I've been working with Sanjay Shetty (Mumbai, India) and Colt Kwong (Hong Kong, ROC) for quite some time now planning the launch of INETA (www.ineta.org) in the Asia-Pacific region. We're holding a 2-day User Group Leader Summit in Bangkok April 29th and 30th, bringing together some 30 people from across the region. Having never been to Thailand before, I took advantage of this opportunity to explore a little. So, I got to Bangkok -- and left (first time I had the chance to spend the weekend in L.A. I left to go diving at Catalina Island, can you spot the emerging trend? :)).
I've just spent the past 4.5 days in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. It has been an incredible experience. I did the required tourist things (see some temples, get a massage, shop shop shop, eat eat eat...), but the high point, and the reason I came up here, was to go trekking in the mountain jungle. It really was the experience of a lifetime. The incredible part was just being there. It was butally hot, and a few in our group were having heat problems, but I was OK. Mist shrouded mountains, waterfalls... it was an idylic setting right out of a movie.
Day 1, our group got together and left the city. I got lucky, it was a great group of people. We ate at some wall-less shack two hours out that had water running down the tin roof (that was their air conditioning). We then drove some more, until we got to the elephant place (farm? ranch?). We rode elephants through the jungle, which was pretty cool. Did you know that elephants like to sneeze on themselves, presumably to cool off? I didn't. Some do so more than others, one poor woman almost needed rain gear. After that we hiked for a few hours, then got to a beautiful (and VERY welcome!) waterfall where we jumped in and cooled off. We then carried on, and spent the night in a Karen hilltribe village. We slept in a hut (under mosquito nets, natch), and ate villager food, which was very good. The village had no electricity, and was very remote. It was really interesting to see their lifestyles, and I have some great photos.
Day 2 we hiked some more, passing through some scattered settlements and isolated homes (a "home" can be a bamboo platform on stilts with a thatched roof and no -- or few -- walls). The school was interesting, they had a TV (solar powered), the only one I saw on the whole trek. We passed through lots of rice paddies (dry now, until the rains start in a month or two). We got to a waterfall which had a little "outpost", some enterprising locals who had brought ice in by motorcyle, and had cold beer. I supported them by paying their rather steep price (USD$1 for a cold beer, in the jungle in the middle of nowhere!). We rested a bit, then hiked on. We had lunch in some tiny village (excellent food once again). We then went bamboo rafting down the Wang river, which was a let-down due to low water lever (maybe it's me, that happened with Kayaking in New Mexico last year too). The damn raft kept running aground on rocks, just like in New Mexico. But, at least it was cooler. It was also a nice experience, passing under tenuous-at-best foot bridges, round a bend to see elephants, etc...
This has been a magical experience, one that you'd never get if you didn't venture beyond the confines of your hotel. So, I spent 3 nights in a five star hotel in downtown Chiang Mai, and one night sleeping in a hut in the jungle. When I look back, I prefered the hut and the experiences associated with it: the camraderie, the scenery, and the glimpses into a lifestyle so very far removed from my everyday modern life.
I'm already planning to come back, to do a 7-day trek, or maybe head further north to Chiang Rai or even Laos.
Now I'm off to hustle-bustle-polluted-crowded Bangkok, where I will connect to the Internet for the first time in a week (really dreading the backlog that must be waiting for me), and will have to rejoin the real world and get back to work. Vacation's over. I'm doing Powerpoints on the plane :(