Jungle Trek, Chiang Mai
In all the touristic catalogs, Chiang Mai is advertised with waterfalls. Well, I don't know if we were taken to the best or not, but we were not impressed. It's only a healthy small walk in natural environment, which means a nice stop, but not a "must see"
Though I really hate guided tours, this one turned out to be perfect. As I've never seen (or been) in a jungle before; I'm sure I would have been lost for 3 weeks!
First we had to build our own bamboo raft! with 4 huge peices of bamboo sticks put togeather our trip started .... the river was smooth and calm at the start ... then with some sketchy driving from our (bamboo captain!) and some water drops here & there I managed to fall in the water 2 times .... Niiiiiice.
It's a very gentle way to see the country side.
Eventually we arrived at the bootom of the valley where we started our walk .... it's useless to describe the beauty of the place ... the sounds ... the smells ... the exotic language ... the lost people weaving cotton on the mountains, the waterfall experience .... or a kid living in a bamboo house playing with a play station!!!!
I usually try to avoid putting multiple tips for one activity, however for this I will make an exception. I went on a three day, two night trek with 3rd Eye Travel , a company I had picked because of their reputation for being environmentally responsible, and for their claims that they take their customers to less traveled villages, ones with a more authentic feel. They held true to both of their promises. In the three days we hiked, we caught a glimpse of another group of tourists twice. I had read about some reviews of the hill tribe trekking from people that had gone and had read opinons that it was much like going to a human zoo and so forth. I do believe that to be true, especially with the tribes of long neck women. Did I want to go to the long neck tribes? Definately. Was I dissapointed that I didn't? A little. However I was supremely satisfied when I found the tribes we visited felt no need to put on a show for us. There was no fancy dress, no performance, just daily living. I liked that.
We were guided by two gentleman, both whom were incredibly nice and knowledgeable. I wish I could remember their names. One guide I saw as designated as more for my travel party. He spoke pretty good English and was knowledgeable about the people and terrain. He would teach us about this and that, bit did not exhaust with information. He was a member of the Karen tribe as well and spoke Karen. Our other guide appeared to be a hilltribesman himself. This man was incredible to me. He wore flip flops and carried a heavy pack, and even after climbing a steep incline that left myself in gasping for air, he didn't even seem a bit bothered. This same man cooked us a lunch in the jungle using only bamboo for cooking and eating utensils. It was amazing.
The food on this trip may have been the best in my whole time in Thailand . Seriously! The food portions were large and varied and delicious. The comfort of sleep was horrendous however. Since electricity is not used, once it's dark at around eight o clock, unless you have a light theres nothing else to do but sleep. Most of the village is asleep once the sun is down. You sleep on a thin small mat under a mosquito net. Cows and pigs complain all through the night, and as soon as you fall asleep in the early dawn Roosters began to scream like clockwork every hour. The wood floor beneath you seems to gnaw at your bones. This is how these people sleep. There are no tempur pedic mattresses And the discomfort of sleep only made the whole experience better in a way. It is something you think back about and laugh.
We hiked through three villages, learned a little about their culture ( i talk more about them in other posts). We hiked through jungles and rice fields. The hikes weren't too strenous, but they did cause us to work up a sweat, and we found ourselves quite satisfied once we arrived at our destination for the day.
The trek also included a visit to the popular Mahoot villages were elephants are trained and cared for. A one hour elephant ride was a lot of fun (see my other post). We also had a four hour float down a river back to our starting point where a truck would be there to take us back to Chiang Mai (also see other post)
I had a great time Hill tribe trekking, and if I go to Southeast Asia again I would definately include this in my itinerary.
Bamboo rafting was the conclusion to the jungle trek. We boarded the raft, made the day before by a local villager, with swim trunks on and life vests and our bags safely doubled bagged in plastic bagges and hung on a pole on the raft. Four of us were on the raft, and three needed to help steer/propel the raft, so either myself or my travelling partner Aaron had a chance to relax and enjoy the ride and the scenary. The river was cool, but very comfortable, so getting wet was not a distress. There would be periods of mild rapids and adrenaline, and periods and calm and quiet. In all we were on the raft for four hours. I found myself wondering when it was gonna be over, but I realized this was a part of my hurry up and go mentality; I stopped and realized that I was on a bamboo raft, floating down a river in northern hills/jungles of Thailand. I had nothing else to do but relax and enjoy the scenary and try to capture some good photos. The scenary was nice, not a terrible lot of wildlife spotting, but it was overall quite relaxing.
I'm not sure what the lifespan of the rafts are and I'm not sure if the bamboo is used for other purposes after the raft has been used or dismantled. There has been discussion that the bamboo is left and not used, and not replaced in the amount that it is used. I hope this is not true because I am all for environmentally friendly tourism.
Overall, I would rank the hiking as moderate. The trees usually provided for good shade, and all the inclines that we hiked were not exhausting. Overall I think someone in moderate physical fitness can accomplish this hike. The scenary can be quite beautiful, as once you reach the top of a hill you can overlook through a valley, and I especially enjoyed hiking through rice fields.
I was incredibly impressed with one of our guides. He wore flip flops throughout, I never remember seeing him short of breath, even while myself was gasping for air. He made me realize how truly poor shape I am in.
To hike, one only needs a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, sturdy hiking shoes and light clothing. You will only carry a day pack with you, which will keep your clothes for the weekend (I didn't shower the whole weekend, besides jumping in the river here and there) on which will be added a sleeping bag and maybe a couple other various supplies.
We hiked to/through 3 villages, all of which were Karen villages, who are people native to Burma. None of them spoke much English, minus one teacher at this main village of which I will speak on later, or at least none of them spoke it to us. It was nice in that the people just went about their daily lives. There was nothing manufactured, no special costumes or so on. Althought I wouldn't have minded a production, dance or something of that sort, it was just not in the cards for our stay. It was fun to observe the villages and their way of life and consider them in contrast to Westerns sociocultural preference for mass consumption and for needing more and more complex things and lives.
The first village we stayed at was a smaller village, with several families having wood houses there. Pigs, roosters and cows decided to make their presences known through all hours of the night, yet even through that annoyance it was relaxing to sit and observe the animals. The living situation is very modesto. Wood houses with thin mats and mosquito nets for sleeping. An outhouse. An outdoor kitchen with a few pots and pans to cook. A small wooden table that sat underneath the stilted homes. I enjoyed watching the man of the residence that we were staying happily smoke a rolled cigarette of unknown constitution, and the lady of the house go about chores, preparing chicken feed, cooking, and so on. Young boys ran about in the village pretending to be on motorcycles, it was fun.
The second village was a much larger village. A metropolitan if you would. The same living situatoins, the same stilted wooden houses with a large array of animals. The amount of animal poop in this village was impressive! This village had the school, were all Karen children from the villages went to school and stayed during the week. It had an impressive kitchen and garden and soccer field. By the time we had arrived all the children were done with school and were bathing in the river. Splashing about and jumping off rocks of small height into the river. A elephant labored for his meal by totting a log across the river and up the bank to the village. I learned that these villages are King sponsored, and it is the goal of Thailand to preserve them and their way of life. I do fancy my air conditioned apartment and comfortable bed, flush toilets and electricity, but you can definately see how this way of life has it's advantages over the lifestyle of most of us.
I was glad
The second day of the trek was the hardest. We got told that there was going to be a baby hill and a mama hill. They weren't kidding! When I found that the baby hill was killing me I was seriously dredding the mama hill. We trekked for 5 hours the second day and I felt every part of it! As not an especially fit person I found the only thing to do was to put my iPod in and block out the pain! The views also made everything just that little bit better. Awesome.
The destination of the trek was an Elephant camp where we were able to splash around in the river before riding an Elephant for an hour to our lunch destination. There we were also able to swim in the river with the local kids before catching a bamboo raft down the river to our accommodation for the night.
Our accommodation was interesting, it was a mixture of Thai hilltribe and western comfort! We were served an incredible meal, were able to buy beer and were offered massages by the locals! A great night was had by all and when a guitar was produced a sing a long was started. Perfect!
The final day of the trek was a 3 hour bamboo raft ride back to civilisation and lunch. The perfect end to a rewarding a fun trek.
Even if you're not that fit (like me) you will enjoy trekking in Norther Thailand.
Once we left the waterfall (see part 1) we decided to stay in our swimming costumes as Songkran Festival (Thai New Year - water fights!) was starting early. We had been victims of buckets of water being thrown from the side of the road at our open sided truck so we thought we'd better be prepared! Once we got to our trekking starting point we were all so wet that we had to sit a while to dry up and put our shoes on!
The frist day of the trek itself wasn't that hard although it was extremely slippery with lots of dry leaves on the ground especially on the steep downhill stints. It took us 3 hours of trekking to reach our accommodation for the night which was in a hill tribe.
Tired and hungry we reached the hilltribe and were shown around before allowing us to rest briefly before dinner. The accommodation was extemely comfortable considering we were on wooden floors but they provided matresses and blankets and it was a good night's sleep.
On the way to our starting point of our trek we stopped at Mork-Fa Waterfall. What an experience! After about an easy 10 minute walk we reached this amazing waterfall and were able to swim for as long as we liked. The water flow was incredibly strong and it was hard to stay under for too long. It was a welcome reprive from the heat and gave us the true "we're on holiday" feel. What an amazing start to a trek!
We booked our trek experience back in Australia through Intrepid Travel as they had a great deal and we knew that they would have experienced guides who spoke English. The whole tour was for 6 days total and included the 3 day trek, time in Chiang Mai and an overnight train back to Bangkok. It was the perfect introduction to Northern Thailand and enabled us to meet people who will stay friends for a lifetime. The whole thing (with a substantial discount) only cost us $250 each including the hotel, train travel and food while trekking. Pretty Good!
You can also book treks directly in Chiang Mai, every guesthouse and hotel will offer it as well as numerous travel agencies. It is the main thing to do in the area and you will not be short of choices when it comes to trekking.
make sure you book yourself in for a jungle trek whilst up in the north of the country, the opportunity to see the way in which the locals live in these remote village is breathtaking, our guide Jamba was hilarious and we were able to swim in rivers, under waterfalls, on the lookout for monkeys and watch the asian elephants bathe in lagoons, there was even a rare tiger spotted in the village a few weeks before we arrived. the longer the trek, the more remote you go and the more you see, the first few days can be quite touristy, we booked a 7day trek and its actually a great way to save money and prolong your trip, you spend nothing when on your trek! Do bring some petty cash, you may be as lucky as us and get the chance to smoke locally grown grass and opium, great experience, the whole ceromoney surrounding the opium pipe is amazing, in a small reed hut, lying down on a mat with a local racking up the pipes!!! hope i havnt incriminated you jamba, and we still owe you the money for that night! peace!
After breakfast of toast and scramble eggs. This was a tough day as we walk and walk, up and down hill for hours.
We had our elephant ride on this day. It was really pathetic to see the elephant. These are probably retired worker elephants and there were only 3 elephants for 10 of us so we cramp in the elephants seat…like sardine and the elephants was walking along the river and it’s so dangerous. But I guess the elephant and the Mahout is the expert as none of us fall to the river. We had our lunch of fried rice here. For brave one there is the small fiery chili to try.
After lunch we walk up more hills and finally reach a small river and we swim in the muddy river rested have some beers and chat. Our dinner was rice, bamboo shoot, mushroom with chicken and Thai curry. Yummy.
After dinner we all sat around the fire play cards games and chat and had some beers. Oh there was ashortage of beer so one of the local went and got some more beer for us. It was really a wonderful experience!!
After breakfast of toast, jams and scramble eggs. We had our Bamboo rafting experience it was fun, one of the Switzerland guy in our group just keep falling off the raft into the water… I think he just love the cool fresh water experience.
Then we walk half an hour to our pick-up truck. We had lunch of friend noodles is a small shop or restaurant along the roadside and then drive to Vachiratharn Waterfall but we did not get a chance to swim.
Lastly we drove up to Doi Inthanon but due to the rain our guide told us it was no point going there as we will not be able to see or take any pictures because of the clouds and rain.
I do recommend trekking if you are in Chiang Mai. My Korean friends mentioned that we should look for Eagle house to book our trekking. We booked our jungle trekking thru Eagle House as we stayed at Eagle House 2. We took the 3 day trekking.
We drove from Chiang Mai to a market outside of town and browse around for 30 minutes while the guide gets the supply of food for our trip. Then we drove an hour to a Cave. Walk in the cave with flying bats and our mascot cat… hahaha (see picture of the cat).
We had lunch here. Phat Thai noodles with some mineral water and banana. We drove for about 2 hours to Hmong/Meo hill tribe village and then walk for one hour to our overnight hut.
High in the Doi Inthanon National Park are some of Thailands biggest watefalls. The trek thru the lush jungle brings you to the start of the falls and the climb down by way of huge steps cut in the limestone at the side of the falls, is pretty scary if you dont have ahead for heights. The noise of the water is deafening and gets louder as you approach the main fall...all truly spectacular. Well worth the trek but not recommended for those with any walking disability.