After almost two weeks of non-stop working, coffee, and eating in Chiang Mai we finally decided it was time to see the outside of the city. At first we considered renting a scooter and going ourselves, then we thought the brochures from the hotel would help, but when the only humane Elephant farm in the area was fully booked we had to go back to searching the web for our grand adventure.
Our day with Untouched Thailand started at 8:30 in the morning. Our guide, Tong, was waiting for us in the hotel lobby. Full of smiles and compliments about how "in shape" we look (lol, not really though!), he invited us into his car and off we went. Our first stop was about 30 minutes away. Here's what we did all day and some thoughts for anyone wishing to try it too:
Cycling through "The Lost City"
First stop, a quick cycle tour through the "Lost City," or the original Chiang Mai. If you're not much of a bike rider, do not worry. As Tong described it, this was a "gentle cycling tour" mostly through paved streets of a small village. There were very few cars or motorcycles passing as we made our way from one temple to another and the streets were all flat. No uphill pushing or switching gears on this trip, just a breezy sightseeing hour and a half by bike.
Tong took us around the village to show us each of the temples, some of which remain partially buried under several meters of sediment due hundreds of years of flooding. He was quick to answer any of our questions about Buddhism, the founders of The Lost City, and how the Thai government was taking care of these landmarks. He even showed us how to pray with incense, the candle, and a flower.
Lunch with Tong
After a quick stop for a refreshing Thai Iced Tea at a local noodle restaurant we were back on the road, off to the next stop. The drive up to our lunch destination was about an hour away. We spent the ride watching the landscape change and napping.
For lunch Tong took us to an outdoor restaurant (very typical here in Thailand) above a shallow river. As discussed earlier during our stop for tea, Tong ordered us a bowl of spicy papaya salad, pork salad with crushed rice, some delicious chunks of fried pork, a bowl of steamed rice, a bag of sticky rice, and a plate of fruit.
It came as a surprise to have Tong ask us if we mind his company during lunch... would someone really say no? According to some annoying people on Trip Advisor the food is "poor." Well, all we have to say to those jerks is that maybe they should go be a tourist someplace else. The restaurant might not be The Four Seasons, but it's authentic to the Thailand experience! Be ready to use your hands to eat sticky rice the way it's meant to be eaten, and enjoy the burning sensation on your tongue after dipping your new finger food in chili.
The happy room
After lunch Tong asked if we want to use the "happy room." Let me just say that I'm so glad I didn't wear flip flops. These makeshift "restrooms" were not only flooded, but didn't flush and had no paper available. Again, it's not a five star hotel experience, but neither is it advertised as one. Put nicely, you should take care of business before heading out ;)
Trekking in the national park
It takes another hour or so to drive up to the hiking spot from where we had lunch, as the hike is meant to be "gentle," and mostly downhill. The road is curvy and bumpy, so if you're the type to get car sick, bring whatever helps you in that situation.
At the top of the park Tong introduced us to our "trekking guide," his friend's sister, Nee (pronounced like "knee"). Dressed in traditional Northern dress, Nee handed us each a bamboo stick and we were on our way.
This was definitely our favorite part of the trip, as we got to see and actually experience the nature of this wonderful national park. Walking through Doi Inthanon National Park is unique in that you not only get to see the beauty of the land but experience it through all the senses!
- Sights: Dry rice fields, water buffalo, colorful butterflies everywhere, amazing waterfalls, small fish in the streams, wild bamboo, flower farms of "The Royal Project," and a plant that shivers when you touch it!
- Taste: Eating banana chips while dipping our feet at the foot of a waterfall and tasting a new fruit from a "Royal Project" farm.
- Adrenaline: Swinging on a vine like Tarzan! If you're brave, you can even swim in the pools below the waterfalls.
- Smell: Dry rice plantations, a cinnamon tree, and the chunk of tiger balm tree that Nee carved out with a pocket knife (smells like spearmint!).
- Touch: Dip your feet in the waters below the waterfall, test your balance on a creaky wooden bridge to cross the water, feel the difference between the sunny rice fields and the cool shade of the trees below.
- Sound: Tropical birds sending out a message, the rustle of a nearby waterfall, dry leaves cracking as you make your way down, and the hollow thud of your bamboo stick as you find your balance.
Freshly ground mountain coffee
Tong was waiting for us at the end of our walk through the park at a place he likes to call "Mountain Starbucks Coffee." In fact, it is a cute set of old wooden houses on stilts where a local mountain family grows and roasts their own coffee beans.
As you might be able to tell by now, we drink a lot of coffee, so this part was especially enjoyable for us. The owner of the coffee farm showed us how to brew the coffee the traditional way his family had been doing it for ages and some photos of the much revered king on his visit to the area some 40 years ago.
The coffee was wonderfully different than the usual drip coffee we're used to from the average coffee shop. Earthy but sweet, even a cappuccino drinker can enjoy the chocolatey aftertaste without wincing. We bought a bag to take home.
Our overall experience with Untouched Tours
We recommend this all-day tour for any group of less-athletic types looking for a relaxing tour of Northern Thailand. The tour hosts up to 8 people at a time and costs about $122 per person. Keep in mind that you do get food, water, and transportation to places your probably wouldn't go if you rented a car yourself.
Our guide Tong's English was great, so there's no ned to worry about that! He even cracked a few jokes :) If you decide to spend the day with Untouched Tours, be sure to avoid the Elephant attractions. Hope you enjoyed the photos and were inspired to see some sights outside the big city.