When I booked a mountain trekking tour to hike the outskirts of Chiang Mai I thought I’d hike a mountain, camp out, and go back. I’ve been going on camping trips with friends and family ever since I was five. I thought to myself, “ehh, nothing new.” But, it turned out to be one of the most meaningful activities I have ever engaged in.
First, we got picked up from our guest house in Chiang Mai and went around the city picking up others who had booked the same tour. We met people from Chile, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, England. And, I LOVE to meet people and make new friends. I like to learn about their culture, traditions, and reasons for traveling. Throughout the entire ride we enjoyed the scenery, talked, and got to know each other. It’s quite fascinating when you can connect with people who live entirely different lives than yours.
We stopped by a market to purchase any supplies we might have needed, like: mosquito repellant, a flashlight, snacks, water, and toilet paper. About an hour later, we arrived to a small village with dirt roads, bamboo houses, green surroundings, and kids running after our truck waving good-bye. We stopped at a little market/restaurant where they fed us rice with egg and vegetables. Meanwhile, the truck took our luggage to the top of the mountain. Once we finished our meal, we began our hike.
Our guide was inventive and funny. He cut bamboo sticks so we could use them as trekking poles. He would point out all the rare plants, like the mimosa pudica, which folds its leaves inward as soon as you touch it. He made a questionable pathway through a trail covered in slippery mud where there was no room to slip, otherwise you’d find yourself plummeting into the river. He, also, introduced us to a fruit neither one of us had ever tasted or heard of. He peeled it with his handy machete and gave us all a piece. I can’t remember the name but it was sweet and easy to chew, like grapes and kiwis.
It had rained heavily the night before so there were overflown rivers and flooded roads. We had to walk through a road that had partially collapsed due to the excess of flowing water. It was quite an adventure!
At last, we arrived to our little bamboo shed where we’d be camping out and staying the night. We joined a different group, settled into our little bed space and washed off the mud while our guides prepared us dinner. They asked who was vegetarian and who wasn’t — Thailand is vegetarian friendly but I was still amazed by how thoughtful everyone was. In the US, you rarely get asked if you’re vegetarian before they prepare your food. Once dinner was served, the guides called us over to sit at a picnic table that had lit up candles and bowls of food for everyone to serve themselves. It felt like we were family saying things like, “hey, can you pass the rice,” and, “how was your trip to…?” Everyone shared their purpose of traveling and each story was so encouraging.
After dinner, one of the guides set up critical thinking games and had us all working together to solve the problem. He prized me with a bamboo elephant that he made while we were playing. We then moved over to another table near the campfire and we played with a deck of cards and enjoyed some cold beers while a guide played his guitar and sang beautifully in Thai.
Oh, did I mention there was no electricity, no heated water, no phone service, and no plumbing? I wasn’t able to get a hold of any of my loved ones to assure them I had not been eaten by any wild animals. But, this forced me to be more present and enjoy the moment. If we wanted to use the restroom, we had to walk out to a different shed where it was pitch black and you had to hold a flashlight while you squatted over a traditional Thai toilet. At night, the bathroom stalls would fill with spiders, snails, mosquitos, moths and other insects I can’t even name. I had to run out there, alone, in the middle of the night, like four to five times. It wasn’t pleasant but it was such a humbling experience. It makes you appreciate the little things in life.
The following day, we woke up to breakfast. We were called over to the picnic table again and we all sat together to have some eggs, toast, coffee, and tea. After breakfast, it was time to say good-bye to the group that was staying two nights. The rest of us gathered our luggage and left the campsite. We visited some elephants and we were asked if we wanted to ride them. I didn’t want to because I don’t like harming animals but they insisted so much and assured me that they don’t torture them, so…I caved. Maybe they don’t “torture” them, but it does kill me to know that these poor animals go back and forth, back and forth, carrying people all day in the heat. It didn’t make me feel good, therefore, I won’t do it again. But we did get to play with them in the water. Elephants love to play and feel loved, just like all animals, so we went into the river and bathed one of them.
We had lunch after that. Pad Thai, pineapple fried rice, and watermelon slices on the side. Ugh! Heaven on earth! Before heading home, we hiked up to some waterfalls and slid down the rocks that served as slides. The beauty of nature astonishes me! We ended the day with my first ever river rafting expedition. That was on my bucket list and I didn’t even know it was included in our package. What a perfect way to end this life-changing experience!