I had rented a pretty fly for a white guy 125cc Suzuki in Chiang Mai and was heading NORTH! my objective being to explore some of the Chiang Mai province and spend some time in the hidden away hill-tribe villages, [ rather than villages in and around Chiang Mai which were packed full of tourist day-trippers ]
I’d met a awesome woman in Chiang Mai who had an old Dutch friend that had spent a few months exploring the Chang Rai /Mai mountain provinces living in sheds, growing a beard and generally getting down and dirty. SOLD! A couple of calls later I soon had the basic information I needed, a shitty map, my trusty backpack, 40 bananas and so off I went.
Riding though the lustrous Thai landscape was pretty exhilarating especially being my first time on a motorbike and after just a couple of hours burning rubber I was crossing into the north of the junglous Chiang Mai province, elephant warning signs by the roadside and the odd waterfall here and there to wet my brow. [ Word of warning, if you ever do something simliar and the bike rental place tells you not to use 1st gear - DO AS THEY SAY. On one steep climb the bike was almost at a standstill so I decided to chance slipping down into 1st - HA! bad idea, unless you’re a budding motocross acrobat. Yeah, I finished in the ditch ]
Exploring the country lanes behind Chiang Dao I seemed to find the path which the petrol attendants at the last station had tried to point out on my torn-up far too basic map. I continued heading east towards the mountains and eventually crossed paths with a pickup loaded with a local family which I followed straight into the valley of the first of 2 villages.
Looking up at the mountain to the north of the village (reminding me a bit of the creek from deliverance) one of the young local farmers suggested that it would take around half a day to trek up and that I could camp at the top. Spot on. It was already 2 in the afternoon so I headed further down into the village to the area where the Karen hill-tribe resided to try and find a local who fancied a bit of a stroll.
Turns out there were 2 chaps from Chiang Mai trekking who were in the area that afternoon in search of new expeditions to add to their circuit. A local had already agreed to take them up to the second (LISU hill tribe) village, around a 2 hour trek and they were happy for me to tag along and so I left my trusty Suzuki and backpack in the hands of the local shop owner and headed straight off!
This landscape had also been ripe with opium growth until His Majesty King Bhumibol convinced the tribes to turn their attentions to more respectable crops. The LISU hill-tribe village, called Pang Tong, was part of the Royal Project set up around 40 years ago designed to provide a sustainable future for the hill-tribes, many of whom originated from Burma.
I had a wonder around and met a few locals, juggled some knives with a toddler and had a chat to a guy in a military jacket who showed off his home-made tattoos. My guide Mai and I had some noodles and a beer before just the two of us headed back down to the KAREN village where I was going to spend the night..
3 weeks ago