People come to Chiang Mai to trek, and not much else. It’s what it’s mainly known for, and seeing how everywhere seems to be selling trekking tours it really is the bread and butter of the place. With this in mind, we decided to try it out and signed up for a 1 day trek. Most people go for multiple days, but we opted for a shorter option as my leg was stilled injured and we quickly learned that any additional day is simply a repeat of day 1. Our major loss was that we would not spend the night in a tribal village, but after seeing the accommodation it wasn’t a big loss – you actually stay outside of the village unlike what is advertised.
Our day started at 8:30 AM, with an hour long ride to the country. After painful traffic we were finally out into spectacular landscapes of rice fields, mango groves, wooden houses, mountains and hills. Finally, the natural beauty we had been expected!
Our first adventure was riding an elephant. Travis and I got onto our own elephant (with a guide) and our group went for a walk through an outskirt of the jungle. 1h elephant ride is really not a long ride – they are stubborn animals that stop all of the time to eat. In all, I don’t think that we went further that 1 km but it was still a fun experience. I enjoyed riding the elephant a lot more because I could see how happy it was making Travis. I felt uncomfortable with the adventure though because of the way the elephants were being treated: the guide had a metal hook that he was not afraid to use (in addition to kicking) to try to get the elephant to behave. While I understand that you need some force to attempt to control such a large animal, I was really pained to see the scars and open wounds that ours had. In retrospect, the company that our tour used was not a great one, as later during the same day we saw much better treated ones. If you plan to ride an elephant in Chiang Mai, I would recommend asking many questions and perhaps paying extra to support better companies.
After riding the elephants we went back into the van to our trekking destination (it was disappointing to use that they did not link up together without the use of a car). Our first trek was to a Hmong village, an ethnic minority that also occupies China, Laos and Vietnam. The road there was truly that, a road. While it was not a hike, it was nice for my leg. The Hmong village was really weird to me, because I have seen the Vietnamese Hmong and these were nothing like them. In Vietnam, they are in your face, trying to sell you things. Here, the village was deserted! We hiked to see tribal people and there were none except for a few child (dressed normally) selling tribal knickknacks. It was just bizarre.
From the village we continued on walking to a Meawang waterfall, where people went swimming. It was quite a lovely spot and the water was cool, which was nice after all of that walking in the jungle.
After the waterfall we walked further on past rice fields to the Karen tribal village, and this one was much better. Children came running up to us saying “hello 40 baht” (baht are Thailand’s currency), trying to sell us bracelets. The village had many more houses, with women chewing betel nut while weaving scarves. While it was really touristic, at least it was as advertised.
We took a break before our last adventure for lunch. While it was really late and we were starving, there were tons of food and it was quite tasty. Then we were off to bamboo rafting, which turned out to be really basic but very lovely. The raft was basically 6 large and long bamboo branches strapped together – this meant that as soon as you sat on it you were sitting in some water. Our navigator was probably 12 years old, and did a good job pushing us along the river and keeping us from the rocks. The ride was my favourite part of the day, but it went by really quickly as the kids constantly push the rafts along instead of letting the river carry you. It would have also been nice for the guide to let us know to change into our bathing suit first, as we were completely drenched afterwards. No pictures though, they did remember to let us know not to bring those!
In all I had a good day but I think that I might have had a better had I paid a higher price for a better tour. Had our guide been more knowledgeable, perhaps it would have been a more interesting experience. Unfortunately, he was pointing out things like the corn fields! I guess there is humour in that. Regardless, I’m glad that I did it.