Welcome to the Jungle

It has been said for centuries past that ‘Man cannot exist without woods.’ Indeed forests are a highly important human resource. Their functions include many that are vital to life: the continuance of the oxygen-carbon dioxide cycle; the feeding of brooks and streams that in turn lead to lakes, dams, and reservoirs; the provision of a habitat for a wide array of animal life and vegetation; and the maintenance of nature’s sensitive ecological balance are just a few. In addition the large areas that forests cover are often abundant with spectacular views and striking beauty — adding infinite artistic worth to the many pragmatic benefits provided by forests. It is of little surprise, therefore, that jungle trekking and forest exploration enjoys a high popularity among visitors to Chiang Mai today.

To many, jungle trekking is really a visit to a great and inexhaustible library of breathtaking knowledge. Students and lovers of nature alike find an endless fascination in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. The towering trees and blowing bamboo that splash picturesque hues of gold, green and red over the brown earth, the clear, crystal streams that run endlessly in no apparent pattern; the chattering squirrel here, the proud, soaring eagle there; and the whispering of the wind in the pines mysteriously fall together to unfold a sheer beauty thatt knows no repetition and has no end.

To others, the fascination lies more with the aura of adventure that jungle trekking possesses. Certainly, the forest holds enough of the unexpected to keep a trekker on his toes. How much further to the next village? Where’s the best camping site? Do those clouds mean rain? And in the middle of the night: What was that noise? There is a certain sense of accomplishment the trekker gets from reaching his destination after a long day’s hike. There is a high that comes from knowing you have challenged your physical limits and won. The trekker climbing that last mountain before reaching his destination feels much the same as the marathon runner on his last mile.

The two most popular forests used for trekking in Chiang Mai are the Pae forest of Mae Tang district and the forest in the Kok River area near Tha Thon Village, Mae Ai district. Both forests have been thoroughly surveyed and have tourist police stationed there for safety’s sake. In addition, both are home to several hilltribe groups including the Karen, Lawa, and Akha as well as having rivers suitable for rafting.

Most jungle treks share the following general outline. The trekkers leave the city by truck or van and travel to the edge of the forest. From there they hike into the jungle, usually to a hilltribe village. On some of the longer treks, one night is spent in the jungle, one in a hilltribe village, and one by the river’s edge after a day of rafting. Shorter treks involve only one night in a hilltribe village. Naturally, the specific details of each trek vary diversely with each trekking company, the amount of time available, and the physical abilities of the trekker. Some tours substitute the physically challenging hike with an exciting ride through the jungle on the back of an elephant, while others arrange oxen-pulled carts to pick up the trekkers in order to give them the opportunity to experience one of Thailand’s oldest modes of transport.

For those short on time or energy, jungle trekking by elephant is an option available at any of the elephant training camps in Chiang Mai. This type of trekking allows one to experience the luscious green jungles of Northern Thailand from the vantage point of one of the world’s most powerful animals. After the initial shock and excitement of the bumpy takeoff, most people soon grow accustomed to the elephant’s rhythmic movements and can muster the courage to concentrate on the forest’s beauty instead of hanging on for dear life! From the jungle, the elephant moves into a river and travels upstream for several kilometers, before once again moving into the jungle and returning to camp. All in all, the trek lasts about one hour and provides an excellent means of touring Chiang Mai’s jungles in a short amount of time.

Those interested in taking a jungle trek through Chiang Mai’s forests can contact any of the many travel agencies in Chiang Mai. Prices will vary with each agency, depending on the programs included in the trek, the amount of time, the accommodation facilities, and the food. Before using the services of any one agency, be sure to obtain details on the accommodations, food, and type of transportation used. For your own safety, it is strongly advised that you use the services of licensed tour companies which have guides licensed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Jungle trekking as an escape from the hassles and complexity of modern-day life to the serenity and simplicity of the basics. The rules are simple: when you’re in the jungle you abide by its laws. There’s no place for deadlines and time schedules, no room for inflation and traffic jams.

Nature never stops working. Day after day, the sun rises to greet the world. Night after night, the stars come out of hiding. The streams never stop flowing, and the trees never stop growing. Whether it be your first jungle trek or your tenth, Chiang Mai’s luscious forests await you with open arms.

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