Trekking by your own is harder than you think !
After Rock Climbing for a week in Tonsai, I decided to reach the northern part of Thailand as well as the hub for every kind of outdoor sport activities: Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is located in a mountainous area and is also home of the roof of Thailand (which culminates at 2565m): Doi Inthanon.
At first, I had no interest to do a trek with an agency but soon I realized I wouldn’t have the choice if I wanted to do something bigger than a day trip.
Doi Suthep, the closest mountain from Chiang Mai, is amazing if you only have one day to do a trek in the jungle. There is also an excellent Mountain Biking Agency (Mountain Bike X on Trip Advisor) what provides you a real mountain bike worth between €2500 and €3500. All the protections you need are included for a price for THB2800 a day.
Even if you find a map, tracks in the jungles change quite fast. I think it’s really hard to get a topographical map simply because it’s against the money flow generated by the Tour agencies. Even Orux Maps didn’t help me a lot outside of Doi Suthep area.
(If you own some Topographical maps with interesting tracks and trails in the area (100km2) around Chiang Mai, please share and tell us where did you get them!)
I’m not enthusiast about doing a trek with a tour agency because those ones are usually not hard enough in order to be accessible for most of the tourists. However for a higher price range some agency can organize a private trek to suit you.
Which agency should you pick up to do your trek in Chiang Mai Province?
My trek has to:
- be ecological,
- include bamboo rafting
- include less than 6 people
- give me the opportunity to meet some hill tribes.
- Cost less than THB 3500 for 3 days
I’m not looking for the most remote tribes in the mountains but at least a friendly one where I can share an unforgettable moment. Nonetheless something annoys me a little bit about every agency I have selected: Either my trek includes bamboo rafting and elephant riding or exclude both elephant riding and bamboo rafting. After questioning several agencies, I have no obligation to ride elephants so this is perfect.
I was really interested by The Trekking Collective Agency that operates private treks and sticks to what you ask for. But, (yes, there is a big BUT) a three days trek will cost you THB 8500! (or at least THB 2500 per day).
Yes the trek seems fabulous at this price: walking at least 7h a day, meeting some hill tribes far remote who don’t use to see many tourists and stay with them in their house and going down the river on a bamboo raft for 3 to 5 hours. This trek would only be for Jake, Christian, our guide and I without having a chance to meet other travelers.
I know this is the best trek I would get in terms of adventurousness and difficulty but we want to be with other young people we don’t know yet. So after 2 days, we declined the offer.
Another excellent agency is Pooh Eco-trekking. That’s the only Tour agency with a real trek ethic about nature, ethnicity and animals. Pooh Eco-Trekking has also a profound respect in direction of the people living in the hill tribes. This agency provides excellent Quality/Price/Responsible treks but…there is no bamboo rafting. Therefore I turned out their offers too.
Time is running and we must take a decision. Local Chiang Mai Tour offers cheap but complete treks and two of them are “Eco-ethical treks”. After negotiating with the agency because I couldn’t do the one I wanted to, we will leave Chiang Mai the next morning for 3 days Trekking in Doi Inthanon National Park. This trek includes Elephant Riding but we don’t have to ride them if we don’t want to. The price remains the same anyway.
A beginning visually hard to support
The Song Taew arrives at 9:30 am at Hug hostel. I had to wake up earlier than Jake and Christian because I stay 2 km away with Trevor: my Couchsurfer host. There are already 4 people at the back and we will pick up one more after us. 8 people aren’t too bad; it’s still less than 12 even though 6 would have been perfect.
After a quick stop at the market to buy some local products, we drive in direction of Doi Inthanon National Park. We will start by the elephant riding but luckily it doesn’t last long. Jake, Christian, Yuri and I stayed together. We walk around and discover the truth about the elephants. The youngest ones (3years old) are chained to a metal column in the shed.
The older ones stay under the sun. One of the mahouts (elephant master) uses a hose to keep the elephants skin moist. We also see a mahout teaching a trick to one of the youngest elephants to spin a hula-hoop around its trunk and when the elephant doesn’t do what the trainer wants; it gets hit with the “torture stick” behind his ears.
So yes, do not support Elephant Riding and if this is included in your trek, at least don’t ride them (even if it doesn’t save them). This will be the only bad moment during the trek.
Tama: The happiest person on Earth
Tama is our guide for our three days trek. The first thing I notice after his very good English is Tama always smiles or laughs. The next 3 days will be amazing thanks to his positive energy and his mind set. We also have a really good group and everybody talk to each other. Tama shows us and teaches us a few things on the way to the first waterfall where we stop to refresh ourselves.
In the jungle, we realize there are some complex irrigation system deviating water from the flow of the stream to the rice fields in the middle of the jungle.
The best moment remaining in my memory after this trek is the first night we spend in Tama’s village. His friends are fantastic, especially an old man who shows us several magic tricks before teaching us how to do them. Some of us trade cigarettes against Tabaco rolled in Banana leaves. After diner when all of us are seated around the fire pit, we make sure to offer a Chiang Beer to Tama and his friends. Everyone in the village is self-sufficient hence they can’t buy beer.
With Patrice and Anaïs (the only French people including me) we will stay with Tama and his friends sharing our stories, tricks and some origami till late after everybody else went to sleep. They were really impressed by the Japanese art and asked me to make frogs, eagles, giraffes and rabbits!
The next two days (or should I say next day and a half) are really easy. We never walk for more than 2 hour between two different locations. As the day before, we arrive to the next village two and a half hours before twilight. We enjoy a swim and play on the natural slippery slide although the river is cold. Then we re-join our campsite where Tama and other people start cooking. As always, food will be delicious. After diner we end up around the fire pit, getting to know each other better, while we’re savoring some delicious bamboo sticky rice.
Unfortunately everything comes to an end. Our last day goes even faster than the two previous ones. We leave our camp around 11:30 am to reach the bamboo raft starting point for half an hour down the river. Sometimes, we can lead the raft, sometimes we have to seat down and enjoy this relaxing moment. I’m glad we only did it for 30 minutes because we were getting cold under the shade.
I think I talk too much; enjoy the video now!