Trekking – Chiang Mai, Thailand

November 23-25, 2016

We have always loved camping and being out in the wilderness. This was one of the things that was on his wishlist as we traveled through Thailand. He thought this would be the safest way to really get out there. Plus we would be in a group and we would meet other travelers and camping/hiking travelers. We can be introverts when we travel and so we thought this would force us to be a little social. Kevin did his research and found a trekking company that did a 3d2n trek. We thought that would be the perfect amount of time. Just in case it wasn’t what we were expecting. He found it on tripadvisor and decided on it because of the reviews.

We were in Malaysia when we booked it and I had gotten a sinus cold, but we still went ahead with it. I wasn’t going to sit around! I will comment more on the company we used and provide our tripadvisor review at the end.

The night before the guide came to our hotel to collect payment and to fill us in on what to expect during the trip. He said he had a good group put together and at the end I was feeling hopeful that it would be worth it. We were already carrying everything we brought on our backs so we would have all of our belongings with.

The next day we were promptly picked up and we headed to the market to grab makings for our lunch and dinner. We walked around the markets there with their strange offerings and were wondering what we would be eating that night.

We then got in our truck to head to our first stop.

The traveling was fun, but not the greatest when you are going around curves after curves! The first half of our group was:

Markus and Klaus from Germany

Richard and Kane from Tasmania

It was a hot day and  beautiful waterfall with swim hole made everyone happy.

It was an easy walk in and we were only there for about 30 minutes before we were off to lunch. The food was great. It was always fresh and of course local. Fresh cut fruit, chicken, rice, noodles.

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After lunch we had a long and windy drive. We were thankful to get out of the truck and stretch our legs. The bathrooms, are not really bathrooms, so you have to be okay with doing your business behind a tree. When you read reviews you will read that every level of hiker can do this. This is true, but the level of the hike changes with each group. There is a flat route, medium route, difficult and strenuous. I think he decided on the difficult for our group We climbed and descended and climbed and descended. It was beautiful hiking through for the forest and through the mountains. We stopped to check out different plants and learn a little about survival. We drank fresh water from bamboo and continued to walk 3.5 miles up and down up and down.

We finally got a glimpse of the village.

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But before we walked down our guide pulled out a tire swing! I wasn’t going to do it, but then the one other girl in the group did and was so ecstatic about it, I had to.

Everyone took a turn, a couple took a couple turns, but then we finally saw the entire view of the village.

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Our dedicated hut was a little past as to not disturb the local life and villagers.

They put our hut in a beautiful location, right along a stream.They had a small shower area but you could also shower in the stream!

Our sleeping area was one big room with multiple mattresses.

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No electricity, of course no cell service and no oven. We hung out by candle light and they cooked over open fire. We didn’t have any problem finishing the amazing food! You definitely need to bring a game. None of us thought of that except our new friend Markus from Germany! We played Uno with german rules, american rules and random rules!

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After multiple beers and a lot of food and the dark, we were ready for bed. We had a long day ahead of us tomorrow!

We woke up as the sun rose, not the best night sleep. With all the different types of sleepers, weird noises and it was a little cold, sleep wasn’t deep. We had a wonderful breakfast and then we were off!

We walked through the forest, through rice fields, along streams, up and down mountains and after 6.5 miles we made it to the river. This was where we were supposed to meet up with elephants and I didn’t really realize it, but they were supposed to be at the vet so we were to bamboo raft. When I heard rafting, you think big secure raft. This was not, but it was hell of a lot of fun. We walked up as our guide was making our raft!

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Then it was time to jump on and balance…

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We had some sketchy parts and some lazy floating down the river. We made it to lunch after about an hour all in one piece and no tip overs. They had some cute puppies, which was fun and sad. There was a “bridge” to get across the river. I did not do it, Kevin loved it.

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This was where our stuff sat while we were eating lunch and while we are rafting!

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Then another hour down the river to our next village.

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The same sleeping quarters, but a lot warmer.

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So tonight was actually Thanksgiving in the US. We shared with everyone and told them of the traditions we had. Everyone seemed genuinely interested and they all wanted to make it a traditional Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite holidays (even though it’s still not the most positive of holidays), but at least people don’t expect gifts and people come together to enjoy each others company and watch football! Kevin and I haven’t had a traditional Thanksgiving in years. We usually eat korean bbq or we are in Central America. This year we mixed a lot of everything. We were in Thailand in the middle of nowhere with people from all over the world! It seemed like the perfect thanksgiving dinner.

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Sorry it has taken so long, but I can introduce the rest of the group!

Felix and Tanja from Germany

Tony from Hong Kong

Elmar and Uwe from Germany

It was incredible and I was so happy to be with this amazing group. I am usually not the social one, but everyone was so friendly and just seemed to gel together perfectly. I couldn’t believe how lucky we were to by chance have this be our group. Some of them didn’t book until the night or a couple days before.

After dinner we sat around a fire and listened to our guide play the guitar and sang songs. We then did a wish lantern. It was a nice moment. I had never done one and it was nice watching it float away.

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After a long day and a perfect evening we all turned in. This time has gone way too fast.

Breakfast the next morning was so good. Fresh fruit, eggs, toast, biscuits and these amazing deep fried banana rolls. To die for good.

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We had more rafting and guess whose camera phone died and the other camera was tucked away safely because we were supposed to be doing some decent rapids on that thing. I regret not having a water proof camera. This was the most beautiful of the river rafting. The views were out of this world. I really couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I was really kicking myself that I didn’t have a camera. After 2 hours we were at the end. We had the best river guide. All 5′ of him. He loved to chat, but it wasn’t with us, it was with our main guide on the other raft. It was entertaining listening to him because we couldn’t understand a world he was saying. He did an incredible job steering the raft.

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After an amazing couple days, I was happy to be back and ready to head into Chiang Mai. Unknowingly this is where the problems would start. We had a decent lunch and as we were finishing up some of the elderly women came over to us trying to sell the same things that every village was trying to sell us. Nothing original or something from their village. Once we said no thank you in English and Thai, they wouldn’t leave. They would put the objects directly in front of our face. It took us a couple minutes to get them to back off a little.

We did have a little fun with a Mannequin Challenge!

We then started walking around and we crossed a pedestrian bridge. On our way back we heard a blood curling scream from a pig. Right down by the river they were about to slaughter a pig with a knife. One of the guys at the bottom stopped him because he saw us. It was the worst sound I have ever heard in my life. I literally froze and couldn’t breath. Kevin had to push me a long to get me out of there. I was shaken up for awhile. When we got back to the truck, we were told we were going to go see the elephants. My spirits were lifted a little. I was ready to get back after that moment, but then thought I really wanted to see the elephants. It was a long hour ride. When we got closer we started seeing the elephants walking on the side of the road, I perked up a bit, but immediately came crashing back to sad. They had chains around their necks and the mahouts had the bull hooks. We kept driving so I was hoping that maybe the place we were going to wouldn’t be like that. When we got there and got out of the truck, all we heard was a mahout screaming at a poor elephant making him get up, down, turn around, walk. He would jab him with the butt end of the hook and another was stomping on an elephant’s head to get the dust off. Out of the 11 in or group only 2 road. I was happy that so many turned it down. Other people in other groups were also turning it down. A lot of them wouldn’t even bath them because no one could tell if they were enjoying it or not. On our way to watching them bath an elephant. One elephant was left in the sun with no food or water. We watched him sway back and forth in distress. It was a heart breaking moment.

There was a positive at the end, we all got together for a picture and a see you soon moment before we were split up to go back to the hotels.

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I will be writing another post about this subject. We finally told our guide we wanted to leave and had enough. It was such a sad end to a great couple of days. It’s hard, because trekking is very popular, but I implore you when you go to request no elephant riding. We were supposed to ride elephants when we originally got to the river and if it had been the case I would have been s**t out of luck. I would rather walk 10 miles than ride one.

Here is my review on tripadvisor.

Its hard giving three stars after an amazing trip, but I cannot give 5stars to any company that supports the cruelty and torture of elephants.

But let’s start from the beginning. We booked this just a couple days before we wanted to go and luckily he had a group going out. He met with us the day before to give us information and answer questions. My husband found this company and so I didn’t know too much about it. He told us there wouldn’t be elephants and we were just fine with that. He said they were at the vet and so I blindly was happy and thought they are well taken care of.

The next day we got picked up with four others and then met a truck with 5 more. Our group was awesome. Everyone got along and i thoroughly enjoyed being with them all. The waterfall, trekking and villages were great. Paruun was an awesome guide and stopped to show us a lot throughout the hike. What i didnt realize was that we were supposed to ride elephants from the end of the hike to the next village and instead we rafted. I would have been outta luck if the elephants were available. I would have been walking, swimming or had to turn back. Our bamboo raft guide was a perfect 10, all 5′ of him.

The actual level of hiking is determined after the group gets together to see how fit everyone is. There are levels from easy to hard. I would make sure to ask him before you sign up for the tour to make sure you aren’t held back or aren’t holding others back.

The sleeping arrangements were fun and funny obnoxious. You are in one big room with mats for everyone and each couple had a net. It felt like college and I couldn’t get away from the snoring! You don’t sleep much anyways but it was fun being together. The first night was really cold and the second night was hot. Bring a card game as there isn’t much to do. Thank god we had Uno!

The last day we bamboo rafted another group not part of us got stuck and our guide stopped and ran back to help. It ended up being both our guides that fixed their raft. We then ended and had lunch and this is when the minor problems started. When we sat down to lunch some ladies came to our table to try and sell the same stuff to us that the villages did and when we said no they wouldn’t leave and put items in front of our faces, then as we were walking across the bridge they started to slaughter a pig (they stopped but not until a heart wrenching scream came from the pig. It stopped me dead in my tracks. My husband had to quickly nudge me to get going). Then finally when I thought we were headed back, our guide said we were going to go see elephants. After a long drive we started seeing elephants along the road with chains hanging from their neck. When we stopped to get out all you could hear was a mahout yelling at his elephant and jabbing him with his hook to bend down, back up and walk. He was also stomping on his head to get dirt off. We watched a couple people actually get on and ride and also saw some refuse. I was happy when 8 out of the 11 of us refused. We then were herded to see them bath. But before we watched an elephant get chained in the sun with no access to food or water. He just sat there swaying back and forth, back and forth. Again, the majority of people did not participate in the bathing either. A group of about 5 Asian Americans in there late 20s was next to us and the guys refused because they couldn’t actually tell if the elephant was enjoying it. I was impressed. There was no reward to these elephants. Just constant parading. One of the mahouts was actually sitting there tugging the baby elephants tail. They would routinely yank their ears too. By then we had had enough and told our guide we wanted to leave. We walked back to the car and passed the elephant still in the sun swaying in distress.

It was a disappointing end to a great trek. I would have rather just went home. No one asked to see elephants. Do your research before visiting any elephant tour. Chairs are horrible, every single elephant has gone through The Crush. Visit and enjoy them without riding, even bare back. They are not meant for riding. Find a tour that doesn’t offer riding, uses positive reinforcement and doesn’t use chains and hooks. There was never a moment with the animal that had any connection. The country, the people and the tourists need to do a better job with taking care of these beautiful creatures.

I am a bit disappointed in the response to other people concerned about the elephants. Elephants should not be ridden period. They should not be poked, chained or yelled at period.

Pros: Hiking with beautiful scenery, meeting new people from all over the world, bamboo rafting and the food at the villages. You were able to purchase beer and soda at all the villages, but there was no guarantee that it was cold.

Cons: Supports elephant cruelty, trying to sell us trinkets, only being provided one bottle of water at beginning.

I do suggest using this company, but I would hope that tourists continue to say no to riding the elephants. I know that all trekking companies do this, so it is the responsibility of the tourists to say no and make them realize they can make money without the unethical treatment.


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24 thoughts on “Trekking – Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. Great post Kym. I’m glad that you enjoyed the trek. David and I did one in Chiangmai Rai, a province near Chiangmai, about 13 years ago and it was a nice trek too. Sorry to hear about the unfortunate encounter at the end of the trip.

    We had been guilty of participating in elephant rides in the past. Even if our experience was somewhat more positive than yours, when I see some elephant keepers treated theirs poorly, it made me sick to know that I used to be part of this ongoing problems. Thanks for spreading the words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We were almost a part of it too. I think awareness has only recently become a big thing. Information is more readily available. People know now how these elephants got here and that the word “sanctuary”is used very loosely. Its the least I can do!

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  2. Looks like a great and memorable experience. That tire swing…wow! I appreciate that you wrote about the elephants. I also have ridden in the past many years ago when I didn’t know better but now I do. The more that people like you take a stand and spread the word, hopefully we will see this cruel industry go away! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would be very motion sick with the travel going there but I think, looking at the pictures, the view is definitely worth it! Also, that waterfall! OMG! It is super inviting! And you also got to light up a sky lantern!!! I’ve always wanted to do that!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am a big fan of the outdoor and trekking, so this post is right up my alley as one would say. I also think the people make the trip and it is great that you had such a good group. I am keen to add this to my hiking bucketlist now that I have read your post.

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  5. This looks (and sounds!) like such a good trek! Except for the cruelty towards elephant part…that is NOT cool. However, on that subject, I’ve heard from good authority that elephants really enjoy getting bathed by humans. One of my Indian friend’s family owns a couple of elephants (they are treated like members of the family, I assure you, no bull hooks or anything like that are used!) that have been in the family for generations, and apparently getting bathed and stroked by humans (and those hard bristle brushes they sometimes use) is really enjoyable for them, kind of like how a massage is to us. So yeah, no to riding but yes to bathing!

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    1. That is good to hear. In that situation it sounds great. When you mix it with the rest it isn’t. The bull hooks are used to move them and make them do certain things when being bathed. They are still on show. I am glad that family treats them so well?

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  6. What an amazing experience. First I’m so glad you had this reaction about the elephants, you did a good thing with the review. Apart from this, it really seemed great and I would love to do this! The swing part and all of the little bridges make it really fun and adventurous, and I think being with our people can make it even more fun! The rafting also sounds terrific!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m in awe at how many cool adventures you packed into just a few days! The river rafting looks unforgettable. We often have the best times when we escape the cities and explore more rural areas; sounds like you got a great taste of Chiang Mai’s true culture, in spite of the throngs of foreign visitors who frequent the tourist spots.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Raising awareness about how tourism can negatively affect animals is so important. As tourists we tend to hand over our money and think we can do what ever, but we need to be so conscious of the culture / animals / ecosystem we’re in. Great to keep that awareness up!

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  9. What a fantastic trip but very sad about the elephants. I would never contribute to this. As a blogger it’s your duty to tell the truth and raise awareness so well dond. On the plus side there are many elephants who are treated right so they’re leading examples ! The tyre swing looks phenomenal – what an experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sounds like an amazing experience, even though the ending was a bit sad. I’m glad the majority of your group decided not to ride those elephants though, at least you took a stand!

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