Day 1, 01/2012 – Hanging off the back of a rust bucket as it hauls our group of seven through rural northern Thailand towards Doi Inthanon National Park. I was up too late and too early for the noises and scrambled egg like feeling inside my head from being bounced around these ‘oh so smooth’ roads. Inhaling some much needed H2O, trying to gather my thoughts I knew I wanted to enter the misty haze that submerged the jungle, where weakness is not tolerated.
Making a pit stop at a small town market to pick up some last minute supplies, I needed breakfast of some sort and a flashlight. It comes in really helpful when trying to use a squatter at night. As I curiously browsed through most of the market, I came across a man frying chicken legs and thighs in a huge wok of oil. I wanted a set of those around my lips now. So juicy, and crisp. Grabbing a few bananas and snacks, we were herded up like sheep back into the truck to ascend into the hills.
About another thirty minutes of being inside of a pinball machine, bouncing along the winding roads towards our drop point, and I could see them. The elephants, so prominent and peaceful. We pulled up to platforms built so we were easily able to board the carriages on the backs of the elephants. Being the odd man out, travelling solo, I got to ride on the neck of one of these mighty yet playful animals. Feeling every powerful step he took underneath me as we worked our way through the trees and river. I made sure to feed him sumptuous amounts of bananas and bamboo, as I to would expect from some random cruising on my shoulders.
Leaving the elephants behind, I hoped another chance to work closer with them will present itself in the future. From here our own feet took over as we disappeared under the lush green canvas. Waters crashing in the distance, we must be close to the waterfall. A perfect time to wash the sweat off my back. I dropped my things and ran to the pond, my feet went in and my nipples could cut glass. This is definitely going to cool me down. Actually being able to walk under the waterfall, I had to go in. The force of nature knocked me on my face the first time I tried standing up under the heavy falling water. Realizing to brace myself it was like a refreshing massage, not as good as the cheap ones in the city though.
The sun lit up the clouds makings the hills glow like fire as we made our last ascent for the night into a small village. We were shown the squatter, cooler of refreshments and our communal sleeping room. Everyone had a thin mat and mosquito netting, more than enough after getting into the cooler of Chang Beer by the fire.
After watching the guide prepare some of dinner, I went for a short walk around the village to get a view of what life might be like there. When I got back dinner was about to be served. What seemed like bottomless rice, family style bowls of green curry with chicken and a sweet and sour vegetable stir-fry were on the menu. Helping myself to a Chang, I grabbed a seat in anticipation. For the remainder of the night we enjoyed the company of new friends, divulging our lives at home by the fire until late.
Day 2 – I awoke to the sun dimly lighting the room and sound of rain on the roof. The shroud of mist stretching out over the hills was back, leaving a sense of mystery, yet comfort with me. While everyone was gathering themselves, tea was kept warm on the coals. As the rain fled, our goodbyes and thanks were given for the hospitality shown. Leaving through the village, we got a quick tour of the school and playground.Before getting back on the trail, we were introduced to an elderly couple. Nearly blind, the woman hulls rice daily with an ancient wooden machine, while her husband weaves the baskets she uses.
Battling the mud, I listened to the guide’s stories of his village and opium. Entranced by my surroundings, the two hour hike disappeared. My stomach says its lunch time, and I happen to agree. Soon we entered another quaint village built in a valley. We had a light lunch and watched half the village free a vehicle from the muddy grasp of the path. Leaving, we schlepped through fields, rice paddies and over streams, until we re-entered the endless maze of trees.
I heard water flowing nearby. The path opened to a beautiful little oasis with two bamboo huts, a fire pit and a squat toilet, all beside a small waterfall. Getting to know our hut and relaxing for a couple of hours, dinner was made. Another infinite amount of rice, yellow curry with pork and a pumpkin and egg stir-fry.
As the sun went down, the fire was lit and beers opened. Two local villagers from nearby joined, bringing with them ‘monkey games’, which are good drunken fun brain teasers, and a bottle of their homemade whiskey. They passed it around to the willing, since it’s rude to decline, I took a swig. If I said it was good I would be lying, but that didn’t stop me from happily accepting more. Slowly everyone retired, and I spent a couple hours trying to sleep but shivered instead. Due to the elevation and the water flowing thirty feet away, it made for an unexpected cold night. Giving up on sleep for the night, I manned the fire, keeping it low for tea in the morning. I sat in awe as I watched the sun rise over the glistening trees drenched from the mist that had returned yet again.
Day 3 – Everyone joined me by the fire around eight, and we had a light breakfast of toast, fruit and tea. Not too long after we were on our final descent out of the fortress of Doi Inthanon. We made one last stop at a farming village for a chance to get some local memorabilia and a bamboo raft ride to the road to Chiang Mai, just in time for the Sunday walking street market.
I met an extraordinary group of people over these few days, sharing meals, drinks and each others company. Caught a glimpse of life in the villages and their connection with the misty hills I’ll never forget.