The final leg of our trip to Thailand was Chiang Mai…14 hours on the OTHER side of the country! And despite being forced to spend the night “sleeping” on the chairs in a freezing cold train cabin (all the sleepers were full), Josh and I were determined to go.
Way up in the north near the mountains, Chiang Mai is known for its beautiful scenery, culture and jungle treks. Though the city itself was nice enough (it did have some interesting temples), Josh and I quickly signed-up for a two-day tour, which included an elephant ride, trek, white water rafting, bamboo rafting and visits to local mountain tribes, including a one-night stay with them.
Now, for me, the main attraction of the whole thing was the elephant trek. Instead of a short, once-around-the-ring circus ride, we actually got to ride the elephants for an hour through a trail in the jungle, and I was delighted to get the chance to ride on the elephant’s neck without a seat! But the part that left the most impression on me (and my body) was the three-hour jungle trek up the mountain to the tribe.
For many on our trip, the trek was the main event, a chance to really get in the jungle and experience the wildlife of Southeast Asia. But after more than six months in Malaysia where banana trees and exotic plants are everywhere, the jungle trek to me was more like three hours of Stairmaster Hell in a sauna. Did I mention it was three hours UPHILL? And I learned a valuable lesson that day: yoga does not make you physically fit!
I stupidly thought a commercialized, group package tourist trap tour would take us through easy trails designed to suit those of all levels of fitness, but somehow I found myself climbing over rocks, uneven terrain and really steep hills. Frankly, the only thing I wanted to see in the jungle were wild animals or exotic bugs, but all living creatures appeared to be on vacation that day, which meant it was just us and plants. I know this whole rant sounds terrible and many people loved the trek, but who are we kidding? I am NOT a nature girl.
So after a long day hiking, sweating and building buns of steel, we finally made it to our destination: the hilltop tribe. I gotta say, it was pretty cool. Despite the pain flowing throughout my legs and feet, the mountains and the view from the top were beautiful, and the location is so remote you actually feel as if you’re on some real adventure and not some carbon copy tourist tour.
Our guide led our group to a separate cabin at the top next to the village where we’d be staying: a two-room house full of thin mattresses, blankets and mosquito nets. Delightfully rustic! Then it was time for showers. I swear to you, if it wasn’t for the fact that I was covered in sweat and dirt, I’m not sure I could have done it. Even Josh, Mr. I-Don’t-Mind-Cold-Showers-They’re-Refreshing, found the liquid ice coming from the outdoor, wooden stalls to be a bit too refreshing. I think they were the quickest showers anyone in our group had ever taken! 🙂
After changing, we all enjoyed a really lovely evening together, sharing a nice local meal on the floor of the cabin then just relaxing and chatting. It was so dark outside, the stars were just gleaming. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in my life. It was beautiful.
At one point, some of the village children came to visit us and sing us some local songs. Somehow, we found ourselves forced to return the favor and ended up singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the only part of Christmas Day that actually resembled the holiday. It was all great fun, definitely my most exotic Christmas ever!