Saturday, March 11, 2006

Start your own adventure in Thailand: Trekking

Hilltribe Family Thailand

Trekking around Chiang Mai and Thailand’s North: The home of the hilltribes

Thailand’s north is a gorgeous place where lushly vegetated mountains rise majestically from the earth – the tropical tail end of the Himalayan chain. For some mysterious reason mountains were made to be climbed. There seems to be an innate desire to struggle to peaks and look down on creation as if we were God almighty. When you are at a great height, taking in vast areas of creation in a single glance, the world, for a fleeting moment, belongs to you alone. In Thailand’s north, you can do just that, with the added bonus that along the way, you can rest overnight with Thailand’s hilltribe people. There are several different hilltribes, including the Akha, Meo, Lisu and Lahu – all with their own unique traditional lifestyle. These people migrated from Southern China into what until relatively recently was uninhabited territory less than two centuries ago, and set up shop as subsistence farmers. Treks can run from two days to a week or more, as you hike through the jungle pathways on foot, by elephant (a daunting prospect at first), and by bamboo river raft, breathing fresh air, watching abundant wildlife and tiring your limbs, until you come upon the welcoming hilltribe village that you will call home for the night. An evening with a Thai hilltribe is an unforgettable experience. After your hike, the food tastes fantastic, and along with the villagers you settle sit around the fire, singing songs and watching traditional dances – be prepared to do a number or two yourself from your home country. After a few hours with these charming people, you may find yourself tempted to give up your career in accountancy, or whatever it is you do back home, shed yourself of all your possessions and live the simple life of honest hard work and a bowl of rice at the end of the day. Tempted, yes, but after a little reflection on the labours you have to put in for that rice bowl, you’ll probably opt to take home a few of the colourful handicrafts, and treasure your memories from the land of comfort from whence you came. Really, it’s better this way.

Trekking: Exploring the North of Thailand

Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s mountainous north was the original home of hilltribe trekking, but in recent years a few other places have gotten into the act. Chiang Mai itself is a relaxed city of about one million people, and the springboard to some great trekking locations, including Doi Inthanon National Park, which is the host to Thailand’s tallest peak at 2700 meters. The second city of trekking is the more somnambulant Chiang Rai, a bit further north. Both cities have very good airports and regular flights from Bangkok and elsewhere. One young upstart in Thailand’s trekking world is Nan, northeast of Chiang Mai, and the coldest spot in Thailand (which is nonetheless pretty darn warm if it snows in your hometown). New luxury hotels have been popping up here recently, yet many of the hilltribes in this area are new to visitors – so it’s possible to enjoy the best of both worlds. Also becoming popular is the charming little town of Pai, which has developed into a Bohemian arts center for disillusioned hippie folk from both Thailand and abroad. Some of the trekking agencies here actually give you a 50% refund if you see any other foreigners on your trek, so isolation is the thing here – when you aren’t grooving to the jazz tunes in the local arts pubs.

Trekking in Thailandsource: Thailand Grand Festival Website

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