A final part of my journey as booked by the Thai Tourism Agency was a hill tribe trekking experience in Chiang Mai - something I was looking forward to after a few weeks of cycling and walking, it felt good to do some exercise again and I was looking forward to a challenge of hiking through mountainous jungle. Because of this trip, I didn't actually end up spending much time or doing much sightseeing in central Chiang Mai, so I won't write a post on what I haven't experienced when I can tell you all about this instead. When I arrived in the city, I went straight to BMP Backpacker which is a cool little backpacker hangout, a places with private rooms at low to mid prices depending on what you want and the use of a lovely swimming pool in the grounds. It is near one of the Chiang Mai gates and very close to a fabulous food market that opens at night with all kinds of delicious snacks and meals for sale. After a meeting with my hill tribe trekking group about the itinerary for the next day and dinner with some travelling friends at the market, I headed to bed ready for what the next day would bring.I had a brilliant group made up of a mixture of German, Australian, Irish, French and Maltese travellers - it was great to have such a diverse group of different ages and travelling experiences and it definitely set us up for a lot of fun. We were put in a van and set out on our journey to the national park near Chiang Mai, with some of the boys feeling a little worse for wear after a big night out it was pretty funny to guess which of them would throw up first. If you've been following my travels on Facebook and Twitter (which you should for all the very latest updates) you'll already know what happened next. As we turned a sharp corner, another van drove straight into ours hitting it head on. None of us had any warning as we couldn't see through the partition between the back and front and luckily there was so many of us lacked in there we couldn't really move from the impact so no one was seriously injured. The other driver's fault, the accident had happened because he drove out at a junction when he wasn't supposed to, despite having seen us driving towards him at high speed, but it was too late, our van was a mess while the other was barely dented. Thanks to the quick work of our tour guide, we climbed into a new van, covered in bruises, just 15-20 minutes later and were on our way. Ironically the whole thing had happened on Friday 13th.Once we reached the national park, we had a quick lunch and set out on our first trek of the three days, through the dried out jungle towards the hills and the village where we would spend our first night. The trekking was pretty easy to be honest, after the 16km hikes I was doing in Khao Sok this was nothing and was nowhere near as interesting because it was firmly the dry season at this point and everything around us was dead and desperately in need of rain. But it was fun with our group and within a few hours we arrived after a pretty steep last climb through smoky hillside where they were burning the jungle for farmland. We could feel the intense heat from the fires in that last section and hoped they had them under control when we saw the wooden huts just a bit higher up the hill.
The village was made up of a collection of huts overlooking the jungle with dried banana leaves forming their roofs and pigs, goats and dogs running around all over the place. It was great, totally remote and just what we were all after. After a sit down and a beer, we went off to explore the higher part of the village and found a local woman weaving, while others farmed. Later, we watched on as the tour guide and villagers prepared our healthy, delicious dinner over a roaring fire inside a wooden hut - gotta love Thai health and safety! The food was fabulous and after we spent a night round the campfire drinking beers to celebrate being alive, our Irish friend's birthday and learning Thai songs like Chang Chang Chang. We spent the night sleeping in a huge communal hut on what was pretty much a wooden floor with a few blankets, rustic and pretty uncomfortable but we woke up ready to start the next adventure.The next day was spent trekking to the next hill tribe, which was actually the home of our very own tour guide, so that we could have lunch before beginning the next part of our journey. We hiked an easy route - except for the slippery, steep ascent at the end - and arrived at a beautiful wooden hut overlooking the fields and rice paddies, with smoke-encircled mountains I. The distance. Stopping for some noodles, we enjoyed a rest and the amazing panoramic view from the platform before continuing down the hill, into the village and onwards towards the jungle and our stop for the night. That night we spent eating more amazing food at the base of a stunning waterfall. We had low expectations considering the dry season, but this one was in full flow and a welcome treat after a sweaty last section of the hike.
Several beers and a campfire later, someone decided a midnight skinny dip was in order and we all headed bravely, or stupidly, into the water which was bloody freezing! After warming up by the fire we headed to bed where I slept in a bamboo hut by myself for the night - at least until I woke up with three cats spooning me, no idea where they came from as the door was firmly shut the whole night. Our final day was spent rafting around the river, which although low had enough water for us to enjoy, have water fights with locals and to race each other. This was followed by elephant riding, which I refused to do (see my later elephant posts) and actually after explaining why to my fellow trekkers there were only three people who bothered to do it out of over ten of us. It just shows that education can make a change. We spent time feeding the elephants instead.Heading back to civilisation, some were heading off straight away on the next leg of their journey, while I had the evening to relax before heading off to the Elephant Nature Park the next morning. We all had a fantastic time on the trip, and although it was a little disappointing because it didn't really feel like the jungle with it being the dry season, it was a fun experience and worth doing. We had an amazing group who still keep in touch and although I'm not sure of the exact cost as it was booked in a larger package for me, it can't have been a very expensive trip - well worth it for the experience, just don't expect any difficult hiking.
Have you been hill tribe trekking - what did you think? Where else in the world would you recommend for trekking?