Adventure in Chiang Mai

Some of our family craves adventure like tired mommas yearn for coffee.

So, after enjoying cultural/historical things in Chiang Mai, Chris found a tour that would meet our need and hopefully not get us killed. He got it right…just barely.

Chiang Mai Trekking provided several exciting options and Chris selected a day trip that took us out into the countryside. The trip included a drive to a rural mountain village, a brief visit with elephants, a 2-hour hike to another mountain village, lunch prepared by the local villagers, and then a bamboo-rafting excursion. If you’re tired just reading this, you’re sensing how I felt packing this into one day.

Two intrepid young women joined us on the adventure. They were long-time friends from Belgium who took a month off to travel SE Asia. We all piled into the back of a rugged songthaew for the windy mountain climb.

The drive up the mountain took about an hour and a half. Here is a portion of our trip.

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This all looks fine…

Okay. I’ll be honest, I might have entertained some visions of us all plummeting to our deaths, but no one else seemed worried. Calming myself, I focused on preparing for the hike.

On the way, we stopped to visit some elephants resting from their work giving rides to tourists. This experience didn’t compare to our day at Elephant Sanctuary, but was fun nonetheless.

The songthaew dropped us at a small village carved into the mountainside. From there, we began our hike through the jungle to a remote village. We met a few friends along the way. The jungle hike offered beautiful views and a break from the rush of Chiang Mai.

The climb was steep for me and I slowed the group considerably, but everyone was gracious. As the trail wound through dense jungle, we marveled that this was the lifeline connecting the villagers to the outside world.

Villagers of all ages passed us on the trail. Several of them carried bundles of goods purchased from other mountain villages. One woman looked to be in her seventies or more as she blew past me on the rugged trail. That was a little humbling.

Children ran to meet us as we neared the village.

Our group found its way to the lunch hut on the river. There, we played with children and bought wares from their mothers while lunch was prepared for us. The children warmed our hearts. They delighted in simple games and erupted in laughter as they played on our phones.

Down the River

After lunch, it was time to float downriver to the truck we left behind at the first village. Our cameras faced grave danger on the river. Chris dared to bring his camera out of the bag for a few good shots that you’ll see below. We really wish we had a GoPro to capture the adventure, but I’ll do my best to describe it.

Not our raft, but an example of it.

Above you see a picture of a typical bamboo raft on this river. They are built with bamboo stripped from the surrounding forest. The poles are lashed together with bamboo strips that the locals secure using some indescribable, magical twirling move.

The vertical poles held our many backpacks and supplies. We donned life jackets, stepped onto the raft….and discovered that we were sinking.

The villagers rapidly attached additional poles to keep us afloat. I saw the magical twirly move and realized there were no knots holding the raft together…NO KNOTS!

Then I realized that we had nothing to hold onto as we raced downriver. The raft was the only way to get back to the truck before dark and a storm loomed behind us. No 2-hour hike in a dark jungle storm for me. I held my peace in an act of supreme valor.

The river was rolling swifter than usual due to the rainy season. I never learned the river’s name, so I’ll just call it A Good Place to Die River.    Our guide and his helper were somewhat concerned about the river’s condition, but they got us on our way with skill and confidence.

Our fearless guide, “A”

Our guide took the front of the raft with the helper taking the rear. Each had long bamboo poles to steer us down the river. They threw four spares on to the raft.

As we raced downstream, we encountered many rapids. Each time, we had to kneel down and grab the raft’s crossbars to stay onboard. Once the raft tilted severely as it went over a rock and things got exciting. We soon lost all the spare steering poles to breakage, washing away, or getting them wedged in the river bottom.

At one point, only “A” had a pole and we had a rough section of river to pass. The men yelled to one another and what unfolded next still amazes me.

“A” poled over to a tree that was lodged in the river bottom. He grabbed the tree and our raft began swinging around towards the river bank. This was perilous…If he was pulled off the raft, we would float down with no guide and no poles.

But it worked.

While “A” held onto the tree, the village guide leapt off our raft towards the bank. He scurried up the steep bank with a machete, cut and skinned some new poles, and dropped them down to the water. I caught them and together we hefted them onto the raft. Just like that, we were back in business.

Our guides pushed off the tree and back into the river’s current. After one more rapid, our trip eased into gentler water. Shortly, we arrived at the village where our truck awaited us.

In calm water at the end, even I smiled.

Tour Review

Despite my fears on the trip, I would highly recommend it. Chiang Mai Trekking provided a unique experience that we treasure. The young people describe the trip as exhilarating and they laughed most of the way down the river.

If you have the chance to visit Chiang Mai with active teens, you should look into these tours. If you have a nervous mother on the trip, maybe you shouldn’t share this post, and just let her discover it for herself. She’ll likely thank you afterwards.

Categories: Thailand, Travel, UncategorizedTags: , , , , ,

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