I had spent so much time gushing to other traveller’s about my life-changing trekking experience in Nepal that I began to get the itch to run away to the mountains again. I’d been living like a city dweller for just a bit too long, and yearned for fresh air and scenic views.
I said goodbye to my flower headdresses and printed skirts as I packed a bag for a few days in the lush jungles of northern Thailand. I had flashbacks to October, my last nights in Pokhara, when I frantically gathered my things for a three week hike of the Annapurna circuit. I can honestly say, it was in thanks to this experience that I was a much more realistic and efficient “packer” this time around. I remember squeezing in mascara, eyebrow tweezers and a small container of clear nail polish just in case I needed them in the Himalayan mountains (don’t worry . . . I still shake my head at myself even now as I reminisce). Every ounce of weight counts when you’re walking uphill in 35 degree heat and, having experienced it once before, I knew better than to pack ‘fluff’. So with the bare necessities on my back, I mentally prepared myself for another amazing adventure.
Day one began exactly the way I had imagined. I was picked up from my guesthouse and introduced to my trekking mates; a couple from Brazil, a guy from Montreal, three friends from Germany, and a girl from the France. Together we travelled to a local market where our guides bought fresh produce for dinner that evening. I picked up some apples and peanut snacks for the journey, another critical tip I carried forward from my Annapurna adventure, because nobody likes the hangry girl hiking beside them.
I found it extremely hard to contain my excitement as we arrived at our first stop; a butterfly and orchid conservatory (flowers and fluttering insects – two of my favourite things in life). I wandered with my Nikon for hours taking pictures and smelling the fragrance of each beautiful flower.
I felt a little bit like Snow White as butterflies landed on my fingers and tip of my nose, if I had a better singing voice I may have broken out in song to complete the vision.
We had a quick lunch of veggie fried rice (served in a fresh pineapple!) at a tiny restaurant along a river before beginning our hike for the day. It was close to 2pm by this time, and I’d have to say that it was probably the hottest conditions I’ve ever walked in. I’m sure I sweat more than I have in my entire life, but there was not one complaint from my lips. . . I was happy to be where I was. Gorgeous tropical trees replaced buildings, dirt paths became my new roadways, and the quietness of being in such a remote area instantly put me at ease. We trekked as a group for close to three hours uphill that afternoon before reaching a remote hill tribe village. I’ve been to far-removed mountain hamlets, but never have I been to a place like this before.
Long neck woman smiled as we passed, elephants walked freely in acres of forested pastures, and local children playfully tormented the plethora of stray dogs wandering around their bamboo homes.
I have done extensive research regarding the ethical treatment of elephants in Thailand (a sad subject but something that I believe is important to create awareness about), and the reality is that elephants do not belong in captivity. However, due to deforestation in Thailand, the Asian elephant cannot be released back into it’s natural environment as there simply is not enough space for them to survive as a species… and so they become protected by being held in containment. Without tourism, villages and parks can’t afford to properly care for these captive elephants, and it all becomes part of a necessary evil I suppose. Of course I can only speak from the experience I had at the particular sanctuary I visited, which I felt it was a very positive one. I didn’t see one chain or bull hook, no elephants performed tricks, riding was done bare-back on the animal, and the villagers all seemed to hold a great deal of respect for their ‘pets’.
It was an unbelievable experience; touching and massaging a creature so many times your size, seeing the playfulness in it’s eyes from that close up (their eyes really do tell a story; it’s pure magic).
Dinner consisted of green veggie curry (delicious), followed by an evening of togetherness. There was singing and dancing around the campfire, stargazing, and the laughter of children echoed over the sound of guitars. It always amazes me how happy kids in these rural areas are. With no electricity (no play stations or tv’s) they find forms of entertainment so simple that it can make every adult on the planet envious of their joy. Strings, empty beer flats and match boxes become important tools in games that last for hours; it’s incredibly special to be a part of.
The dogs all curled up in little balls around the fire, and an old village man sat just out of view with his giant pipe to smoke wacky tobaccy in peace. One of my most favourite things about being somewhere so remote, is that once the sun goes down, suddenly time becomes irrelevant and bedtime simply happens whenever you feel tiered enough to sleep.
As relaxing and peaceful as village life is, there is one thing I will never get used to – the roosters. Especially the ones that cannot contain their noisy squeals until the sun rises. The paper thin walls of my bamboo hut were no match for those crazy cocks, and I was wide awake at 4am.
With no power or no cell service, the only thing left to do was quietly lay atop my 2″ foam mattress and daydream. And, after a few hours of deep breathing and mediation, I finally stopped noticing the horrendous noise those birds were making (the power of positive thinking! Lol).
Breakfast was simple, although the coffee was strong and for that I was thankful. We set off early that morning with plans to hike to a waterfall for lunch. The walk was beautiful and our guide was so good about pointing out special aspects of the jungle as we trekked (edible fruits, sugar cane, fallen nuts, and poisonous creatures). We hiked past elephants gracefully exploring the bushes alongside the pathway, spotted exotic butterflies on the forest floor, and by the time we got to the waterfall, I was as sweaty as I had been the first day and ready for a dip.
I channeled my inner adventurous side and leaped from a cliff into the sparkly blue waters below! It was refreshing to say the least, and if it hadn’t been for that ledge I likely would have never gotten into the chilly pool. Thanks to the intense afternoon sunshine, the nine of us played at this waterfall for hours (our guide making a natural slide out of the slick rock beside the falls) and we enjoyed Pad Thai for lunch on the river bank.
With full bellies and wet hair we set off for the last leg of our journey. I will never forget the moment we summited to our mountain-top guesthouse. There really are no words to describe the 360 degree panorama of vibrant wilderness that my eyes were taking in; rolling hills of green everywhere I looked. Banana and papaya trees for miles, vivid hibiscus flowers from all around, and the most unbelievable sunset over the valley floor below.
It’s in these moments I feel I could just stay and never leave; life would be so beautiful and simple. And then I visit the ladies room; a toilet hole dug into the dirt ground and a hanging cold-water garden hose to shower and feel immense gratitude for all that I have. 🙂
We sat together by candle light reminiscing of the days past as we enjoyed dinner and a well-deserved beer that evening. A guitar appeared and local children came out to dance and sing for us. We shared stories of ‘home’, of places we’d been and where we wanted to go. It’s amazing how the absence of technology can open up worlds of conversations; how quickly strangers can become friends if you just listen to what they have to say.
Day three was another early start thanks to a different, but equally loud, bunch of roosters (again, I silently laid in my netted oasis and imagined I was elsewhere). I decided to see myself out of bed early enough to watch the sunrise over the lush valley below. Breathtaking to say the least. I was so inspired by the sheer beauty of it all that I practiced yoga in that very spot for close to two hours; smiling every time I rose from my sun salutation to see the vast view in front of my eyes.
After a relaxing breakfast, we slowly gathered our things just in time for the sky to open up and start pouring rain. This was no gentle morning sprinkle, I’m talking puddles within seconds and ground washing away within minutes kind of downpour. My shoes squished with every step, my sopping clothes clung to my body, and all of my energy was consumed with not slipping and breaking a body part as we trudged downhill for four hours (although it felt like a least double that to me). I reminded myself that the forest doesn’t get this green and bountiful without water, and that this rain was necessary. In hindsight, the rain was a gift. It created an intensely rushing waterfall along the way and many more significant rapids for our whitewater rafting experience that afternoon.
I returned back to civilization dirty, exhausted and deeply at peace. There’s something so freeing about not having any cell service; no urge for instant gratification, no expectation to immediately respond to messages, no distraction from the people and places right infront of your face. For me, it’s all part of an ongoing practice to live more in the moment; quietly taking in all the beauty surrounding me and letting the future take care of itself. Consciously giving every day the chance to be the most beautiful day of my life no matter whether I wake up in a bamboo hut in the jungle or on the 22nd floor of an apartment building. Every moment is a gift, all you have to do is notice.