To Umphang and hilltribe trek
Nov 10, 2005
|10 November - Umphang and hilltribe trek
I got a songthaew (this is an open sided pick-up truck with 2 benches sideways on in the back) leaving for Umphang at 0830. This was a journey of 150km and I wasn't really looking forward to 5 hours sitting like that as they pile in as many people as want to get on (which means sitting on the roof rack and hanging on to the back of the truck!) however it was the only means of getting there. The road we were to travel on used to be called 'Death Highway' because of guerilla activity there which obviously hindered the road-building (it is near the border with Burma). Apparently people are stilled killed on it due to brake failure or missing the bends! Obviously this concerned me, but you have to take chances in life especially when travelling independently, and I had an inkling that my number wasn't up just yet!
There were two young Belgian chaps on board who were very friendly and of course better English than mine, so had a good chat with them - Nils and Philip. Again I may well come across them at some stage, although their preferred method of travelling is as cheaply as possible, hitchhiking where they can (which as a lone female I won't attempt) and going right off the beaten track, which is great. They had stayed last night with a Thai family they met.
As I had thought, the journey became more and more uncomfortable, and people sat on the floor between our legs and there were their boxes of groceris between our legs also, so little room for our feet. By the third hour I was feeling quite sick, had an apple which I thought would help but soon had the opposite effect! The scenery was great going up into the hills, which of course meant we were winding round hairpin bends, and sitting sideways is not the best. Looking at the scenery though meant trying to bend down as there were covers in the way.
We got dropped off at Umphang Hill Resort from where I hoped to do a 3 day trip. We were greeted by one of the owners, who appeared quite hung over, and immediately went into his sales pitch. I was going to book anyway, but the Belgians explained they wanted to go off independently and visit the waterfall nearby and camp there as they had their own tent. Of course chummy told them they couldn't, but they went off into the village to see what they could work out. I didn't see them again, so guess they managed it.
I paid for a 3 day (2 night) trip, and it looked like it was going to be just me and a guide, so hoped that more people might appear before tomorrow. I walked into the village, which is very small and mostly people from the Karen hilltribe. It was very pleasant to be away from the normal towns and had a very relaxed air. I had some lunch which was funny, because I ordered the normal mixed vegetabls. The woman there asked did I want 'lice' (no thanks!), I said noodles, but she obviously didn't understand that word. So I said 'ok rice'. However I just got the mixed veg with no noodles or rice, and then said to her 'rice please' which she didn't understand so asked for 'lice' which she did understand! (Well, I thought it was funny - you had to be there!).
My guide, Augustine (a Burmese chap living in Thailand as a refugee)came to collect me from my room for dinner and I discovered, thankfully, that others had arrived to join the trip - a French couple, William and Ann-Solene (but to call her Ann-so) and an English chap called Marc, the latter doing just 2 days and one night with us. Also chatted to a pleasant German couple who had returned from a trip and had a good time. He was certainly my type (although of course with girlfriend and he was only 28!) and he played the guitar and sang a few English songs.
After breakfast we left our main bags in the office at the 'resort' and packed a day pack for the next 2 days. We left from the 'resort' just after 0900 in two rafts to do some white water rafting, as the river Umphang was right by where we were staying. We had two boats, one for England and one for France, and two Burmese chaps in each with a paddle each end. This turned out not to be real white water rafting, but more a pleasant float on the river, with the odd mini white water! There were quite beautiful rock formations along the way, some grottoes, fabulous trees (the roots of the trees here are quite amazing, and are embedded in rocks. We didn't see much wildlife, the forest/jungle either side was pretty dense. We joked that we wanted our money back as we had been promised tigers! I should think the birds are quite beautiful here, but couldn't see any, however the birdsong was lovely.
After 30 minutes of paddling, we stopped at some hot springs. Of course I wasn't prepared with my swimming suit on, so had to faff about behind a tree to put it on, by which time the others were about to come out. It fortunately wasn't too hot. The weather however is much cooler here (still warm) and we had a little rain. Back in the boat, me having changed back into my clothes, we then stopped at a waterfall, so out again for a swim, although I couldn't be bothered to change again so watched the others. Back in the boat until midday and stopped for lunch. The Burmese chaps had lunch separately from us, which I found strange but is obviously the done thing. Lunch was very good. We were then to trek for two and a half hours to a campsite in readiness for going to a big waterfall tomorrow and our guide suggested we walk along the road. We all agreed that we hadn't paid to trek on a road, but in the jungle (although really it's more forest). He said that meant an extra hour in the rafts, which we were quite happy about as it was so nice. By 2pm we started walking. This, in comparison with the Bhutan trek, was gentle uphill initially through teak forest, then bamboo. There were a lot of elephant footprints, which they use here for transportation, and quite a lot of devastation - trees felled by a mixture of humans and elephants. Still no tigers (perhaps fortunate!).
We arrived at the campsite at 1630 which was full of Thai tourists. Tents were provided for us, together with sleeping mat and bag (much better tents than on the Bhutanese trek!). We joined a Thai group for a while, whose leader had met William and Ann-So on their songthaew to Umphang and unusually he spoke French, which was nice for them. Then dinner was cooked for us, and we bought some singha lager and chatted until 2200, by which time most of the campers were already in their tents.
We thought that we would get up early to go to the waterfall to beat the others, also Marc was on a 2 day trip and would be leaving this afternoon which meant he had to do things quicker. Breafast was at 0700 and then it was just a half hour walk to the Tee Lor Su Waterfall - which is SE Asia's biggest and the 6th biggest in the world. It certainlywas impressive, and we had a lovely swim there (which was preferable to the Thai shower I had last night at the campsite). We spent about an hour there and then had another 2 and a half hour walk to a Karen village. The Umphang Hill Resort owns two longhouses there - one used for sleeping in, and the other for eating. I had hoped it would be more authentic and that we would eat and sleep in a villager's house, but guess that wasn't possible. Augustine cooked us a nice lunch on arrival, after which Marc left us by elephant to return to Umphang, Bangkok then home after 3 months travelling.
William, Ann-So and I were taken by Augustine to another waterfall for a swim, walking through the village there and rice fields, it really is very pleasant and such a simple life. While we swam, Augustine chopped up a bamboo tree and made us each a bamboo cup which we later used to drink from with our dinner. We walked around the village, which included chatting to one of the two school teachers, a young woman called Ratana, who proudly showed us the school which has 54 children. Her English was quite basic, so the conversation was difficult. However, she asked us to sing, well that's what I thought, so I struck up with the first thing I could think of: 'Doe a deer...' from the Sound of Music! She loved it so much I had to write the words down for her (which she was able to read) and she quickly learned the tune. I guess the next tourists who arrive will have a rendition of it from either her or the children! I wished that the children were there so I could sing it to them.
We had a good dinner, and then at our request we went to a village house to look at some sarongs. We had expected to see some crafts in action. We bought a sarong each (not great but at least it is supporting them in some way) and them went back to our longhouse and to bed by 9pm as there really wasn't much else to do. William, Ann-So and I slept in one of the longhouses. These are on stilts, and the flooring is bamboo. We just had a mat on the floor, but mosquito nets had been strung up for us. You can guess how uncomfortable it was!
We didn't sleep that well, and by 4am the village was awake. Rice machine were going (these are manned by the women who tread on a piece of wood which mashes the rice, I guess to remove the husk), roosters were cock-a-doodle doing, dogs barking, pigs snorting and music blaring etc. It was however better than the traffic noise and I found it quite a pleasant alarm call!
We got up for a 7am breakfast as our elephants were due to arrive by 0800. Whilst waiting for them we took pictures of the children in their 'playground', they have a little garden which the children were taking in turns to water, and the teacher spotted us and got the children to dance and sing (they initially wouldn't but were bribed with us taking a video clip with them which they all gathered round to watch). We decided we would like to supply some things for the school, and she said that they could do with the normal exercise books, pens, crayons, rubbers etc.
Two elephants came (I had been told we got one each) so it was suggested that William had one and myself and Ann-So shared the other. We had a 3 hour ride through the forest, and a couple of times went through water. It became quite uncomfortable after a while as the saddles (made of wood) were really meant for one person, so we had to put one leg over the wood. An hour would have been enough, but it was amazing how adept the elephants were at going uphill and downhill. They carefully felt beforehand with their trunks where was best to step, and occasionally sprayed us with water. A truck was waiting for us after the ride, and we had a 30 minute ride back to Umphang and lunch was provided. A songthaew came for us just after 1330 (Ann-So had been sick on the way also, so neither of us were looking forward to the 5 hour journey back to Mae Sot). However, there was a seat either side at the back which enabled us to sit facing forwards easier, plus not so many people got on, and William decided he wanted to hang off the back of the truck.
We got back to Mae Sot at 6pm. I stayed this time at the DK hotel, which I'd checked out beforehand, and then met up with William and Ann-So for dinner in the Bai Fern restaurant (where I had earlier stayed). They are going to Chiang Mai tomorrow and I may well bump into them again as they are doing a similar route to me. I suggested we try to meet up for dinner in Chiang Mai as I will be going the next day.