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Thailand Trekking with Kalu

When we were planning our trip to Thailand, what was the first thing we thought of doing? A trek, of course! And after that wonderful adventure in Nepal, doing the Mardi Himal trek, ( how could we not?

But as it turned out, trekking in Thailand is pretty different from trekking in Nepal. Treks in Thailand from Chiang Mai seem to be a maximum of three days. And they are in the jungle.

To our surprise, as gung-ho as we were in doing a multi-day trek, we discovered that most people seem to like the one or two day trips, and not so much the three day. I surmise it’s because there are so many things to do in Thailand and people have a limited amount of time, and so they allocate only that short amount of time to the trek.

But, since we had the time, and the inclination, we signed up for a three-day trek. Oh, and we signed up a year ago, so we were very eager to get on the trail.

Our experience was so amazing. In fact, our trekking guide’s company is called Amazing Trekking. (

Day 1:

We started off our journey with our guide, Kalu, picking us up from our apartment in Chiang Mai and taking us to a market to buy food that he would cook for us during the trek.

We then drove to a national park and took a short walk to a waterfall.

If it had been even a bit warmer we would have gone swimming, but it was kind of chilly. So we just looked.

Of course Jay made some new friends, who were quite excited to take a picture with him. That Jay!

Then we went to a hot springs and enjoyed hanging out with some ladies from Beijing. We couldn’t talk to each other, but somehow they were able to convey their love for us through their body language.

We had a delicious lunch at the hot springs prepared by Kalu and his mother-in-law. The food was amazing!

And right after lunch we started on the trek.

We hiked for about three hours through the park and through the jungle. Jay and Kalu really bonded during the hike.

Kalu was an amazing guide. He had grown up in the jungle and knew everything about it. He told us so many things about the plants and the animals. He did all kinds of calls and whistles to lure animals so we could see them (unfortunately, we didn’t end up seeing any).

He showed us a tarantula hole. He had us taste different kinds of plants, including a pepper tree. We were in awe of him and his knowledge. Kalu carried a machete with him. He demonstrated his proficient machete skills as he shaped cups out of bamboo for us to drink from, a new machete sheath made of bamboo, and bamboo walking sticks that we used for the entire trek.

After a long walk, traipsing up and down some steep hills, we reached a village of the Karen tribe.

We stopped there for a few minutes and then continued on to another village of the Karen tribe. The thing about this village is that Kalu is friends with the people here and wanted to help them do better economically so he helped the mayor of the village set up a guest house,

and helped them understand how to host tourists.

The mayor’s home only has limited electricity during the day from a few solar panels, and once the sun goes down, the electricity is done. Notice both the satellite dish and the solar panel below at the mayor's house, which is where we ate our meals.

Once we had settled in a bit, we were taken to meet the illustrious elders of the village.

It was hard to even imagine about how the lives of this couple, aged 104 and 94 years old, must have been and the things they must have seen over the years. I asked Kalu to ask the lady to tell me a story about when she was a little girl and she got this big smile on her face and she told us how she met her husband while she was walking around in the jungle and he was walking to her village.

She liked the way he looked and so planned how she could marry him and she succeeded. It was an adorable story and she was so excited to tell us about it.

Because there was no more electricity when it was time to prepare dinner, we watched Kalu and our hosts cook by headlamps over an open fire.

We discovered that Kalu had been a cook for five years in a hotel restaurant and the very tasty dinner reflected his experience. Jay and I then sat on the bamboo floor of their hut and ate the delicious meal. By candlelight. Very romantic. Notice the bamboo cups Kalu made for us from a bamboo branch he picked up on the trail!

It was an early night, as it was explained to us that the village people get up very early in the morning to start their work. Like 5:00 AM or thereabouts.

The most terrifying thing for me was when, in the middle of the night, I had to go to the bathroom. In order to do this, I had to walk out of the guest hut, walk down the steep stairs, and walk by the outskirts of the jungle to the outhouse. I begged Jay to go with me, but he told me to stop being so wimpy and just get out there. And finally, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I gathered up every bit of tiny courage I had in me and ventured outside.

Yes, it was very scary. It was silent outside, and pitch black. There was not a sound. And the jungle forest was right there. I was actually pretty happy about the silence, as the alternative would have been worse. And then I looked up and saw a million stars, and suddenly it was ok that I was outside, alone in the dark in this village in the middle of the jungle. I suddenly came to my senses and remembered where I was, and I ran upstairs back to the hut and crawled under the mosquito netting and fell back to sleep.

This is what our bed looked like:

Day 2:

We started our morning sitting on the floor of the hut, eating an awesome breakfast cooked by Kalu. This time it was light, so we could see what the hut looked like. It was mind blowing to think that the people in the village cook and eat and live this way every single day of their lives.

After an amazing breakfast, we set out on our hike and soon disappeared into the jungle, which was filled with spider webs on the trees, that diffused the early morning sun.

Soon we could see a fantastic view of the village we just left.

While we were hiking up and down the steep hills, Kalu told us stories about growing up in the forest and walking two hours to school through the jungle and then 2 hours back home every day. He told us about going hunting in the jungle as a kid, about learning how to climb trees because the jungle elephants would chase them, and lots of other things.

As Jay and I listened to his stories, we followed our intrepid guide as he walked along the trail. Occasionally, he would suddenly veer off the trail and we would be traipsing through the jungle on no apparent path.

And then after a while, a trail would just emerge and we would follow that trail. He sang and joked with us all along the way. What a pleasure that tough mountain hike was with our wonderful guide. We saw incredible and beautiful things.

After we walked for about 3 ½ hours, we arrived at a local elephant camp. This family owns two elephants that they keep for tourists. This is how they make their living. They don’t allow anyone to ride the elephants, but the tourists (us) can feed them and bathe them in the river.

Jay loved the elephants. I was a little freaked out by their trunks.

The topic of elephants in Thailand is very complex, and I suggest that if you love elephants, you google it. But the main thing is: NEVER RIDE ELEPHANTS in Thailand. It’s terrible. And insist that your tour guide take you to a place where riding elephants is forbidden. And this is just the beginning of the topic.

After Jay played with his two new friends (tusk, tusk), we had a choice of more hiking or a bamboo raft ride down to Kalu’s village. We decided to do the walking since the next day we would do the bamboo raft trip.

It was another hour of up, up, up, and then down, and then up and down again, and across this crazy bridge where half the planks were missing and we were instructed to keep our feet on the cable in the middle of the bridge and not on the wooden planks. The bridges in Nepal seemed so safe now, in comparison!

Finally, we reached Kalu’s village, which was right on the river.

We were greeted by some water buffalo.

And soon after arriving we were able to relax, drink a beer, and just chill on Kalu's front porch overlooking the river. Kalu built this house all by himself. With no power tools.

It was so awesome to meet Kalu’s mom and dad and to learn about how tourism has played such an important role in their village and in their family.

We also met Kalu's nephew. He was so adorable!

We had met two young women from Utah at the elephant camp and were thrilled to see they were at the same village with us and we were paired up to eat our meals together. It was so much fun to hang out with them that evening. Here is a picture of us with Tory and Liz in front of Kalu's house:

After dinner, Kalu surprised us once again, as he serenaded us with his guitar and sang all American pop songs. What a guy! We stayed up pretty late that night, like 9:00!

Day 3:

The next day we did this amazing bamboo raft tour down the river.

Jay volunteered to take the bamboo pole at the front of the raft while I sat in the middle and relaxed.

Little did Jay know that he was now in charge of steering the raft. And, as he soon discovered, this was no lazy river rafting. Soon he was navigating us around all the rocks and through the rapids. He did such an amazing job. As I sat in the middle of the raft, I was a nervous wreck and kept telling him to watch where we were going!

I was incredibly impressed by his rafting abilities. Kalu started calling Jay "Captain America". And he really was a super hero.

After two hours of beautiful scenery, calm waters, scary rapids, and mostly expert steering (only one crash), we safely reached the end of our trek.

We had such an incredible time. We will always remember this experience, the people we met,

and the amazing trekking guide we really love:

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