Pai and Thai Highlands Trekking

After a few nights in Chiang Mai we took the bus further north to Pai. The road is only 120km long but takes over 3 hours due to the very sharp hairpins and switchbacks through the mountains. Combined with the constant hard accelerating and jerky steering of the Thai bus driver meant it was a perfect recipe for motion sickness. Fortunately no vomiting on our bus, other buses were not so lucky.

Pai is a lot smaller than Chiang Mai and is supposed to be really laid back and relaxing. We did enjoy our stay but it was incredibly busy with tourists and hippies. The traffic was bad, not from locals but from tourists on scooters. Walking down the main street we often saw tourists covered with bandages and arms in slings. With so many tourists on scooters concentrated in one area it’s inevitable that accidents occur on a daily basis.

From Pai we did a one night, two day walking trek through the Thai Highlands in northern Thailand. We took the company that advertised “no compromise on safety.” The trek started with a 40km ride in the back of a ute along a twisting mountain road.

The trek passes through farming land, rain forest, small streams, waterfalls and steep ascents up to a height of around 1400m. Most of the farm fields you see in the photos are garlic. In the wet season the garlic is replaced with rice. The people working the fields work hard for around $10 a day so we can have cheap garlic and rice.

At one stream crossing we stopped for a rest, where our guide made a fire. Using his machete he made a long jug out of bamboo to boil water in and made 6 bamboo cups and served us tea. All whilst we sat around recovering from the walk. Whilst we drank the tea he made bamboo skewers that he would use later for dinner. Bamboo is used for everything here. It’s used to make variously sized cups and jugs, skewers, chopsticks, baskets (weaving thin strips), string (thin slivers of bamboo bark), firewood, food (young bamboo shoots), furniture, flooring, shelters, bridges, scaffolding,  aircraft, spaceships and nuclear reactors.

The scenery wasn’t as spectacular as usual due to the haze. The guide said the haze was from bush fires in Burma. He didn’t mention the source of the haze shrouding the rest of the country.

Overnight we stayed in a Hill Tribe Village of the Karen People. This was probably the highlight of the trek – to énjoy a meal with a local family and see how they live. Their homes are a single room with no furniture. Meals are had sitting on the floor served out on a mat. Bedding is laid out every night and put away every morning. For bedding, blankets are used for a thin mattress and folded blankets for a pillow. Also they use blankets for blankets. Their only fuel for cooking and heating is wood. There is no chimney – the smoke diffuses through the thatched roof. They are not connected to mains power but did have a small solar panel charging a battery that powered some lighting. The family cooked up a delicious dinner which we ate in their home and they offered us some of their home made rice whiskey, 100% methanol free.

Next morning our guide was slightly ginger from too much whiskey. We did some more hiking to a waterfall then to another village to be picked up in the ute and brought back to Pai. We spent another couple of days relaxing in Pai, checking out the markets, trying the various street vendor food and Joe got his head shaved for $2. Then back on the vomit bus to Chiang Mai.

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