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Where I was when I wrote this: On my way back to HK after 4 weeks of awesome. Lots of catching up to do!
After weeks of speculation about whether this Nikorn guy was for real and whether this trek was going to happen at all, it was all going to be put to the test these next two days.
Let me first explain to you our physical condition going into the trek. Jia’s a little under the weather with some sort of cold and scratchy throat. I’m also feeling the onset of a cold and the recurrence of my throat problems. Not a good start right. Don’t worry we power through it somehow.
Grabbing Some Food For the Road
After a super rushed breakfast we were picked up by Nikorn and his wife in their white Toyota Vios (similar to a Yaris I suppose back home?). We first made a stop at a local market for Nikorn to pick us a pre-packed lunch while he suggested us to buy some candies for the hilltribes children so we bought a box of mini chupa-chups.
After another 40 minute drive we make it to our drop off point in Maewang National Park. When I say national park I say this loosely because there is barely a main entrance and there isn’t any official trails or visitor’s office. Once we get off the car there are two locals waiting there for us, one of which is going to be our porter and host for the night. “The man” as Nikorn calls him, looks pretty old and is able to carry this huge basket backpack the whole day on flip flops. He succeeds in making all of us look bad. He keeps a constant and calm pace and never seems to need a break.
Let’s Get This Started
To start off right away we have to trek through some water and already I know it’s going to be a bit unpleasant for Jia because he’s wearing non-waterproof hiking shoes. This is totally reminiscent of my time in Yosemite doing that snowshoeing with water sloshing around the same type of shoes. The hike is pretty easy at the beginning as we cross from Maewang National Park to Doi Inthanon National Park but after lunch things start to climb and the temperature picks up under the sun.
Nikorn is a pretty wild character I’d say. He doesn’t look particularly fit but back in his day he used to work for those big trekking companies and did this almost every day. He’s now working independently and does the smaller groups. He has a lot of energy throughout and at the beginning busts out his video camera to shoot footage for his future website (he even shoots me peeing along the trail..what the heck!). You can tell early on that he has a lot of experience as he was able to point out a bunch of things along our path including this mimosa plant that closes its leaves when you touch it, teak tree leaves that locals use as red dye, shows us a dead dung beetle, explains the roaming cattle and shows us this bug that turns into a hardened marble ball when you touch it. The guy has his own slingshot to shoot down fruits and goes impromptu fishing with his bare hands….what more do you want in a trekking guide!
After a solid 5-6 hours of hiking I’m sweating buckets and exhausted but we finally make it to the Karen hill-tribe village we are supposed to stay at for the night. The village is pretty basic and mainly constructed of wood and bamboo. There’s no electricity but there is piping for water from a nearby stream. What they lack in modern comforts they totally make up for in hospitality, friendliness and warm-heartedness.
After settling into our cabin and taking a frighteningly cold shower we walk around the village to meet all the hilltribe locals. First, Nikorn taught us how to say hello and thank you in the local dialect. What’s amazing here is that everyone knows Nikorn. Nikorn used to come to this village very frequently and so he was happy himself to see everyone again. Along the way we handed the candy we bought in Chiang Mai. It was awesome to see the smile painted on their faces when we gave it to them.
The beauty of our small group was that we were able to talk to almost everyone in the village and eat with our hosts. After we completed our round, we came back accommodation area and joined Nikorn, the auntie and uncle in the making of dinner (more like we watched them). We have a green curry dish, mushrooms “the man” picked up on the ground on our way up, vegetable stir fry, and tiny crabs grilled over the fire that Nikorn found when he was actually trying to catch fish with his hands. We ate until around 10PM, chatting with Nikorn, shooting some whiskey and asking/answering questions to the auntie and uncle. During dinner, their son’s family also came over for food.
Despite a long day of hiking, spending the late afternoon and evening with the locals was an incredible experience and made all of that hardship worth it.
Chiang Mai Dialect
- Hello = Ohmeu Sherpeu
- Thank You = Tableu (just don’t say Tapleu because that means “you crazy”)
- Thank You Very Much = Tableau Padog
- Mooga = Auntie
- Paday = Uncle
- Gear to bring for trekking: Toilet paper roll, tiger balm, lots of bug spray, sunscreen, buff, cover for your bag if it rains or stuff your stuff in a plastic bag first before putting it in the backpack, quick dry and portable towel, waterproof hiking shoes/sandals, lots of water and a headlamp (very key at night).
- Quick breakfast at Le Meridien Chiang Mai
- 9AM pickup
- Quick stop at local market
- Drop off point in Maewang National Park
- Trek at least 6 hours and 10-13KM with lunch somewhere in between by a stream
- Arrive in the village at 4:30PM
- Greet hilltribe villagers
- Dinner with our hosts
- Sleep by 10PM
I know a bit overdue but this is for guys (if you’re a girl replace crap with something else)
- Sawasdee crap (sounds like sawati crap) = Hello
- Kup kun crap = Thank You
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Check out the Next Day
To read about the next day as we make our way back down with Nikorn, do a little (very sad) elephant riding and bamboo rafting, head over to Day 22 – Chiang Mai – “You Look Like A Sports Man”.
Curious what else I did on my trip to Asia? See the full itinerary and all 89 days.