Trekking in Northern Thailand

After 1 long night, and 1 long day I was ready to leave Bangkok. I had experienced the nightlife of Khoasan road and trawled the cultural sights in the stifling heat with the thousands of tourists that descend on Bangkok each day.

Enough.

I had never intended to spend long in any city whilst away, instead yearning to head in to the jungle, or up in to the hills. I had read of Chiang Mai when researching ahead of my trip; the capital of the North.  The more relaxed environment in the North of the country in contrast to the chaos in Bangkok and the Southern islands had much more appeal to me.

When the opportunity to join a 3 day jungle trek in the north of the country arose, I signed up immediately and caught the 10 hour night bus that evening.

Arriving at Chiang Mai bus station at 5.30am with no real confirmation of this excursion, other than a handwritten note from the lady with whom I had booked, I was unsure what I had got myself in to. Thankfully a flat bed pick-up skidded in to the carpark not long after, and I was greeted by staff from BMP Hostel– the hostel that I had booked with.

After checking in to the Hostel to leave large bags and valuables in lockers, the group was assembled and introduced to our guide, One.

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The next morning we travelled about an hour west of Chiang Mai towards the Myanmar border in the back of the same flat bed truck, until the roads turned from smooth tarmac to dusty, potholed tracks.

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Jumping out of the truck with a banana leaf full of steaming rice, anticipation was high. We ducked down a single file track deeper into the dense jungle, following One who had darted ahead in his blue football shirt and flip flops. After a couple of hours of relaxed trekking we crossed a river which we would then follow up stream for a further hour until we arrived at the aptly named ‘waterfall camp’.

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On approach, the sound of water tumbling from a height echoed through the valley. Then, through a clearing we caught a first glimpse of the camp; a surprisingly large, stilted settlement constructed from bamboo. We were greeted by local women chattering away in Thai, driving a hard sell on chilled cans of Coke and Chiang. Yes, Chiang. The sense of being out in the wild was somewhat destroyed, but I was grateful for a cold beer!

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The waterfall itself was pretty cold. I hadn’t anticipated the change in temperature from Bangkok in the South, and the North. Nonetheless, it was super refreshing! We spent the afternoon enjoying the falls and chilling in the camp with other trekking groups. The local women had grown wise to tourists over time, offering all sorts of hand made ‘tack’. The hand carved wooden pipes were a firm favourite, as were pre-rolled banana leaf cigarettes- the harshest smoke of my life!

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After a few hours of chilling, the temperature dropped and we were ready to get moving. Continuing north, using the river as a handrail we set off towards the second camp where we would spend the night. It had been a relaxed day of trekking to say the least, with more time spent at the waterfall than actually trekking.

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One’s cousin greeted us at the second camp, enthusiastically showing us to the sleeping quarters. Bamboo huts on stilts with bamboo floor, a thin ‘itchy & scratchy’ blanket and some pretty worn out mosquito nets. This was a slight concern for me as dusk closed in and the mosquitoes started to appear- Northern Thailand is considered a high risk area for Malaria and I had opted not to take anti-malarial medication to avoid the side affects that are commonly experienced. If I were spending longer in a high risk area I would’ve taken them but with some high % DEET repellent and a bit of common sense I was confident I would be OK.

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After claiming beds and putting another layer on, we got to work building a fire. Collecting firewood was a simple task in the dense jungle. Fear of what lay beneath the undergrowth was in the back of my mind though having seen a number of snakes on the forest floor earlier that day!

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With a fire lit, we began cooking. A delicious, yet simple noodle dish was thrown together in a matter of minutes by One and his cousin. We all ate sat round the fire as the temperature started to plummet. I was starting to doubt whether the clothing I had packed would be enough to get me through the night- a few more beers and a couple of tokes of ‘happy sap’ saw me through the night without waking.

Happy sap?

All day, One had been talking about ‘happy sap’ and ‘happy tree’. I’d assumed that it would be Thai bush weed which is commonly sold throughout the country. However, when the time came and the village elder emerged, babbling something in Thai, he produced a brown lump of what looked like hash. The lump had a fragrant smell, nothing like hash though. In the words of One- ‘never try, never know’- I took a hit from the pipe. It was smooth in taste, but definitely not weed. I quickly figured that it must have been an opioid of some sort.

Never try, never know.

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The next 2 days followed a similar pattern; leisurely paced trekking with regular breaks in small hill side villages where we were welcomed by locals.

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The landscape and people of this region are beautiful in equal measures. Yes, the locals take advantage of tourists are try to sell their products, but that is to be expected. These are remote people who have been exploited by tourism. They have every right to exploit the tourists.

I highly recommend going on a trek in this region. Hiring a guide or booking on to a pre-planned trip is probably the safest and most cost effective way to do it but going alone is also an option.

Trekking, hiking, rambling, tramping, walking are all great ways to See Outside.

Where would you like to see?

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