When you decide to leave your home, your family, your friends and your job to undertake such a crazy adventure, you have expectations: things you hope to do, places you wish to see… Most of all, I think you have a cultural expectations of the countries you will visit. All these documentaries you have seen, all these books you have read have given you a pre-made opinion on the country, which can make you wary of the place, or lead you to having a too romanticised idea of the place.
I am not sure what I expected from Thailand (or from South East Asia in general), but I sure did not expect to meet such fantastic human beings and live so many crazy adventures. Chiang Rai will forever be in my heart and I will never forget any of the people I have met here – locals or backpackers. I am leaving a little piece of my heart in Chiang Rai.
After doing the bamboo cooking class with Kai, Ed and Em, I didn’t think anything could top it up. I felt that the experience was so strong and we had such an intense bonding moment that it would be hard for us to undertake an other adventure by fear of it inferior.
I did not expect to go for a two days trek with ten other people and have such a fantastic time. So let me tell you what happened.
The day after the bamboo cooking class, we decided we wanted to go for a trek, but Kai said it would be better with more people. From six people onwards is good. We ended up being twelve! Here’s the list of our fellow trekkers:
– Justine and Francois, French, on a 10 months journey around the world. She works in communication and he is a PE teacher. Here’s their blog if you want to follow their adventures!
– Caroline, French, traveling on her own in South East Asia after traveling for a while in South America with a friend. Lovely person!
– Alina and Muriam, German, two friends traveling together for a while in Asia. And they might meet us in Pai!
– Edmond, French, studying (trying to) business in Bangkok and traveling a little bit around when he has time. He has an affinity for rice whisky and gave us a nasty bug!
– Jordan, French, has a friend in common with Edmond and this is how he ended up with us at Chat House! He is on a 6 months wander, starting here in Asia, who knows where the wind will take him?
– Jodie, Rory, English, two friends from the same town, have been travelling for a while and are now probably on their way to Laos. They ended up on the trek with us because they met Jordan in Pai and happened to be in Chiang Rai at the same time!
– Johannes, Swedish, excellent frog dancer, beer drinker, party starter and guitar player. Travelling along with Jodie and Rory, whom he met in Pai.
It all started the night before when we went to the night bazaar in Chiang Rai to have a hot pot and Kai decided to take us too a local restaurant with live music. Apart from an oldish looking English man dancing madly to the music, we were the only Europeans in the restaurant. We were the principal attraction! Let’s put it this way. It was so awesome to be in something else than a bar FOR Europeans.
Everywhere we go, we try to avoid them, but it’s hard. They are everywhere, targeting westerners, proud to say they have Carlsberg or Guinness. Did I go to Thailand to drink Guinness? I don’t think so… So as you can guess, experiencing a real night out like Thais so it was fantastic. We had the best fun and it was a lot more genuine and local than any shitty bar on JedYod Road in Chiang Rai.
We left Chat House in the morning to do a boat trip to the elephant camp. The boat ride was fun, although there wasn’t much to see, so I had a cheeky nap.
When we arrive at the elephant camp, we realized the elephants were chained up and even if taking them off chains to go for a half hour stroll would have probably been nice for them, we couldn’t bring ourselves to ride them, so we turned down the offer, had a drink whilst the others went for the ride. We got a chance to feed them and take some cool pictures so in the end if was nice!
A few minutes drive later, we arrived close to the hot springs where we had lunch all together. Food was lovely and it was the occasion to top up our energy levels before our big trek.
When we started walking, we quickly arrived in some sort of bamboo cave.
There, our guides cut some bamboos to make walking sticks for each one of us. I think that if we hadn’t had them, we would have fallen in the mud many times that day!
Then started our 3 hours trek through fields and jungles and creeks and… fun! Everybody had the best time, because we got to be in the jungle, but also we had time to chat with people and get to know them better.
The night before, at the night bazaar, Kai bought different types of fried bugs to make us try it. He said bamboo worms are especially expensive because they are quite rare and also difficult to find. No every bamboo has them inside. So decided to go on a quest to find some during the trek. And the boys did! Look how yummy they are (actually, they are delicious, just so you know).
Shortly after the bamboo worm experience (Kai having eaten a lot of them raw), we all stopped and Kai cut the papaya, that Dennis and I bought at the market the day before, for everyone to share.
And Ed made me a wonderful jungle hat:
When we finally reached the Lisu village, it was, as you can imagine, quite a cultural shock. Running water comes from the mountain springs, there is no shower, only baths full of spring water and you use a bucket to wash yourself. No toilet flush, to electricity… Just the bare necessities of life!
This is the hut where we slept. One hut had 5 people – Johannes, Jodie, Jordan, Ed and Caroline, and the other hut had 7. We were offered to sleep on our own in an other hut, but I was happy to share a room with people and not making an other room dirty and have the girls from the village clean it.
After walking around the village and trying to take in all that surrounding me, I stopped to stare at the sunset over the village and the hill for a while. In that precise moment, I felt very much blessed to be where I was and to experience what I was experiencing. You don’t live these things everyday. Not every tourist gets to see such a remote village – Kai explained that because Lisu people have nothing to sell, they have never been of any interests to tourists (they want to bring souvenirs home saying hey look I have been in the jungle to see thee people, I even got a token!) so tours including Lisu village have been cancelled for a long time now.
Whilst everything was being prepared and everybody was either showering or helping with the food, I was waiting outside, thinking about all I had been through in one day, when I saw a group of children approaching me. I was a bit intimidated, until one of them said: What’s your name?
So I answered: Julie, and you?
And that’s when the flow of names started! I got carried away in games and I asked them to count in English so then I was asked to count in Thai. Everybody started coming back and we played many different games and people who had bought kids games and toys brought everything and we just spent a while watching the kids play with playdo… It was incredible, to try to communicate with them and managed to get a connection when you don’t speak the same language. This is a night I will never forget.
The food was absolutely fantastic, probably one of the best meals I have ever had. First, out of 12 people, plus our 2 guides, we were only 3 vegetarians and we were catered for, which was incrredible. The dishes were simply gorgeous, so tasty and full of spices. We had tofu soup and grilled bamboo worms, curries and stir fries. It was so yummy I cannot even explain to you how beautiful it was. I think at the end we were eating out of lust more than hunger. It was just too good.
Then we went back on the road and the landscapes were – one more – simply breathtaking. It is difficult to put words on the beauty of this region — and the kindness of its people – and I promise you the pictures do it no justice.
About forty minutes after leaving the Chinese village we reached a waterfall which we had been told we could swim in. It is really not touristy – it seems that only our guides and their colleagues come here. We were basically alone and had the whole waterfall to ourselves. It was a really nice moment.
We walked for an other hour and passed an Akha village where there was one shop but everything was super expensive – crafts and drinks, so everyone quickly moved on. About five minutes later, I saw an old man in a hut on the side off the road selling some crafts. Straight away I spotted something that could be a camera strap – actually i am not even sure what it was initially supposed to be but in my head it was a perfect camera strap. I managed to get it down to 100THB with a bracelet for Dennis. That’s when we realised that the group had kept going – which is fair enough – so we started running into the jungle to find the group.
Shortly after, we arrived at a spot in the jungle where we had lunch cooked in bamboo. It was less fun than the previous Sunday – maybe because we had already done it maybe it was because we were less involved in the preparation – but it was still delicious.
As I hope you understood, from both text and pictures, these two days were absolutely wonderful. When we were walking down from the mountains on the second day, I was wondering how I could phrase all this, how I could express the intensity and the beauty of what I feel I have experienced during these two days, but I simply cannot phrase it well enough. The only thing I could advise you to do if you want to grasp what we lived for two days, is to goo to Chiang Rai, stay at Chat House and go on a trek with these amazing guides. They are just the best. They are caring, generous and real. They are not here for your money but to share the true values of a country they love, and just for that, they deserve all the praise in the world.
Thank you guys.