I've gotten older and busier and as a result I have less time to research the ultimate travel experiences in Thailand. To my chagrin I ended up picking the first and worst tour that popped up when I searched 'jungle trekking in Chiang Mai'..Google search that was a mistake. Here are some of the key things I learned for next time I decide to join a group tour in Chiang Mai. Hope this adds a modicum of value to your life!
Which Tour Sucked
Cost: 1400 Baht
I took this Chiang Mai Jungle tour: 2 Days 1 Night Tour, elephant trekking + white water rafting + overnight in Lahu Village with eco tours and..
What I expected: Frolicking with my elephant in water and waterfalls, battling the elements of the jungle together as we ascended the mountain valleys, becoming best friends till we would have to part ways in a bittersweet goodbye. I would continue on a perilous trek through the jungle till we reached a secluded mountain village. The locals would give us shelter and we would give them whisky and we would laugh all night. The morning would come and we would take to the water and white water raft all the way down the mountain until we reached civilization, exhausted and content. I understand that is way too reasonable to be my dream.
What actually happened: We started our adventure with..a butterfly and orchid farm then to a "local" market that had fly covered raw materials for cooking but not much else. Then finally we made our way to an elephant camp. Instead of trekking in the jungle or even riverside with our elephant, we took a dirt road. This was maybe the most disappointing part of our tour in Chiang Mai because later I would see all sorts of other tours going through the water and jungle with the elephants. My heart wept in envy.
The rest was an intense hike, with some splashing around in waterfalls, which was cool. It was super busy though, and some points you are hiking on a dirt road. A far cry from being King of Adventure Land. After 3 hours of uphill hike we arrive at our camping ground, greeted by a female entrepreneur selling water and beer out of a cooler.
The village was without electricity and was pretty neat, except that the Lonely Planet description was right: the locals don't give a hoot about you. They leave you alone and you sit around with your tour group. One local kid rudely demanded to see my iPhone and then punched me when I told her to say please! Luckily, we bought copious amounts of rice whisky from the local business guy (probably the mayor) to lubricate the rest of the electricity free evening with strangers. I admit this was lots of fun. Who doesn't love watching the sun set and the stars rise on the top of a mountain?
The rafting felt like a children's ride at Disney world. You know the infamously boring Log ride? Where you splash around a little bit on a log with your baby cousin? That's kind of what white water rafting felt like in Chiang Mai in November. This is not the tour's fault but I recommend not getting your hopes up for this if you go in the dry season.
The highlights were definitely the mountain village and the quality of our guide, Neung. He played drinking games with us all night and spoke English very well.
My Key Learnings
- Don't book your jungle trekking tour online. Book through your hotel or one of the millions of tour groups there so you can find exactly what you are looking for.
- Dry season (Nov-April) is not great for white water rafting. So maybe skip it for something else? Still fun..if you're a grandma.
- Bathe your elephant if you can! They are so cute when they lie in the water!
- Don't expect the adventure of an 1600s colonialist. There are so many tourists and everything is over developed.
- Stretch your muscles before the hike. I am debilitated two days later. Legs and booty are super sore even though I consider myself in reasonable shape. The hike will work muscle machinery you didn't even know existed.
- As long as your expectations are managed, you will have fun! Duh.
I know I sound like a bitter old hag instead of having the malleable heart of a maiden but I hope my advice helps in your endeavors of awesomeness to the extreme. In the end it doesn't matter what you do though. As long as you're with people you love, you'll have the best time everrrr (Could I be more generic?). Gimme a woot woot.
Mountain Trekking Music
And after all this whining let me digitally serenade you with my latest favourite song, perfect for your mountain hike: Angus & Julia Stone, Grizzly Bear (Synapson Remix)
For more tunes to get your heart beating, follow me on Soundcloud.
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