18 June 2010

Hill Tribe Trek – Day 1

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir


I had thought long and hard about whether I would have the stamina for a 3 day trek after 40 days of backpacking Indo China.  Having successfully completed this trek, I am truly glad I signed up for this challenge!  My fellow trekkers are all in their mid twenties..which makes me almost double their age yet,I don’t really feel too much trepidation about this journey.  I feel very much within my comfort zone in the jungle.  My home is adjacent to the bush in Australia and we bush walk often at the weekends.  We won’t be walking more than about 4 hours a day for a total of about 15 km and I know I can walk that in one day.  However, I have no idea of the terrain we might encounter..or if the rain gods will be kind.  It was looking rather overcast as we drove to the mountains.  


There is however one element which is new to me on this journey - I have I never done an overnight trek previously.  We have to carry everything we will need for the next few days on our backs and even as we piled into the truck that picked us up, I was mentally going through my daypack, making sure I hadn’t forgotten something really important, like my camera! 

Our first stop is the tourist police station.  The cop turns out to be a European with a German accent!  I wish I could interview him but I have learnt not to mess with the police.  We nod when he calls out our names and listen intently as he warns us of the dangers of trekking in wet conditions in the mountains.  I wonder what his story is..and what has brought him here… ?

We stop at the Mork Fa Waterfall to stretch our legs.  Emily laughs as she sees me pull on my hat and says, “if I had any doubt you were an Aussie, they are gone now”!  I’ve pulled on my Aussie bush hat, and our laughter continues as she pulls on her baseball cap (yes she’s the American) and the English travellers Ed and Helen pull on their floppy hats.  The things that define us are quite interesting!  The waterfall is lovely but it is overcast so we don’t swim.  The lunch stop is uneventful and after a bit of 4 wheel driving in our sontheuw we are at the start point.

The track is damp after the recent rain and Sanit rubs a mix of water and tobacco to ward off the leeches.  I guess we will be testing this local remedy on our trek.  Nothing in the west seems to work with these pesky things..so let’s see if the eastern solution is any better.


We have been joined by Gye, our local guide who will do all the hard work on this trek, which P6150020includes carrying our food!  He  carves us walking sticks from the bamboo in the forest..and we feel we are ready.  Bring it on..

The track is fairly steep in parts and slippery but generally not terribly hard going.  P6150018We chat as we walk and time passes quickly.  We pass an area that is advocating conservation with religious symbolism.  The hill tribes have a mix of Christian, Buddhist and animism beliefs and I find this interesting. 

The walking sticks come in handy and by late afternoon the terrain changes.  We have been walking down a steep down hill track as we finally approach a flat terraced area and realise we are close to our first hill tribe village.

We walk through the village and stop to greet the villages and take a few photos.  The hill tribes speak their own dialects and this is a Karen tribe (I might be spelling that wrong).  We have learnt the obligatory 2 words (hello and thank you) and we struggle to pronounce them and not confuse them with the two Thai words we have been memorising these past few days :).  Yes, it is rather pathetic. 

Intrepid_Thailand-5There are animals everywhere and the little piglets squealing for their milk makes us smile!  This pig has had more than a dozen babies…talk about hard work…!  Definitely survival of the fittest for these little piglets.  

I had thought we would be living with the hill tribe but our little hut is actually on the out skirts of this village.  There will not be too much interaction tonight but then, we can’t really communicate with them anyway.

Our quarters are lovely.  A spacious hut, built on stilts just above a bubbling stream..we couldn’t have asked for more!P6150058It was an idyllic spot and I wished we were staying longer than one night.  But Helen had something else on her mind…she was off to check out the toilet.  P6150060She has never used a squat toilet up to this point and the thought of doing so freaks her out a little!  Sanit gives her a demonstration of how to use one and we are burst out laughing!  The toilet is outside the hut, so we hope we won’t have to negotiate getting here in the middle of the night!


After showers – yes, they have actually installed a shower for us – we treat ourselves to some drinks and relax.  It is quite high up in the mountains here and for the first time on this trip, I actually begin to feel cool.  It cools down enough for Sanit to light us a fire.  How perfect can this trek get?

Yes..there’s still dinner.  Somehow they manage to cook us a slap up feast and we tuck in to green curry, chicken & basil, tofu and veg and spring rolls!  Yum..P6150064

After dinner, Sanit talks to us about the hill tribes and we learn about their history and the difficulties that arose when borders were created between the Indo China countries of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  They didn’t have birth certificates and once movement became restricted, families were separated because they now found themselves in different countries!  We also learnt about their beliefs in animism and how the royal family has helped promote other crops besides the opium which had been quite prolific in these hills.We then whiled away the time by playing cards!  Both Ed and Emily have a stack of card games up their sleeves so I dust off my rusty card skills and we get stuck in.  Ed is quite the strategist and both Em and I can be quite competitive while Helen doesn’t really care less.  She is quite laid back and doesn’t seem to pay attention to the rules or to what is going on ..so imagine how annoyed we all are when she ends up winning the game!

Its finally time to turn in.  Ed has a room to himself and us girls sleep together in the other room.  We chat for ever before finally turning out the candle….it has been a great first day!     

P6150019"There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country.  A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo.  Even a bicycle goes too fast." 

-   Paul Scott Mowrer

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