My fiancé and I are set to board an overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. Since this would be a new experience for me and Cassie we were excited. We board the train at 7pm and are not set to arrive in Chiang Mai until 9.55am… Trust me, I wish that was a lie! I am a very energetic person and hate to be static for a short amount of time, let alone for nearly 15 HOURS!! Still, this was the cheapest way to do it and Cassie and I aren’t in a rush.
Find our seats and try to get comfy. At this point I’m confused as there are no beds, just two seats facing each other. Not seats like on an airplane that recline and have adjustable head rests, These are uncomfortable brown leather seats from the 50’s that would probably pass for a Hipsters #TBT on Instagram. The train starts to move and we are on our way. About 2 hours into our journey one of the ticket attendants comes along and starts opening the compartments above our seats and pulls the two seats together and voilà… BEDS!! Complete with sheets, pillows, covers and attractive green curtains for privacy. Just a quick tip if you ever find yourself booking a sleeper train… Book a fan carriage. The air con carriage is freezing the entire way, even if it says the air con is off… It is not and with the blanket they provide you, it is not going to be a warm journey.
At Chiang Mai our transfer to our hostel is there as promised… They usher us towards a Toyota pick up with only four seats inside and 8 of us and bags needing transportation. All bags in the open back of the pick up along with me and three French guys and we hold on for our lives as the driver races to our hostel. We arrive at the wrong hostel and we get told we are staying here as the other hostel is full. I quickly speak to the receptionist and let her know what’s happened, she makes a 30 second phone call and tells me we are booked into the original hostel as soon as we get back from our elephant and jungle trek… Great.
The following morning we head to the beginning of our elephant and jungle trek where we meet the elephants and go on a “trek” with them; we don’t trek, the elephant does the trekking and we do the holding on! You can purchase a bag of bananas and sugar cane, naturally we did and fed the elephants.
30 minutes later we’re descending from our elephant and heading for some lunch in a small roadside shack where I eat some of the nicest fried rice I have ever tried. Bellies full we head into the jungle on foot. When people mention trekking for tourists it is normally a small, easy walk…. Not this one. Within minutes we are trying to climb steep clay hills where there clearly isn’t a path and nor should there be one! Finally after 2 hours of serious, humid, hot and sweaty jungle trekking we make it to our first stop. We stop at an amazing waterfall where everyone goes for a swim with the fishes; the water is freezing but after such a long trek it becomes heaven.
All cooled down we begin the ascent to our camp for the night up some more clay hills and through a few Thai villages. We know we are quite remote now as the locals are just as surprised to see us as we are to see them. An hour later we reach our base camp for the night… Amazing. The showers are no more than rain water collected in a bucket with a ladle to wet yourself, the toilets are literally a hole in the ground and our beds for the night are in a bamboo hut raised on stilts so we don’t get flooded. There is a villager who has a monkey wrapped up as a baby and is allowing us to play with the monkey. Dinner is cooked on an open fire in a huge clay pot and is so delicious. The evening draws in and it gets dark very quickly which means another fire being lit and everyone crowding around it. We get offered a “drink” by the villagers served in a plastic water bottle. From the smell I know it isn’t water so I inquire, all I get told is that it is Thai moonshine whisky… better than some of the whiskies I’ve drunk before. The night is spent with people playing cards and drinking “whisky”.
The next day we set off to our second destination, deeper in the thai jungle. With it being monsoon season the floor becomes difficult to navigate, especially with the incorrect footwear on. This route is also a little more difficult and longer (5 hours total!!) Than the first with a lot of the way being steep climbs or steep descents and most of the paths being narrower than shoulder width apart. The drop on one edge being more than a 20 foot drop to a fast flowing river. We see some great scenery on the way and finally make it to camp. There is a rapid river by camp with a natural water slide, where water has eroded away rocks and smoothed their surfaces down, with about three levels so a swim too cool off before dinner and bed was required.
Hut to protect locals from the rain whilst tending to their crops
Our last day of trekking is pretty easy, the weather is nice to us and it stays dry but not too hot plus the route we take is pretty flat. After a few hours of trekking through some thai villages we finally come to the first road we’ve seen in two days. We get picked up and they drop us back to the hostel.
Just a word of advice, if you do decide to ever go trekking in Thailand, buy some proper trekking footwear that has enough grip and support. I found out the hard way (by falling flat on my backside down some long clay hills, at least four times) that £80 Nike running trainers are great for the city… abysmal for thai jungle.
(c)David Dos Santos