Last weekend I had a really amazing experience. I met a guy named Pai who just started a social enterprise that promotes eco-tourism by creating a platform for visitors to be connected to local authentic villages for short educational stays. While his site, Local Alike, isn’t live yet, he helped to set up an experience for me in an eco-tourism village called Mae Kampong.
It wasn’t an easy trip. I first took a taxi, van, metro and airport link to get to BKK Airport. From there, I flew a short hour-long flight in a prop plane to Lampang. At Lampang, a van took me to the bus station where I waited an hour and then hopped on a 2-hour bus to Chang Mai. At the Change Mai bus station, I somehow found the man who was there to pick me up and hopped in his truck despite an inability to communicate with each other. After a short stop at the grocery story, we continued to drive in the hills outside of Chang Mai for over an hour through dark, windy and very narrow roads. It was hard to see what was around and I didn’t have a clue where we were.
When we finally arrived at his village and the home stay, the first thing I noticed was the near deafening sound of rushing water. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew there was water all around. Khun Prommin, my driver (and later found out the head of the village) showed me to my little hut where I was to stay for the weekend. The loud roar of the water was steady, but I was tired and fell asleep.
When I woke up I was so cold it was hard to get out of bed. Who knew Thailand could be cold? I guess I should have done my research. Finally I managed to get up and wander outside. I didn’t know where anything was or who anyone was. I found a little patio that looked like the kitchen/restaurant and there I found Khun Mam, Khun Prommin’s daughter who ended up being able to speak a little English. She got me a hot (and MUCH appreciated) cup of coffee followed by two fried eggs and white toast. They tasted amazing after having missed dinner the night before.
I discovered the source of the running water. There appeared to be many creeks rushing through the village. I learned there was a big waterfall up at the top of the hill and the run-off produced seven creeks that ran through the village. Around me the villagers were starting their Saturday morning. I sat and watched the activity for about an hour, then started to wonder what I was going to do all day. After a while, Mam came to tell me I could walk down to check out the temple. I headed down the road to find it.
At the temple a man started to show me around a bit. He picked a passion fruit up off the ground, quickly extracted a pocketknife and cut it in half and handed it over to me. It was sour, delicious. We kept walking and exploring. He would pick up a flower or a fruit and we’d examine it, taste it if possible and then move on. We watched the shop owners cutting fruits or roasting meats. One guy poured a large sack of fresh coffee fruit into a machine that extracted the fresh, slimy beans from their shell. A young girl watching her dad lay tile hid her face behind her book as I tried to say hello. Boys ran through the streets playing, excited to be out of school. Khun Prommin appeared most places I went and it became evident to me that he was an important person in the village.
Later I was met by a guide who took me on a hike through the hills and to the top of the waterfall. Similar to my last guide, he would stop and show me all the beautiful details of nature. Trees, leaves, bugs, fruits and more. At one point I saw a large snake almost cross right in front of us, but it was shy and slivered away before I could get a real good look at it.
After my hike Mam fed me a big meal of mushrooms, a local vegetable stir-fried with egg and a plate of white rice. I was hungry and I ate it all. I sat on the patio for a couple of hours with the local guys watching Thai boxing on TV. Having zero connection to the outside world and absolutely no obligation that day was really a new experience for me. It was challenging and enjoyable at the same time.
The next day Khun Prommin drove me back to the Chang Mai bus station. It was a little sad to say goodbye to the faces that had become so familiar in just 24 hours. Mae Kampong is certainly a special village that has managed to help preserve the rainforest while maintaining authentic culture and exemplifying how human beings should live in harmony with the land. At Chang Mai I boarded a bus to Chang Rai. A four-hour ride later, I arrived in the northern town and spent the afternoon walking, exploring and shopping at the night market. I met my friend Viria – both of us refreshed by our time in Northern Thailand – and we caught a quick flight back to speed, heat, people and pollution of Bangkok.