Kayaking in Chiang Mai, ThailandI recently started doing something I've loved doing for ages, but hardly ever actually did: kayaking. It turns out that Northern Thailand is a pretty sweet place for kayaking of all kinds. There's slow and easy, swift and wide, and rapid and bamboo-death-trappy.
Last weekend, I went on the river in Mae Tang. I hadn't been kayaking for ages, and it seemed like a good place to start up again. Paddling began at about 10am, and about twenty eight lazy kilometres later, it was over. Kayaking seems to come easily to me; I love the easy motion of cutting through the water, gliding past life on the river banks in silence, zero pollution. It was a relaxing, lovely day. But I wanted more. I wanted challenge! I got it last Saturday.
Aidan, the owner of the kayaking company I went with, recommended that I try to conquer the Mae Ping River, starting in Chiang Dao. The river runs all the way to Chiang Mai. He painted a romantic picture of adventure; a fast-flowing jungle river, where you'd have to quickly duck under bamboo and pick a way through hanging vines without hesitation. We'd fly past temple ruins and remote monasteries in the Chiang Dao mountains. Exciting!
I met Daphne and Iris from The Netherlands in Chiang Mai at the kayaking centre. After a quick how-to-kayak lesson, our Thai guide Baigun drove us two hours north to Chiang Dao, with a brief stop to buy fresh rambutans from the side of the road. Have you ever tried this red and green spikey fruit? It’s kind of like a lychee. Particularly big and juicy rambutans are a real treat in Thailand.
Rainy season has recently descended upon Thailand, and the river was brown and swollen. We looked at it from the bank, a little nervous, trying to remember how to eddy out and where to lean and what to avoid. I tied my Converse tightly; there was a very definite chance of losing your shoes in this river. Daphne and Iris were wearing flip flops... oops. They tied them to their kayaks.
Straight away, I realised that this river was going to test me a lot more than the Mae Tang one. It wasn't easy, and it didn't feel like it came so naturally this time! After I'd pushed out into the river, I was supposed to paddle upstream to wait for the others to get in. I just wasn't strong enough, and was feeling a bit nervous! So I eddied out – went to the edge of the river where there’s no current. That’s when I first saw the spiders. If a spider is near me, that’s OK, though not desirable. But if one plops on my arm or head? I hate it.
River spiders are big, fast and scuttle-y. One was dangling off a twig over my kayak. I tried to brush it away with the oar, but these spiders are sticky. It ran up my oar, and I frantically splashed it away into the water. But a crazy thing I never knew about spiders? They can walk on water. It ran across the river, back onto its twig. Errgh. It was the first of many.
I didn't take any photos for this part of the river - I was far too busy trying (and failing) to steer around bamboo. I think I glimpsed an impressive monastery during a quiet part.
It was certainly adventurous.
We stopped for lunch: fried rice, spicy pad kapow and a lot of water. Kayaking in this river was hard work! At lunch a super-fluffy black and white caterpillar joined us. It looked cute, but was dangerous, so I didn't stroke it. Baigun said that there was hardly any bamboo in the second half of our trip. Thai guides are notorious teasers, though, so I wasn't sure if he was telling porkies or not. I was pleased to find that it was the truth!
After lunch, we soon broke out of the bamboo-death part of the river, and it became wider, and a lot easier to avoid the obstacles. We relaxed; it was easy again! We played about, splashed each other and raced. It was fun, and there was plenty to look at: mountains, river-side-life and temples.
Is it crazy to want to go again?