I'm not sure what I may have done in this or a past life but somehow I have acquired the best luck when finding trekking tour guides. There was my first trek in Australia where the tour guides idea of "soon" were much much different than mine, not to mention getting lost and almost missing the bus home. Then there was the eight, turned 13 hour trek in Taiwan, although that one had bright turn of events. And now, my adventures continue in Northern Thailand; one more trek, another great story and one quirky guide I'll never forget.
Before arriving in Chiang Mai I knew that I wanted to spend a few days trekking through the wilderness that surrounds the city. My friend Laura was 100% on boards so soon after arriving at our hostel we booked a 3 day trekking tour with Jumbo Trekkers. Ironically we booked our tour on a whim without researching or comparing the prices of any other tours offered in town, despite everything I read online advising me to do so. The night before we were due to leave I figured I should do at least a little research to figure out exactly what we would be doing (aside from the six bullet points listed on the brochure they gave us). I found a blog with a great description of the exact trek we'd be going on, gave it a 2 minute read and decided I was in for 3 days of fun.
The next morning we were picked up around 9:45 where we met a group of travelers whom would become our travel partners and friends. The morning consisted of a stop at an orchid and butterfly farm as well as a local market; both stops were "cultural" but seeing as I've been to countless markets in the last few months I could have done without it. Finally we arrived at our 'lunch' destination (a tiny mart on the side of the road) where we were served our first of many pad thai in a bamboo leaf. After dropping us off our guide hopped on a motorbike and waved "buh byyyyye" as he drove away. We enjoyed our noodles (kind of), got to know each other and sat wondering what came next. Around 1 o'clock Chet came flying towards us with a big goofy grin on his face, geared up and ready to go for our day of trekking. Soon after he parked the bike we all realized he was in a bit different state of mind than when he left, we were just left to guessing what altered it.
Although none of us were sure of where exactly we were going we put our faith in Chet and followed along; he promised to lead and protect us which considering his size (5 ft, 90lbs) carrying a large knife, I had no doubts (that's a lie). The first 10 minutes led us down a dirt road (not exactly trekking) which left me with mixed feelings; considering the state of our guide I wasn't sure if I wanted to venture off into the wilderness or continue along the safe route. It turns out I didn't have much of a choice as we were soon following Chet as he hacked through overgrown shrubs looking a tad bit lost, and so it begins. I was amazed by some of my hiking companions shoe and clothes choices (flip flops, fashionable boots, knock-off converse and a dress) but somehow they made it work.
Despite his moments of falling in and out of consciousness Chet proved to be a great tour guide, never leading us in the wrong direction (okay maybe we took a few wrong turns here and there), but at least he provided singing, a little dancing and some jokes. The first hour and a half of the trek was almost entirely uphill through winding forest, while the second half was jus the opposite. The rainy season is just beginning in Thailand so as we neared the top of the hill the skies opened up and poured down on us; this felt great but it also made the way down a bit more harrowing.
Near three hours after our departure into the wilderness we came to another dirt road (which my instinct told me was the same one we turned off oh so long ago). By this time the rain had stopped, peoples complaining about where we were, how long it would be, why it was so long, had subsided and we were all eager for a shower and a change of clothes. Thankfully the camp was a short 5 minute walk down the road so all of our wishes were soon to be answered. Despite a few doubts that were floating around in the back of my mind at the beginning of the trek Chet never let us down. He was definitely not all there but I enjoyed the talks I did have with him, not to write a novel but here's a few highlights into the life of Chet:
Now that our adventure for the day was complete it was time for showers and clean clothes, it's funny how good a stream of freezing cold water can feel, under the right conditions. Once we were all clean and had our bags sorted away in our accommodation for the night (one large bamboo hut on the top of the hill) it was time for dinner which the jungle boys whipped up for us, green curry and a tofu mixed vegetable blend - both of which were pretty tasty. After dinner we all played a few rounds of shit head (new for me but a fun card game) before calling it a night and heading up to our beds, fully anticipating what the next day had in store for us.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.