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10. Last leg
A final morning’s trekking did little to dispel my theory that our guides weren’t familiar with this particular route. Perhaps they kept finding new ones to keep themselves interested? We negotiated further uneven, soggy rice fields, clambered with various levels of grace over and around rocks and fallen trees, shuffled uncertainly across spindly logs over threatening rivers. One of the porters proudly found and showed off a frog. Eventually and somewhat anticlimactically, we descended into another valley which was home to a small handful of buildings.
One of these buildings was a basic undercover, tourist eatery where we lunched on tepid fried noodles. Here we saw western tourists from outside our group for the first time since we’d begun the trek. It felt like an ending.
Shortly afterwards, we bid goodbye to our intrepid, flip-flopped porters and had a few group photographs taken, before heading off in the back of trucks.
The first afternoon activity was elephant riding and I was the only member of the group to opt out. I wasn’t as excited about riding on the back of an elephant as everyone else seemed to be. There were no greater reasons than that, aside from not wanting to spend extra money on something I had no strong feelings about.
Our guide and I were taken in the trucks to the end point of the elephant ride, not too far away. I dozed alone in the back of the truck while she went to speak to the driver, and woke to the doubly uncomfortable sensation of needing the toilet. Once donated a toilet roll and pointed towards a small hut on the edge of the field, I walked nervously. My joy teamed with utter bewilderment at seeing a proper toilet seat. Here! Of all places! In the middle of a field, miles from anything! No flush, obviously, but that would have been being fussy.
When everyone else had dismounted from their elephants, our group divided in two. Half headed back to our hotel in Chiang Mai, and those of us who had opted to go bamboo rafting took a truck in the other direction. This activity had appealed. Sharing a small, narrow raft with a clutch of others, we made off with me standing at the back of the raft, clasping a long pole just as my vastly more experienced counterpart on the raft in front was doing.
In gamely trying to copy his actions, I failed badly. Seeing a hard rock approaching the back of the raft quickly, I prodded out my pole with distinct lack of direction, assertiveness or authority. Comprehending that this would make no difference to the imminent impact, I squealed at the fast approaching rock. Gravity shaken, the impact took me off my feet and into the air, where I considered imminent pain to my knees, before splashing and sliding down the raft. Hysterical laughter led me to believe that the sight had been amusing to anybody who wasn’t me.
Riding through the forest was beautifully scenic and also tranquil in easier waters, the peace only shattered by our juvenile waterfights. Looking around us at other rafts, this seemed like the fashionable thing to do. We waved at local villagers as we bobbed down a gentle section of river. A small clutch of older ladies waved enthusiastically, one blew me a kiss which I returned with equal luster. Although none of us fell into the water completely, by the end of the ride we were so wet we might as well have done.
The atmosphere in the small dining area was upbeat that evening. We had survived the toughest leg of the tour. How battle-weary we were. Now we deserved the idyll of the islands, which would surely be a doddle in comparison.
What came before
9. Thailand Trekking Too
8. Thailand Trekking
7. Going Up Country
6. Bumbling around Bangkok
5. Cambodian Complexion
4. Exploring Cambodia
3. South-West and into Cambodia
2. Seeing Saigon
1. Hello Vietnam
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