For many tourists to Chiang Mai, Thailand, the highlight of their trip is a trekking tour into the jungles of northern Thailand. Most of these tours are two to three days long, and give not only an opportunity to hike through Thailand’s rugged terrain, but also to learn about and, in most cases, stay with local hill tribe families.</span>[/caption]
The hill tribes in Thailand are tribes of indigenous people who migrated from China and Tibet centuries ago. Still discriminated against by the Thai government and not offered the rights normal Thais have or given economic opportunities the average Thai has, they are used as a tourist attraction to bring in revenue to their tribes. Thousands of tourists every year take the trekking tours and, for those who do, here’s what you can expect.
How To Book a Trekking Tour in Chiang Mai – Don’t book a trekking tour on the internet before you get to Chiang Mai. There are so many tour groups and travel agents offering trekking tours, you can take your pick when you get to the city and at much lower price too. Compare the tour packages and costs at several travel agents, then book at least the day before you want to leave. You can pay with either credit card or cash.
What To Pack – Make sure you have several changes of clothing, dry socks and underwear, copious amounts of mosquito repellent, and a couple of bottles of water. Food is included in the trip, and you will have access to water and snacks, but you’ll have to pay for it. Also, get insurance as you never know what might happen out in the jungle several miles from civilization. All travel agents offer it for a minimal price.
Pick Up – Most tour groups will pick you up at your hotel for a trekking tour. Pick up is usually between 7:30am and 9:30 am, depending on how large the tour. They will normally drive for 2-3 hours outside Chiang Mai, stopping off for bathroom visits at local gas stations, and then arrive at a local restaurant for lunch.
What the Trekking Tour Will Include – After lunch, most tours will begin a 2-3 hour trek into the jungle. You’ll normally arrive at a local hill tribe village by 5pm, where you will stay for the first night of the
tour. You will be assigned a bungalow (some are a lot more rustic than others, depending on the tour) and then will be able to look around the village and meet some of the local hill tribe people. English is not spoken here though, so unless you speak Thai, don’t expect to be able to communicate very much. Some tours will be small and you will stay with a local hill tribe family (extremely basic accommodation, but can be a very interesting experience).
Dinner will be served early in the evening and, on most tours, there will be a demonstration of a typical hill tribe dance, hill tribe handicraft display or singing. Bed time is usually relatively early as the trek continues early the following day.
The second day of the trek, you will have an early breakfast then will hike for 2-3 hours to see a second hill tribe group (usually a different tribe, so different customs and culture). You will usually eat lunch at this village, followed by truck pick up and transport to a local elephant camp or rafting company. Here, you’ll go on an elephant trek (riding the back of an elephant is hugely fun) or on a raft down a local Chiang Mai river.
If you’re on a two day tour, after the elephant or raft ride, you’ll be driven back to Chiang Mai and dropped at your hotel. If on a three day tour, you’ll stay overnight in a guest house and see a third hill tribe group plus have another 2-3 hour trek, before being brought back to Chiang Mai on the third day.
These hill tribe treks are extremely popular with tourists and travelers in Chiang Mai as they get you away from the beaten trek, allow you to learn something about a culture you probably know nothing about and also get to meet some like-minded travelers.
Cost for a typical two day trek is around 8,000 baht ($250) per person, but this can go down in price as low as 3,300 baht ($100) if you have a group of 10 or more people who also want to trek.