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Trekking in Chiang Mai, Thailand

THAILAND | Sunday, 20 December 2009 | Views [1926]

Phil & I did a 3 day, 2 night trek in the jungle of Southern Chiang Mai. It was a highlight for both of us within Thailand. We booked with Unseen Tours, and got a kind-hearted, yet slightly rascal guide named Ping Pong. He grew up not too far from where we trekked, so he was familiar with the area and local dialect. Our group was supposed to be no more than 10, however, 12 of us started out on the voyage.

We began with a trip to the local market to buy supplies for the trek. Water, any last minute things, and a final chance to back out. I thought the market would be an overpriced tourist trap, but it was actually the cheapest market we hit up in Thailand!

First stop, elephant trekking. This was a bit of a moral dilemna for me, since I realize the elephants aren’t born to carry tourists around the jungle. Since it was included with the tour, and it was my first ever opportunity to ride an elephant, I made ammends with my guilt by telling myself I’ll only do it once. We bought a huge bunch of bananas to feed the elephants, and that was one of the most fun things about our interaction. The elephants could eat a banana in 1 swallow. No chewing, and as soon as they popped it into their mouth with their trunk, the trunk was back for more! They reminded me of pigs with vaccuum attachments. Their trunks were huge, thick and powerful, yet surprisingly dexterous. They were able to grip small bananas and almost toss them into their mouths with surprisingly speed and accuracy. Their trunks bumped around, harassing tourists’ legs, bags, hands, even faces, making wet snorting noises while attempting to grab more bananas.

We got on their backs in a 2 seater, which I kept hoping was tied down properly. I got stuck next to an overweight older French guy who decided to ride the whole time with his arm around my back. Phil sat on the neck, with no saddle (of course!). After an hour of slowly trekking through a set trail in the forest, the ride was over. Back to the beginning. Riding the elephant was fun, but I wouldn’t be keen to do it again. Horses are more thrilling!

Next, it was off to eat lunch- fried rice at a local roadside spot. After that, we drove to the trailhead for a 2 hour uphill trek. It actually wasn’t too bad. Ping Pong stopped frequently for the old French man to catch his breath. And the rest of us were grateful for the breaks!

We did have 2 people drop like flies at this point. An overweight European lady just had knee surgery, yet she signed up for a 3 day trek in the forest. I don’t know WHAT she was thinking! But, she got the Thai equivalent of an air lift. A moped came to a base camp, and she and he husband both outweighing the small local man who drove the moped 3 times over got driven out of the forest along a bumpy dirt road for 2 hours to the next town. No refunds issued. In fact, they were charged extra for the emergency service. Sorry.

We arrived at the base camp, after a stop by a massive waterfall. By 4 pm, we were all quite tired, after waking up at 7 to get started. Ping Pong cooked up a huge Thai food feast, with fresh natural ingredients. Fried tofu and vegetables, and a yellow chicken and potato curry. Piles of rice, of course. After eating, we played games and riddles with Ping Pong. The only necessary tools were small sticks, and our brains. Then, he pulled out a drinking game! He put a sheet of toilet paper around the top of a glass jar, and secured it with a rubber band. He places a coin on top, and told us to each take a turn burning a hole in the toilet paper around the coin, without making it drop into the glass. Whoever dropped the coin, had to drink. This went on for a few rounds, and Ping Pong was right- he never loses!

After this, we sat around the campfire with some of the folks who live on the camp property. I spent 2 hours speaking and trying sign language with a 56 year old hill tribesman who spoke no English. He sang and danced around the fire. He tried to explain the meaning of the song with sign language, and from what I gather, it was a song about how everyone sitting around the fire was connected, and nature the night sky are beautiful. After what seemed like hours of songs, dancing, guitar playing and banging on a drum, which was a 5 gallon plastic bucket, the time check was 9pm. Bed time, lol.

The next day, we walked for about 5 hours total, with frequent short breaks, and about 3 longer ones. We saw about 5 or 6 waterfalls. We ate lunch from a container made with a large leaf. This leaf is used to make hats and roof tops. Phil & I swam in one spot in FREEZING water, but it was extremely refreshing, especially after 2 days of trekking. The guides or brochures don’t tell you this, but the camps have no showers. So, I bathed in the stream. No soap, b/c I felt it would taint the water.

That night was similar to the last. We reached camp, feasted and sat around the campfire. Green curry instead of yellow and a different vegetarian dish were served. Both amazingly delicious. Only night 2, most people were in bed by 7pm!

The final day was an easy 2 hour hike through villages of the Karen Hill Tribe. Basically, we were begged to buy handicrafts in the forest. Oh well. It was interesting to glimpse the simple yet sufficient way they live. Huts on stilts with leaves woven onto a ceiling covering. A pig per family, a bunch of chickens, and fishing from the stream. A moped ride to the next town gathers the rest of the supplies.

We saw a few more waterfalls, then went to the same roadside café for lunch- Pad Thai. Then, onto Bamboo Rafting! It sounded more exciting than it was. It was a ghetto raft of 5 long pieces of bamboo strung together and pushed by a standing guide and a bamboo pole. The raft was ½ sunk under the weight of its 4 passengers. We all got soaked, especially thanks ot the other raft guides making sure to splash us with freezing cold water at every opportunity. It was fun, but the river was quite tame. It was more of a bamboo float than “rafting”.

By the end of the trip, the group of us were good friends, and we went out for Thai food in town and to celebrate our survival of trekking in Chiang Mai. The 2 Dutch girls, the pervey old French guy, the outdoorsy young French guy, the older spunky British dad and his 16 year old daughter… and me and Phil.

If you are considering doing this, I’d definitely recommend it!

Tags: chiang mai, karen, thailand, trekking, unseen tours, waterfalls

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