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Living like the locals - hilltribe trek

THAILAND | Monday, 30 April 2007 | Views [979] | Comments [1]

Cat and Cheryl in traditional Akha gears

Cat and Cheryl in traditional Akha gears

After a rustic night at a homestay in a wee village outside Chiang Rai (complete with a traditional Thai music performance from the kids at the local high school), we were off into the mountains with our lovely (read frustrating) group.

James and I are travelling with about 10kg of stuff each(including some diving bits and pieces, mosquito nets, first aid kit etc) between us.

The people in our group had around 35kgs of gear each (not including any handy travel essentials). A girl from the UK had 3 enormous bags just for herself (including large size shampoo, moisturisers, foot scrub, 6 headbands etc). So you can imagine what they were like in the isolated hilltribe areas of Northern Thailand. Especially the one who was addicted to Coca cola and drank a whole litre for breakfast each morning. She mainly lived off Coke, Pringles, Mentos and various other highly processed packaged goods.

Anyhoo, everyone managed to drag themselves up the mountainsides. The walk was very sweaty as it was over 40 degrees during the day. We even had porters to carry our bags (except James of course - he is much too tough for such things. Catherine was enhancing the local economy by employing people who would otherwise not have a job ... at least, that's what I keep telling myself!)

As we sat beside the most gorgeous waterfall eating our fried rice out of banana leaves tied with bamboo, James was climbing up the side of the waterfall cliff like a mountain goat, scaring our local guides...

It took us about 7 hours to reach our hut. This included about 4 hours of actual walking, but some people needed pretty regular (as in , every 20 minutes) breaks. Our highly un-hilltribe accommodation had showers, western toilets, a fridge with soft drinks and a view over the country side. It would have been beautiful, if the locals did not practise shifting cultivation. This is where you burn off pristine native forest to clear the land, plant a cash crop (in this case, coffee), get two or three crops off it, and when production drops (because the soil doesn't hold many nutrients - it all disappears with the forest when you burn it off) you just move on to another piece of land, and burn off the forest there too.

And I don't even have a forestry degree!!

You can imagine the pollution in the air from all the fires (which often get out of control), all the charred land, and all of the wasted land which is no longer productive. Pretty scary really, as this is how most of the world's population live. You can kind of understand why, when it's all about the money you earn today to survive. It's not all about the environment getting munted, and you probably haven't even heard that 53% of Thailand's forest has been burnt in the last 50 years... 

Despite this, we had a rollicking time with the kids at the local kindergarten. James spent about an hour totally absorbed in making lego models with the 4 year olds. Some things never change :)

The second day of our trek took us to an Akha village. It was so cute. There was no mud, smelly sewage or slummy areas. We stayed in a bamboo hut with no electricity. We washed in a bucket of freezing cold water and used authentic toilets. Dinner was rice and a local green vegetable.

Our host was so friendly - he spoke to us in Akha, which was translated into Thai by the local priest, which was translated into English by our guide. He collected coins from around the world, so we added some rupees to the collection. He loved seeing the 6 wedding photos in my diary - so much that he took photos of my photos!! Then he got out his wife's wedding outfit (think all black, huge headgear with silver balls and beads) and got me to try it on! You can just imagine how excellent all 175cm of me looked in an outfit made for someone 40cm shorter. And James looked stunning in his hand embroidered waistcoat.

Once dressed up in our hilltribe wedding gear, we did a traditional 'dance' which involved loudly banging bamboo poles on a plank of wood.

The third day was so hot, we looked like it had been raining on us. We walked through the Doi Chaang (elephant mountain) coffee growing area, and bought some coffee from the local growers (Dad, you just might get to try some of this). The rest of our group piked from the trek when a passing ute picked them up. Only James and I soldiered on and completed the trek.

It was a pretty touristy experience, but we had a good time and got an excellent cardio-vascular work out!

Tags: Adventures



Hi guy -- great blog and It is quite real... I live in chiang rai and ened up there becasue i was passing thru a long time ago and loved it so much.

I have been to over 60 countries and have been travelling continuously for 6 years now but I love Chinag rai. I am in DAlian China now but my home and stuff is all there. If you ever get back let me know we have a big home and extra rooms and your welcome to stay -- cheers. RObert

  robert May 5, 2007 10:15 AM

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