If you have your heart set on trekking Thailand, you’ve come to the right place. You won’t walk down a single street in Chiang Mai that doesn’t have several travel agencies boasting the best trekking experience. We booked through Family Travel, but of the eleven people on our trek, operated by Jumbo Trekker, everyone had booked through a different agency. You could probably do some comparison shopping one afternoon and find the best prices for the same treks. But it isn’t worth too much effort… most price packages range between 1200-1800 baht($40-$65) for three days, including lodging and meals. The most popular are the one, two and three-day treks, though we did hear that some people book up to six days.
We lucked out with our group! Agencies usually promise that no more than 12 people will be in a group, and our group had eleven. It was the perfect number. We were all between the ages 18-28, which made it easy to relate to everyone. France, Spain, Holland, Austria and Poland were all represented. Although Brian and I were the only ones from the US, but everyone spoke enough English to easily communicate. After three sweaty days and very little sleep, it would be natural to want to part ways as soon as you made it back to the city, but all 11 of us wanted to spend more time together. We got “proper food” and then planned to go back to our respective hostels, shower and meet back up.
Brian wrote that he was excited about the hiking while I was mostly in it for the elephant ride- and he is absolutely correct. As an experienced outdoor and hiking guide, he knew how to navigate the mountains (which he called hills) while I was pretty much sliding down avalanches of dust and small stones every time I misstepped. If it hadn’t been for a bamboo walking stick that Yo chopped down for me, I might not have made it. Even he will admit the hike was much more difficult than any of us had imagined for a “touristic trek.”
*Side note: I’ve always had a soft for elephants. I’ve looked forward to riding one for years. Like I said above, I was disenchanted quickly. Although I wouldn’t say that it was an entirely negative experience, I did feel like the elephants were unhappy. I felt almost guilty enjoying myself when they, so clearly, seemed not to be.
We slept in a shelter almost completely constructed out of bamboo. The first guy that decided to make a floor of bamboo must have had brave friends to come over and test it out. If I hadn’t seen 20 people sleeping on it, I wouldn’t have trusted that it could hold even my weight alone.
Day two began with my favorite line from the brochure that reads “have fun bathing your elephant.”
After bath time we started the trek to the mountain village Lahu. Our guide’s name was “Yo” which made asking him any kind of question fun. “How much farther, Yo?” or my favorite, “I’m going to fall down this hill, Yo!” He kept telling us today would be the hard part. “Up, up, up.” He wasn’t kidding.
The views were worth every step “up”.
The Lahu village kids were thrilled to see us crest the hill. The women followed us to our new hut and offered Thai massages for 150 baht ($5.50) for one hour. Everyone agreed it was the best five dollars we could have spent. (Though my massage was given by a massage-apprentice of sorts. A twelve-year-old village girl who seemed a bit distracted, but charming none the less). That night all of the village kids came to sing for us… for tips.
We survived icy showers and took in the sunset, while Yo made curry and sticky rice in bamboo shoots. Similar to our first night together we huddled around the fire and spent the evening telling riddles and brain teasers (most of which translated well enough for the whole group to understand) while the guys split a bottle of Thai whiskey.
The next morning Yo made us eggs and toast and we started our decent. After several hours we got to the river for “white water rafting.” Also an experienced river guide, the rapids weren’t rapid enough for Brian, it was plenty for me. Always looking for ways to give tourists the “authentic experience”, they docked our rafts alongside several bamboo rafts and instructed us to climb out and over. Let’s just say that if I had been the original inventor of the bamboo raft, and it had worked as well as these did, I would have dismissed the idea as a failure. We immediately sank about a foot in the water before we felt any buoyancy at all. The river was freezing, and we ended up putting our air raft on top of the bamboo raft and sitting in it. Probably the epitome of tourists.
By the end of our trek, all of the boys had decided they were over rice. They spent about an hour and a half talking about Burger King on the way back to Chiang Mai. When we got back to the city, we convince the driver to drop us off at a local burger joint so they could load back up on iron.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.