Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chang Mai

Last weekend we took a 5 day trip to Chang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces with another teacher that Mary works with and her husband.  Friday was a public holiday and we left early in the morning on the air conditioned express train to Chang Mai.  The day train was a good way to see the Thai countryside, but rice fields start to all look the same on a 13 hours train ride.  Next time we'll either fly or take the overnight train.

On Saturday morning we headed out with Pooh Eco-Trekking for two days in the mountains with the Karen hill tribe.  We drove 3 hours west of Chang Mai to Mae Hong Son province and were dropped off with our guide in the remote mountains near the Myanmar (Burma) border.

The pictures below are near the end of the road where we started our trek.

We hiked through mountain forests, dormant rice fields (it's the dry season), and through tranquil streams.  While we hiked, our guide Tee showed us how to make basic traps to catch fish and small animals and even made us cups and spoons out of bamboo for us to use in the village.

We saw and sampled local plants used by the Karen people.  A few of these are shown below.  Clockwise starting at the top left are chili peppers, morning glory (stems make a good stir fry, flowers contain a sweet nectar), tobacco, and coffee.

We arrived in the village just before sunset, exhausted but happy.

We had wonderful green curry and stir fried vegetables for supper with Tee and our host family.  The locally grown mix of white and brown rice was some of the best I've had.  We even got to sample some home made rice liquor.

We slept on the porch under a mosquito net.  It was quite chilly in the morning (we could see our breath) and enjoyed warming up around a fire with our host family before setting out for another day of hiking.

Day two of hiking involved a lot more water.  While the morning started out cool the day warmed quickly and it was nice having river water around to keep cool.  After the initial descent from the village we hiked along a river for the morning.

The afternoon portion of the hike was my favorite as we hiked up a rushing stream through dense jungle on our way to cave.

The cave was really neat (and a bit scary).  The cave is a tunnel that has been naturally carved by the stream. Tee and a local villager who hiked with us carried bamboo torches through the cave.  While the torches provided light, Tee explained that the primary purpose for the torches was for defense against potentially deadly snakes.  We did see a green pit viper in the cave, but thankfully it was a safe distance away curled up on a rock ledge along the wall of the cave.

After the cave we hiked up to our extraction point at the end of a bumpy dirt road to begin our ride back to Chang Mai.

The trek was one of the most amazing experiences we've had and I would highly recommend Pooh Eco-Trekking to anyone visiting Chang Mai.  It was physically challenging, so make sure you're in decent shape before doing this.

We still had one more day in Chang Mai, and after a good night of sleep we rented bicycles and explored the city.  Compared to Bangkok, Chang Mai seems very calm and laid back.  It was quite an enjoyable city and we hope to go back sometime, even if just for a weekend.

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