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Trekking in North Thailand, Is It for You??

THOSE WHO USE the Internet know there is much more than just looking at the graphics and information on the World Wide Web. The various Newsgroups provide a huge source of information and the opportunity for two way communication. The Newsgroups is where to ask questions about any imaginable subject and receive a quick response. "Welcome toChiangmai & Chiangrai" Magazine monitors the travel-related Newsgroups daily. We have observed many people asking about Trekking in northern Thailand and some responses given by those internet users who have first hand experience trekking here in Northern Thailand are not totally positive.

We took the initiative to enquire about the problems encountered, the answers varied widely. We have determined that lack of information before visitors selected a trekking agency was the main reason for dissatisfaction. With literally hundreds of options and trekking operators in the Chiangmai and Chiangrai area, choosing an operator is a problem for some visitors. For this reason, we are providing a basic checklist for our readers to use when considering a trek.

First and most important is to make sure that the trekking company or guest house you are considering is registered with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. The TAT has strict guidelines the agency must follow to insure the trekker receives the best service with good reliable guides.

Second, don't rush into a signing up for a trek, use your option to ask questions to become a well informed consumer.

  • Who will be your guide?
    Meet and talk with him or her to find out how much they know about your special interests during the trek. A guide who knows nothing about the people or area you are visiting or who has nothing to say at all will not add to the learning experience.

  • How many people will be in your trekking party?
    This an important question as going into a hill tribe village with 12 or 15 people will be overwhelming. Six persons at most is ideal and if it's possible to afford a private trek so much the better.

  • Who are the people in the trekking party?
    Meet and talk with the other trekkers in the group. You don't want to be stuck with people for several days you can't get along with. The professional agencies will have an orientation meeting to discuss the do's and don'ts of various tribal customers, and the area to be visited, the evening before starting the trek.

  • What will be the food on the menu during the trek?
    A lot of energy will be burned up during the long hours of walking making food very important. It's a good idea to make sure they will bring enough food. The cheapest trek is not always the best as the first expense to be cut back on is food.

  • Will the hill tribe children beg for money or will the hill tribe people bother you to buy handicrafts during the trek?
    This is one of the biggest problems we hear about on the newsgroups. A good guide will teach the children not to beg or bother the trekkers to buy anything. There is nothing more annoying then being bugged constantly for money. It will ruin your whole trek.

  • The next question is a trick question or the agency may just tell you what you want to hear. This is the best way to put it: Can I smoke opium or marijuana during the trek?
    If they say yes avoid this agency. If you want to get stoned, do it on your own time, in your own country. Doing drugs in a hill tribe village has permanent untoward effects on the children of the village. The children look up to foreigners as wealthy and well educated persons. Some village children see hundreds of trekkers a year smoking opium. They will think that it is acceptable to do drugs and still be well educated and prosper which is false. They actually think that westerners smoke everyday so they can too. The effects are very damaging to a village and it's children. DON"T DO IT.

  • How long is the ride in a vehicle until we start our trek?
    Some trekking starting points are hours away. If your guide talks to you during your ride actively explaining the area you are traveling through and answering your questions, the ride will be more enjoyable. If you sit in the back of the pickup and your guide rides up front, this may the routine throughout the trek with no input from your guide. Ask your guide to ride with you in the back and tell you where you are and what's going on. He or she is getting paid to meet your needs. Keeping you well informed is one of them.

  • Ask for recommendation letters from those who have been on their treks.
    Some trekking operators and guides have hundreds of recommendation letters going back many years. Talk with people who have been on the trek and ask questions to satisfy yourself.
For the added plus of elephant riding during a trek expect to be on a route with more trekkers. There are many people who want elephant riding during their trek and only a few areas that offer such service. Do not expect to be the only group in a hill tribe village or area that offers elephant riding. The same goes for bamboo rafting. The treks are still fun and interesting but there will be others.

Many travellers are taking a bus from Khaosarn Road in Bangkok for a low fare. The additional cost is being paid by some guest houses here in Chiangmai plus the guest houses offer one free night as an added bonus. If you can take advantage of this offer, go for it. Be aware they are more than eager to get you to join one of their treks. That's OK, this is how they pay for the cheap bus fare and the free night.

The main thing to remember is not to be in a hurry to book your trek. Don't be rushed into a decision. Just remember to ask questions first and check around for the trek that meets your needs.

Spend a day or two gathering information from several trekking operators or guest houses. Ask to see their Tourism Authority of Thailand license and guide identification card.

If you follow these recommendations you will surely enjoy your trek, along with the people you meet. You will make many new friends and will have an exciting experience. GO FOR IT!

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