Feb 12, 2014

Kayaking Straight into Trouble

The next morning, we went kayaking. By that evening, I was hooked up to an IV at the hospital. Just one more notch in my personal quest to experience every Asian country's medical facilities first hand (har har).

There were signs this excursion was going to be rough. We were picked up late from the guesthouse and driven to a one-room building where we were told that, in fact, we couldn't choose between the vast list of river paths, and only two of the twelve were available for beginners. An athletic German couple said they wanted to try a more difficult one, and they were rudely dismissed by the American instructor.

The instructor then goes into an orientation on how to control the kayaks. He asks who has experience kayaking before, and Mr. C raises his hand. He then grills Mr. C on a few technical details and makes Mr. C feel like a fool for not knowing the right answers off the bat. So now the German couple and Mr. C are miffed. Not a good way to promote business, buddy.

We then signed waivers and got into the vans to be driven to the river. "The rest stop is fifteen minutes away, and you'll be halfway there," he told us. It was a two-hour ride!! Olivia and I were in one van with the German couple and two stereotypical "ugly Americans" who acted like Beevus and Butthead, asking the Germans stupid questions like, "So, uh, huh huh, are Spanish people, like, really lazy?" Dear God!

By the time we finally arrived at the site, it was hours since we had been picked up from the guesthouse. We were ready to go, already! After a mix-up as to which trail was which, we finally reached the river bank and got into our kayaks.

We were off! The slow moving river was peaceful, with lush green trees and stoney pebbles lining the banks. A great, misty mountain rose up in the distance; a dark shape in gray fog. Graceful birds flew overhead and there was rustling in the grass as local people came to the water to fish. I enjoyed feeling the push of the paddle in my hands as I got into a rhythm of pulling the kayak forward.

That morning the American instructor had boasted how "Our guides know every curve of the river, every snare and every tide. They'll be there at the difficult turns waiting to help you. They know it like the back of their hands." Guess who kept grounding their kayak into the shallows? The guide. Guess who wasn't there when the German couple got pulled into a snag and capsized? The guide, who was way up ahead of everyone. There's nothing wrong with the guide, it was the instructor's over-selling them that was the problem.

In no time at all we had come halfway, and stopped for lunch. Little did I know, as I ate that boxed lunch of rice and vegetables, that I was ingesting poison, most likely from the tap water. I made the additional mistake of not drinking any bottled water while out in the hot sun, for fear of getting left behind the kayaking group if I took a break.

Soon we had made our way down the rest of the river. We angled ourselves along the bank and pulled our kayaks up onto the rocky shore.

Putting our kayaks on the truck.

Looking back up the river.

Olivia and I both felt our stomachs churn on the ride back. The young German woman looked like she was feeling ill as well. We bounced and tossed in the back of the van, and I felt more and more like I was going to be sick. I very rarely throw up. The ride seemed to go on forever, and we were still miles out from the city.

I'll skip the graphic details and tell you I didn't make it. I became very sick, and then in shock. For hours afterward I was still sick, and unable to eat or drink anything despite how thirsty I was. It turns out Mr. C wasn't feeling so good either, but he was still functioning. I was not. It was time to get a tuk-tuk to the hospital.

And so I took my first tuk-tuk ride, a small doorless vehicle that whizzed down the road playing ambulance, braking and accelerating it seemed in the same moment (Chiang Mai traffic is really something to experience). In no time at all he dropped us off at the hospital and I was wheeled in to the emergency room.

The Thai nurses, English-speaking doctor, and administrative staff were fast, efficient, friendly, and started to take care of me the moment I came through the doors. They cut off the white yarn bracelet from Wat Doi Suthep and put me on an IV. I stayed overnight at the hospital, with my amazing, wonderful, selfless friends, Mr. C and Olivia, sleeping on the couches by my bed.

When I woke up, I felt human again. I was able to eat some rice porridge for breakfast and drink some water. I learned that Mr. C had also been given medicine and was feeling better, and Olivia had dodged the bullet altogether.

The hospital room was spacious, with a big window and balcony. I was a bit worried how much this was going to cost, but, of course, it's Southeast Asia, and was only a few hundred dollars including medicine - the same price of an American check-up. I am very grateful the JET Program's insurance covers medical expenses outside of Japan as well. I walked out of there with a mere $50 deductible, well enough again to enjoy the rest of the trip.


In conclusion, I have no kind words to say of the Chiang Mai Kayaking company. Any outfit could have sent us out on the river to kayak; it was all the sloppy details in-between that made for a bad experience. If you visit Chiang Mai, avoid them!


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