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The journey without destination "We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment." -Hilaire Belloc

Hill-tribes trek

THAILAND | Sunday, 16 December 2007 | Views [1111]

Although I like non-touristy places and individual/off-trek way of traveling, we need to face the truth and admit that we are all tourist, whether a backpackers or a packaged tourists, as we are all foreigners in the country we are visiting, no matter for how long (1 day, 1 week or 3 months).

Several times I was involved in such discussions and heard millions of times from fellow backpackers how they despise touristy places, organized sightseeing and treks, being dropped in vans from one place to another… Sometimes, even myself is caught in such thinking (how many times my friends heard me saying “I do not like those touristy place, I am going off trek…), but at the end, I think that we should congratulate to all of those people who are engaged in traveling (and I would just add responsible traveling) as they are willing to go out from the secured frame of everyday life and are interested to learn more, see more, experience more. That, for sure, can give wider way of thinking, better understandings and enrichment of our lives!


But, coming back to experiences, as a “real tourist”, I booked the trek via my guest house, being aware that (although a good friend gave me a compass not to get lost) as a single female traveler I could not just take a map and go trekking in the unknown jungle by myself (or could I?).

There are several typical treks offered (1 day trek, 2 days, 3 days, elephant rides, bamboo raft, white water rafting, Wat Doi Suthep…), but a 3-day hill tribe trek caught my attention due to more walks through the jungle and visiting 3-4 different hill-tribe villages. When I asked for it, they told me it is not the usual trek and not many people are doing this trek, and that there is no-one booking this trek at the moment. Instead of taking another offered trek, I spontaneously said “that is OK, I will wait till you will have minimum number of people”, being blessed by the fact that I DO actually have time to wait (which would never happen if I would be on my “usual” 3 weeks vacation).

When I got back to the guesthouse after all day strolling around Chiang Mai, the guy working at my guesthouse told me that he found other guesthouse doing same trek with enough people, but leaving tomorrow, so if I want to go I need to say now as there is pre-trip meeting in 5 minutes in another guest house. Not thinking too much, I said OK and cancelled the cooking class (which I booked for next day). The motorbike came to pick me up to the next guesthouse where I met the people I am going to share the next 3 days with and our very nice guide Jai who introduced us on what to bring, what to expect and what we will do.

The trekking crew was great! There were 9 of us and we all just clicked perfectly well. I was the oldest (bah!) and the youngest was 21. We joked, had great fun and were completely homogenous as a group; it was like we know each other for some time.

The nature was almost real jungle and the trek was with lot of walking uphill, crossing the river and walking along it. We were walking 3 hours up hill first and last day and then about 6 hours second day. It was not too strenuous (to my surprise I did not have aching muscles afterwards), although going up hill was challenging my lounges as years of inactivity and sitting in front of the computer all day left the mark. Jai (our guide) and Siem (not sure if I spelled it right) were really making our trip interesting by cutting the bamboo tree with machete in order to make our own bamboo cups and plates for eating and drinking. We were setting up the fire and cooking in the jungle, sleeping next to the river in the hut and in the Poloung village afterwards, learning about each village and hill tribe culture and origin, warming ourselves in the coldish evening by the camp fire.

The scenery was beautiful and relaxing - lush forest of huge bamboo trees and other big trees (sorry, not so good in remembering the names), river (somewhat low due to the beginning of dry season), small waterfalls, birds, bugs, insects, mosquitoes. Did not see any snakes and big animals, though.  I soaked up the atmosphere of total sereneness and purity that can be found only in (almost) untouched nature! I LOVE RAINFORESTS!!


We visited Akha (one of the biggest hill tribe population in North Thailand), Lisa, Lahu, Karen and Poloung villages.  In Lahu village people come from South China, but they are longer time in this area and Thai government gave them citizenship, the same for Akha, Lisa and Karen people. Few kilometers from Burmese border we entered Poloung village – people coming from Burma due to the insecure situation. They do not have Thai citizenship and can not work, but lately government gave permission that kids can go to Thai primary and high school. So, they speak Burmese dialect and only the youngsters speak also Thai. Older women still dress up mostly in national Burmese dresses of Poloung tribe – blue & red dresses and tops with towels (real ones) on their head! When I was in Burma (Myanmar) few years ago I remember everyone wearing the towels on their head which is very practical and can have many purposes. Burmese people still chew the traditional beetle nut, which leaves the nasty red stains on the teeth and is at the end ruining completely the teeth, leaving people toothless. We stayed overnight in that Poloung village and had great time.

The kids are always endless source of inspiration. I always show them the pictures I took of them (blessed digital camera) and after that, everyone is willing to be object of taking photos, watching each picture made, giggling, posing, trying to be on us much pictures possible.

This sincere and genuine interest in new things always makes me remind myself how most of the times we forget enjoying in little things, by running after the bigger “more important” things.


Coming back to the trek itself, at the end, we did short elephant ride and bamboo raft (well, could not escape the touristy stuff), but it was really fun as the elephants were taking us through real jungle and not through the well marked paths (like it was case 10 years ago). And the bamboo raft was really WET! We were acting like a real kids, splashing each other, jumping from one bamboo raft to another, joined by our bamboo Thai “skippers” and even falling of the bamboo into the river several times, loosing flip-flops, being completely soaking wet! What a fun! There was one group boringly sitting on the bamboo raft with life west, looking at us as we are completely crazy, but we really enjoyed not having slow and boring ride.

After coming back from the trek, as we were really clicking well, the whole group met in the bar and had fun till early morning! As the music was not really something, I ended up as a DJ, choosing from poor collection of mp3. Nevertheless, judging from the fun we all had singing and dancing; I guess that if it ever comes to that point, I could work also as a DJ (better that then working as a waitress or a stripper or in a karaoke bar ...hehe).


P.S. I added more pictures in the Chiang Mai gallery

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