Escaping tourist traps
Sometimes the usual destinations can be predictable and boring, so this reader and her friends decided to check out unfamiliar territory in northern Thailand.
HERE we were, a group of five seniors, ranging in age from 65 to 82. We had plans to embark on an eco-tourism trip of sorts. It was over six days and although one or two of the places were a bit disappointing, it was generally fun and enjoyable as we visited places that were off the beaten track.
Everyone normally stops at Chiangmai or Chiangrai up north in Thailand, but we decided to go beyond.
We stayed a night at the Mae Ngat Dam Floating Village (similar to our Kenyir Lake but, seriously, no comparison) where we had to prepare our own dinner. The bed was not very comfortable and electricity was powered by a generator which came on only from 6pm to 6am. The highlight of this stay for me was kayaking, which was a first for me. The plus point was the cool and fresh air which was a welcome change from the heat of the city.
One place off the beaten track, 50km north of Chiangmai is the Mae Kampong Homestay, which is hardly visited by tourists but is known only to the locals. It is a peaceful village of old houses surrounded by nature, evergreen forests and a clear running stream nearby.
Dinner was a simple affair with homegrown vegetables. Before arriving at this homestay, we visited the Giant Tree House (that serves delicious coffee) that has a jungle mountain view and fresh air. There is a hanging rope bridge to get to the tree house. The day we visited was a public holiday in Thailand, so the place was crowded with locals and you had to ring for a reservation.
The tiramisu and black forest cake went well with the coffee we had. The Mae Kampong waterfall, also known as Seven Colours Waterfall caused by the reflection of the sun, is a mineral geyser containing calcium carbonate gushing from the ground.
Another waterfall off the beaten track is the Bua Tong Waterfall (part of the Mae Tang National Forest Reserve), also known as the Sticky Waterfall. The waterfall itself is not that impressive but it is interesting; thanks to the presence of limestone floating in the water, one can climb it easily, and the lime makes the water crystal-blue with healing energy.
Heading south, we visited Pha Chor (some call it the Petra of Thailand but it also resembles the Grand Canyon in the United States), a natural phenomenon which was created after the Ping River changed its course many years ago. When the river changed its route, the site became a hill and, as time passed, it was eroded, and became cliffs and pillars.
Although the winding and narrow path is relatively easy, with a few hundred steps, this is not the place for the physically unfit. However, on reaching the top you are greeted with cliffs and pillars of spectacular beauty.
We loved our stop at Mon Cham where the Hmong hill tribe lives. It is a mountain paradise with cool, crisp air, with the valley on one side and multi-coloured terrace fields of vegetables, herbs and strawberries growing in neat rows.
The Hmong practise sustainable farming funded by the royal family so they can be self-reliant. The allure of Mon Cham is the panoramic view. The Hmong sell traditional craft, fruits and vegetables. The Hmong children, dressed in traditional costume, play among themselves without any worries and socialise even with tourists. We had lunch here, cooked specially using farm-to-table vegetables and herbs; it was delicious and affordable.
The biggest disappointment of this eco-tourism trip was the rafting experience, which I do not recommend. A complete ripoff with nothing but getting wet on the raft with a young boy manoeuvring the raft through a stream. We put this past us when we were greeted by a sumptuous dinner at my friend’s house in Lamphun, about 20km away from Chiangmai.
That was a fitting end to a trip that’s different from the usual tourist spots.
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.
The miniature version of the Grand Canyon – Pha Chor in northern Thailand. — Photos: FRANCIS LIM