Sponsored by: VSSL Supplies
In a year of experiencing new cultures, cuisine, and adventure, I thought I would have trouble pinpointing what my number one moment would be. That is until I went on a trip so raw and impactful that the only possible outcome would be life changing. The full magnitude of trekking through the mountains of Thailand cannot be summarized in words; it’s truly something that needs to be experienced.
Day 1: Into the Wild
Our bags were packed; stocked with essentials and survival gear. I consider myself a novice hiker, as I engage in it monthly, however, I had never trekked before – let alone for several days in the mountains of Thailand. To prepare for the journey, I purchased the VSSL supplies kit. It houses critical supplies that would be needed for survival (though I hoped it wouldn’t come to a life or death situation!)
The trip was made with my parents and boyfriend, along with a group of nine other like-minded adventure travelers. We may have come from all different corners of the globe, however we all had two things in common; a love for adventure and a booking reservation with Chiang Mai Trekking with Piroon. That’s all it took to bond and become good friends.
After a quick meeting, we all hopped into an open back truck and headed to the first destination. It was a swim at a beautiful waterfall that must have been at least 150 feet high. The water cascaded with intensity, causing a shroud of mist to cover the area as far back as 30 feet. The water was chilly, and incredibly refreshing given the humid jungle climate.
Feeling cooled down, we headed back to the truck where we changed and began the first portion of our trekking journey. This section was a three-hour hike up and down small winding mountain trails.
As I walked along the trail, I was thinking, “What dangerous animals could be here?” Of course, this was only because I was unfamiliar with what I would encounter, since I had never been trekking. Quickly, our excellent guide Date brought my anxiety down. With leaps and bounds he would hop through the forest, collecting wild blueberries, carving bamboo hiking sticks, and climbing up vine covered trees.
Before I knew it, the brush cleared and a small village nested among rice paddies appeared. The initial reaction I had was “This looks like it’s straight out of National Geographic Magazine.” Though there were only about ten huts, the power the site brought when witnessed in person was unexplainable. It is so raw and real. In many ways, it’s refreshing that a village like this still existed despite the impeding Westernization of many cultures all over the world.
Before climbing down the small red dirt trail to the village, we stopped. Ahead of us was a tire swing, which swung directly over the village, allowing those who dared it to enjoy a view from 200 feet above the ground. Naturally, I had to take a spin, and it was amazing to see the rice paddies and stilted huts from above as the wind whipped through my hair!
That evening we spent the night in a simple wooden hut at the edge of the small village. The sound of the creek nearby seemed to roar compared to the peaceful silence that flowed through the jungle village. The sound of crickets and the occasional wooden bell of a water buffalo would ring in the distance.
As we enjoyed a fresh meal cooked by the village people, they taught us about their culture, and performed magic tricks in front of the campfire. The Karen village has distinctive huts on stilts. This was created to protect them from tigers, and although tigers are no longer a threat, the building tradition still survives.
Day 2: A Dance with Danger
I should have known from the moment our second day started that we were in for a challenge. The smell of breakfast woke me and after a hearty meal, Date rushed over and asked if anyone has Western medicine because one of the village kids has an injury and the hospital is a day’s journey away.
Luckily, my VSSL supplies kit had many survival essentials, including a first aid kit. I rushed to get it and handed it over to a nurse (who happened to be a guest on the trek). She bandaged up the young boys black burned hand, then told me in private that it looked very bad and she is worried about blood poisoning. She expressed this to Date, who relayed the information to the villagers. We can only hope that they were able to make it to a hospital in time.
With hope in our hearts for the young boy, we gathered up our gear and began part two of our trek. This journey took us deep in the heart of the jungle, and along rice fields for about three hours to visit a small elephant family living with a Lahu tribe.
As we were trekking along harvested rice fields, a shriek was heard. The girls in front yell “There is a snake in the water!” As quick as lighting, Date runs ahead and leaps in front of the girls to protect them from potential danger. Next I know he is chasing the snake with his machete and a smile on his face, smacking the machete into the water with force. Suddenly, he reaches a hand into the water, and pulls out a dazed black snake about three feet in length, then says “It’s not dangerous, but it will be a good meal tonight!”
He throws the snake in a plastic bag, hands it to another guide and without a thought continues trekking through the rice paddy. At this point, I was nervous with every step I took through the field, and was thrilled once we made it to the Lahu tribe in one piece.
We entered a stilted hut, and were told to relax and wait for the meal or help in the kitchen. Naturally, the two chef’s in our group, my mom and Luis, jump at the chance to cook a meal with the Lahu tribe. They headed to the traditional kitchen, sat on the bamboo floor, and began to slice the vegetables on tree trunks. Behind them the village people began to cook the noodles and delicious aromas danced in the air. Next came the stir-fry. My mom and I mixed the noodles and vegetables together over a fire and served the meal. It was as delicious as it sounds!
As our lunch came to an end, we began to gather our gear and suddenly an elephant greeted us from below. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was our introduction to an hour with elephants. Though there are no wild elephants in Thailand, the village people take good care of them, as they are great for both tourism and transporting goods.
We took a quick ride on a bamboo raft to see even more elephants. The raft was wobbly and water sloshed through the cracks, but it was all part of the experience. As we floated down the river, the sun began to set and I could see a slight panic on Dates face. If we arrived at the mountain village in the dark, it could be treacherous getting us there safely.
As Date steered the raft with a 20-foot bamboo stick, he said “We may not get a lot of time with the elephants because it is getting dark.” We all understood what he truly meant, which was “We need to get to the village before darkness falls.”
The river bent and two elephants suddenly appeared on the bank, excited for us to arrive and feed them. Instantly, we all forget the impending danger of the sun setting and hopped off the rafts, grabbing bushels of bananas and feeding them to the playful giants. Next came bathing, and the elephants hobbled into the river as we splashed them with buckets of water.
Next thing we know, Date is loading everyone back on the rafts and paddling as fast as possible to get us to the mountain village. It is now dusk, raining, and getting difficult to see in front of us.
When we arrived at the mountain village it was nearly impossible to see. Date quickly handed us our bags and we began the climb up the muddy, rocky trail to our home for the night; another stilted hut. Suddenly, my mom cried out in pain. She slipped down the rocks because of the mud and lack of light. We couldn’t see anything, and she was able to move, so we carefully finished the climb to the hut. I pulled out my supplies kit again, accessed the triple mode LED flashlight, and was horrified to see that her big toenail was almost completely ripped off and was bleeding a lot.
At this sight, my mom screamed out (as most would), and I pulled away because I’m lightheaded around blood. My dad got the first aid kit from the supplies kit, called the nurse that helped the young boy, and they began to clean the wound. What happened next, I don’t know because I couldn’t look but she was strong. Beers around the campfire that night definitely helped ease the pain. The next morning, Date had assembled an amazing Bamboo crutch for her to use. Luckily, there were no more long hikes planned!
That night we had a delicious Thai meal and later on the guides cooked the snake. I joined them in the kitchen as they prepared its long black slithering body to cook, and wondered why this was a good idea. As the chef threw each piece of the snake into the fire, the nerves ignited causing it to move. It made it even more unappetizing to me, yet I still couldn’t say no to tasting it. After all, when else would I get an opportunity like this?
Once the dish was ready, they brought it out in all its glory. Much to my surprise, they had made a spicy snake soup with fresh vegetables. The soup itself was quite delicious, though too spicy for my taste. However, the snake was a strange consistency because the skin was still on it, which left an uneatable texture that was similar to a bay leaf in soup. With my adventurous eating checked off my list, I headed off to bed.
As I stepped away from the campfire and into the massive sleep space, darkness surrounded me. I pulled out my VSSL flashlight to light the way to my mosquito netted bed. Since I still needed to get ready for bed, I once again reached into my VSSL supplies kit, grabbed the 6-hour pure Canadian beeswax candle, and lit it with the waterproof matches. Then went the bathroom and used a small piece of the water purification tablet that came in the kit to brush my teeth. I couldn’t believe that this kit had already been a lifesaver two times in the last 18 hours.
Day 3: River of Dreams
It was a bright sunny morning as I stepped through the mosquito netting, and rose out of bed. The river below us was glistening with golden rays of light, and birds were chirping. It was a beautiful last day of the journey.
We had a hearty breakfast then explored the Lahu village. My mom was limping because of her injury, but working well with the bamboo crutch that Date had made. I was impressed to see that she was still willing to climb up steep hills to experience the local culture even though she was having trouble walking. I would probably do the same in her situation because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity!
The village was extremely small, only about five huts, and we were allowed to enter one to witness how the villagers live. The inside was very tiny. Like most Thai houses they had a framed photo of the royal family. I thought this was interesting because almost everything else in the home was made from natural materials except for this digital photo. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all bamboo or wood from the forest. There was one room, which was the kitchen, bedroom, and working area. Outside, children played with slingshots, and roosters crowed.
After playing with the kids for a bit, we stepped on our bamboo rafts and floated down the Mae Tang River for two hours, stopping to swing from vines into the refreshing water. The river flowed through lush jungle terrain, and bamboo forests. Occasionally Date would call out when he saw signs of wild boars. Though we never did see Pumbaa, it was interesting to learn about these animals.
With the sun shining high in the sky we arrived at our final destination, Shan village, and then said our goodbyes to our new friends. This was truly the experience of a lifetime, with memories that I will treasure forever.
Trekking taught me that sometimes modernization is not always best. It can be good to embrace the wild, be one with nature, and face your fears. I’m thankful that I was prepared for such a journey because of my VSSL supplies kit. The trip left me with more than just memories; I came back with good friends and a deep appreciation for responsible tourism. An experience like this is essential for everyone to do at least once in their life. Trust me when I say, it will be the greatest travel experience you can have.
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