Who knew I would be hiking in Pai. I’d been looking for trekking around Chiang Mai, but found that most companies included an elephant trekking, which is something I really don’t want to support. There are some companies that offer trekking only, but they were more expensive and I had only talked to a travel agent and not to the source. So when I read that Pai has trekking too, I checked out some of the outfitters. The third company I talked to was from Mr Chao. Unlike the others I’d talked to, he already had a trekking confirmed the next day, as enthusiastic and a not so vague. He told me all about the trip and said to come back later in the day to confirm it.
I had a quick yoghurt breakfast from 7-11 and then we met the rest of the group. We were eleven, with two guides. Chao’s brother didn’t speak much English, but would lead the way, and Chao himself would be in the back making sure everyone stayed on the right track. The other trekkers were a family of four from Canada, three people from Israel and a couple from Switzerland. It was great to have two nine year-olds, who made it a lot more interesting with their questions and observations.
We started with a very uncomfortable ride to a village. We were all stuffed in a pick up truck and when I had to get up my knees were complaining. They’d been locked, partly holding my weight, for about an hour. I carefully started moving them, warming up for the trek. That was a good thing to do since the trek didn’t give you much room to warm up. We started hiking up a hill from the village and it wasn’t easy. There was a lot of uphill walking, along small paths that were very dry and at times slippery because of loose sand or leaves. There were tall grasses on both sides and we slowly disappeared into the forest. To be honest going down wasn’t much better, if not worse. The gradient was the same and you had to be so careful not to slip. Often the track was narrow and at an angle, with a sheer drop on your righthand side.
There was a lot of bamboo in the forest, which at times made some obstructions for us. Sometimes Chao’s brother, whose name I still don’t know, would take his massive knife and cut them out of our way. After about two hours of walking the bamboo came in handy. We had a tea and lunch break. Chao and his brother started cutting bamboo and creating a fire as we rested. We got pad thai and sticky rice with banana. After that there was tea made in bamboo on the fire, drunk from freshly cut bamboo cups. It was a really nice experience.
After roughly two more hours of walking we saw some houses. This was the Karen village, where Chao was from, where we would spend the night. We were shown a house on stilts with some benches on a bamboo veranda, where we could rest for a bit. We got a new supply of water and cookies and just hung out enjoying the shade. At 4 o’clock we went to the local cave. It wasn’t super big, but had some steep paths with stalactites and a few bats. It was a nice little walk. After that it seemed to take forever until dinner was ready. I guess we were all just hungry and getting colder as the sun went down. The nighttime temperatures here require lots of layers of clothing and several blankets. Dinner was an amazing omelet with veggies in it, sweet and sour chicken, rice and pumpkin. After that we sat at the fire outside and stared up into the sky, which was filled with stars.
I didn’t have the best night sleep. Four of us were sharing a mosquito net and the girl next to me kept rolling closer, giving me hardly any space. Every time I turned I would kick one of the people next to me. Also, it was cold and there was no pillow. I sacrifised one of my blanket to serve as a pillow to make it slightly more comfortable. Then, early in the morning, the roosters started their cuckooing competition. I don’t know who was winning, but I’d say the one right underneath our house made a good chance. In the morning everyone was a bit quiet. We ate a pancake, although the dough seemed more like cookiedough, with some banana pieces. I really couldn’t finish it. It was so heavy.
And then we went on our way again. The morning wasn’t too bad. There was some walking up, but mostly a lot of going down. We had to crossed some rivers and I was one of the lucky ones who managed to keep her feet dry. We were out in the open more, passing garlic fields where people were working. Then we arrived at the waterfall. I’d been looking forward to a nice swim. Then I felt the water. I put my feet in and even that shocked my system. Very slowly I took one step after another to get deeper into the water. I didn’t actually swim, but rather had a bath. It felt refreshing in every sense of the word. Then we had some rice with vegetables and chicken for lunch. I started to feel really cold and was happy when we started walking again.
This was where the challenging part started. We’d decended so much, that now we had to climb up a long way out of the valley. People were struggling and we had to make several stops along the way. Part of the challenge of course is the temperature, even though we were mostly in the shade now. At the top of the hill, Chao showed us how to make fire with just bamboo. He succeeded! From there we only had a short way to go. I think everyone was happy to see the houses in the distance. From this village we drove back to the village where Chao had parked his car. This time the drive to Pai was a lot more comfortable since I was sitting inside the car, instead of in the back. I’ve had a great two days, but I’m happy I’m sleeping in a normal bed today, even if it is one with a Thai hard-as-a-rock mattress.