May 17, 2012

A Dawg Eat Dog World - Trekking in Northern Thailand

Bathing elephants in the river.
I’m sure you already know that when you head to northern Thailand, you HAVE to do a trek, the landscape is gorgeous, the hill tribes are inviting and the memories are magical. In Chiang Mai, I went on a 3-day trek, a popular tourist activity when visiting northern Thailand. Many of these tours can be over crowded and un-unique because of the massive demand nowadays.
Fortunately, my friend “Boon” runs a guesthouse in Chiang Mai and Pai. He’s a member of the Karen hill tribe, which is one of the few remaining hill tribes in northern Thailand. His best friend, Jackie Chan who I later nicknamed Rusty Sanchez (Rusty), took three friends and me on a semi-private trek through the mountainous hills of Pai where we got to spend time in Boon’s native village with his family. On my 3-day trek I managed to hike until my legs felt like jello, bathe an elephant, bamboo raft down a river, and eat dog. I’m sorry PETA. Trekking was one of the coolest activities I’ve done in Thailand, highly recommended.

Rusty with a dead cicada. 

Six of us loaded the song taew for the 3-hour drive north to Pai to begin our trek in the peaks. The first few hours of trekking were uphill in the raging heat but the gorgeous scenery distracted me from how out of breath I was – over rocks, sides of cliffs, through the woods, and a to chilly waterfall. By the time the sun was coming down, the group arrived at the Karen hill tribe village for the sunset. I met Boon’s dad who I’m pretty sure was high as a kite because his eyes were pink and barely open as I shook his hand. This is opium country after all… The village was filled with bamboo huts and children running around excited to see farang faces. Tweenage girls were sewing their silk sarongs while the elders came in from their work in the fields. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use any of my Thai to talk with the locals because Karen tribers have a completely different language. We set up shop in our sleeping quarters, which was a large bamboo hut with individual palettes draped in mosquito netting and got ready to cook dinner.
Teenage girl sewing her sarong. 
Little boys stop playing to check out the farang in town.
Preparing dinner.
The group sat down to eat family style on the floor with some of the locals and wow what a spread! The feast included a dish of dog might I add. I am the ultimate dog lover, but I didn’t want to be rude so Dawg ate a bit of doggy. It’s really tough and I couldn’t get past the spices and chilies so I didn’t get an actual taste. It’s also chopped up with all the bones so I have to say it wasn’t a pleasant experience and my facial expressions didn’t hide this. You know what they say, “When in a Karen Hill Tribe…”
Can you guess which one is dog? HINT: It's not the white meat. 
Drinking salty tea from a bamboo cup.
After dinner, a family invited us into their home for tea. The living room/kitchen/bedroom doesn’t have any furniture so we sat on the floor around a fire to keep the mosquitos away. We drank the saltiest tea I’ve ever consumed while Rusty translated between the Karen people and us. During the conversation it seemed appropriate to break into a Dixie Chicks song. Our hosts sipped their salty tea as they perplexedly listened to me sing “Ready to Run” solo style for the entire room. Blank stares signaled it was time for me to go to sleep; sometimes humor doesn’t translate.
After a fire and plenty of whiskey, I settled in my mosquito netting while howling mountain dogs sang me to sleep. Probably mad that I ate one of their family members.

Day 2 started off with breakfast followed by 4 and a half hours of trekking through various geography. We trudged through creeks, grassy fields, rocky cliffs, dirt paths and saw wild elephants, colorful plants, fields with water buffalo, and scenes you see as screen saver backgrounds. Around late afternoon, just when I thought I couldn’t walk anymore, we arrived at another small village along the river. Rusty cooked us noodle soup while the crew rested their gelatin legs. I walked down to the river where I saw a small Thai man in an even smaller speedo wading through the creek with two elephants at his side.

Here he comes, Mr. Thailand.

Rusty asked the man if we could bathe the enormous animals because if the elephant is unfamiliar with our farang smell, he may go nuts on us. The banana hammock man allowed it, so I started tossing water on the elephant. Eventually he laid down in the water because he was enjoying our playtime so much. Feeling we had reached a certain point in our relationship, I stepped on the elephant’s massive leg, crawled on top of his course skin, and ran my hands through his prickly hair. The elephant’s skin is so rough and his hair is so course and wiry, it’s almost painful to straddle him. He sprayed me with water and I kept tossing a bucket of freezing cold water on his head while sitting on his neck. Eventually he stood up with Michele and I riding bare back and walked up a hill to his hang out spot with some other elephants. As soon as we disembarked, he covered himself with dirt and mud again. So much for the thorough bath we gave him! Hours later Rusty and Mr. Speedo saddled up the elephants and we rode them for an hour or so as the sun was setting. This unplanned excursion was probably one of my favorite memories of my Thai experience.
Bathing the elephant with Rusty.

Getting ready for liftoff!

Mav and I taking the 'phant for a spin.
As we played with elephants, Rusty finished building a bamboo raft that we took a short distance down the river to the Diamond Hotel where we stayed for the evening. They should add “In the Rough” after “Diamond”.  We sat around with the owner “Butt” and his wife, cooked dinner, and drank rice liquor aka Thai moonshine for hours. Soon enough the guitar came out and song singing began. I felt like I was back at summer camp sitting around a fire. Except we eventually played a drinking game called “Ping Pang Pong” which I will bring back to the states eventually.
Michele, Butt, and I playing Ping Pang Pong.
The final day trekking was an easy 3-hour bamboo jaunt down the shallow, clear, river. Peacefulness and rich scenery surrounded the makeshift raft as we flowed down the watercourse. The water was calm with the exception of a few mini-rapids. A bunch of bamboo tied together isn’t exactly flip proof so those tiny cascades give you a run for your money.
Bamboo rafting and steering with sticks. 
Overall, I highly recommend going on a trek in northern Thailand. My unique experience was definitely one for the memory books and I’ll remember those few days forever. The key is to find a tour company that is legit. Many tour guide companies don’t give any money to the tribes that are hassled by tourists every few days. They simply waltz through the village of a hill tribe like they own the place. Do your homework before you sign on with a tour group and make sure it’s authentic and lawful. Remember, if a hill tribe offers you dog, you eat it. 
Loving her opium pipe, Keeps you young.


  1. Alycia, this story was so funny. I am sitting at my desk laughing at your wittiness. I really broke out laughing when you said that you broke out into a dixie chicks song. I can totally see you singing "Ready to run" solo in front of all your new friends! I felt like I was sitting right there with you while i was reading this! I wish I could be joining you on these adventures. the stories are awesome. I love you!

  2. Hunty!! Thanks for reading and laughing, you're the bomb! Really makes me feel warm and toasty, honestly!! Wish you could be here too, love ya!

  3. We're making a world of difference in a world of facial differences. Those of us who understand the's our responsibility to lead

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  4. You got that right Cheap Flights! THank you for reading, hopefully someday I'll make it to Africa.

  5. Leash baby, going to Pai in a month and I want to party with speedo clad tribe ppl. Do you have a phone number for Boon?


  6. HOOCH!!
    i do not but i have his girlfriend's facebook information and her number and she can get his number to you!!