“So what are you packing?” Cam asked me. “Not sure, what exactly are we doing?” I replied. “Noooo clue, something with elephants, right?” she asked. I checked our receipt to find that it listed no details or itinerary whatsoever. All it said was “PAID: Non-Touristic Trek.” “Maybe we should start asking more questions before we book activities,” we laughed as we threw a couple athletic shorts and tank tops into our backpacks.
This was the conversation that occurred the night before our trek. A few days prior, Cam and I had been offered (what we thought was) a good deal on a trek and spontaneously booked it, only later realizing they had forgotten to include any sort of itinerary with our receipt, and we had looked at so many different activities that we’d forgotten which one we’d chosen. “Well, at least it’ll be an adventure!” we joked, as we climbed into the back of the red truck that picked us up the next morning.
We were driven for an hour to a market where our guide Chai told us that each person would need at least a large water and a small water for the walk ahead of us. “Very hot day,” he added. We bought the waters along with some fresh fruit and hopped back into the truck for another drive to a tiny village, where Chai cooked us the most amazing pad thai for lunch and gave us a half hour to digest before the walk. “Where are we going?” we asked. “Up there!” he exclaimed, pointing up to the mountains. “First a bat cave, then to hill tribe village. 3 hours total,” he added. “Oh, that’s not too bad, sounds awesome!” we replied.
Fast forward to five minutes into our uphill climb to us teasing Chai with, “Are we there yet?” and “How much longer?” For the next couple days, this became a running joke, and no matter how far away we were from our destination, he would always reply back, “5 minutes, 5 minutes!”
The trek up to the bat cave wasn’t easy. Two hours of uphill climbing, with frequent water breaks, and we knew we were literally off the beaten path, as Chai was chopping away branches and thick grass with his machete to make it easier on us. But though it was tough, Chai made the walk quite fun, as he would stop every few minutes to excitedly point out interesting things in nature. One minute he was poking a stick into a hole to drag out a scorpion, the next he was holding a giant neon blue beetle, and a few minutes later he’d be picking us fruits from trees or showing us how to drink water from bamboo if we were ever desperate. Cam and I liked to call him a “lost boy” since he reminded us of one of the lost boys in Peter Pan. Oftentimes Chai would get ahead of us, and by the time we caught up he’d be wearing a cool hat made out of leaves, or would be throwing a spear he’d just carved from a stick, or would just be casually hanging out in a tree.
We reached the bat cave, not after 2 hours like he’d said, but after around 3 hours, and were completely drenched in sweat from head to toe. It was pretty neat after hours of forest to see a giant cave pop up out of nowhere, carved into the side of the mountain. But the best part about the cave was the protection it offered from the scorching sun as we walked down into the cool dark air.
We continued on up the mountains for few more tough hours, until finally reaching the village. There were a few long-neck Karen villagers there, which was pretty cool to see, and one of the women showed Cam and I to our room, which consisted of two (barely-there) mattresses on the floor under a mosquito net. “Hey look, there’s an outlet!” Cam exclaimed! “And a light!” I replied. When you’re that far from civilization, it’s the little things… :)
First things first, we needed a shower, so we headed down to the bathrooms. “Real toilets and running showers too!” I chose a shower and tiptoed in scanning the floor, but after immediately seeing a giant spider the size of my palm walked straight back out. Cam tried going in, but found the shower didn’t work, and upon trying the other two, we found that none of the showers actually worked. Guess we were sticking to cold bucket showers after all, but hey, after all that sweating, it actually felt great.
By the time we’d finished, Chai had cooked us another delicious meal, and we sat down to a dinner of rice with a variety of stir-fried chicken & veggies and beef & broccoli. Exhausted from the day, Cam and I headed back to our mats, closed our mosquito night, and passed out immediately.
The next morning, after a breakfast of omelet on rice, we grabbed our bags and set off again. Our legs were feeling the previous day’s work, but luckily today’s walk was a lot shorter. We trekked 45 minutes until we reached what I like to call a “natural playground,” where we stopped to swim, sunbathe, and slide down waterfalls.
After a refreshing break, we continued about another 45 minutes to reach another village, where we were given lunch and taken to an elephant camp. We’d asked for an elephant care camp instead of elephant riding, since we knew some camps mistreat the elephants, and we didn’t want to support that. We arrived at the camp, where we received a brief lesson on mahout training, and Chai hopped up onto an elephant (who I like to call Ellie) and showed us how to control them.
After the training session, we followed Ellie into a pond to give her a bath, dousing her with buckets of water, scrubbing her with soap and giant sponges, and rinsing her off. Quite a lot of fun (though we had to avoid the large volleyball-sized balls of poop that kept floating up around her)!
Our final activity on the trek was bamboo rafting, where we peacefully floated down the river alongside elephants trekking, kids playing on the riverbank, and villagers bathing. Though pretty non-eventful, bamboo rafting was the relaxing end we needed to a difficult trek.
Overall, it was a great way to get off the beaten path and see “real” Thailand, but Cam and I both agree that our “lost boy” guide Chai is what made the trip truly amazing.
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida ✌