We had seen and done all we wanted to do in Chiang Rai, in our final days Mrs Wombat decided to have a day out with elephants, and I was in two minds to go on a rafting expedition or a jungle trek, this gave the traveling wombats a couple of days of separation and a chance to explore our passions and after much deliberating visits to tour offices and talking with people I decided that on our final day in this city I would go trekking for one day, I found an informative tour agent, agreed on the trip, she checked that there was room and I paid my 1500 baht, (a bit less than $60 AUD) and all was set.
Tuesday morning arrived and I was all set for a 9am pick up. Ahn, my driver/guide arrived on time in his Dmax ute and we set off for a village about 18km from the city, there he informed me we would meet the other trekkers for the day. We arrived at a local (Ahn called it a restaurant) I call it a very large cafe, we sat on the steps waiting and watching the world go by. Before long a nice white dog came along and sat beside me, I am weary of dogs in this part of the world so I said a few kind dog words to him, although thinking about it now, the english words I spoke would have meant nothing as Thai would be all he could understand, but next minute I was giving him a little pat on the head and then his head was on my knee and we had a friendship happening, but there again I thought he would have so many friends each day with every passing trekker and this soon became evident when another ute pulled up with four other people going on another trek, as soon as the tailgate was dropped, white dog was in the back with the people getting more pats and cuddles.
By now I had three dogs on the step beside me and in a short while our other party arrived with the other guide Chi, they remained in their ute there was a quick intro and Ahn and I climbed in the back of his ute along with the food for lunch for a short drive to our starting point.
We arrive at the start of our journey and we all get out, I introduced myself to my trekking mates for the day, four great young people from Germany, they spoke a little english which was good as my year 10 German is not that good as I can only count to 20, know the name for pig and dog and the famous car Volkswagen, it would have been a long day. Sven and Jonathan and their partners, our guide Chi and I all set off, a few minutes in to the trek Chi asks “who needs a hiking stick”, I say I’m OK as I pull my Aluminium telescopic spring loaded treking pole out of my backpack but my four companions said yes thanks, Chi fights he way into some bamboo with his machete and starts cutting 4 trekking poles, now were are off and looking the part, not long after that the white dog appears and walks with us for the day happily walking up front, behind and occasionally around us.
As we start rock hopping through the creek and criss crossing the trekking path, I ask Chi about his machete, all the trekking guides have him on their hip, they are hand made using car leaf spring with bamboo handle (of course) and sheathed in a hand made teak timber scabbard, as you would expect, these are extremely sharp and cut through bamboo like a knife to butter.
Not too far into the journey whilst rock hopping, I slip on a rock and go tumbling into the water, hitting one knee and one wrist on a rock as I fall, fortunately I didn’t hit my head and I made a quick recovery, I het to my feet I check that all body parts are ok, yes everthing seems to work, and that my backpack was not wet - it seemed dry, I notice I have a nasty graze on my leg and wrist, so as I catch up with my trekking mates and guide I have blood, water and sweat combined running down my arm and leg looking like I have just escaped a machete attack, my colleagues and guide ask if I am ok and in true Rod form, “say just had a slip all good”, meanwhile the leg is hurting like hell. Our guide offers me some bandage and antiseptic, but I tell him I’m ok, I have these in my pack and when we stop I’ll patch myself up.
We stop at a point on the creek where there is a small waterfall for a short break so I perch myself on a rock and break out the first aid kit whilst my trekking colleagues look on and our guide disappears into the jungle with his machete once again cutting bamboo. I clean the wound, apply some antiseptic cream and try to apply a bandaid to reduce the bleeding but the wet and sweat, well you know how that goes down, I did my best with my leg throbbing, Chi reappears and we are once again off.
We continue to climb up tracks and through the creek and next minute we appear in a village, a few concrete buildings and lots of bamboo huts, Chi mentions something about Seven Eleven and water, there is no store that I can see, but there is a lady who can sell us a litre of water, I buy one and sit to rest my leg. A few moments later Chi appears with a pot of tea and 4 bamboo cups (of course they are bamboo, everything around here is made of or from bamboo) the tea is bloody horrible but all 5 of take a few sips and then I notice my four trekking buddies toss their tea over the edge of the bamboo hut we are sitting in, I do the same and we all thank Chi for the lovely tea. Chi at this stage gets some bamboo out of his back pack, obviously the stuff he had been cutting earlier and delicately starts making chopsticks for us to eat our lunch, he passes me a pair bundled up with a bamboo tie and tells me to put them in my pack for lunch, he continues on making five more pair between morning tea and our lunch stop, just using his machete.
We leave this village and start walking a little down hill for a change, stopping along the way to make an elephant grass toy, he cuts 6 pieces of grass (with his machete) in a fashion that when you hold and throw, the centre section flys through the air better than any paper airplane I have ever seen, we have a competition who can throw the furthest, I think one of the girls had the best throw. Before long we appear in another village, this time we are at a tea growing village, local oolong tea which you can see growing on the hillsides around the village, the people in this village originate from China we are told, they escaped to Thailand before the revolution and of course generations later are all now Thai people. We stop for a while and buy some more water my fellow trekkers buy some local tea, I can only hope it was better than the brew we had at the morning tea stop.
Time to keep moving as we have another hour of trekking before lunch so now we start climbing once again, we walk up through the tea plantations and admire the scenery of the villages and the countryside and before long we are back in the jungle, I notice at this stage as I am the last person in our party, poor Sven and his girlfriend are starting to lag behind slowing me down a little but that was OK, Sven tells me he has been trekking in Austria, I say I bet its a bit hotter here he agrees and keeps puffing his way up the hill, they were both now struggling and further evidence of this is that whilst we were all using our trekking poles as intended, poor Sven was dragging his behind him and almost tripping me up occasionally. Chi is still making chopsticks and spoons whilst we walk, he didn’t need a trekking pole and was quite comfortable using a 300mm machete to carve the finer detail on our cutlery for lunch as he walked.
The hour passed, we were all wringing wet, Sven and his girlfriend still struggling, but their travelling colleagues are happily up front with the GoPro and the SLR cameras and me… other that a sore knee, keeping up very well and wanting to overtake the two slow coaches in front of me, I think to myself I am twice if not more their age and doing better that them, this give me an adrenaline boost so I drop down a gear and pass them on the next wide section of the track and move up front for a while. We hear the waterfall in the distance signaling lunch and a rest and before long we are walking across a rickety bamboo bridge across the waterfall, it was spectacular and the swimming pool at the base was very enticing. We cross the bridge first (bridge is a pretty loose term) to the other side where Ahn and another bloke have the fire happening with our lunch cooking. I find a secluded place to change into my bathers (I am not really sure why now when I come to think of it, I was totally drenched in sweat) and then I climb into the icy cold water, it was seriously refreshing, next in was Jonathan, I said to him his mate Sven needs to get in the water and cool down, he said Sven and Julia are not coping well, I said I knew and all the more reason to cool down.
Now feeling cool and back into the sweaty clothes it was time to watch lunch unfold.
There were about 5 tubes of green bamboo leaning up over the fire, one with water being heated to boiling, one with 10 eggs, tomato, onion and herbs to make an omelet, one with sticky rice and one with a chicken and veggies (bit like a hot pot). Ahn had made a big bamboo plate (see the photo), some bowls/cups and some serving spoons and in another 10 minutes or so, lunch was served into the long bamboo serving bowl.
There was also three deboned chicken halves that had been placed on bamboo stakes and roasting over the coals, the BBQ chicken now ready this was also cut up with the machete into the serving bowl and the call “lunch is ready”was made. We had just started to eat our gourmet lunch all cooked in bamboo, served in bamboo and consumed using bamboo, when another set of trekkers arrived at the waterfall, whilst they were mesmerised with the waterfall, they were even more mesmerised with our beautiful lunch. They moved on, hungry I’m sure, we then has dessert, fruit of course, comprising Dragon fruit and Rambutan, we couldn’t eat any more and what was left went to our other traveling companions the dogs, of which there were 3 now, they had a great meal of leftovers and it was time to pick up our trekking poles and move on.
Sven and Julia are now full of vim and vigor (well maybe not quite) but are not dragging their trekking poles as we now climb down from the waterfall and head down towards another village. We have trekked through pineapple farms, banana and tea plantations, rice fields of course, and now through a lychee tree farm, it’s easier walking down hill and we come across another village, we walk in and look for a place to rest for a few minutes, meanwhile Chi has started making cups for the two girls on the way out of bamboo of course. This village doesn’t seem anything special until we meet the man who makes machetes, my two trekking mates see these and start the process of looking at which one to buy, long blade, short blade, curved end, heavier, lighter…. too much of a decision. I take a quick look and then an image of Border Security flashes through my mind and the thought of being arrested at Brisbane Airport does not seem like a good choice so I sit and watch these guys haggle about buying one and thinking how in hell are they going to get them home, they each buy one each and have a photo with the master machete maker, I ask Jonathan is there much bamboo jungle in Germany where you can practice, he gets the joke, I said he could at least cut up the chicken at the next dinner party, he agrees and we are once again walking.
We now trek through corn and rice fields, all starting to feel a bit weary but still awe struck with the beautiful scenery, we stop for a moment at a hand of bananas just hanging up in a shelter, we have a banana and keep walking. White dog is still with us now leading the way but he suddenly veers off into the bush, Chi tells us he doesn’t like the dogs in the next village that is coming into view, they are bullies so he goes around. Not far past the village we come to a road, white dog appears and there on the side of the road is our wheels ready to take us back to where we started this morning. My four colleagues hop in the back of the ute, the guides in the cab and Ahn says to me, do you want to get in the cab, no way, not on this leg of the trip I say, so the five of us and white dog are all in the back for a 15 minute ride back to the restaurant, white dog hanging over the side, Jonathan sitting on the edge and the rest of us holding on as best we could. Chi finished the two cups for the girls to take home and we say farewell and split up for the trip back to Chiang Rai.
Back at the hotel, I fall out of the ute, say buy to Ahn, stagger to the lift push button 2 and then knock on the door, Mrs Wombat greets me and said how was your day and you stink, you better get in the shower.