Chiang Mai has a lot going for it. A bustling weekend walking street market, tonnes of great cafes and restaurants (with loads of vegetarian options for veggie types like me), temples aplenty, and a laid back atmosphere that makes spending time in the city in north Thailand a pleasure. But most people don’t come to Chiang Mai to hang out in cafes drinking iced lattes. Nope. Most visitors descend upon this city because of the awesome opportunities for trekking that exist outside of the city walls. A brisk walk around Chiang Mai and you won’t fail to notice that travel agents and tour operators will be falling over themselves to take you on guided treks to waterfalls and hill tribe villages. I had allocated three days for a trek, but as I’m a budget backpacker, I was more than a tad worried about finding a trek that would suit my all-too-light wallet. I was amazed to find a 2 night/3 day trek with all meals and accommodation included for 1500 baht. That is cheap, yo.
So, on a Wednesday morning I am bundled into the back of a truck with my fellow trekkers. They were all straight couples apart from me – boo! But actually, my group turned out to be bloody lovely and I was so grateful to be in the company of this hetero gang for the three days of our adventure. I am becoming increasingly aware that I have little desire to speak to people while I’m travelling and that most other travellers get on my nerves (I wish it wasn’t that way, but well, that’s how it is), so this really could have gone either way. Hooray for nice and funny people.
Our first stop on the first day was at a tiny Hmong village. Before visiting, I had never even heard of the word ‘Hmong’ before, so it was pretty cool to take a walk around the area and in the homes of these people. They live simple lives, of course, but seemed to have everything that they need.
Inside a Hmong home.
That was the easy bit. The trek guide, a really fun guy called Eck, lulled us into a false sense of security, but from here on the trekking was about to get a whole lot more challenging. In fact, for the remainder of the day, we were uphill all the way. Somehow, considering that I partake in absolutely zero exercise, I have a pretty good fitness level and although the trek was tough, I wasn’t wheezing and gasping for breath like some of my trek mates – the poor loves. So, something you should know before embarking on one of these treks, is that you need to be prepared to do a lot of uphill walking for long periods of time. If you’re in doubt about which trek to take, make sure you are honest about your fitness level with a travel agent and you should be placed on a trek that is appropriate for your fitness level so that you can enjoy it. Yes, the afternoon was hardgoing, particularly with the sun beating down on us, but there was beautiful “stuff” all around.
The first waterfall of many.
At around 4.30pm, we arrived in a Karen “village” (Eck insisted on calling it a village but it looked like one house to me) where we were to stay for the night. There were cold beers and there were cute puppies – I was a happy and content man.
Our home for the night in a Karen village.
Lovely as my hetero trek buddies were, one of them was an epic snorer and farter in his sleep. I am fortunate to be a deep sleeper, but I was still woken up my booming farts in the middle of the night. Alas, some were not such happy campers and didn’t sleep a wink throughout the whole night thanks to the incessant snorer. Another lesson for trekking – bring earplugs.
I woke up feeling far more refreshed than some of the other trekkers and was prepared for another day of walking throughout the beautiful surrounding areas of Chiang Mai. It’s very easy to say ‘it’s beautiful’ and to post a few pictures of waterfalls, but honestly, days like these really stir something inside me. I may be a city boy at heart, but I actually felt really content and happy walking in the dense forest and trying not to fall into rivers when walking across rickety bridges. Actually, the bridges part didn’t make me happy at all, it petrified me.
One of many rickety bridges.
At the end of this day of hiking (what is the difference between trekking and hiking anyway?), we arrived at the most stunning waterfall we had encountered on the whole of the trip – rough cascading water that fell into pools that you could have a splash about in. I wasted no time in squeezing into my tiny speedos (which might be appropriate when parading the beach on Koh Phangan, but seemed less so in this environment) and dived in to the chilly water. This waterfall was so amazing that a natural waterslide had formed on the rocks – so cool! I slid down, plunged into the pool of water at the bottom, and there was my trek guide waiting for me with an open can of Chang. Outstanding. Without wanting to sound like a complete alcoholic, I think that my favourite moment of my trip so far has been drinking Chang in a waterfall with my new found friends.
We stayed the night, I had a few beers and some rice whisky that went straight to my head, and decided that this wasn’t going to be a night for going to bed early. My fellow trekkers were all mostly in bed by eight o’clock, but not me. I decided to befriend a local Thai guy who ended up sitting with me around the fire. I really had no idea who he was, no idea of the connection between him and the family we were staying with, and I didn’t even know his name. What’s more, it was bloody difficult to find out because the man was completely deaf. He didn’t say a word and if he could understand English, he still wouldn’t be able to hear me. Still, through a lot of miming, frantic gesticulating and drawing stuff on an old scrap of cardboard, we managed to have something resembling a conversation. For hours and hours. I was totally getting a gay vibe from him but that may have been the rice whisky.
Trekking for hours in the day and rice whisky at night makes for an extremely peaceful night of sleep. Or at least it would if I didn’t have the squits. That’s right, I got a diarrhoea attack in the middle of the night – not cool. With my little reading light I had to navigate my way uphill to the outside toilet and when I got there my arse promptly exploded all over it. Too much information?
The next morning I woke up diarrhoea free and ready for the day ahead, which wasn’t a challenging trek day, but a fun day nevertheless because this was the day of elephant rides and bamboo rafting down the river! In another life, I think I would be a very happy person guiding tourists down a river outside of Chiang Mai on a bamboo raft.
Not a bad spot for a dip.
And that is that – my three days trekking outside of Chiang Mai. If you ever find yourself in Chiang Mai, I strongly urge you to get out there and take a trek yourself – because it’s bloody amazing.