Christmas with the Hill-Tribes of Northern Thailand
I’ve lost all sense of time. I have no idea what day of the week it is and barely sure of the date. We’ve reminded each other at least three times now that it is Christmas Eve, although it doesn’t feel like it. Instead of wrapping presents last-minute and running to the shops to stock up on Christmas goodies we are preparing our day packs for the next 3 days to hike into the Jungle and Mountains of Northern Thailand to spend some time with the Hill Tribes that live there.
There will be no phone coverage, no connection to the outside ‘developed’ world at all. We will be completely disconnected. I couldn’t wait.
I have to admit, since the day I arrived into Thailand getting in touch with people back home was nowhere near high on the list of things for me to do everyday. Did I feel guilty about this? Not in the slightest. The fact that the next three days would allow me to be even more unreachable excited me.
We spent the morning travelling to our ‘hike off point’. Before we got there we stopped at a beautiful Waterfall and Cave for a nice morning swim – This was a welcomed dip after a few hours in the back of a pick up truck.
Dropped off at the ‘Hike off point’ the next 3 hours would be spent hiking 6km through Jungle and up and down mountains. This first couple of hours hiking was a competition – mainly between the guys, clearly trying to match each other in speed and stamina the pace picked up – and when the first rest stop came our guide – who’s name was ‘semi’ yes, seriously – congratulated me for keeping up. Yes I’m stubborn; I wasn’t going to let the guys think they are the only fit people here, even if one did just do Everest Base Camp – and tried to prove a point by doing the hike in flip-flops, which he later regretted.
Hiking through the Jungle was fantastic and a complete eye opener, I was in awe of the scenery and the quiet of it all. The beautiful realization that you are hiking somewhere so far away from ‘civilization’, that there isn’t a road just a few meters away that will be congested with traffic offering a quick exit from nature, now I am in It, truly, in raw form.
Before trekking in a jungle I imagined there would be a lot more activity – especially as it was tropical – spiders, snakes, monkeys etc. But in fact, we didn’t really see anything at all apart from the hundreds of Spider Webs. It makes you wonder what has happened to all the animals and how much of an impact human beings really have. There were supposed to be Monkeys in this Jungle, Deer, Wild Cats and more yet we saw and hear nothing – except for pigs and chickens on approach to the first Tribal Village.
Arriving into the first village, Mae Jok Village, in style with our Christmas Antlers on – the dogs had no idea what to make of us – we were greeted by beautiful blue skies and fantastic mountains surrounding the village. Each family in the village had one house built out of wood and off the ground. The village was completely self-sufficient, producing rice when the season is right, all families seem to own an array of animals from Chickens to Pigs to Cows.
The Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand don’t celebrate Christmas, as they believe in the spirits rather than Religion in a sense that we know i.e. Christianity. So when we arrived into the village with our antler ears on it was met with some interesting looks – I wonder what they were thinking when they saw us?
We were briefly shown around the village and then had the chance to dump our bags in our ‘room’ – i.e. a big room space with mattresses (thin) spread around the room – which was basic but we were so tired from hiking it didn’t matter.
Next, showers. After finding out the waterfall was pretty small and you would have to navigate past many hanging spiders to get in, we made the decision to brave the (freezing) cold ‘shower’ with all our clothes on in the hope to wash them at the same time – humidity and cooler weather don’t mix well in drying clothes, which I discovered the next morning, oops.
The evening was spent eating SO much food – standard for me on trips – and sitting around a massive bonfire playing ‘stick puzzle games’. Well, I say ‘we’ but Kate and me were having a chilled rest with a local ‘tobacco’ pipe, drawing Christmas Trees in Charcoal – I’m sorry, I did promise I would say yes to (pretty much) everything when I was away…
It was not mentioned until about my 3rd cup of coffee. We had all completely forgot it was Christmas Day.
Like I said at the start, we were now completely off the grid phone signal wise. But since arriving on my travels the concept of needing to always know the date, day and time had vanished and become completely unimportant.
This morning started out with a 9k hike – of course we had our antler ears on, it was mandatory today – through some beautiful jungle and gorgeous scenery. At one point we could see the ‘Golden Triangle’ – Three countries, Thailand, Burma and Laos border – which was really cool. The hike was relatively easy and we all made good pace marching through jungle, old rice paddy fields and buffalo farms.
We stopped for a snack – of clementine’s, or buffalo balls as we called them – and switched on the Christmas music for the next small section of the hike to keep people’s spirits high. By the time we were walking into the village the Christmas music had run out and we were now sounding like a walking parade.
Arriving into the Pa Kao Laam Village it was beautiful. The village was spread out over a much greater distance so the huts weren’t jammed together. Because of their position in the jungle they didn’t have big fires like previously, only candle light allowed after dark – this was actually a nice relief as it wasn’t super Smokey. – So we played our games by candle light this time. It was beautiful place and is also one of the villages that makes Bamboo Rafts….
Even though the villagers didn’t celebrate Christmas they had put balloons and decorations up for us, which was lovely. After dumping our packs and going for a swim with the buffalo – we were upstream though, so all good – we had a lunch of Pad Thai in Banana Leaf and Pineapple – of course – and then headed up to play football with the local kids. Now. When I say ‘we’ I hope we all know that I mean the boys right?
Us girls, we sat on the ‘stage area’ and did Yoga – Much to the amusement of the little girls of the village joining in with us – and donated our much-loved Antlers to the kids – which then turned into a game of chase with the kids thinking they were dressed up as some kind of monster.
After football and freshening up the women in the village offered us all a Thai Massage. It was amazing, they did such a good job – although I don’t think the boys got the relaxation part, I think the last village heard their laughter – and it was only TBH200 each, a lovely Christmas present to the Village and ourselves.
The rest of the evening was chilled out. We helped make some spring rolls for dinner, met with an incredibly huge feast – which none of us could finish, I swear they are trying to fatten us up – and beer. After dinner the local guides came and joined us as well as some kids and adults to play a game of ‘Ping, Pong, PANG’ – seriously the best drunken game ever – and basically we all got completely covered in charcoal.
Spending Christmas away from home was part of the trip I was unsure of and I really didn’t know how I would feel when the day came around.
But in all honesty, it was probably one of the best – if not the best – Christmas I have ever had. To be disconnected from the material need that comes with Christmas and the drama that often happens at Christmas was peaceful and incredible. There was nowhere else I would have rather been.
It may sound basic but really, you don’t need much more in life to be happy. If anything it really does show that happiness doesn’t always lie in a wrapped gift box.
Being disconnected from the world for three days was magical. The jungle was beautiful and the people really were self-sufficient, happy and respectful of the landscape and nature around them. They were also some of the friendliest and most welcoming people. Not many would open homes up to you on Christmas.
The adventure in the North of Thailand didn’t finish on Christmas day; we still had to get back to Chiang Mai. That’s a whole other journey to come…