The final day of our trek I awoke a bit later than expected. I had fallen into a deep sleep I supposed, perhaps due to the previous two days of hyperactivity. I felt sticky and groggy, so first things first I headed to the creek shower for a quick splash of ice cold water to the face. Almost everyone had already risen and were gathered around the community table sipping instant coffee, tea, or sugar water (Imogen). I joined the group, but didn’t really contribute to any conversation until I’d had at least 2 cups of coffee. Soon breakfast was served; Eggs, omlette style, toast and fresh pinapple. We even brought out a few leftover lychees that hadn’t been taken over by the hoards of ants overnight. As we ate I happened to glance into the kitchen/sleeping area where the two local women and Johnny Walker slept and cooked. To my astonishment, one of the women was cleaning and picking the fur off what appeared to be a dead rat. She and I locked eyes for one nervous second and she shot me a smile to suggest, “yeah, it’s a rat I’m eating for breakfast, I can tell you are shocked white boy”. Growing up in a community where squirrels were regularly consumed, I really wasn’t all that surprised, just interested in how she was going to prepare her jungle rat. I watched her chop it up and throw it into a pot over the fire along with some shredded leafy greens. A rat stew perhaps?
After breakfast, Johnny gave us some personal time to mill around and let our food settle. I spent the majority of that time testing out the set of handmade slingshots the locals had set out for our entertainment. A few plastic water bottled tied to a distant tree limb provided the targets and the ammunition were simply the bounty of pebbles on the ground. I will proudly admit that I became fairly proficient, hitting the target a number of times, my personal best being 3 in a row. Johnny on the other hand, hit 7 in a row. Johnny also showed us about 3 pounds of local mushrooms he had dug up from underground and intended to sell that the famous Chiang Mai Sunday market.
Soon enough it was time to resume hiking. Johnny told us today’s hike would be a 49 minute jaunt down the creek until we hit the river (Johnny tended to end all his estimations with a 9, I believe because the current Thai King is King Rama the 9th? Just another Johnnyism). We hit the trail and had a pleasurably flat hike along the stream, coming across bamboo groves and some impressive hardwoods. Fairly soon we started seeing signs of civilization once again. A PVC pipe here, a motor bike there, soon enough were full blown riverside elephant camps and rafting put-ins. When we reached our designated put-in for rafting, we dumped our packs and valuables into the back of a pickup truck and walked down to the riverside.
Lifejackets and helmets were selected and a short tutorial was given by our eccentric river guide. We split up into two rafts, essentially youngsters and “experienced”, myself in the latter group. I was placed up in the front of the boat along with Ollie (one of the Brits) and behind me was Gabby (Ollie’s girlfriend), opposite James and finally Nimisha and the guide, who was quite the amateur comedian. Since this wasn’t my first rodeo when it came to whitewater rafting I was ready to roll and it wasn’t a long wait until we started hitting some whitewater. Apparently the water level was a little low, so there were many rocks and obstacles to avoid, but the rapids were quite akin to a longer version of the Natahala with the muddy consistency of the French Broad. Truth be told I felt safe the entire time but it was an exhilarating ride with a lot of great moments and of course the obligatory splash-fights with the raft full of youngsters. We even had a calm section where we took a swim (or float). Once the rapids had calmed down and the rivers slowed to a manageable pace, we transitioned to authentic bamboo rafts that were used in olden times by the Thai river people. I would liken the bamboo rafts to a bit of a gondola ride, wherein we sat two by two and a “driver” stood at the back with long pole to push and steer (minus he Italian crooning). The bamboo rafts are lashed together with more bamboo, a very versatile plant to be sure, although these rafts did acquire a more modern touch, for added safety strips of motorcycle tire were also used to secure the bamboo shafts together. So, keeping score, we used bamboo for huts, walking sticks, bowls, chopsticks and now rafts.
After our Huck Finn cruise we walked back up the riverbank to have our final lunch. Pad Thai was served and we were allowed a proper shower and change of clothes at a small picnic area near the river. Johnny Walker was able to meet up with a few of his fellow guide buddies where we were informed that they actually call him Johnny “Wanker”, the Thais and the Brits really got a kick out of this, hand gestures a-plenty.
We took a group picture and gave Johnny a sizable tip for all he had done for us over the course of 3 days. “Oh my Buddha” he proclaimed one last time before he then herded us back into a covered truckbed for transportation back home to our respective Guesthouses. Once back in civilization it was an immediate hot shower, promptly followed by a Thai massage and a good ol’ American style burger with a coconut shake, seemingly always more gratifying when following a camping trip.
I had a great time trekking in the mountains of Chiang Mai with many experiences I will never forget and making some friends that I believe will stay in touch and perhaps be valuable contacts when I travel to other countries. I highly recommend a trek of any length to anyone visiting northern Thailand, just make sure to pack smart, pack light and ensure that the trek you choose fits your experience, athletic ability and comfort level with the outdoors. As Shakespeare once wrote, “A rose by any other name still smells as sweet”, I find this to even be true with respect to Trekking in Thailand and Backpacking in my native homeland.