Trekking In Chang Mai

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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Elephant riding
We had no problem finding treks around Chang Mai, booking a three-day, two-night trip to the surrounding hills via our hostel. What makes trekking around northern Thailand unique (to my knowledge, anyway) is that the setup allows for visits to and interaction with hilltribes in the area. I wasn't sure how I felt about this, because if it were the other way round, and loads of funny-looking, scruffy foreigners came walking through my village, perhaps taking photos of me, I would feel a bit like a zoo animal. So I was keen to see how this was going to work for both parties.

Our first day started with a fair bit of milling around. We visited a market where our two guides bought some supplies. After avoiding the usual forced sale of pointless items, we were on the road in a truck and heading to the Elephant Conservation Park - probably not as grand as you would imagine it - just a hut with some elephants floating around.
Elephant riding
One of the perks of having so much competition in the area is that every company has to try to offer that little bit more. So, as a result, even though neither would have been a deal clincher, we were offered elephant riding and white water rafting over the three days.

I was looking forward to the elephant trekking part, although I had pictured it as being an accompaniment to the walking. I mean, I thought we would have to 'board' an elephant who would help us overcome some difficult terrain or help us carry some heavy things. As it was, it was much as you would expect at a zoo - picked up, walked around in a circle and back again. I wasn't sure, also, about the way the elephants were 'disciplined.' I know their skin must be much thicker than ours and less sensitive, but I'm also sure getting smashed in the face with a metal bar or getting hit with a pickaxe might cause a few issues with some animal rights groups.
Meo village landscape
I would also have thought that health and safety might raise a few eyebrows at the safety bar that we could lift in and out of position with our hands while the elephant hung us over the steep hillside. Despite this, it was good fun.

Once we finally started walking, I was ready for the elepant ride again. It was a blistering hot day and we were all soon dripping with sweat (apart from the guides, of course, who probably thought it was mild). After a few hours walk, we came to our first village, where we were to bed for the night. The tours pay the villages to let us stay and in one village we were even made lunch. This first village, belonging to the Meo tribe, I was expecting complete detachment from the outside world. I was to be surprised.
Bamboo huts
It seemed that even remote Thai villages couldn't hide from globalisation's claws; as electricity,  motorbikes and utility vehicles, DVDs, rock music and English football (yes, one lady was a Liverpool fan) were all on display.

The second day was by far the most intensive. Luckily, though, it was also the coolest day. We even had a brief downpour of rain to temporarily wash away the sweat that constantly dripped off my face. The second village we visited was the Red Lahu tribe. Food was cooked inside our bamboo hut, which was actually a lot more comfortable than you might imagine. We ate very well over the three days, even getting cooked breakfasts in the morning and some fresh fruit from the villages. I was pleased that the village experience wasn't as I expected.
Waterfall stop-off
We were allowed to view from afar for the most part, and any interaction seemed welcome from both parties. One villager even offered me one of his pigs for 900 baht. I declined.

Our third day was, in contrast, the most relaxed. We did minimal walking - just as well, given the heat - and were picked up at our final village stop-off, the Akha village, by the truck that dropped us off and taken to where we would do white water rafting. I actually thought our drive there was scarier that the white water rafting. The water levels were low so it can only have been grade 1 or 2, where our trip in Bariloche, Argentina, was grade 4. It was actually so naff that it became quite funny when you compared it to rafting in Argentina. Instead of a fast, free-flowing ride that took you weaving through impossible corners and missing big rocks by millimetres, here we plodded along as the guide failed to inject any enthusiasm into it as we slowly hit every rock in the way like a pinball on a pinball table.
Eating noodles. Not drunk, promise
Add to this the fact that we also slowly passed families washing in the water while we were wearing life jackets and helmets, and we probably looked like a complete tool kit.

Then we even had the added bonus of a bamboo boat, which was about as white-knuckle as the rafting. We sat and rode this long bamboo structure down the ridder, relaxing and enjoying the scenery. It was made fun by the dogs that rode the raft and had a little soap opera on show for us, with wars against dogs on the river side, and then constantly stressing about the others falling in and losing each other in the water.

Then it was time to head back and get a decent shower and nurse our new blisters. We even went to have another fitting on our suits - and they look good! Hoorah!
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Elephant riding
Elephant riding
Elephant riding
Elephant riding
Meo village landscape
Meo village landscape
Bamboo huts
Bamboo huts
Waterfall stop-off
Waterfall stop-off
Eating noodles. Not drunk, promise
Eating noodles. Not drunk, promise
No walking stick = amateur
No walking stick = amateur
Walking stick = pro
Walking stick = pro
Where we spent first night
Where we spent first night
Bat-cave (but no bats - or robins)
Bat-cave (but no bats - or robins)
Waterfall stop-off
Waterfall stop-off
Red Lahu
Red Lahu
Red Lahu village
Red Lahu village
900 baht
900 baht
Giant millipede(?)
Giant millipede(?)
Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes