Lost in Akha Hills
One thing we've noticed while traveling through Thailand is that once you get off a bus or train at any destination, there are hoards of tuk tuk drivers that will literally follow you around and ask you repeatedly "where are you going" so that they can overcharge you for a taxi ride. We've learned to ignore them and walk away from their vicinity to find a more reasonably priced driver. When we arrived in Chiang Rai there was no exception, however, there was a man who just had a flyer and polietly asked if we could take a look at it when we got a chance. The only reason we accepted the flyer was because he asked so nicely. We didn't even look at it right then because we just wanted to get out of the bus station.
The flyer sat on a desk in our guesthouse for a couple days until Trav decided to take a look at it. It was a little brochure for the Akha Hill House, which is a row of bungalows sitting on a mountain side in the middle of the Akha Hill Tribe village. It was advertised as a quiet escape from the cities, cars and chaos. After our 3 week whirlwind trip up through northern Thailand, it seemed like the perfect place for our next stop. We immediately booked three nights for under 20 US dollars. Let alone the promised peaceful retreat, it was a great deal that we couldn't pass up! We had to meet a driver at a pick up location in the city who would take us up to the Hill House, and we were in for a ton of surprises along the way.
First surprise was being transported to the mountains on the back of a pickup truck. I remember doing this maybe only once when I was a child in Dominican Republic and didn't really think it would happen again, especially not in the US. It was like a crazy, bumpy, roller coaster ride. Trav, having no butt to sit on, was slipping and sliding everywhere and all we could do was laugh, wondering what in the world did we get ourselves into. Once we left the city part of Chiang Rai it seemed like we were teleported to a completely different place filled with tea plantations, green jungles and steep mountains as far as the eye could see. The scenery was just incredible and that's when we knew that this was the right choice.
We reached our mountaintop, checked in and were taken to our bungalow, again not knowing what to expect. Our new home for the next three nights was a simple square bamboo hut on stilts with a bamboo balcony and a killer view of the mountains. Inside there was only a queen sized, Thai style bed with a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling. The bathroom was surprise number two for me because the toilet was on the ground but what could I really expect from such simple surroundings. Roughing it out was worth waking up to this awesome view every morning. We had a great dinner that night and sat on our balcony in the complete darkness and silence consuming ourselves with the peace.
The next morning we woke up extra early, though not entirely by choice, because the roosters started cock-a-doodle-doing around 4am. You could literally hear them crowing back and forth to other roosters in other villages far away from ours. Natural alarm clock or not, it was pretty annoying! Anyway, we got ready, had breakfast and trekked about 15 minutes to the Huay Kaew Waterfall. Having the waterfall all to ourselves in the middle of the jungle for as long as we wanted was surprise number three. I expected more people to be there but it was as secluded as possible. We sat on a huge rock by the waterfall and read our books and listened to music with the sound of water falling onto rocks in the background for hours. After lunch we went back and took the best nap of our lives. I can't express the immense feeling of relaxation and peace that this place brought on our first day... then the next day came.
We set off the next day to the local hot springs. The trek was ten times harder and further away than it was to the waterfalls the day before, which we were fine with because we love to hike and get in a good workout. We went up and down very steep, long mountain trails and passed through other tribe villages. I remember thinking that we were going to have to come up through these hills on the way back and dreaded it, but still, we kept on. The scenery along the way was incredible. We passed by endless pineapple fields, farms and even some huge bulls just peacefully munching away on grass. When we got to the hot springs we were pretty disappointed. We were expecting hot springs that we could swim in and ended up getting a smelly egg soup. We knew the smell was the sulfur but still, kinda gross. A part of the Mae Kok River was close by so we decided to rest our legs for a bit there and watch the long boats pass by.
After about an hour or two of rest we started to make our way back to our bungalow. Everything was fine until we made one wrong turn and things started to look completely unfamiliar. We trekked for hours and were starting to get super worried that we would lose the sun. There was a village close by so we decided to find someone that could help us. I saw a family chilling outside of their home and tried to communicate with them that we were lost. It took a little while for them to understand me but with my limited Thai and some sign language we succeeded in having them call our hill house. Once we got them on the phone we were just told to go back where we started. Surprise number four, no help at all. We somehow thought that maybe they would come meet us half way but that obviously wasn't the case. In hindsight, we probably should of turned back when things started to get unfamiliar, but as the saying goes, "you live and you learn." The helpful family gave us some water and we began our long trek back. We tried to go as quickly as possible to beat the sun and I was so thankful at that moment to have Travis with me, encouraging me and pushing me along. I literally felt like I was going to die but the alternative was ending up in the jungle in the dark and that was not in my plans whatsoever.
In the end, we finally made it back to our bungalow with only minutes left until the sunset. We came back exhausted, achy, sweating from head to toe and yet feeling accomplished that we conquered a laborious 7 hour hike through the mountains of Chiang Rai. It was definitely the hardest trek we've ever done!
We had to celebrate that night with a few beers, good food and pats on our back. We slept like babies that night, woke up at sunrise, packed our bags and bid goodbye to our mountainous view. It's an experience that we will always have shared together and will never forget. The last scene was waving goodbye to all the villagers as we rode off in the back of our pickup truck.