Monday, November 24, 2014

Indie Guide to Thailand: Jungle Trekking in Chiang Mai

My (Not Recommended) Jungle Trekking Tour in Chiang Mai 

Catniss Moursalien 

Googling gone wrong
I've gotten older and busier and as a result I have less time to research the ultimate travel experiences in Thailand. Lesson learned: high search ranking on Google does NOT equate to great product. To my chagrin, I ended up picking the first and worst tour that popped up when I searched 'jungle trekking in Chiang Mai. I was tricked by a great user experience on the website as the tours are easily laid out for you with minimal thinking.  Problem was that I didn't bother to verify on Trip Advisor or consult any other source at all thanks to my work induced lassitude. If you are a seasoned Thailand expat looking for the BEST EXPERIENCE EVER, here are some of the take aways I got from my Chiang Mai experience.

Which tour?
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..

Why so whiney? Disparity of expectations

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 at 10:30am with..a butterfly and orchid farm. Then on to some fatuous "local" market that had fly covered raw materials for cooking, but not much else. I guess it was for our guide to pick up supplies, but come on, do that on your own time, broski. It was a waste of time and felt like a typical tourist trap. I ain't no homeless backpacker with nothing but time to spend! Please don't waste it!

The Elephant Trekking
Then finally we made our way to an elephant camp.  But instead of trekking in the jungle or 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. I wish I knew the names of the other tours to recommend to you because it looked truly awesome to see these giant gentle animals making their way through tiny jungle paths and hills.

Our mercurial mammal named Manue. She hipped checked her way to the front of the elephant cue.

The Hike
The rest was an intense, albeit salubrious hike, coupled with some waterfall frolicking. This part was actually really cool. Unfortunately it was super busy with a dozen or so tourist groups floating around and at 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. Sort of minimalizes the jungle effect but the water break is appreciated. It's a beautiful view from the top and totally worth it. But be prepared to feel the full wrath of your gluteus maximus the next day.

Jurassic Park theme song would not leave our brain radios!

Hi! We went to U of T..5 years ago. That awkward moment when you and your ol' university friend meet up to travel wearing your totally outdated varsity gear. 

Natural waterfall slide that I was too wimpy to try. 

The Lahu Village
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 (while plastered)?

Best part is to abandon your cell phones and addiction to electricity and sit around a camp fire on the mountain drinking cheap local rice whisky sold by the local bartender/711/Mayor. 

A life of simpler pleasures 

 5 star hotel accomodations in the Lahu Village

The Ritz of the Lahu. This is the most developed housing establishment in the Lahu Mountaintop Village. It had brick walls! The rest were rickety wooden shacks surrounded by chickens and wild flowers.

"White" Water Rafting on Day 2
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. It is then followed by a "bamboo" raft, which is just a bunch of bamboos tied together that sinks under your weight. If you're not into thrills then I recommend this quite a bit. Brown water rafting would be a more appropriate title if it wasn't so gross sounding.

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.

6 things I wish I knew before jungle trekking in Chiang Mai

1. 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.

2.  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.

3. Bathe your elephant if you can! 
They are so cute when they lie in the water!

4. Don't expect the adventure of an 1600s colonialist. 
There are so many tourists and everything is over developed.

5. 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.

6. As long as your expectations are managed, you will have fun! The Lonely Planet said these tours are generally disappointing. If I hadn't lowered my expectations significantly after that, I probably would have been pissed off too.
Listen, if you're a fresh-faced tourist, your eyes will sparkle at everything that shines and this review will sound the whinings of an old cynic. But if you're like me, a pressed for time young professional in Bangkok who knows when they're being ripped off, I hope this review will help you find the Chiang Mai tour best suited to your needs.  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.

Ps. do you like the song (below)?

Also, if you have any recommendations that match my dream trek, please share the love. xox



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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