Hill tribe trekking in Northern Thailand

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From eating crunchy critters to sleeping in a barn to spending over 3 hours precariously balancing on a bamboo raft… a few of the activities we got up to on our Thai hill tribe trek…

After some research, finding excellent Trip Advisor reviews and checking out the Chan Trekking  website we decided to book a trip with Chan. We exchanged a couple of emails and confirmed the dates. A couple of days before the trek Chan came to meet us and we discussed a personal itinerary for a tailor-made trek. Chan informed us that our guide would be Mr Goo!

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Pick up transport

We were collected at 8.30 am and sat in the back of a modern comfortable pick up truck. We were driven by the driver to Chan’s house where we met with Mr Goo. Both Chan and Mr Goo are incredibly friendly and have warm and sunny personalities. As someone correctly mentioned on TripAdvisor, Mr Goo has an infectious laugh… one that makes you smile and feel instantly uplifted.

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Mr Goo selecting ingredients at the market

We drove with Mr Goo for about an hour or so to a market where he walked round (with us in tow) carefully and expertly selecting an impressive array of fresh ingredients that he would use for cooking our meals later.

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Chris and Mr Goo at the waterfall

We drove a bit further to a waterfall where it’s possible to swim in the clear water. Mr Goo took us on a short nature trail near to the waterfalls where he shared his expert knowledge pointing out a range of different trees including teak and mahogany, explaining other plants and taking us to a bat cave.

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Negotiating a stile

Following a delicious lunch we started our 4 hour trek to the Karen hill tribe village. It was hard going walking in temperatures approaching 35 degrees and up and down hills! We had to carry all of our belongings for our one night stay in our backpacks while Mr Goo also carried the food he had brought in the market earlier.

We are currently in Thailand in April which is the end of the dry season so the jungle was brown and even barren looking in places. The jungle is apparently much greener in the wet season although (as one would expect) muddier.


The visibility wasn’t too good as Thai farmers set fire to controlled areas to prepare fields for new crops ready for the rainy season. This results in a constant haze hanging over the jungle at this time of the year.

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Mr Goo slicing the pomelo

Again during this longer trek Mr Goo pointed out many different trees, plants (such as orchids) and insects. He knocked down a pomelo and cut this open for us to try. It had a citrus taste, a bit like a cross between an orange, lemon and grapefruit.

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Just as our legs were seriously turning to jelly we thankfully reached the Karen tribe village at around 6 pm.

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As we were the only people on this particular trek we had the entire lodgings to ourselves. We fixed up the mosquito net and organised our bed while Mr Goo started preparing dinner.

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Helping Mr Goo to prepare dinner
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Cooking by head torch and candle light

Mr Goo is a superb cook! We helped him to prepare some of the fresh herbs and vegetables and he made the most wonderful Thai green curry, sweet and sour vegetables, spicy pork, chicken with ginger and spring onions and home made spring rolls. With some assistance from a couple of young villagers he cooked it all in large pans on an open fire and served everything up together.

There was no electric lighting so as it got dark Mr Goo cooked using candle light and a head torch. As water levels are currently low the village was running out of water. We were unable to have a shower so the option was to wash in the stream! Apparently snakes are present around the stream at night so we gave that a miss and relied on our handy wet wipes…

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A tarantula outside in its nest (about 20 meters from where we were sleeping…)
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Preparing bamboo canes for house building
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Rice pounding

After a surprisingly comfortable night’s sleep and a huge and delicious breakfast (again prepared by Mr Goo) we headed off towards the river for bamboo rafting. On the way Mr Goo gave us a short tour of the village and demonstrated some of the rural activities such as rice pummelling Karen style and a bamboo mouse trap.

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Water buffalo
Loss of power at the back!!

The trek to the river took around 45 minutes (up a hill and down the other side). Naively we hadn’t anticipated getting so wet… Due to it being the dry season the river is currently low which meant having to get in the river at times to help push the raft when it became wedged between the rocks. So we could have worn our rock/beach shoes rather than saturating our hiking boots! (Entirely our fault as Chan did provide a kit list).

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Collecting cicadas

As we rafted down the river we noticed women collecting large bugs (cicadas). There are millions of these creatures in the forest and poles are covered in a sticky substance which the cicadas fly onto and subsequently get stuck. While still alive, they are picked off the pole by the women and put into large plastic bags for cooking later. With such a large concentration of screeching cicada the bags were pretty noisy!

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Tucking into cooked cicadas

The rafting was around 10 km along the river…..and it took about 3.5 hours until we reached the end when it was lunch time. We both tried cooked cicadas which actually (if you ignore that you are eating a large bug) were quite tasty! They tasted like smoky bacon crisps!

After lunch we drove back to Chiang Mai where the final stop was at the Elephant Poo eco centre where we were given practical demonstrations using elephant poo to make paper!

Summary… our trip with Mr Goo was brilliant. It felt authentic as we were not part of a large tour group. We saw a handful of tourists throughout the two days but most of the time it was Mr Goo, us and the Karen tribe people.

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Since we began our round the world adventure in January 2016, we’ve become more aware of ‘responsible’ travel. There are arguments for and against hill tribe trekking with suggestions that such treks are not in the best interests of the tribes who should be left alone to continue their basic way of life.

The counter argument is that interaction with tourists is beneficial. Why shouldn’t tribal groups have knowledge, insight and access to the rest of the world? Why shouldn’t Karen children have the same opportunities as other children in Thailand and other countries?

Since the early 20th century and the advances of transport and technology the rest of the world has made rapid developmental progress (whether for better or worse…) meaning all of our lives are very different from those of our parents and grandparents.

Interaction with the Karen tribe through Chan trekking is done in a sensitive and authentic manner. From each trek a donation is given to the community and villagers assist with cooking, preparing and also sharing some of the food served for us. With such small groups there is little intrusion and the villages seemed happy to share their world with us for our short visit.

Mr Goo took several photographs of us throughout the trip which Chan sent to us the next day. There was no extra charge which is often the case with larger commercial outfits.


Please see below for some rafting action…






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