Trek to the hill tribes near Chiang Mai

Mae Taeng Travel Blog

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Trek to Hill tribes (Day 1): Popped into a market.

ANDREI - Kerry's words halfway along the Inca Trail two years ago went something like "I'm NEVER going to do another trek again!".  So exhausted was she by the endeavour at altitude in Peru.

Those seemed distant memories whilst we went around tour operators in Chiang Mai, trying to find a 2 or 3 day excursion to the local area.  We didn't want a tour where we were simply driven to all the places of interest, like our River Kwai trip - we wanted to see the area and take it in first hand.  Many tour agents in Chiang Mai offered that same kind of trip, even the much vaunted Panda Tours.  But we checked out what was offered by the Chiang Mai Garden Guest House - the Thai lady in charge spoke good English and German and seemed to offer what we want, with the promise of seeing fewer, fellow tour groups.

Trek to Hill tribes (Day 1): Fresh fish at the market beforehand.
  3 days and 2 nights for 2500 baht each.

The trip was a bit of a surprise to us!  Being the wet season, the jungle paths were muddy and slippery.  This made the narrow thoroughfares around the mid-points of some hills rather treacherous, since our heavy-ish walking boots could not cope with the local mud!  Meanwhile, our fellow tour members (2 Swiss couples and 3 German lads 20-30 years old, and a German family with 2 boys) seemed to fare much better in their trainers!

First up was a brief stint at some waterfalls.  I managed to slip off a rock and landed my feet in a stream, which knocked my confidence a tad for the rest of the trip!  The waterfall itself was a welcome destination after only 30 minutes in the humid Thai heat.  The coldness of the water took my breath away when I stepped into the flow, mind!  On the walk back to the roadside restaurant, I noticed what looked like a Hindu bindy between Kerry's eyebrows.
Trek to Hill tribes (Day 1): More greens at the market.
  Turns out it was a leech!  I pulled it off before it could get a decent bite.

Then it was time for lunch.  Piroon, our guide of 20 year's experience, cooked the food and it was a rather nice Pad Thai.  Once I myself had finished, I noticed a pain in the sole of my left foot.  Guess what?  Another leech!  I took a photo of the little critter after I splatted it on the floor!

We were then driven to a drop off point and that was the last of the motorised transport for 2 days.  We set off in the drizzle up a steep side road, then on to muddy roads then muddy jungle paths.  We wound our way through the landscape for 4 hours or so to a village
 of the Karen hill tribe.

The tribe are relatively modern in terms of building construction, but don't have any electricity, their water comes from the river, and they send a representative for the village to help communicate their needs to the local government and vice versa.
Trek to Hill tribes (Day 1): Wasp larvae for sale.
  All their kids go to a school next to that main road we started out from!  They live in traditional Thai houses, on stilts, with farm animals roaming free.  So nothing like the remote tribes you see on TV documentaries.  But still a simpler way of life.

Our first night's dinner was followed by a local guy setting us brainteasers with matchsticks.  He seemed a bit drunk but he certainly kept us entertained.  He also challenged us to pick up a plastic ring from the floor with our mouths, but without bending our knees or using our hands - there's a photo of this somewhere.  Only the 2 Swiss girls, Daniella (who looks like an old BT colleague of mine!) and Sandrine, were flexible enough!

Next day, we set off in the drizzle with some more slippery, muddy conditions through the jungle, getting rid of leeches, and Piroon pointing out some interesting things, until we reached a Laku tribe village on the Mae Tang River.
Trek to Hill tribes (Day 1): Trek to the waterfall.
  A spot of lunch, touting of "local" wares by the local ladies, then an elephant trip into the jungle was followed by some rafting down the river on a pair of long, bamboo crafts.

We spent the night at another village on the river, then it was time for more prolonged bit of bamboo rafting down the widening Mae Tang.  In fact, we had to get off our rafts and clamber through the jungle for a bit, when we encountered a particularly dodgy rapid.  But most of the river was about Grade 2 up to the point where we stopped.  This was at a whitewater rafting station, and the rpaids afterwards looked considerably more active!

However, we'd had a tiring but rewarding time.  On our journey back to Chiang Mai, we passed many other tour groups being driven to various locations on the river, so it was satisfying to see we'd had a more active epxerience than them!

The Thai massages in the evening were well needed!

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Mae Taeng
photo by: louise2553