Published: July 16th 2012July 16th 2012
I had originally planned to do a three day, two night trek to visit the tribal villages in the mountains above Chiang Mai along with a bamboo river rafting and elephant riding adventure. After talking with two different groups who had just returned from trekking (one a three day and the other a two day, one night trek) I decided to change my trek to a two day as the three day group said they had a bad guide and were bored a lot, while the two day group said it was very action packed, fun and they had a great guide. It seemed pretty dependent on the guides but I decided if I did get a bad guide I only wanted him for two days instead of three. So after a call to the agency, a visit from an agent and a few scribbles on my receipts, I was set.
Side note: most anything you do here, you just get a hand written piece of paper that says you are signed up and a phone number to call in case. I was really skeptical at first but now see that it always works out. Tourism is pretty
Steeper than it looks
regulated here and they have to report what everyone does, who is on their tours, and so forth, so I have come trust the system. The "officialness" of a hand written piece of paper is still just a little difficult to get used to.
I was told be ready at 9 or 9:30 for my truck to pick me up. The truck came, but was for the three day trek. They told me to get in anyways. "don't worry" is a favorite phrase among the Thai. Turns out the two day was over booked so they wanted me to go with the three day for the first day because it was the same for both treks. This was fine by me, especially since it meant I got the reportedly "good" guide whose name was Ping Pong. We drove around for the better part of an hour picking up other people, supplies, paperwork, and I don't know what else.... We even stopped at my hostel again to pick up more two day people who they wanted to join the three day group like me. Once on our way, we were twelve people zooming down the highway in the
back of a little pickup (aka their cheap taxi service) with ping pong holding on standing on the back bumper.
Our trek started with a 45 minute rafting trip down a pretty gentle river on Bamboo rafts. It looked like the river was quite low as the water line was way higher than us and it is also still early in the rainy season. We didn't mind though as this meant for a leisurely ride with our young guides standing up front steering (they were probably about 12 or 13 years old and really enjoyed trying to get each other and therefore the other rafts wet or cut each other off - made it more entertaining). No photos of this since I didn't want to get my camera wet but I am hoping to get some pics from a guy that was with us who had a water proof camera.
Rafting was followed by hiking a short distance to lunch at a waterfall that was fun to swim in. More hiking (rather steep but not hard) and we were at the tribal village for our nights stay, arriving around 5. We stayed at the
house of Wooly Bully (another really fun and friendly guide helper). He had a hut like thing in his backyard with bamboo beds that we slept on and another covered area with a long table for eating and socializing, as well as a fire pit. It was a great set up! It was mostly a european group, except for me, with a couple people from holland, two guys from Germany, another from Belgium, and another few from France. One of the guys from France was a golf instructor by day and a professional poker player in the evening. I feel like my dad and him would get along well.
Thankfully, all these people came from places that learn to speak english really well, so we were all able to communicate easily. After dinner, some of the tribal kids sang songs around the fire and we all gave them a few baht. That was followed by drinking beer and brain teaser games. The Germans and French were leading the drinking while the Hollanders were leading the mind games. Ping pong even had a few challenges of his own to add. I learned some great brain teasers and contributed
an easy favorite of my own that I learned from my high school Spanish teacher called "is this a good can or bad can?". We also played a version of one of my favorite campfire games called mafia. They called it werewolf but played it very similarly and therefore I was able to do pretty well. A great night that ended pretty late (I felt bad for the village, as I think we were pretty loud).
The next morning had us two-day trekkers with the other group with the bad guide ironically named Boo. Morning hiking, lunch, and then it was elephant riding time. I somehow ended up sitting on the neck of the elephant (not in the seat) but it was a fun ride with the elephants ears constantly flapping against my legs. This was a really touristy thing with the way it was setup and the ride was for only about thirty minutes through the jungle and river (although the neckmost not the most comfortable ride so the short time was ok with me). I also think this was one of the places where, while not tortured, the elephants are overworked and not the best
taken care of. There are many other places in Thailand that pride themselves in taking care of elephants well and offering more sustainable tour options for tourist but of course charge quite a bit more. I met a girl eating dinner one night from Mexico that actually spent a month working at one of these places and she gave me the whole story about elephants in Thailand...
Anyways, I was glad I ended up only doing the two day, happy to get ping pong as my guide the first day, and am low looking forward to another popular thing for backpackers: the 2 day slow boat trip into Laos.
There are more photos below