Chiang Mai: Trekking and Temples

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The hardest parts about traveling in Thailand is: 1) it’s HELLLLA touristy (I see why Phatty didn’t want to come back here) and, 2) folks here rip tourists off all over the place. It’s hard to have a good time knowing that you might pay double for a tour, or might be taken somewhere that you didn’t plan on going to.

Chiang Mai is no exception — it’s an odd little upscale boutique-y town with a lot of Yoko-John couples and rowdy tourists all over the place. There’s tour companies on every block, as well as Buddhist “wats” on every block (sometimes two or three)…

I reserved a trek for my day 2 in Chiang Mai, not really knowing what it would entail. All I know was that most treks included hikes, waterfalls, elephants, boat rides, “minority village visits”, and the like. I found out later that day that I basically paid to get a tour guide to lead a hike through the jungle surrounding Chiang Mai — which is something that I’ve always wanted to do, but it was kinda pricey for that.

My group of six (2 women from Australia and a 3 person family from the Czech Republic) started out at a somewhat modern Mu (Khmu?) village and went to the trail head from there with our guide. I didn’t realize how much of a hike it would be — a lot of it was so steep that there were foot holes for climbing up the narrow mud hills. It was pretty sure I was going to eat shit during one of the narrow and slippery descents down the mountain. It was absolutely beautiful though. Since the hiking by itself isn’t necessarily that entertaining, our guide (who was from a “minority village” nearby) engaged us by making us flutes, walking sticks, hats and glasses out of bamboo and banana plant leaves. But the most interesting part of the tour was when he talked about how they used the plants and trees in the area. He introduced us to different edible and medicinal plants, man-made ladders that local folks used to get fruit in trees 200 feet high, and other indigenous practices.

After stopping off for lunch (fried rice in banana leaves) by a stream, we made our way to a 20 ft. waterfall where I proceeded to jump in the water and swim (I was the only one). This was what I had been waiting for after 3 hours of almost non-stop up and down hiking! By the end of the day, I think we had hiked from 11 am to 4 pm off and on.

The second to last stop was a “minority village” – I was relieved that it we didn’t do much with the village other than hear a little bit about their culture and lifestyle from the guide, because these visits are usually superficial at best, offensive and degrading at worst. One of the highlights of the trek was walking back on a road through the homes and farms of the people nearby — terraces of rice farms, papaya trees, and other green crops dotted the land and hills all around us. We finally ended up at an Elephant “farm”, where we got to hang out with the elephants that were used for tourist rides. I’ve heard bad stories about the mistreatment of animals (tigers, elephants, whatever) during these tours, so I was again glad to just see them and nothing more. They’re adorable.

Even though it was a really simple day excursion (mostly just hiking in the jungle all day), I really appreciated my tour. It wasn’t very touristy, it didn’t  exploit anyone, and our tour guide was very genuine. I’ve heard that the other tours that people have gone on were pretty fake-touristy and bad/offensive.

After getting dropped back off at my hostel for the evening, I went with my roommate Halima to the Chiang Mai night bazaar for food and shopping. This place is the fcking bomb for buying things! It’s a good thing I have a limit on how many things I can carry in my backpack, but I did buy some earrings though. I just can’t help it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The next day I took a short half-day tour to a “Hmong Village” (which was just a tourist flea market selling handcrafts and jewelery — WOW) and went to Doi Suthep, one of the biggest and most famous temples in the vicinity. It was absolutely gorgeous, with different Buddhas in different positions all around the temple. Paintings depicting the Buddha’s life adorned the walls. The place was filled with hella visitors, a weird mix of Thai people coming to the temple to pray, and tourists snapping pictures of temple things (of course I was one of the latter). I went to one area where people were praying kneeling down and shaking sticks in a cup — and for some reason, I knew exactly what they were doing. They were asking the Buddha for a fortune. I did mine — this is what I got:

Ancient Chinese Prophecy

(Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep) Prediction #1

The powerful goodness which you had cultivated in the previous life, will enable you to be happy, and prosperity will attend you for ever and ever. Your life will be successful and full of resources.

Nice. I’m not sure about the karma though, I feel like I’ve been having bad karma this past year.

There’s this odd feeling that I get when I go to these temples; even though I’m not Buddhist, I feel like I’ve done some of these practices before. Maybe I did them a long time ago and just don’t remember. Or perhaps it was in another life…

Lessons Learned:

* If you go on a tour, make sure to shop around on the price — hostels and hotels will mark up the price because they get kickbacks for selling tour packages to tourists.

* Descriptions of what you do on tours are open to interpretation. Be open, have low expectations, or get recommendations from people who have been on the tours before!

* Learn to deal with the stares from the old white guy tourists so you don’t end up trying to beat someone’s ass by the end of the day.

* I wish I tried the zip lines through the jungle (as recommended by Lonely Planet)

* Some of the tour guides don’t “guide” – they just act like a taxi service and stand outside the site while tourists mingle around aimlessly. Don’t be afraid to go and ask your guide questions — that’s the only way I learned about the history and traditional Buddhist practices at Doi Suthep.

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery


Posted: December 24, 2011

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Thailand

Tags: , , , ,


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