A Chiangmai Trek Story
Chiangmai Thailand Trek Adventure
Earlier this week Beth and I took a three-day trek through
the hill provinces north of Chiang Mai. This trip was set up
through 3rd Eye Travel, an adventure touring company run by
a wonderful Thai man named Dtaw who is friends with the couple
that have the farm I will be working at through the winter.
Dtaw introduced us to Jatoo, our guide for the trip. Jatoo is
originally from a Karen hill tribe village far in the north
of Thailand closer to Chiang Rai and the border with Burma.
Jatoo speaks several languages including Thai, English and many
of the hill tribe dialects.
We began the trek at a Thai National Park and wildlife preserve
that features a geyser geothermal area. Jatoo had told us that
we would start the trek at a hot springs. We left Chiang Mai
in the morning and drove for a few hours to begin the hiking
around noon. It was getting on to the hottest part of the day
and I knew we had many miles of steep climbing ahead through
jungle into the mountain provinces, so I was not all that excited
to start the trip at a hot springs. A few weeks ago when I was
high in the mountains of Idaho and the wind was cold and the
sky was pregnant with snow clouds I welcomed the opportunity
to soak in hot springs. But in tropical Thailand? A hot spring
dip seemed a bit unwelcome.
So you can imagine my surprise, and relief, when I saw jets
of boiling water shooting into the air. Of course we would't
be expected to soak in this hotspring, when Jatoo had said hot
spring he had meant really really hot spring. It's Like Yellowstone
he said. Indeed.
This centipede is nearly 1 foot long, and poisonous.
A termite mound.
A very large spider...
After visiting the geysers we hiked deep into the jungle. Jatoo
pointed out all sorts of interesting plants, trees and insects
along the way. We arrived in time for dinner at a Karen hill
tribe village. The buildings here are made of wood and bamboo,
with thatch roofs. Several of the houses had solar cells with
batteries and one or two fluorescent bulbs for lighting. These
were given to the hill tribes by the government if the tribes
promised not to engage in the opium trade.
The hill tribes of northern Thailand are one of the last remaining
examples in the world of genuine subsistence living. This particular
tribe provides for over 80% of its needs from its small farm
and the surrounding jungle. The Karen village we stayed in cannot
be reached by car -- only recently have they acquired a motorbike,
which mainly the young boys use to go into the tiny town several
miles away for socializing.
Many of the tribes in the area are so small, consisting of only
a few families, that the government will provide for only one
school for several villages. Sometimes the children hike five
or ten miles to school, and stay over many nights during the
Where we slept at the Karen village. The mosquito nets were
unnecessary since it is the dry season. We slept on thin padded
mattresses that were quite comfortable, and were awakened (early!)
by the roosters.
Although the villages we visited are very poor in our sense
of the word, the quality of life is not bad, if it is rather
hard-scrabble. Diets consist of rice and vegetable as well as
meat from chickens, pigs, cows and water buffalos. They thought
we were a bit odd for being vegetarian. Also they eat wild rodents
like squirrels and field mice, as well as deer and other wild
mammals that inhabit the jungles.
One Karen villager demonstrated an ingenious field mouse trap
for me. It was made of a short (about 6 inches long) section
of bamboo, which is hollow, with a long piece of stiff reed
attached resembling a bow. A loop of twine is concealed in the
hollow of the bamboo, and a catch mechanism holds the reed bow
in a taut bent position. The trap is loaded with a bit of rice;
when the mouse goes to eat the rice it trips the catch and the
bow snaps the loop of twine around the mouse’s head and it’s
caught. It's probably hard for you to imagine the device from
this description, but I assure you it's very clever.
Banana trees of several varieties proliferate wildly in the
village and surrounding jungle, as well as dragon fruit, mangoes,
star-apples and papayas. We saw gardens growing many types of
beans, peppers and all sorts of herbs and spices for cooking
such as lemon grass and basil.
On the second day we hiked long across two steep mountain ridges
and arrived mid-afternoon at an elephant camp along the Mae
Taeng river. Our tough hiking through the hot jungle was rewarded
with a lazy ride down the river on the back of an elephant to
our destination for the evening: a Lahu hill tribe village.
No motor vehicles of any kind can reach this village, the only
means of transportation is by foot trail or the river. The Lahus
have historically been associated with the opium trade from
Burma, and so as punishment by the government, they were given
no solar cells. They did not seem the worse for it though.
Jatoo says the Lahu are his favorites, since they are so friendly
and polite. He mentioned another tribe that has a reputation
for being arrogant and the elitists of the hill tribes I suppose.
I don't remember their name, but it's just as well since I don't
want to be accused libelous speech towards the hill tribes.
Pictured are some young boys playing the Thai national game,
takraw, a kind of volleyball using only the feet and head. They
are quite good and as such I can't understand why Thailand is
typically so poor at soccer. All villages have takraw courts
installed by the government health department as a campaign
to promote exercise.
The Lahu children took a real liking to Beth, as you can see
here. And I've tried to photograph our dinner, but I didn't
do it justice. Jatoo was an excellent cook, even cooking for
vegetarians, which he found odd, and the food looked, smelled
and tasted superb. We had rice grown in the village paddies,
tofu and vegetables in a curry with coconut milk and cashews,
as well as an omelete made with fresh green chili paste that
Jatoo prepared in a mortar and pestle.
For the final day of the trek we rafted through some mild whitewater
rapids on a bamboo raft made by the Lahu villagers. These rafts
are about 30 feet long and four feet wide, made of 15"
to 20" long thick bamboo poles lashed together with rattan
reeds. Near the front of the raft they constructed a tri-pod
out of bamboo poles to hold our backpacks up out of the water.
As we started down the river, all of the admonitions about standing
up in the boat went out the window – there was nowhere to
sit and besides we had to stand to use long bamboo poles to
guide the raft between rocks and around the many bends of the
In the mid-afternoon we reached the pull-out, had lunch, and
were picked up by Dtaw and dropped off at his company's river
camp for a snack of coffee, papaya and dragon fruit and to rest
a while. His river camp has a few bamboo hut dormitories for
overnight treks as well as a kind of cabana hang-out/eating
place. It's all open-air and has a spectacular view of the river
below and the rice field and huts of a Thai village along the
foothills across the way. It's basically paradise. We sat in
hammocks in the shade and enjoyed the fruit and read Thai travel
magazines and conversed for a while. Then Dtaw drove us back
to Chiang Mai, with a detour to the Pun Pun farm where I will
be living and working this winter.
If Dtaw's river camp was paradise, then Pun Pun is like some
kind of upper level of paradise. I got a brief tour and met
some of the folks there.
by Josh Kerns - http://joshkearns.blogspot.com/