As soon as we returned to Bangkok from Bali Bob took a train to Chiang Mai for a trek in northern Thailand near Mae Son Hong. I stayed in Bangkok to have some dental work done. This entry was written by Bob.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and the jump-off point for experiencing the northern hill tribes.
Mae Hong Son is in the trekking area–but quite a ways from Chiang Mai–drove there with several treks en route and spent one night in the town. There are many ethnic tribes–most renowned being the long necked ladies. When I was there not many tourists as it is hard to get to. We subsequently flew back to Chiang Mai–but that was included in the package. Did this on one of my early trips. On that trek we would walk for a day or two, spend nights in tribal villages and the van would pick us up at a designated site. Then onto the next trek–also did a little rafting but no rapids.
These peoples owe allegience to their ethnic group and national boundries are of no signifigance. They originally migrated from China and Tibet and now reside in southern China and in a geographic band across the north of Burma, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
These tribes have taken taken advantage of the tourist influx and now offer their villages and homes as overnight lodging for trekkers. As they live in the hills there are no roads, autos and access is strictly by foot. So after a couple of days re-exploring Chiang Mai (its growing big time) I joined 5 other farangs (European and half my age) and a Thai guide for a 4-5 hr ride in the back of a pickup to the trailhead for a 3 day trek.
The walking is relatively easy but the heat/humidity combo is a killer. In 5 hrs we reach a Karen village, are given lodging in a bamboo slat hut and offered a “shower” from a barrel of cold water using a laddle to pour water on whichever body part is selected. A simple meal is offered–tasty but usually best not to ask what it is. Market comes to us as the local ladies show up with their handicrafts. The children run about and giggle at/with the strangers. During the night a pig was the victim of a noisy slaughter as the next day was a festival (new years).
On the previous trek along the Burmese border we had been invited to a wake for a child who had died that day (probably from congenital heart disease). But alcohol became the focus of the event and we made a hasty departure out a side door as belligerence unfortunately replaced festivity.
The next day of this trip offered many stream crossings over narrow logs and I was made suddenly aware that balance is one of the skills that diminishes with advancing youth. Oh well! But we made it to the waterfall for a rewarding swim and that night barbequed a suckling pig.
The last day offered a ride on a bamboo raft through several small rapids and the obligatory elephant ride (once is enough). My less than friendly elephant was named Toby with her cute baby following along behind. I kept thinking that I should have a seat belt. Toby, however, was sure footed, enjoyed the sugar cane and bananas that were sold at intervals along the route.
Mae Sai is just a border town in the far north I went to on another trip. Across the bridge is Burma. It is not a primary trekking destination. Used more for visa stamp-outs and Thais purchase stuff (primarily pornography I think that they cannot get in Thailand–or at any rate saw much of it being confiscated by Thai immigration.) From Chiang Mai it is part of a day trip –in a van–that also includes the Golden Triangle (people stand and have their picture taken under a Golden Triangle sign) and Mekong River/Laos border area. A boring trip.
Tip: The trips out of ChiangMai have become a bit too packaged and westernized–now include the obligatory elephant ride and a raft trip which is a token overcrowded experience. Ok if one has never done it but better if you are able to get off the beaten track like the trip to Mae Hong Son.
Tags: Altercations, Bob's Trips, Cars, Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Climbs & Walks, Culture, Excursions, Festivals & Ceremonies, Food, Hill Tribes, Mae Hong Son, Minority Groups, River Rafting, Thailand, Trains, Travel Tips, Trekking