Must trek!

Trip Start Jan 09, 2013
Trip End Jan 22, 2013

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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Sunday, March 3, 2013

Of many things one can do in Chiang Mai, trekking is on the top of the list. With mountains, rivers, elephants and local villages that are all in the proximity to the city, there are a gazillion companies that offer trekking packages. I signed up for my very first experience, with a 2day/1night package including an elephant ride, a waterfall, a bamboo rafting and an overnight stay in a village.
There were a few things I did not enjoy or appreciate, but overall it was an incredible time and I definitely want to do another one!!

Day 1:
I joined a group of 2 older women from Germany. Our first stop was a waterfall - it was ok. After having seen the Erawan Waterfalls in Kanchanaburi, no other waterfalls measure up. We were stopping for a swim but the water was too cold so I just took some pics and we moved on. The second stop was the elephant park. This, I DID NOT enjoy and the German ladies felt the same way. It was a tourist central - so many of us were lining up to get on an elephants' backs. The elephants were basically put to work for our entertainment and it just seemed like another version of a circus. The handlers were pulling the elephants by their ears with a metal hook and to an outsider, this looked cruel. The whole time I was riding the elephant, I was feeling bad for contributing to such business and as soon as I got off, I watered the elephant (it was so hot!) and thanked him for his service :-(.
I had read that there are a few "rehabilitation camps" for elephants where a visitor can sign up to spend a day bathing, feeding, and exercising the elephants - these elephants are nurtured, not abused. These camps also contribute to conservation efforts and I would very much rather participate in something like that.

After the elephant ride we drove about an hour to a village of Aka where we ate lunch and prepared our gear and supplies for our trek and overnight stay in the village of Lahu. Our guide was Piroon, his brother Leks and The driver Mr. Chat. At Aka, we were approached by several women who wanted to sell us souvenirs. I couldn't stop staring at their black teeth, which apparently are stained from chewing tobacco leaves! Anyway I didn't think I would need $ in the jungle so I didn't go prepared with any funds for shopping!

After lunch we began our hike along the stream/river. It was so scenic and pleasant until we hit about 3-hr mark. We were so exhausted! A 3-hr hike on a flat land is one thing - but hiking in a jungle climbing over rocks, jumping over water and sliding down hills - this takes stamina and physical strength. I consider myself to be in a decent shape but this hike really took something. I reached a point where I felt like I could not take one more step! Piroon kept saying "a little more!" for about an hour! When we finally reached the Lahu village, I was covered in dirt from head to toe. I don't think I had ever been so filthy in my life.
When we reached Lahu the sun was setting fast and there was no electricity. So the ladies and I headed straight to shower but there was a bamboo hut, with a only one bucket of cold water!
Since I had done this before on Tao in the Philippines, I went right to work and started showering with a bucket. The ladies were in shock and were apprehensive. They asked me "you've done this before....?" I said "yup and you better get to it before we lose sunlight!"
So they quickly followed suit.
After shower, Piroon, his crew and the villagers were preparing dinner. Since the village has no electricity, they were cutting, chopping, dicing in a candle light and they had a wood-burning fire stove with a big wok. Piroon was a master chef. He whipped up 5 dishes in less than an hour, and they were all delicious. I mean, DELICIOUS. Sautéed green beans, sweet and sour chicken with vegetables, minced pork with onions, spring rolls with cabbage, and fish soup (ok I'm drooling again). It was a feast...which it turned out, was just for the 3 of us.
I asked the crew to join, but they insisted that they have their own food which they will eat with the villagers. I asked why can't we all eat together, and Piroon said the villagers were shy. Ok...I didn't want to push the issue so I dropped it.
But I did not like that division one bit. After such a long day, it only seemed right that we share a meal together.
I also recall the same division when we hired a guide in Sri Lanka and in Bali. There is something about the guides not eating with their guests. I didn't like that.

After dinner and local whiskey shots, we sat by a bonfire and watched and listened to Piroon play his guitar. It was all lovely but I quickly fell asleep from exhaustion. It was soon a bedtime for all of us.

Day 2:
In the morning we were served another feast for breakfast. Scrambled eggs, watermelon, mangos, papaya, pineapple, toast, fried banana roll, and coffee/tea. But when I looked into the kitchen, I saw that the crew and villagers were eating their own breakfast. I peaked in, curious to see what they were eating. They motioned me to sit and eat, and I was so happy to join their local cuisine!! Their breakfast included fried pork skin, leftover fish soup, sticky rice, and a stew with pork and vegetables. They don't use utensils. They grab a piece of sticky rice, roll it up using their fingers, and dip it in soup/stew and eat it. I was loving it!! Who wants toast and eggs when you can have this!!

After breakfast we packed our things and headed to our freshly-prepared bamboo raft for our 2.5 hour ride downstream. That was so much fun. The scenery was amazing and watching Leks navigate the raft between the rocks and the current was fascinating. Once we reached our destination, we stopped for lunch. They brought over some Pad Thai, but by now I knew I was being served the "tourist" meal so I waited till the lunch was served for the crew.
I joined them when the food came :-)
More sticky rice, potato and pork, some blackened ground pork, vegetable and pork stew and some raw herbs/leaves. YUM. The herb leaves were interesting - they eat it raw!
I can't say I was too crazy about that one but loved every second of the local experience.

The trekking gave me an opportunity to see the life of the villages, interact with the villagers, and immerse myself in their environment. That was so priceless and it was one of the highlights of my trip so far. I can't wait to do it again!!
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Stacia Argoudelis on

Masami! Hope you don't mind, Amy shared this blog address with me. I am LOVING reading about your journey and seeing the amazing pictures.
I spent several hours catching up with all your posts last night! Stay safe and keep having fun! Stacy

oshioshi on

Of course I don't mind! Thanks for reading and I'm glad you are enjoying it :-)

Stacia Argoudelis on

I'm not only enjoying it, but I'm living vicariously THROUGH it!

oli on

I would stick with toast and eggs, thank you very much :p

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