I say… wrapped twice with a long piece of bamboo fiber, tightened, and the two ends twisted together like I twist my bun. Very secure. Uh huh. There was a pyramid of sticks up at the front, which held our bags off the wet raft.
Once they pushed off (extra flotation installed), it was fairly simple. Our younger guide was in the bow with a long bamboo pole to steer us. Mom and Katya were side-by-side holding onto the bag pyramid. I was just behind them, Erika behind me. Then Chris, Dad, and Piroon, all wielding poles.
So yes, most of it was simple – until we got to the rapids. Then the guy in front started swinging his pole around like a samurai, pushing off rocks, Piroon started yelling “left side, left side!” to Dad and Chris, rocks scraped the underside of the raft (my mind imagined the ties going twing, twing, twing) and water flooded halfway up my calves as the raft accelerated into standing waves. And the guys yelled like the devil was after them.
At one point, we pulled to the side before a narrow rapid. There was a tree leaning down the hill into the river. Our guide, and the guides from other rafts, leapt out and started yammering to each other, stripping branches off the tree and piling wood underneath. Turns out there was no problem today, but when the river was lower next month, they wouldn’t be able to get the rafts between the tree and the rock that would then be exposed. So they were burning the tree. I hope they left someone behind to watch it, although it would take hours to burn, because as soon as it was set, we were off again.
I thought 2 hours standing on a wet bamboo raft (in COLD water) would get a bit old, but I hardly wanted to stop. Except for lunch. But about 4 other rafts passed us, which meant races, splash wars, etc., and were rather diverting. And going down rapids was always fun. We only ever lost one set of lashing, even when the guy up front deliberately ran us over a rock. I’m glad he only did this toward the end – even though that’s when we saw all the old, broken-up rafts. But I knew he could turn away if he wanted.
We had lunch where we got off the raft, with two other groups, then had a very dusty truck trip back down to the lowlands. We stopped for half an hour at an orchid and butterfly farm. It was free entrance, and I had fun with the camera, but we only saw 3 species of butterfly and about 5 different orchids. They also had gold-plated orchids for sale, and resin-coated dried orchids and butterfly wings. Pretty, but I don’t like to think where they came from. The idea I got was raising flowers and butterflies to sell them when they look their prettiest. I think you could get nicer colors without using the actual thing.
It was a shock to get back to Chiang Mai. Hustle and bustle. Unpacking, repacking. Showering. Saying goodbye to everyone. Swapping emails. Then Piroon dropped us off at a restaurant for dinner, then we taxied to the airport. And if Chiang Mai was hectic, Bangkok (again) was insane. But the taxi took us directly to the guest house (after calling to find out where it was).
VERY budget guest house. One sheet per person. Beds that felt like concrete. A yelling, screaming, sobbing Thai man in the hallway at odd hours of the night. Flooding bathrooms. But the pillow was soft. I’ll give it that, but not much more.
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