Trek in Barely Tribal Chiang Mai

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April 17th 2009
Published: April 17th 2009
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There's more to life than losing stuff, right?

So, let’s not get carried away here, disaster has struck me innumerable times, but I’m healthy and I’m in south east Asia not working - I can’t really complain too much, everything in perspective right? What’s more I’m in Chiang Mai the capital city for one of the most fun cultural festivals of the world, Songkran!
But first, that morning I lost my wallet and passport and I was due to go onto a trek into the tribal hills around Chiang Mai. I’d got chatting to an American woman named Kristen who’d been staying at my hotel so I visited her to let her know I’d be at the hotel meeting point but a bit late. By the time I’d arrived at the hotel fresh off the scooter the rest of the group knew what had happened. This was embarrassing to say the least, particularly as I’d recalled to them all the day before about not losing stuff like I did.
Anyway, we got some intros from our guide, a guy named “Dee” who spoke very good British English but whose tone was very strange whereby he’d raise his tone saying a word for an unknown reason, and lower at other words, so a sentence was up and down - weird. I understood why - Thai is very tonal language - a word can mean two completely different things in Thai if the tone is changed to high pitch or low and other pitches too. Interesting stuff and it made for a few good laughs after the trek. Anyway, 12 of us got into the back of a pick-up and after an hour arrived at a market to buy a few things and for Dee to ostensibly purchase stuff for dinner etcetera.

The place stank of fish and poultry; incredibly nothing was refrigerated, just sitting there for the flies to get at ‘em. I picked up some useless sticky jelly rice cube stuff that was fluorescent pink, green and translucent, a bit tasteless to be honest. We got back into the truck, avoiding the pushy tribal women (Lisaw) who were selling water bottle holders in tribal colours of purple and black, almost like ravers in the colours.

We finally got to a village after driving into the winding hills, all very pretty it has to be said, I was looking forward to seeing rural Thailand. The village we stopped at was Lisaw, basically Chinese emigrants from 400 years in Yennan province moved here so they still speak Chinese and have colorful raver like costume. Lunch was had, totally disappointing to be honest, plain rice with some pineapple and chicken within it, devoid of all spiciness too. This is a bit of a recurring problem in Thailand, just locals making their food so palatable that it’s bland, poor ‘ol farangs, eh? Anyway, we had a gander around the place, but not before Dee (I rechristened him Deirdre - but no one ever got the joke) warned us about buying opium off the locals and insisting we ask permission before taking any photos of them. I queried Deidre as to why we couldn’t buy any opium off the locals (this is northern tribal Thailand remember, very near to the infamous Golden Triangle of opium production) and he said something along the lines of police informers. Anyway, Kirsten and I went for a gander around the place, pig sties, lots of chickens and dogs, and satellite dishes. Yes, and electricity pylons too, and the local woman Kirsten asked to take a picture of asserted 10 baht for the privilege, and didn’t seem too bothered either by the viewing of it! Some tribal village, huh, it seemed not so remote and distant from modern civilization after all. My cynicism didn’t really leave me for the rest of the trek to be honest, this trekking business is well trodden by tourists and it made me appreciate the three day trek in real tribal territory of Myanmar that much more.

We then went for a real trek through the hills and tried my best to ignore the English public school girls on their gap year, who complained constantly about the heat and kept asking how long we would be walking for and how far it was till we stopped next. To be honest, they were 6 fun poshos at the beginning but I just about tolerated them after a while. As we went through a valley we could see back up to the village and the biggest house was a blue roofed deal, which was owned by an Englishman who’s married a local, a man in his 50s and her in her mid 20s. I asked a few questions about it because it seemed so conspicuous amidst the village (well, actually conspicuous also by the fact it was not in the centre of the village itself. Anyway, Thais are pretty diffident about farangs and their marriages to younger locals but Dee said that this gentleman went back to England for 6 months at a time and at my prodding shared our feelings about the whole affair. At the next village we set up camp in these huts and then took showers, well, a plastic saucer in a bucket full of cold water - incredibly refreshing and a bit addictive after a day’s trekking. Me and the boys then proceeded to have a football match with the local lads, it must have been about 7 versus 7 played on some rough piece of dirt full of pot holes and stones, with our boundary being thatched houses, pig sties and a jungle ravine into which we had to retrieve the ball every time it went out. It was pretty competitive game and us farangs ended up winning it 9-10. Afterwards the lads restarted their game of football volleyball Thai style. That night we feasted on some pretty tasty Thai food, and afterwards got song and dance from some young tribal kids in costume. Adding to my cynicism for the whole trip was the fact that they looked uncomfortable and worse, bored. And probably the same everywhere some younger kids got dragged into it and didn’t really know the routines, so if they weren’t into it then neither was I.

A massive thunderstorm made us rush back inside our hut and following a few beers as well the lack of sleep I’d received from previous night I went to my hard mat for some well earned sleep. To my surprise Deirdre our guide actually showed irritation towards me because of this, and wanted me to stay up. I left the others to smoke the opium they’d managed to get off Deirdre; perhaps this was the reason why he was being rude, lost revenue perhaps?

The next morning, we trekked a fairly long time and actually got to see some pretty interesting scenery, with waterways and streams. We visited a waterfall for an hour or so and then had another underwhelming rice and pineapple lunch. After that some more trekking with some ascents (more whining from the posh girls) and then got to the elephants camp for some
Game of takrawGame of takrawGame of takraw

In Thailand, the game is simply called takraw. It is also thuck thay (Lao: "twine" and "kick")[1] while in Malaysia it is sometimes called sepak raga. In the Philippines it is known as sipa, meaning "kick".
riding. We split into two groups, the English girls and the rest of us and it was pretty cool, they are really quite magnificent beasts, so gentle and large (with massive penises by the way). I was on a female so I got to see it, as well as the baby elephant being naughty, deliberately obstructing a male elephant and actually pushing him back in his path! More worrying was an image that was created and shall never leave my memory is the baby elephant eating it’s mother’s poo droppings. Bad elephant! Anyway, the trek that night we stayed at a hut beside some rice fields and a stream, “showered” in the stream and then tucked into our evening meal. The evening meals have been pretty tasty it has to be said, simple but definitely wholesome; I seemed to recall a pumpkin and chicken dish, mmm. Not a bad night’s sleep was had, pretty thin mats on bamboo slats but when you’re tired, you’ll sleep on anything. Again, some of the others smoked some local opium, but I just wasn’t awake enough or even in the mood to spend money on “opium” - I probably missed out I suppose, the report from Kirsten was a sleepy chilled-out feeling.

The next day we set off at about 9.30-10 am and walked for bloomin ages to a shallow river/stream. There we were put into groups of three and put onto bamboo rafts tied together. So it was me, Kristen from Boston, Eric - a nice quiet guy from L.A. and Tom, another quiet lad from Ipswich. Difficult is way more fun than easy, as we were ages behind the others and because there were four of us on this shallow river/creek we repeatedly ran aground and crashed into the banks. I slipped and fell on my arse as did all of us and it’s a shame we were advised not to bring our cameras because it was a really nice couple of hours with lots of laughs, wades into the water and taking turns navigating.

We then got back into the pick up truck, drove to a roadside shop and had a small portion of more bloody boring rice for “dinner”. On the way back into Chiang Mai, the traffic increased and gradually we were caught up in the beginnings of Songkran, water fights of people chucking water at you, drenching you. We had a pretty exhilarating time stood on the back of the pick-up driving through the moat of the Old City, with loads of scooters, pick-ups and people just going mental with water guns and vats of ice water in the back…this was Songkran - Thai New Year!

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