trekking to the heart of thailand

having fun with hilltribe kids in thailandThe Thai language has the second largest alphabet in the world. So while it can be tricky to get your tongue around the local language, Michelle Stucky had no trouble finding the words to describe her Thailand experience…

“Ten days ago we boarded a plane in Indiana for an adventure of a lifetime. Leaving behind everything we were accustomed to including air conditioning, bland foods, and the English language.

We arrived at the start of our Intrepid hilltribe trek with our guide Paul, the trek guide Can and two porters to carry our water. We started by walking along the elevated ridges of rice paddies, as to not get our feet wet. Then across a bridge that was only three pieces of bamboo wide. After an hour of uphill, I wondered if it should be called ‘mountain tribes’ instead of hilltribes. Finally we made it to a point where Can said, “No more up hill.”

We arrived at our bamboo hut with a view of a stream at the bottom of the hill and terraced rice paddies. We made our way to the cool, refreshing stream where we splashed, and washed up. When we returned there were two ladies from the local tribe selling crafts. There was a little girl with one of the ladies and I asked Can if I could get permission from the mother to give her daughter a ball. We had been told to be careful of what we brought for the children. I had packed blow-up beach balls and small bouncy balls in my backpack. The girl ran around yelling and smiling. The emotion she was emitting was so genuine and pure that it brought tears to my eyes.

When the meal came, my husband and I were shocked by the variety. There were vegetables with tofu, long beans, basil, cashew chicken and green curry, all served with rice. Next, a man and his wife had come from a near-by village to show us their music from a hand-made instrument. They sold instruments for only 100 Baht, but our guide explained that it was not for the money, but the pride of showing people from around the world the art of their music. We took a picture with he and his wife. We said Tablue, thank you, and bought our own instrument.

After waking from my first ever experience of sleeping in a bamboo hut with mosquito net, we cleaned up at the stream, then it was time for breakfast of toast, eggs and fresher pineapple than any American had ever eaten.

We started trekking and it was a long uphill at first. Can showed us his ‘magic tricks’ and took our minds off the walking by making brainteasers out of sticks. We finally arrived at a clearing of the forest and saw rice paddies and a village. The porters made us sticky rice and then brought out delicious noodle soup. We found the waterfall where we could swim and take a bath, then we played a ball game with two local boys.

When we returned to the village we had a job to do. There was rice in a hollowed out log and you used your foot to operate a lever which smashed the rice in order to shell it. Can said that unmarried women had to do this job for two hours a day. It was hard work and I learned that a machine for 50,000 baht could do this for them. It seemed like it would be such a great idea to donate the money so the village would not have to work so hard, but Can said it made them healthy and showed responsibility.

Next, Can took us on a tour of the village. We saw a little church and two small schools, a dirt soccer field and a water gathering area. They were so proud of all that they showed us, but even the playground equipment was rusted to the point of nearly being unsafe. As a science teacher, what we saw next piqued my interest. There were solar panels installed by the government in order to save the forests from being cut down. This gave homes enough electricity for a light bulb and some people even had a radio.

After the tour we prepared a dessert of pumpkin, beans, coconut milk and sugar for the children of the village. They lined up and waited so patiently for this ‘special reward’. The group took turns serving the each child in the bowl they had brought from home. Two children, who were last in line, were too small to carry their hot bowl up the hill, so my husband and I carried it for them to their home. By the time we returned our meal, which included a delicious yellow curry, was ready. Later, about 20 children come to our hut and performed songs and dances for us. Then they made us sing and dance with them. We had the option of a massage from one of the locals, which helped our aching muscles.

The next day we woke at 5:00 am to the sounds of radios and voices. I went outside the hut, and in all directions hundreds of sarongs, scarves and hand bags had been hung on lines for our group of ten to look at. Everyone wanted you to buy theirs, but they were not pushy. The first scarf I picked out was made by a 12 year old girl. The locals save up this money in order to send their children to school after 4th grade. I used every bit of money that I had available and even borrowed some in order to buy several pieces of their crafts.

From there it was only a few more hours walk it was the end of our adventure, but what an incredible Thailand experience that I will cherish forever!”

Tour Thailand with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:
Tribal Thailand – 10 days
Active Thailand – 13 days

To find out more about travelling with Intrepid and for your chance to WIN a trip in every edition, subscribe to Intrepid Express, our free e-newsletter. Plus you can become a fan of our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter!

* photo by Joseph Gurdon – Intrepid Photography Competition

PS. In case you were wondering, the Khmer alphabet is the largest in the world, with 33 consonants, 23 vowels and 12 independent vowels. Chinese of course has 1000s of symbols, but an alphabet refers to writing systems where each symbol represents only one sound.

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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