Saturday, 11 July 2015

Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, and mountain trekking by David Keegan

Chiang Mai Northern Thailand

Having stayed in Bankok on a couple of previous visits to Thailand i felt it was time to try a different city, so headed north. Given its location at the foothills of the mountains it also presented the perfect opportunity to do a bit of trekking and the chance to visit some hill tribes and do some home-stays. Good decision. Chaing Mai couldn't be more different than the ever frenetic  and noisy city that is Bangkok. This city has an altogether more laid back atmosphere. It is somewhere i would gladly revisit, whereas for me personally i will, if at all possible, avoid Bangkok. The people here are a lot more relaxed and you don't get the feeling they are trying to rip you off.

The Silver Ubosoth

 An Ubosoth, which is basically a place of ordination for monks. Women are not allowed to enter the ordination hall. The silver work is quite simply breathtaking in its breath, scope, and skill. The Ubosoth is located within the grounds of Wat Srisupan with the original Wat dating back to the early 1500's

Monks here also run a silver working school ensuring the survival of the tradition and craft.

Architectural artifacts in grounds of a Cafe, very strange, but some interesting pieces of statuary.

Temple of Elephants

Wat Chedi Luang is built around a crumbling Lanna-style chedi (built in 1441) that was one of the tallest structures in ancient Chiang Mai.

Offerings of sugar cane left at base of elephant trunk

A strange and eclectic mix of objects on a house  balcony.

Ornate statue in grounds of Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh ornate gold gilt scroll work temple walls

Begging bowls, Wat Phan Tao

Umbrellas protect ceremonial bells.

Monks prepare to leave the Wat

Many Wats keep dogs. This pup is dog tired from the heat!

Gone Trekking With Goo Trekking
3 day Hill Tribe Trek Northern Thailand

I made all the arrangements for the trek well in advance of leaving the UK and after much searching and research sent an email request to a Mr Chan. His response to the email was both prompt and friendly. I explained in my email that we didn't want to visit any elephant farms or sanctuary's believing the whole enterprise to be exploitative of these wonderful creatures. He wrote back and assured us he could arrange a tour without the need to visit an elephant place. All excellent apart from minor alarm at an email received, whilst still in Vietnam, from MR Chan days before our due arrival in Chiang Mai asking if we would not mind sharing the trek with about 4 to 6 other people. Given that i had always made clear i wanted a private trek, and was paying the extra for that, i was not best pleased. However MR Chan responded quickly saying private trek was not a problem. What id didn't know until we met in my hotel the night before scheduled trek he would not be taking us but one of his colleagues Mr Goo would instead take us. I was on the verge of cancelling when Mr Goo turned up, he seemed a nice man with good knowledge of the hills and tribes. Little did I know this turned out to be the best possible outcome. Mr Goo, WOW, couldn't have asked for a nicer more hospitable human being. Also helped greatly that he had spent some 20 years as a forest ranger meaning he had a great knowledge base of plants, animals and insects encountered on the trek. He also spoke 6 languages and could communicate with local tribe’s people in their native tongue.

The trek turned out to be one of the highlights of my many years of travelling. Goo also prepared all our meals and is an excellent cook!!! One day i will return to hopefully do a trek from Chiang Rai to Chaing Mai with Mr Goo, in the meantime some pictures from the recent trek.

Day 1

The marketplace to buy all the food needed for the trek.

 Deep fried insects, think its grasshopper. We saw many types of bugs and insect deep fried. Eaten as a snack they are pretty much the equivalent of the Western fondness for crisps.

Waterfall one of the first stops after the long drive from the market. 

Bamboo forest

Termite mound a regular feature of the rain-forest floor

Exotic rain-forest beetle found by Mr Goo underneath leaf, he knew exactly where to look and find.

Sunlight and shade deep within the canopy of the forest.

Close to the Golden triangle this general area has a reputation for drug smuggling, however we did not encounter any drugs, nor were we ever offered any. I suspect many foreigners come here for the wrong reason. The sign gives fair warning. Indeed many silly Europeans languish in Thai jails for dealing in and consuming drugs, in what is still although extremely tolerant  a very conservative country.

The first village we visit is Christian. Outside the village is a small area of crosses and church at edge of village

Karen tribes women share a joke.

Stoking up the fire to prepare food

The place where i will sleep. It gets very very cold and damp during the night and in the morning as the clouds roll in over the mountains and valleys. I visited January 2015 and apparently that's the cool season. I would seriously advise anyone traveling at that time of the year bring warm night clothes.
However it quickly heats up in the morning with the rising sun.

Fire on balcony helps to keep warm when the sun goes down

Typical Karen village house

Woman on balcony preparing food for her family

Karen boy plays on bicycle

Karen women bring home firewood. All Karen women seem to smoke. They roll some sort of local leaf and are rarely seen without one in hand or mouth.

Day 2 Trekking

 Our trek begins after breakfast through spectacular scenery to another Karen village higher up in the mountains. Although the start is cool it quickly heats up. That  and the altitude means thinner air so slightly harder going.

Sunrise in Karen Tribe Village Northern Thailand.

Stag horn ferns are another regular feature in the trees.

Tamarind seeds pods Tamarind tree

Red ants nesting in tree leaves. You would not want to get bitten by these very nasty.

Clear blue sky and spectacular views of the mountains and rain-forest.

2nd Karen Village cockerels are a regular sight some with fabulous plumage and colour.

Virtually all families will own a pig which is kept tethered to a post underneath the house. Not a great life as it will spend most of it confined by harness and a very small length rope.

Meeting place. Karen tribeswomen sit and chat

Local tribeswoman with kids

Local tribesmen having harvested the tamarind pods now de-shell the seeds

A bowl of tamarind

Local tribeswoman  on steps of house.

The village shop. Mr Goo stocks up on provisions for the next leg of our journey.

The shop keeper.

Village meeting place

Goo takes me on a tour of local private school. The school is empty when we visit as its holiday time, he shows me the kitchen fire used to cook lunch  for the kids during term time. This school is run with financial aid of the Thai Royal family. The Thai royals are revered in this area as in much of Thailand and indeed the scool was visited by  Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn a supporter of the school.

Cooking pan stored on outside wall when not in use.

Woven baskets used to transport animals stored under the house.

Bamboo rafting first leg.

Our handmade bamboo raft. Our boatman puts the final touches before our first trip down the  Mae Tang River.

A serenely beautiful and quiet place.

 Me on raft day one, rafting is on calm water so its safe to stand for the journey. Goo in the background with bamboo oar

First sight of the Lahu village where we will spend our second night.

Hut on the left turns out to be home for the night

Cow waiting to be bottle fed water, i kid you not

Another wonderfully feathered cockerel

Goo prepares yet another feast!

Goo tell me at home his wife will never let him cook as she does not believe he can cook and does not believe he cooks when he goes trekking so this picture was taken to prove Goo really can cook and very well too.

This calf appears fascinated by two piglets at play

A sow with her litter of piglets

As mentioned in earlier photo local woman bottle feeds her cattle with water. I watched this woman take exceptionally good care of her livestock. Even climbing into trees to cut down leaves of a particular type that they go mad for.

Lahu lunar festival. This takes place very late into the night with food drink and dancing all backed by a hypnotic drumbeat.

Day 3

Back on the river.

Boatman makes seats for us on the raft as today's journey will involve traversing some rapids, so its safer to sit. Indeed he fell in a couple of times during our trip downriver. Fortunately his only injury was a little dented pride. I wish i had written down, or could remember, his name as he was a wonderful character. 

Local men busy building rafts

Making our way down river to first set of rapids

Suns rays pierce the forest canopy from high above

A calm spot on the river. This was one of the most relaxing trips i have ever taken through some of the most spectacular landscape. The river shimmers in the sun and i can but smile then and now in memory.

The river banks are dotted with fishermen casting their nets.

Local tribeswomen along river bank greet us with hearty smiles.

A lone palm tree hovers miles above the forest canopy.

Our bags are suspended from bamboo tripod keeping them dry.

Although the river is for the most part pretty calm there are some raipds to be navigated along the way which add to the sheer joy and excitement of the experience.

Many rafts don't make it downriver during the winter as witnessed by this one which ended up jammed on the rocks.

Goo works hard to keep us clear of danger. He is by now soaking wet.

We spot an elephant along the way. Goo assures us these elephants are very well looked after unlike some of the elephant places which exploit them purely for tourists all under the umbrella of so called sanctuary. We enjoyed sighting this elephant along the way but did not stop to visit.

A local fisherman show off his catch

 A calmer stretch of river myself and Goo look up far into the forest above.

Journeys end local family prepare bamboo for raft making  in the river

Butterfly farm

The last leg of our trip  a visit to a butterfly farm absolutely fascinating and a wonderful end to a very memorable trip.

Butterfly on Hibiscus flower

Orchid flower close up

Large and exotic group of orchids 

Click on this link to visit their website. Fabulous Hotel with pool and great breakfast. They also collected us from Airport and dropped us back without charge. I booked direct with the hotel securing the best deal without hitch. Ask for Wilawan she is a wonderfully warm and helpful person.

Goo Treking
Click link above  for Mr Chans website.

This post its contents and pictures is the copyrighted property of David Keegan 2015 ©
All pictures taken large format 320 DPI Picture quality is reduced to preserve copyrights

1 comment:

  1. The hike through the most rugged and fascinating trails of Sagarmatha National Park, witnessing the traditional Sherpa culture in the villages of Khumbu and being in close proximity with world’s highest peak - Everest Base Camp Trek.