If you’ve spent any time in Chiang Mai, your visit was undoubtedly memorable. Though the city has an incredible amount of things to see and do, trekking is the number one thing that draws visitors. You’ll find tour companies on almost every corner who offer multi-day trekking tours into the mountains of northern Thailand for a chance to experience authentic hill tribe cultures. There are some things I wish I had done differently, and also some great things I came away with that I wasn’t expecting.
It was the first week of May, marking the abrupt end of the hot season and the beginning of the rainy season. Near my hotel was a tour company with whom I had booked a 2-day trekking adventure in an attempt to immerse myself in the culture of the region. The next morning I was picked up bright and early (along with about 8 other trekkers) and our adventure had officially begun.
After stopping at a local farmers market for snacks and water (why, oh why didn’t I buy a bottle of water?!) we ventured to an elephant camp in the mountains. We were given a chance to ride the elephants, three people to an elephant. In all it’s Jungle Book glory, this was the moment I had dreamed about and one of the main reasons I had come to Chiang Mai. Sadly though, it was a rude awakening when I saw the mahout guide using a sharp metal prong to jab the elephant in front of us. Every mahout had one, and they were using them. I’ll spare you the photos but this awful sight made me understand why we shouldn’t support such activities. I later learned of the Elephant Nature Park which rescues elephants; instead of keeping chains around their neck and feet, they only put a jingle bell around their neck so they can be located at meal and bath times. They are well-loved and cared for in their retirement and I highly recommend you visit, too.
As we set off into the jungle on our trek, the scenery was lush and green with humidity more intense than I could have imagined. The hike was, in all honesty, very difficult for me. Some sections were simple but much of it was steep and slippery. The key words here are JUNGLE and HILL. I should have been in better shape or at very least done some stretching; I am glad the group often stopped for short breaks. As if a gift from the heavens, we were thrilled when coming upon a beautiful waterfall where many took the opportunity for a refreshing swim.
Our guide, clad in flip flops and sunglasses, was a total comedian and made us laugh a lot. He is pictured at the bottom of this post as he joked with us along the trek. An expert in the area, he stopped along the way to point out unique foliage, bugs and even WILD ELEPHANTS! Every one of us were speechless as we watched a mother and baby elephant nibble on greens and then continue on their journey (shown below).
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