This weekend I had the opportunity to opt into a 3-day, 25 mile trekking tour through the Northern Thailand mountains. It was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life! The USAC program offers this trekking trip during every semester/session, so it has become a popular tradition for the USAC students to take advantage of here in Thailand.
We started the trip by leaving at 7:00am on Friday morning and we drove about 1 hour into the mountains (Sanpatong). We met our guides for the weekend and visited a local market before doing some bamboo rafting! We rafted on the Wang River for about 45 minutes and it was a lot of fun!
Following the rafting, we grabbed our backpacks and began our trek. Our first stop was a waterfall about 20 minutes into the hike and we stopped to have some lunch (fried rice and fresh fruit). The fruit here is incredible! I cannot get over the mangos, lychee, passion fruit, pineapples, watermelons, etc. I am going to miss the fruit so much when I’m back home!
We continued our trek to the first Karen (hilltribe) village where we stayed overnight. The trek was about 2.5 hours through the mountains and rice fields. It was a muddy trek that required a lot of balancing (not my strong suit), but we made it! We had a wonderful host family for the night and were able to take a shower before dinner, which was much needed! The Karen hilltribe speaks a different language, so it was fun practicing both our Thai language and the Karen language on the trek. We learned about the traditional dress of the Karen people and the young, unmarried girls wear white dresses until they are married. We had a delicious dinner with the host family and went to sleep in our mosquito nets for the night. The next morning we had another wonderful meal and headed out on day 2 of our trek.
It is currently the rainy season in Thailand, so we dealt with some rain as we trekked through the jungle on this day, but it was really refreshing since we all were so hot and sweaty from the hiking. After hiking for about 4 hours, we made it to a Royal Project site where we learned how the Thailand royal family implemented some farming/harvesting initiatives a few years ago in Northern Thailand. Many of the hilltribes were growing opium and selling it to make a profit, but the King created the Royal Project initiatives to provide the hilltribes with new crops (bok choy, rice, flowers, etc.) to grow and sell in place of the opium. They now prepare these crops and ship them to markets in Bangkok and Singapore.
We trekked another 30 minutes to the second Karen village where we would stay for the night and we were greeted with the most amazing view! We had another great meal and then we participated in a ritualistic ceremony where a shaman prayed over us and thanked us for visiting. We were exhausted again so we went to sleep pretty early, but we were woken up with the most beautiful sunrise view!
While Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist country, many of the hilltribes are Christian since missionaries visited them years ago. We visited their church for a bit on Sunday morning before beginning our final trek for the day. We stopped at another waterfall for lunch and continued on for another 2 hours before completing our hike. We had one more stop, though, before we were officially done with our trip. THE ELEPHANTS!
We visited an elephant sanctuary and were able to spend time with them. It was incredible learning more about these animals and how we can better protect them. Many elephant companies/”sanctuaries” in Thailand use the elephants for tourism, riding, shows, etc., but this is not ethical treatment of the elephants. I encourage you to do your research about how to visit elephant sanctuaries/rescues that truly keep the elephants happy and do not just use them for our entertainment.
After such an incredible weekend, I was exhausted, but we kick off another week of classes today and tonight I have my first Thai cooking class! :)