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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Travel - By CHRIS BEH star2­travel@thes­tar.com.my

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

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