Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thailand Hilltribes trek

Not many people are lucky (or adventurous) enough to trek right into the heart of Northern Thailand and visit remote hilltribe villages where the lifestyle has changed little in hundreds of years. A number of our Thailand tours operated by The Imaginative Traveller and GAP Adevtnures include visits and homestays to the Karen, Lahu and Lisu semi-nomadic people. These tribes began arriving in Thailand at the end of the 19th century after being pushed out of their native Tibet, Myanmar and China by civil war and political pressures. The hilltribes are truly unique, differing linguistically, ethnically, culturally and religiously from each other as much as they do from the Thais. It is often mistakenly believed that the hilltribes lead simple yet idyllic lives, unaffected by modern advances and global or even national concerns. In fact, they suffer from a lack of education and healthcare while competing pressure on land is drawing them into the Thai market economy. Visits to these villages on tours such as Wilderness Adventure, Northern Adventure, Thailand Enompased, Highlights and Hilltribes and Northern Explorer, provide some measure of support to the hilltribes, both financially and practically, whilst affording us the opportunity to witness and learn about a fascinating culture first hand.

In recent years, the area around the Mae Taeng valley has been terraced and irrigated to improve agricultural production, creating an attractive contrast of landscapes. Towering mountains slope down to green valleys where rivers and paths lace through the rice fields and water buffalo peacefully graze. The telltale ‘thwack’ of the women pounding rice and chickens scratching in the dirt lets you know a village is near. Imagine sitting outside a hut, weary after a good trek, the river burbling away beneath you, local children playing on bikes made of bamboo, old women smoking pipes, pigs squealing in the mud and everywhere the beautiful aroma of wood smoke and vegetation. As night falls the village grows quiet and a dazzling canopy of stars unfolds overhead.

Trekking to these hilltribes consists of a combination of walking and moderate hiking and can be enjoyed by anyone who leads a reasonably active life as everyone can walk at his/her own pace. For the most part, we walk along established tracks used by local people as trade routes and the trek is led throughout by a qualified guide. You will only require a small amount of luggage which you carry in a day pack during the trek, and you can leave the vast majority of your belongings in storage at your guesthouse in Chiang Mai. Our porters will also take care of other necessary tasks, such as preparation of simple meals. Most food is fresh and we try to limit tinned or dehydrated food.

Accommodation will be a combination of village houses and camping. Basic bedding will be provided (a sleeping mat and sheet to cover it), but we recommend you bring your own sleep-sheet and/or sleeping bag. In most cases rooms will be multi-share. As we are trekking through some of Thailand’s most remote regions, please be prepared for very basic washing facilities.

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