Trekking into the Shan Hills, Day 1


Because it had continued to rain all night, Chakaphan knew that there would be too much water in the river to take the three-day trek that he’d plan, so a shorter two-day trek in another area was agreed upon.

We didn’t get started until nearly noon and a hazy mist still hung above the trees.  A minivan picked us up to take us to our beginning – a rough road uphill toward a Karen Village. It was a fairly easy walk, although some of the long hills upped my heart rate a bit. I was the “elder” on this trip and I probably should have done a little more cardio workout in preparation. Before we’d gone too far we stopped in a glade of lush vegetation, near a stream to enjoy the delicious lunch of chicken and rice that Chakaphan had packed for us. Dessert was sticky rice with fresh bananas and passion fruit.

No wading through the streams here

No wading through the streams here

Once more nourished, we resumed our uphill trek. Several motorcycles sped past us up the muddy trail. The scenery was breathtaking.

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Rice paddies far below us

Rice paddies far below us

We reached the Karen Village at about three in the afternoon. Chakaphan and his entourage were welcomed into the store for a rest. It seemed to be a fairly prosperous village with many newer wooden houses, and a power generator.

We left that village and walked on up the road for a while longer before the real challenge began. Chakaphan led us up a very narrow path through thick foliage. It was muddy and slippery and it seemed we’d never reach the top. When we finally did, I took a few moments to appreciate the beautiful jungle plants while we all took a rest.

Bamboo

Bamboo

ginger plant

Ginger plant

Then we had to head down the other side of the hill. Again the path was narrow and hung precariously close to the edge, with a drop off of hundreds of feet. It had rained off and on most of the day and by now the treads of my running shoes were filled with the thick, red mud and my backpack tended to sometimes throw me a little off balance. One particular little downward slope nearly got the best of me. My feet started to slide and I could find nothing to grab onto. The weight of the bag pulled me backwards over the edge as Sarah and Kendrick behind me gasped and poor Chakaphan turned around in anguish. Fortunately there were many trees on the hill and I didn’t go far before I was turned around and had my feet planted against a couple of them. I was pulled back up and from then on Chakaphan stayed close to me, offering his hand many times. At the first opportunity he found me a sturdy walking stick.

We finally arrived at our destination, a Lisu Village, at about 6:00 pm, wet, muddy and exhausted. A warm shower and soft bed would have been greatly appreciated, but that turned out to be a pipe dream. This village was far more primitive than the Karen Village. The only “shower” was a pipe protruding from the side of the hill, hurling fresh, clean and very cold water down from above, and the children of the village perched on the hill watching, fascinated with their “white” visitors. How was I going to get out of my mud-soaked clothes and wash in that glorious water?

Lisu Village Children

Captivated Lisu Village Children

Sarah changed into a Sarong that she’d taken with her. I finally decided that I needed to get the mud off my clothes anyway so just dove under the waterfall and scrubbed the best I could. I ducked into the outhouse and stripped off my wet clothes and wrapped myself up in my towel, having to be careful not to drop anything on the mud-covered floor. Day light was rapidly fading and I knew that I would soon be unable to find my way around (I suffer from night blindness). Sarah led me to our “room”, where the women and children were all lined up on a bench, still watching! Chakaphan had to send them on their way so we could get dressed.

Once cleaned, we were invited to the Cookhouse, where Chakaphan was busy preparing an evening meal over an open fire pit.

Lisu Village Cook House

The Village dog waits expectantly outside the Cook House

Meal Prep, Lisu Village

Meal Prep, Lisu Village

We could hear the chatter of the women outside. Chakaphan explained, “They want to come in to show you the things that they make. They sell them very cheap and it helps them out.” Of course we agreed, and we were soon surrounded by smiling women spreading their wares out on the tables before us. Pretty hand-woven fabric had been crafted into little purses, eye glass cases and water-bottle holders, obviously made with tourists in mind. Sarah and I picked out a couple of items each and handed them the few baht that they were asking. They left happy. We were then served a wonderful meal of stir-fried fish and vegetables and fruit.

Using our flash lights, we once more made our way to the toilets and then off to “bed.” We all were bunked together in a large bamboo hut similar to the ones in Mae Hong Son, but this time the mattresses were only the thin foam mats that Chakaphan had supplied and the pillows were small, filled with grain, and very hard. Despite how tired I was, it was difficult to get to sleep, but I eventually dozed off, wondering what the next day would bring.

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