(Well, we really only trekked through Chiang Mai, but Trekking Through Thailand has the whole alliteration thing going for it.)
While we were in Chiang Mai, we passed tons of travel companies that offered treks through the jungle, and we thought it would be a perfect way to experience Thailand! And, in the way that only Zachary can do, he researched and found a company (Chiang Mai Trekking (www.chiangmai-trekking.com)) that offered an amazing three day trek through two different villages and some awesome hiking! Honestly, I was pretty nervous before we set off for this trek because I wasn’t sure what to expect. Zachary made it sound like we might not shower for three days. And like we’d ruin all the clothes we’d brought because we’d be slinging mud at elephants and chopping down tree branches with giant machetes longer than my arm as we trekked through the jungle for three days straight with only the small amount of water we brought to drink.
Turns out, it was way less intense than that. There were no clothes lost in the battle. And (almost) no machetes, as much as Zach wants one.
It was more like three days of walking through jungle, playing with elephants, traveling down a river on bamboo rafts, and getting to know the people who were on the trek with us.
We went trekking with our guide, Boon, who grew up and lived in the first village we were staying in, and seven other people – Marisol, an Australian social worker who works with sexual assault victims; Kilian, a German cardiologist on break; Grant, an American from Oregon who also quit his job in August to travel; and four Germans who just graduated from high school and are taking some time off to figure out what they want to do. It was a fantastic group of people!
It’s shocking to me at times how close you can get to people in such a short amount of time, especially when there are physical trials that you all have to work through together. So if anybody is looking for a bonding activity – try a trek just north of Chiang Mai!
I should introduce you to Boon a little bit more before continuing. He was a skinny guy with a ponytail longer than mine. He looked older and experienced, but yet at the same time, still had the agility of a teenager – hiking and jumping through the jungle as we walked. He was such a funny guy too! He really loved Bob Marley, especially because of the feel good plant that he’s famous for using. Boon believed that no matter what life threw at you, you can be happy. His dad passed away last year, he lost his business due to the monsoons and he had to move back to his village to take care of his aging mom. But he had a love for life that was contagious! My favorite quote from him was, “Today always good. Tomorrow you don’t know.”
The trek started off with a long ‘truck-tuk’ ride to this beautiful waterfall that quite possibly contained the coldest water I have ever felt.
Once we got in past chest deep, our hearts started pounding faster and we lost our breath from the intensity. But I came to Thailand to experience everything, and gosh darn it I was going to get under that waterfall to feel the power of the water pour over me, even if swimming to the bottom of the waterfall was really more like me shivering as Zach dragged me underneath. It was amazing! And it was just the beginning.
We hiked about two hours after the waterfall the first day through the jungle to a village that about 200 people lived in. Boon told us that everyone living there is Catholic because of a group of missionaries that came in around the 70s.
The village was gorgeous, surrounded by trees and mountains. The village actually had a small building with a long line of beds (I use that term lightly) in two rows against the walls that were just for the tourists coming through for the trek. There was also a few toilets behind the hut – one Western toilet and some “squatty” potties. There was even a shower head in one of the stalls that ran with cold water pulled from upstream in the river. The other stalls had a little spigot so you could use the bucket method to shower. Obviously there was no hot water so all nine of us tried to shower before it was dark (and cold), which did not happen. The initial bucket pour is a shock! I definitely heard people exclaim from outside over the first few pours, but you get used to it. Or you can do what Zachary did and bathe downstream in the river!
Boon and some villagers made us dinner. The first night we had stir fry vegetables, rice, and the freshest pineapple and watermelon for dessert.
Boon said the villagers are used to the tourists and they’re okay with us because some of the cost of the trek goes to the village, which made me feel better. The only thing I missed was that there wasn’t much interaction between us and the villagers and it would’ve been nice to learn more about where we were staying.
After dinner, we all crashed on our wooden pallets with bright pink and purple flowered blankets and a mosquito net covering. You would be surprised how comfortable a wooden pallet can be after a long day! I thought it was downright pleasurable! Though, Zachary has been discovering he’s a little too tall for Asia. His feet keep sticking out over all the beds. It probably didn’t matter too much though because when we woke up in the morning we saw our protective mosquito net was being kept together with duct tape in some areas and just had gaping holes in other areas. We’re just going to cross our fingers on the whole malaria thing. So, God, if you could watch over us just for a little bit on this we’d really appreciate it!!
The next day after breakfast (hooray for more fresh pineapple and watermelon and fresh scrambled eggs) we hiked for about three more hours. And it was a very strenuous downhill hike. I mean doable for anybody – the whole trek was – but we kept slipping and sliding on loose gravel. My favorite part is pictured below. And of course it’s a picture going uphill so it negates everything I just said, but it really was mostly downhill that day!
We got down the last bit of hill and arrived at a river where there were two bamboo rafts surrounded by a lot of loose bamboo floating around the rafts. Two guys sat nonchalantly on some nearby rocks. Apparently they had literally just finished making these rafts.
I know it’s different culture. I know they probably do this all the time, but if I made a floating raft that could hold the weight of 5 people and all their luggage I would be beaming and jumping up and down with pride. But then again I do like to jump up and down in general.
Anyway, I come to find out that Zach was going to help to steer our bamboo raft from the back while Boon guided it from the front. On the other raft, one of the German men helped out with steering the back and one of the bamboo builders took the front to guide it.
So we all hopped on board (the rafts were surprisingly more stable than I thought they’d be) and waited for instructions on how to steer the boat. Zach was handed this long bamboo stick. We watch Boon and his friend hack away some of the raft with their machetes (causing Zach to give me that imploring look that says, “See how useful machetes are?” And mine in turn says, “Ok, yeah, for all those bamboo rafts we have back home.”) and then suddenly Boon just pushed the boat away from the shore and away we go!
Oh ok. This is a figure-it-out-as-you-go kind of thing.
Then behind me I heard Marisol tell me that she doesn’t know how to swim so I’ll have to save her if she falls in.
All I could think is if anybody’s falling in this river I have a sinking feeling it’s going to be me – the klutz who falls or trips every hour on the hour.
So I braced myself for the first rapids that were scarily approaching, trying to put myself in my yoga balance mindset. Tighten your core. Don’t lock your knees!! And as I was trying to repeat everything I’ve heard every yoga instructor say to me I looked up and we were already past it, and I turned around to see Zach smiling ear to ear while he sticks the bamboo in the water to push the raft faster along the gentle river.
All that to say it was actually really relaxing. To listen to the river swish beneath you, the many different bird songs in the jungle, and look at the banana tree leaves overhanging the river and mountains jutting up in the background.
About halfway through our rafting journey we pulled the boats over for lunch and to play with elephants, something that was high on my list while in Thailand! And before any of you say, “Oh my gosh the mistreatment! Blasphemy!” I know. I know. People can be awful to poor, innocent elephants and it’s so depressing! Do you really think we would participate in such a thing? Come on now. We look into this stuff before going.
Our playtime with elephants had no riding involved – which is really what’s bad for the elephants. The place usually lets the elephants run wild and brings them in if a trek is coming through. Then we can guide them down to the river where they lay down and we throw buckets of water on them to help cool them off and then they leave! No harm done. Please correct me if I’m wrong! It would depress me if I am wrong, but I would like to know.
You could also buy a bunch of bananas and feed the elephants if you wanted. So obviously Zach and I bought a bunch of bananas! We got some alone time with the elephants feeding the bananas – peel and all!
At first, it was a little nerve wracking being so close to these giant creatures who could squish me in a second and not think twice about it. But after feeding them bananas they transformed into these gentle playful animals who would do anything for more bananas.
At one point, Zach and Grant were talking about how they never really thought about it but elephants look really weird with their hair on their head and large trunks that serve as both their nose and an arm somehow. I think Eliza heard though because that’s when she snorted up snot on all of us. Not the kind of playful I was hoping for, but it was hilarious!
At another time, somebody had their foot out in Ellie’s path. Somehow – and I’m still amazed by this – she didn’t step on his foot! She hovered her own foot above his foot until he moved and only then did she place it down. Amazing!
After playtime was over, we rafted about a half hour longer until we arrived at the second village, which was a lot smaller – around 50 people.
It had very similar sleeping and bathroom areas as the previous one. It was very serene though, because the hut was overhanging the river and had a patio you could sit on and look out over the river, into the jungle and get lost in your own thoughts.
But I think something is slightly wrong with my brain, because I can only enjoy serenity for a few minutes before I get bored and need to get up and do something. Is that something I should look into? The inner urge to move on from peace and quiet? Nah…I won’t worry about it. 😉
So I got up and found Mary, one of the German graduates, sitting inside our sleeping area. She said she couldn’t play Uno anymore with her friends because she started losing and she’s way too competitive to have fun while losing. Something I can’t relate to at all since I have definitely never thrown Uno cards across the room in frustration while playing with Zach at home…
Anyway, it gave us the perfect opportunity to learn about each other. Her English was so excellent that I would forget her first language was German until every now and then she’d say something like, “You call this a bracelet right?”
She told me about how she participated in a foreign exchange program in high school and lived in Indiana for 6 months. No offense to people from Indiana, but that just seemed kind of random to me. She said it was such a culture shock to her because of how conservative and religious the area was. Not that it’s necessarily bad, just different.
I told her she needs to visit us in Texas once, you know, we have more room than a seat of our 4Runner for her to stay. She asked me why I liked it so much and I started talking about friends and family of course. Then I mentioned, “Oh and Tex-Mex is the best. You’ve had Mexican food right? No? Oh my goodness!” Which started a 30 minute one-way conversation about avocados and tacos and enchiladas, and tortillas and everything I miss. I’m not sure if I was hungry and fueling the conversation due to my hunger or if it was talking about all that creamy deliciousness that made me hungry and kept it going.
After trailing off my rant, I asked her what she wanted to study in university. She mentioned international business, but really not knowing for sure what to do yet. She came from a family of architects. Her twin brother was studying now at university in architecture so one day he could take over the family business, but it didn’t interest her. She then asked me about social work.
This conversation, like Tex-Mex, got me on a whole new flurry of discussing helping people and the many different avenues of social work and the possibilities and not knowing which one I should take or where God has me going. Suddenly, I was pouring my heart out to this girl I had just met the day before. And it wasn’t until her friend walked in that I realized I had been dominating the conversation with social work and tacos. And yet somehow she stayed so attentive throughout the whole thing. Not nodding her head to speed me along or checking her watch. She showed as much interest as I had about the intricacies of social work and the guacamole to chip ratio. She smiled and laughed and maybe it’s me in my own little world telling all of y’all what a wonderful conversationalist I am to capture someone’s attention like this. But I don’t know.
Her true listening ability was so inspiring. I feel like many times we can have conversations with people and the whole time we may be thinking about the next thing we are going to say instead of just listening and let the conversation carry itself. She made me think twice about how I listen – and about how much I should widen my conversation topics beyond Tex-Mex and social work.
Anyways, I crashed shortly after dinner once again. We woke up and got back on our rafts after breakfast and floated for a couple more hours down the river. There were only minor issues this time on the raft that thankfully Zachary and I weren’t on. A couple people on the other raft got a tad wet by falling halfway in and one guy lost his bamboo steering stick when it got caught between two rocks but it all ended up being okay! Everybody returned with all their belongings and body parts.
We stopped rafting around noon and got lunch before we hopped in the truck that took us back to our hostels in Chiang Mai.
It was a great, adventurous trek and I recommend one to anybody going to Thailand! We liked ours so much we went on another one once we got to Luang Prabang, which was focused more on village life! More on that later. Thanks for reading!!