Hilltribe Trek – Ban Mae Jok to Pa Khao Lam

The hot midday sun beams down, enticing a longing for the river I see babbling next to me. Ohlala (my guide) throws a smirk in my direction as he lightly taps a lump in the hillside parallel to our path. The result? Hundreds of spiders burst from underground and begin scuttling upwards, tangling together in angry knots. I squeal and in my attempt to escape, my foot slips from the narrow dirt path and into the river, leaving my boot caked in mud.

I’m not your friend anymore” I childishly tell him whilst shaking my foot and Ohlala only howls with laughter in response. With the image of scurrying spiders permanently etched in my brain, my trusty substitute hiking pole (a bamboo stick) and I, continue the journey towards the next hilltribe.

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Hiking in Northern Thailand was effectively a mini digital detox and despite the absence of hot water and electricity, it was definitely the highlight of my trip. The incredible views alone were enough to compensate for the lack of homey indulgences.

There is something enchanting and mystical about Northern Thailand. This is easy to experience as there are so many hiking opportunities, from independent treks to organised tours – just remember not to hike alone, or if needs must, ensure somebody knows where you are going.

I opted for a 3 day trek, with 2 nights spent in local tribe villages with the last portion of the hike completed via bamboo raft (cheater)

Before the hike could begin, we enjoyed a quick lunch stop at Mork-Fa waterfall on our way out of town. Due to the time of year, the waterfall was a little underwhelming. To experience it in it’s full glory, the best time to visit would be during the rainy season.

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After the first half an hour of what seemed to be non-stop vertical climbing- long after friendly chatter amongst the group had dissipated into pants of despair, the ground finally began to level and when we paused for water, we were already rewarded with spectacular views.

A chorus of cicadas accompany the view of deep jungle-filled valleys adjacent to rice fields under a cloudless blue sky. They combined to create an ethereal land of beauty. The trek from Ban Mae Jok to Pa Khao Lam, is what I would consider to be a ‘friendly’ hike. It’s not too steep, nor too low; not too challenging, but not child’s play either.

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The hikes lasted around 6 hours everyday, through a combination of dense jungle, rice paddies, gushing rivers and the sporadic dusty path. You may begin to tire, from the heat and the walk, but trust me once you shower under the surprisingly icy cold jungle waterfalls, you feel the fatigue slowly desert you.

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Throughout the trek our guides, Ohlala and Sunny, were full of interesting facts, as well as plenty of hilarious jokes and animal impressions. I’m unsure if they coined the phrase “Oh my Buddha” but this was used – alot. 

By far the most significant moments of my time in Thailand were those spent with the indigenous tribes, where chickens, piglets and water-buffalo roamed free through the villages in perfect harmony.

In our first homestay we spent the late afternoon playing football with the children, eating by candlelight and sending lanterns souring into the sky. Later, a bottle of rice whiskey and an acoustic guitar were passed around a campfire, and we spent the night singing under the stars.

 

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CHANG

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I was fortunate enough for the trek to overlap with the Lanna New Year, and on the last night this was celebrated by watching – and attempting- traditional dancing, tasting snake soup and accidentally witnessing the slaughtering of a pig. These are the memories I could never forget – although the latter i sort of wish I could.


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The next morning we had a comparatively small walk to a wider section of the river, where we prepared three bamboo rafts that would hopefully float, and take us back towards civilisation. As you might expect, what started as slow and lazy drifting, rapidly evolved into a cut-throat race. And my team would have won if Ohlala didn’t stop to hunt a snake fractions away from the finish line.

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Priorities???

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. – Nehru

 

 

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