Trekking in Chang Mai, Thailand


In December of 2006/January 2007, we spent another winter holiday in
Thailand.  We decided after surviving the Tsunami in Phuket the previous Christmas, we should head to the north for the chilly air and try our luck there!  We spent 11 event-filled days in the vicinity of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is in a valley near the borders of Myanmar (Burma) and Laos very close to the famed Golden Triangle.  Many ethnic tribes have crossed the borders of Thailand and settled into the mountain regions there.  Until recently, most of them were opium growers, but now the Thai government has given the tribes alternative crops and ways to earn a living.  There are six major ethnic tribes in northern Thailand and all of them wear different colorful and distinct clothing and jewelry.  Each tribe specializes in certain crafts such as woodcarving, weaving, silversmith, embroidery,…

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We spent the first four days in the middle of the city shopping and sightseeing.  We visited temples, villages, gardens, waterfalls and rode elephants. One day, we went up into a six-mile cave, where we hired a guide and crawled though tiny openings following the guide with a kerosene lantern.  We saw amazing rock formations, stalagmites and stalactites. We saw monkey shows, elephant shows, and snake shows.  We visited an orchid garden, a butterfly garden and the Royal family’s summer palace gardens. (see family picture in the gardens)


The next three days, we backpacked with six other people and two guides up into the mountains to visit the hill tribes.  We decided that if we were going to do this, we’d do it right.  There were two kinds of treks- the tourist treks and the non-tourist trek.  We opted for the second one!!!  We carried all of our own gear for two nights/three days and headed off into the chilly mountains for an incredible experience! We visited six hill tribe villages and slept in their huts!  Besides the wild life, the only sign of life we saw for three days was the villagers, elephants and cows grazing the hillsides! 

The first day we drove for about an hour out of the city and stopped at a local market were we shopped for all of our provisions (quite an experience!).  We drove for two more hours, got out of the truck, and began to hike.  Soon the power lines were no longer visible and all sights and sounds of civilization were gone! We stopped in a Hmong village and we were invited inside the chief’s hut.  Mud floors, bamboo walls and a leaf roof about the size of an American kitchen housed all 22 people in his family!  All of the hill tribes are practicing Animist- they believe in the spirits of the Earth and a variety of other faiths such as Buddhism and Christianity are mixed in.  All houses had alters honoring the spirits though.  We passed through and stopped at many villages along our way and some had solar panels for electricity.   We arrived at our village where we would spend the night. (see picture below) Many of the villagers came running to greet us and they were eager to show us their hand made wares.  The village children were thrilled with the trinkets and cookies we passed out.  Everyone was very friendly! 

0512310601322.jpgThere were about twelve family huts and the “guest hut” where we slept.  The hut was up on stilts, huge bamboo poles ran along the floor, and the walls, woven mats were on the floor and wrapped around the walls.  The roof was a thatched leaf roof and the doorways were wide open.  There were twelve “mattresses” (I use this term very loosely!) lying two by two under mosquito netting.  We each had carried a sleeping bag and when we opened them, we found they were “indoor” sleeping bags and not warm at all!!!  We each had two hand woven wool blankets.  As soon as the sun set, the temperature dropped from 80 degrees to about 40!   It was New Year’s Eve!!!  We spent the night huddled together around an open campfire telling stories and eating the wonderful meal our guides cooked for us!  The villagers were selling Beer!  I guess modern vices can be found even five hours into the jungle!  The only fireworks we had were the incredible stars!  I don’t think any of us had ever seen so many!  We headed to bed early anticipating the tough hike the next day.  We were woken at 3:30 am by the village roosters!!!  Nobody was amused at that point and we tossed and turned until 6:00 am when our guides forced us up and into the freezing cold morning where we huddled around the fire and ate breakfast.  The village was waking up to it’s morning chores of collecting fruit, feeding the chickens and pigs, grinding rice, cooking, fetching water, and building fires.    051231100306.jpgWe left the village by 7:00 (see picture above) and began the toughest part of the trek straight uphill a steep mountain face for over an hour!  Just when we didn’t think we could go one more step, enormous elephants appeared out of the jungle like a dream come true! This of course was part of the trek and we had never been so happy!  We rode the elephants for over an hour up some more steep hills and through some rivers.  We dimounted and continued hiking until we reached the next village and stopped for lunch. Women were busy tending to their chores and the men were resting in the shade! (see pictures below)   We rested during the hot part of the day in the village and we all found it hard to believe that just a few hours ago we had been freezing!  051231063028.jpg060101022338.jpg051231051946.jpg

We hiked on again through the afternoon stopping in various villages along the way.   The scenery was breathtaking and peaceful.  We never saw another human except in the villages.  There were no signs of civilization except for the few rice paddies we crossed.  The forest in northern Thailand was so different from the Malaysian  forests. The jungles of Malaysia are dark and dense.  These forests were thin with a lot of ground cover and most of the time we were on a narrow dirt or sand paths winding through the forest. Bamboo grew wild everywhere right next to banana, coconut, mango and many other trees we couldn’t identify.  The forest was bright and there were many flowers growing on the ground and trees. 


We finally reached the second night’s camp. (See picture above) It was outside of a village right next to a waterfall.  We quickly set up our sleeping gear with a new plan to stuff the blankets inside of the sleeping bags to stay warm during the night!  We changed into bathing suits while the guides set up the campfire.  Devon and Max jumped right into the waterfall, but the rest of us sensible grownups reluctantly went in for our “shower.”  After shampooing and washing in the river, we dressed warmly and settled in for an evening rest by the fire.  We ate a wonderful Vegetarian curry, as meat would not have lasted this long on the trek.  We all tumbled into an exhausted sleep lulled by the sound of the waterfall just feet away from our communal hut. 


The next morning we rose early again, had breakfast and began trekking again.  Luckily, this day was easier as our bodies were quite stiff and sore by now.  We had been walking for two days and getting hardly any sleep in the freezing cold on hard bamboo surfaces!  Most of the day was down hill as we headed back toward civilization.  As the morning mountain mist cleared, we were all quiet and reflective as we marched down from the mountain and arrived at a small hut by a large dirt road. 

We knew it was over now!  A small sign on the hut read, “Jungle 7-eleven” we all had a good laugh at that one.  The woman was selling fresh bananas, water and soda.  She charged 5 baht (about .5 cents) for the bathroom.  It was the same as the holes in the ground we had been using for days and I was holding out for a toilet!!!  We had some lunch and boarded little rafts that were bamboo poles lashed together and began the final part of our journey. (see picture below)  We drifted downstream and rode small rapids until towns came into view and we reached the touristy areas.  Our tour truck was waiting at the landing area and we boarded the truck for the long ride back into the city.  We were soaked, dirty, cold, hot, bug bitten, and exhausted, but it had been such an incredible journey!  Brian, Max, Devon and I all loved it even though it had been difficult.  051229013822.jpgThe experience was so wonderful! We stayed at a mountain top resort for our last four days in Chiang Mai. (see picture below)  We all got full body massages, pedicures, and manicures for a total of $25.  We slept late and fell in love with our beds and bathroom!  We lazed by the pool, shopped, took walks around the resort, and read.  Brian, who is a chef, took an all day Thai Cooking class.  He spent the morning in the local market learning all of the fresh herbs and spices and then learned how to cook many Thai dishes such as green curry and chicken and cashews in a Thai kitchen.  I can’t wait for him to try them at home, we all love Thai food.  It is so fresh, healthy and tasty!  060103103018.jpg

It was a fantastic holday and I highly recommend trekking there.  Find a company that is not too touristy and does not stay on the beaten track.  We are not in the best physical shape, but we were able to keep up with the group and not kill ourselves!




  1. penandpurl said,

    May 20, 2007 at 6:29 am

    Hi Anni,

    I just found your blog while looking for info on KL. My partner and I are moving there next month! Have enjoyed reading of your expat adventures, and speaking as a local I can highly recommend Australia and New Zealand if you’re planning on continuing your travels – especially Sth Island, NZ. Hope you get the chance to visit someday. And thanks for the insights into life in KL!

  2. globalanni said,

    May 20, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Well, penandpurl, you will love it here! Malaysia is an amazing place. As I am new to blogging, I don’t have many posts yet. Stayed tuned for many more though. In the meantime, check out the link to my friend, Superkimbo, she has a ton of great stuff about KL. Thanks for reading!

  3. November 18, 2010 at 10:26 am

    some sleeping bags are waterproof and weatherproof too, they are nice for camping outside the house ~:-

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