Trekking adventure. Chapter one (of three)

Trip Start Oct 30, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Trekking to see the hill tribes is a big business in Thailand. Many tourists come to Chiang Mai to do two things: take a Thai cooking class and go trekking to see the hill tribes.  The hill tribes are hidden in the mountains and have a rich and unique culture. The result of this mass interest is that many of these villages became tourist attractions and many trekkers report seeing more tourists than locals. Moreover, any villages have turned into souvenir shops to cater to those who equate tourism with shopping.
Sean and I had no intention of having such an experience so we planned a trek-free visit to Chiang Mai. A couple days before flying to Chiang Mai, however, we met a lovely English-American couple who told us about the amazing trek they took with "Eagle House". We decide to go and check it out. The hefty booklet at Eagle House includes detailed description of the trek. They claim to go where no other tourists go to and it sounds like it would be an easy and fun experience, so we sign up to go on the following morning's trip.
Early morning we joined five other travelers and our hill tribe-native guide Doh. After several hours on the back of a covered jeep on a corkscrew road (ginger snaps where are you now when I need you most???) we arrived at an "elephant work camp" (Pong Yaeng Elephant Camp). The work the elephants do here is taking tourists on a 30 minutes journey into the forest, zigzag the river, and take us back to the starting point. Tourist attraction? Certainly. A blast? Absolutely! While riding our elephant we got to feed him many bananas and sugar canes (available for purchase every 5 minute on the road). At 20 baht per bag of fruit we had no problem buying several of them. The couple behind us did not, so their elephant's trunk was nudging us from behind to feed him too. Nothin' says lovin' like elephant snouts coming from two directions at once.
During the ride my friend Ariella and then my friend Rachel called. The idea of talking on the cellphone while riding an elephant seemed hilarious to me, so I spent most of the ride juggling between my cellphone, the bananas and the camera. Did I tell you it was a blast?
We stop for lunch on the side of the road. Pad Thai wrapped in banana leaves.This trek is earth friendly and the intention is not to leave a foot print. What I love most about it is that it is simply done without much self-righteous conversation about it. Kind of "this is a choice we make and that's all there's to it".
After a couple of hours of driving we say goodbye to our driver. From this point we are going to use our legs as the only mode of transportation. The village we are heading for is of the largest ethnic minority around, the Karan people. They fled Burma around 20 years ago and settled here in the mountains. We begin by hiking through rice fields. Spectacular! Every now and than we pass by a villager working the field. They don't speak Thai here so we can't even say "Sawadee" (hello) to them. In fact, in their language there is no word for "hello". Our guide talks to each person we pass as if they are childhood friends. He's been dong this for 12 years, and it shows.
At sunset we arrive at the village, which name I cannot recall* and that it means "Central Village" and it is the largest of the Karan people villages. 64 families live here among rice fields and mountains. Their homes are bamboo huts on stilts. Under the stilts the animals (pigs, chickens, dogs) live.  We are housed in one of those homes, turned into kind of a community center. It's charming. The hut is divided into two parts. One side is the sleeping room, furnished with plastic woven mats on the floor and mosquito nets from the ceiling. The other is the kitchen, with a fire pit on the floor. As far as I'm concerned this is a miracle. We are in a second floor of a bamboo hut and they managed to put a fire pit on the floor!
A few villagers and our guide gather in the kitchen to make our dinner. The smell is awesome and the dinner that follows is delicious. After dinner a few women villagers show up in our sleeping room and open what we fondly call "the night bazaar". They try to sell us necklaces and scarves they make at the village. There's no light in the room so we use a flashlight to view the merchandise. After they go we wonder what is the blinking box on the wall. It is the only evidence of electricity in the room. We decide it is a pig monitor and go to sleep in the clean sleeping bags provided by Eagle House.
Good night.

* Found out later that the village name was Mae Tala Nua Karen

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sharon101 on

Hey Cowboy
Im Reading yours adventure while eating my 'Shakshuka' Breakfast,here in LA ,and thinking of how lucky you are.Every day seemed like a mystery and very colorfull people around you, that make you far behind of reading all your blogs but that the way i also read a book,from the end to the beginning. I promise im not gonna miss anything.I really enjoy and laugh reading you so far. Stay tuned cowboy

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