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I had a read about the hill tribes outside of Chiang Mai before heading there and took in a large amount of discussion as to whether it was ethical.

There are many arguments for and against visiting the remote tribes. Some say western tourists shouldn’t visit and if so should be conscious and check that the tribe they visit isn’t being swamped with tourists bringing their western ways to these people who live isolated lives.

Some argue that it isn’t a negative as it provides the tribes with an income and helps them stay in their untouched lifestyle, living off the land rather than having to find their way to nearby towns and integrate. I asked our guide and he was adamant that he speaks to the people (who all speak different dialects to Thai) and they welcome visitors. I chose to go ahead as I was fascinated by their lifestyle and wanted to experience it first hand.

I was completely unprepared for just how tough the trek would be. It beat the 16 mile trek in a Tanzanian rain forrest I did a few years back and any other exercise I’d experienced. We trekked up steep hills, through tiny muddy paths and at the highest point reached 1,700 metres above sea level. I spent the uphill trek breathless, using a walking stick our local guide Sammy had made me out of a tree branch. The downhill was tough in a different way, much of it spent slipping sideways down the tiny mountain paths. We enjoyed a brief break at Morg Fa waterfall, where we bathed in the murky but cool waters before heading on.

It was only around 4 hours of walking but it was tough. It was all made worthwhile when we caught the first glimpse of Maejok village (inhabited by a Karen tribe). A smattering of wooden huts appeared on the hillside and as we approached the villagers were all coming out of their church. Interesting this tribe were all Catholics. They converted when Catholic missionaries visited around 50 years ago and helped them improve their facilities.

The people looked interested in our arrival but not unhappy about it. We made our way to our wooden hut cabin on stilts which would be our bedroom for the night and enjoyed a supper of various Thai dishes and a barbecue of pork and beef. We showered in a hut with running clean water before collapsing onto our thin mattresses.

Cooking

The disjointed start to my stay in Chiang Mai only added to my relief and excitement when I finally arrived. The Chiang Mai Gate Hotel was like an oasis of calm and tranquility. The rooms are spacious, the beds comfy and there’s a pool and free wifi (seems to be a given wherever you are in Thailand).

Next stop was Tiger Kingdom. I was hesitant about heading here as I’d heard many stories about drugged up tigers, even so I wanted to check it out. The place was packed with tigers in various enclosures. I opted to spend some time with the smallest tigers, who were only a few weeks old. Sadly, I have my suspicions that these tigers weren’t entirely drug free. I asked lots of questions and apparently they are just fed very well every day so they have no need to hunt and kill. This didn’t sit too well with me though, so I lasted minutes in their enclosure before I felt too uncomfortable. Maybe I’m just being hyper sensitive but I’ve come to the conclusion that tigers like all animals probably shouldn’t live their lives couped up for the benefit of a stream of tourists to get great pics. I chose not to take any photos and left feeling a little sad that they live their lives in captivity.
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On August 2nd I was excited. As much as I enjoyed my first few days in Bangkok I was well ready to head up North to Chiang Mai and experience a little slower pace of life. We boarded our sleeper train in the early evening.

Having travelled on India’s railways I couldn’t believe how plush the train was. Our cabins and beds were not only immaculate but comfy too. Nice one! But and there is a massive BUT, it turns out that there have been no less than 7 derailments in the last 4 months on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route. We set off in blissful ignorance, ordered our 3 course meal and settled in for the evening.

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Blog 1

I’ve landed, phase 1 complete. I successfully left Heathrow, had a quick stopover in Dubai and made my way to the Bangkok Centre Hotel (yes I cheated – I got a taxi). If you plan to stay here don’t be lame like me, jump on the train, the hotel’s right next to the MRT station.

So where to head to… well I obviously asked the masses and a number of friends said the Khoa San Road. I headed there and it was everything I imagined it to be… boozed up brits, fast food, bright lights and cheap clothes. I’ll let you decide if that’s your thing, but it probably is a must see if you come here. I nearly bought a Lonely Planet guide for Vietnam but when I took off the cellophane wrapper it was a badly photocopied version inside a genuine looking cover. The people are so lovely and had no issue with me returning it.

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