Friday, 14 March 2008

Northern Thailand

From Bangkok we took a cheap flight North to the town of Chiang Mai, saving some time on the 10 hour bus journey.

Chiang Mai is a much more relaxed place than Bangkok, although the traffic can also be very heavy. The town center is surrounded by old city walls and contains a high concentration of some of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Thailand. In total there are over 120 temples in Chiang Mai. On the first day we went walking around the old town and tried to see some of the most important temples, including: Wat Buparam, Wat Punotow, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang.

The next day we left our cozy guest house for a 3 day trekking trip to the nearby hill tribe villages. After a short mini bus ride we stopped at the elephant camp for an elephant ride. Although quite a touristy thing to do we gad a good time, as you can see from the picture below of 2 of the elephants:

In the afternoon we trekked though some very hilly, but quite picturesque terrain for about 3 hours covering about 7km.

After a stop at a waterfall for a wash and a swim we arrived at our overnight destination – a Karren Hill Tribe village.
Karen people originate from Burma and currently combined form the largest hill tribe in Thailand with a population of over 285,000 people. They live mostly from rice, vegetable and livestock production.

Our accommodation in the village was quite basic – a traditional hill tribe house with bamboo beds, no electricity and no water.

It was surprisingly comfortable though, despite the night being really cold. It was nice to be woken up in the morning by chickens, rather than an alarm clock.

For the next 2 days we trekked amongst some other Karen hill tribe villages, covering 15km the second day and another 7 in the morning of the third day, washing in the waterfalls and eating village cooked food. The last day of the trip ended with bamboo rafting on the river.

The trip was a mixed experience – it was good to see the villages and the scenery was spectacular, but it was a little bit touristy and we wished we had more time to spend at the village and more interaction with the local people.

Upon returning to Chaing Mai we celebrated the return to civilization with consuming a large number of cheap drinks at a local bar with some of the people we met on the trip.

On our last day in Chiang Mai we rented a cheap little 100cc scooter and went up the mountain to see the Bhubbing Palace

… and the Doi Suthep temple, located 16km from Chiang Mai and 1,700m above sea level.

The day ended with a session of a great traditional Thai massage at a local temple before the long journey heading to Laos the next day.

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