Beth Halstad hikes in the lush hills outside Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand.
Leaving the pushcarts, crowds of tourists and the fast pace of Bangkok, we board a train and head north for a three-day hike outside of Chiang Mai. For a mere $25 US/Canadian, we make the 751 km journey in an air-conditioned sleeper car. To our delight, the train is faster than flying, extremely comfortable and offers picturesque views.
The day of our trek arrives. We are bussed early in the morning to our starting point and out on the trails in no time. The views are breathtaking as we traverse up and down sloping valleys and hills. I pick up an occasional scent of lemongrass, tranquil sounds as we near rivers and the feeling of being embraced by the jungle’s lush tropical vegetation.
Our friendly guide educates us on jungle foods and is not distracted even as a large rat crosses our path. He speaks passionately about the variety of Hilltribes who have migrated to the mountainous terrain from the Asian interior over the past 100 years and successfully cultivated hillside crops to maintain their self-sufficiency. The minority groups, each with their own language, clothing and religion, reside peacefully side-by-side in a simple rural existence.
In the evenings we are warmly welcomed into communities where the tribes prepare traditional foods on open fires and entertain us with stories told through song and dance. Although most do not speak English, we learn about their values through their unassuming lifestyle and oneness with nature.
As I think about these sometimes challenging days of hiking and basic (hut) sleeping accommodation, my soul readily gives these experiences a 5-star rating.
To read the full article, check out Snapshot: Thailand, Issue 3 July/Aug 2011.