SEA & New Zealand Trip: Queenstown Area, New Zealand

Q and I woke up early on Saturday morning (Nov 22nd) and, after a quick breakfast, packed the car for our weekend adventure. The day and the weather forecast didn’t look very promising, so we weren’t in much of a rush to get to Queenstown. On our way, we stopped in Cromwell to get a coffee and then at Mount Iron to do a short hike for some views of the area. Sadly, it was quite clouded over, so I didn’t get any good pics, but the walk itself was a good workout and a nice stretch of the legs after the car ride. We then continued into Wanaka, stopping to look around there for a bit at the shore of Lake Wanaka before continuing onto Queenstown.

Upon reaching Queenstown, we were starving so we stopped for a Fergburger – a notorious spot with arguably the best burger I’ve ever had. The only annoying part was waiting 45 minutes for them to make our burgers. I found out later though, that the easiest thing to do is call and order on the phone and then pick it up later. With a few hours to kill still and the weather not looking promising for great views, we opted to go to a winery in the area. The one we chose was called Chard Farms and I ended up choosing a bottle to take back to the hostel with us to have with out spaghetti. We stopped by the AJ Hackett bungee location (the first official commercial bungee jump in the world) then went back to the hostel to prepare dinner.

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*** Q and I at Chard Farms

After dinner, the weather had started to clear up, so we decided to go for a walk around Queenstown. The sun was starting to set, but you could finally make out the mountains and it became clear why they’re called The Remarkables. We popped into a pub to have a couple of drinks. They had a great band, but drinks were almost $10 each for simple things like rye and coke, so we headed back to the hostel. We booked our Milford Sound boat cruise ticket for the following afternoon and hit the hay.

In the morning, we were up early again and this time the sun was out! We made a quick breakfast at the hostel then packed and were on our way. We decided to leave much earlier than needed so we could stop along the way for pictures. The drive from Queenstown to Milford was truly amazing. It was hands down the most beautiful drive I’ve ever experienced. I took lots of pictures. Below is one of my faves.

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*** View of the road down Lake Wakatipu.

When we got to Te Anau, we stopped for a quick bite to eat at Miles Better Pies for a chicken pie. (Mince meat, chicken, etc pies were a big thing for takeaway.) Then we continued our journey towards Milford (of course stopping more times for pictures on the way).

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*** My chicken pie for lunch.

When we finally reached Milford, it was just as amazing as I’d always imagined. We parked, sat by the shore for a while, did a quick walk up to a lookout point then walked to the dock to wait for our boat.

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*** View from the eastern end of Milford Sound.

We were the second set of people to get on the boat, so found a great spot right at the front – we were able to sit down and be out of the wind which was necessary since it was quite breezy. We cruised out to the mouth of the sound, turned around, and then returned back to the dock. They pointed out some key features like coastal points, waterfalls, and sea lions, but I was just in such awe of the view that I hardly took notice.

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*** Milford Sound from the water.

On our drive back to Te Anau from Milford, we stopped to do the Key Summit Hike. Although the weather had been great, thankfully, for the cruise, it turned cloudy quite quickly and our views from the top weren’t all that great.

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*** View from the top of the Key Summit. It was cool that there were ponds of water (that were actually quite large) at the top.

We then went back to our hostel, checked in, and had leftover spaghetti for dinner before crashing for the night. In the morning, we finished off our food, then went for a 4 hour hike that was the start of the Kepler. It was fairly flat, an appreciated change from the Key Sunmit.

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*** Brod Bay – The farthest point on our walk.

When we got back to town, we rested in the sun on a park bench and the grass (looking, I’m sure, partially like homeless people) before deciding to have an early dinner of pizza before I had to get on my bus to Queenstown and Q had to drive back to Dunedin.

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*** View from the bus on the way back to Queenstown

My bus back to Queenstown went quite well and I was happy to get to see the scenery of the Te Anau to Queenstown trip once again. When I got to Queenstown, I made a dinner of eggs and granola bars, don’t judge, then hit the hay quite early to be up with time to spare in the morning to board the Stray bus.

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SEA & New Zealand Trip: Dunedin, New Zealand

After my very long journey from Luang Prabang to New Zealand, I was happy to be back on solid ground and know I wouldn’t have to fly for at least a few weeks. Quentin was waiting for me at the airport gates and I was both excited and relieved to see a familiar face. We got to his car, had a slight pay-for-parking issue which ended up working in our favour since we got free parking then, and made our way back to his house. His house was very cool. It was used to film a movie called Scarfies – a low budget 1999 thriller/action/comedy about a scarfies (a nickname for students in Dunedin apparently) house that turns scary when the actual owner comes home. It’s since been completely redone and is very modern inside. Q had some chili in the crockpot so we each had a bowl, then tried to go to sleep shortly after since he had to work in the morning. Sadly, despite being given his ridiculously comfortable (and cozy with a heated blanket) bed and having had little sleep in the last 24+ hours, I was still on Laos time and couldn’t fall asleep for the life of me. In the morning, I also struggled to wake up, which is completely not like me.

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*** The view out Q’s window down on Dunedin

In the morning, Q went to work and I slept in for a bit before managing to pull myself out of bed, get ready, and walk into town (the downtown was about ten minutes from his house). I stopped at a coffee shop on my way, then popped into CrossFit Dunedin to enquire about going to a class later, then set out to find some jeans (so I didn’t look like either a bum wearing my sweatpants or a hippy-hiker wearing my MEC convertible pants). Unfortunately, Dunedin was not a great place to buy jeans apparently. I had to settle for a pair of jeans that were a bit too big in the waist in order to be long enough (and even so, they’re a bit shorter than I’d prefer). While in town, I also got a NZ SIM card for my phone and met up with Q for lunch at a cute, but expensive (compared to SEA of course) cafe. After lunch, I walked back to Q’s and waited for his friend Amandine to pick me up to go with her sister, who was also visiting, and her to see Tunnel Beach. At first I assumed that the “tunnel” would be a sea eroded rock similar to many other places in the world that I’ve seen, but this was a tunnel that had been commissioned through the rock so his family could use the beach that was otherwise inaccessible.

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*** The tunnel through the rock at Tunnel Beach.

After the beach, we went to a cafe on the shore of St Clair, a suburb of Dunedin with Amandine and her sister before heading back to town. When I got back, I got changed and headed back into town to do my first CrossFit class in over a month (since Bali). The gym was very nice and the trainer, who had actually competed at Regionals this past year, was extremely good. He had some great pointers and pushed me without letting me overdo it on my first time back. Following the class, one of the girls from the class dropped me back off at Q’s before cleaning up so we could go out for dinner with some of his friends. We went for a delicious Japanese restaurant (BYOB so we brought a bottle of wine) and then to a pub (Albar) for a couple of pints before calling it a night and walking home. Sadly, again, I had trouble sleeping and didn’t want to wake up in the morning.

When I did finally get up, Q had gone to work. I had a quick breakfast then headed out to find a sweater (since it was so much colder than I had packed for) and then went to a famous fish and chips place called Best Cafe that has been serving up fish and chips since 1932! They were definitely good and made it understandable why the place had been open for so long.

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*** Fish and chips from Best Cafe.

Following lunch, I toured around the area for a bit – going to the Dunedin Railway station and the Otago Museum – before going to get a coffee and slice of caramel cake while I waited for Q to finish work. When he was done he met me and we took off in his car for a tour of the Otago Peninsula. We got a little lost, but it was a beautiful drive and I was happy to have seen the area.

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*** Q and I at Sandfly Bay.

We got some groceries for our weekend adventure then headed back to Q’s to have a dinner of leftover chili and pack our bags since we planned to get up early the next morning to head to Queenstown.

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SEA & New Zealand Trip: Journey to New Zealand

Flight 8 ✈️ Luang Prabang to Bangkok
My trip to my final country on my tour, New Zealand, began when I departed from Luang Prabang International Airport on Nov 18th at about noon. I got a tuk tuk to the airport and, true to form, was there way to early, so I finished the book I was reading (a physical book that I was given and glad to have gotten rid of). The plane to Bankok was with Laos Airlines and was actually a pretty decent flight – we even got a meal!

Flight 9 ✈️ Bangkok to Sydney
In Bangkok, I had a five hour layover approximately, so I toured around the airport, found free wifi, charged my phone, and just relaxed generally. On the plane, which was with Emarites, we got two delicious free meals (best meals yet by far) and I consumed more than my share of the free alcohol. I basically threw every rule I had read about avoiding jet lag out the window and did the exact opposite – lots of alcohol, little water, and a coffee. Needless to say, I had a hard time sleeping and only got about 2 hours total.

Flight 10 ✈️ Sydney to Auckland
For my two hour layover in Sydney, I got some food, perused the shops, and then went to my gate to board. On the flight, I sat next to a woman who’s father was born in Woodstock, but hadn’t been back to visit since she was about eight. Small world! (Last name was Ruby and apparently she had lots of family still there.) The flight itself was fairly seamless. I managed to sleep a bit and got another decent airplane meal – the highlight being the pineapple, coconut Popsicle.

Flight 11 ✈️ Auckland to Dunedin (with a stop in Wellington)
In Auckland, I had to disembark, get my bag, and go through a special kind of customs. Because New Zealand is now so mindful of bringing in animals and plants that may become invasive (like the beautiful Russell lupin I later found out), they make you fill out a form consenting that you’re not bringing anything into the country, talk to an officer stating that you understand the rules, scan your bags to ensure there’s nothing in them, and also have security dogs sniffing around. Once through customs, I had to take a shuttle to the domestic terminal about five minutes away and check in again. I grabbed a quick salad (the first I had had in a while which made it the best salad ever of course), and waited the remaining 30 minutes for my flight to board. Once in the air, the flights were seamless – one hour to Wellington, a 30 minute layover approximately where I didn’t have to get off the plane, and another hour before landing in Dunedin.

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*** A picture from the plane before landing temporarily in Wellington.

When I got off the plane in Dunedin, I was greeted with a warm hug from my good friend Quentin. After over a month of traveling, it was sooooo amazing to see a familiar face.

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SEA & New Zealand Trip: Luang Prabang, Laos

Before leaving for my Hilltribe Trek in Chiang Rai, I booked my slowboat ticket down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. On Nov 14th, at 6am, I was the first one picked up by minibus to head to the Laos border. We picked up another eight people around town before heading out on the road. Before we got out of town, the driver offered me the front seat and even reclined it for me! It was awesome and I actually slept for about an hour on the drive. When we got to the border, we had to get out of the minibus, go through Thai customs, then get on a coach bus for a ride across the border where we disembarked, filled out the appropriate paperwork to get a Laos Visa (Canadians had to pay $42 USD for a Visa… the highest of any country!), then get in a tuk-tuk (or songthaew… I never know what they’re called in each place) to get to the pier (with a stop at a shop that sold sandwiches and would convert currency for you at a very steep charge of 11%!).

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*** The tuk-tuk (or songthaew) that we took to get to the pier.

When we got there, we waited for our guides to get us tickets, then got on the boat. When we got on, one guy, who we found out later didn’t work there, told us it was full while another guy was telling us to get on. It was all very confusing and disorganized. I was thankful that we had gotten there when we did though. There were people who had been on the boat since 10:00 am and it was almost noon by the time we got on! We were lucky to get seats near the front of the boat (since the back was smokey and very loud from the engine). Once we finally got moving at about 12:30 the ride itself was quite nice, but took a while. We arrived at Pak Beng at around 6pm as it was getting dark. This was a bit of a pain, because we had to disembark in the dark. It was also not very well organized yet again. There was one place for everyone from both boats to get off and they didn’t unload any of the bags, so you had to find your own bag.

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*** View of river close to sunset.

When I got my bag eventually, I walked to town. The first place I passed offered accommodations for 20,000 LAK (Laotian Kip, or $3 CAD). I was excited and then when I tried to sign in and pay, they said 70,000 ($10 CAD). I was too lazy to have to go out to the street and walk around to try to find something cheaper so just agreed to pay and went for dinner. I found a restaurant that looked decent and had a very good coconut chicken dish with rice and spring rolls. On my way back to my hotel, I bought a little banana bread loaf and, even after all of the junk I’d eaten all day, downed that as well before bed.

At about 2am, all the junk food I had eaten all day (two sleeves of Oreos, three packages of M&Ms, a snickers bar, a sandwich that was mostly just bread, and two containers of cut up fruit) finally caught up with me and I had a splitting headache. It was so bad that for quite a while I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach and got thinking about how I was possibly going to ride the boat for eight hours the next day. Thankfully, after some Aleve, water, and a little more sleep, but 6:30 am I was feeling better – not perfect, but better. I woke up and went out to get some breakfast and something healthier to eat for snacks during the second day so as not to repeat the previous day’s issues. I got papaya, bananas, oranges, a mini loaf of banana bread, and four boiled eggs. I then went back to my room, packed, and headed to the boat for about 8am to get a good seat. The boat started going at 9:30 am. The second day was fairly uneventful. I had 2 seats to myself so I could sort of spread out – I say sort of because then people in front of me and behind me both turned their seats around and eating up a large portion of my leg room. I tried to not care, but found myself getting frustrated and wishing I had a group of people with me so I could have “fought back”.

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*** View of the shore on our way from PakBeng to Luang Prabang

We finally “arrived” at Luang Prabang at about 4:30 pm. I say “arrived”, because they actually dropped us off at a “pier” that was 10km out of town so that the local tuktuk drivers can make a little money off the tourists! I was livid. I’m not sure why it made me so mad (perhaps the 2 days on the boat, perhaps I was hangry, perhaps I just hate being taken advantage of), but I was angry enough to decide to walk with a few other people towards town to hopefully get a cheaper ride. It did end up working and instead of paying 20,000 LAK (about $3.50 CAD) for a ride to town, we each paid 10,000 LAK. When we were dropped off, we wandered around for a bit. This was the first time I hadn’t booked my accommodations before showing up, which I think was a bad idea, because I ended up just going to the first place I found with availability. It was 80,000 LAK per night for a double bed and ensuite bath with hot shower though so I thought it was reasonable and just went with it. After getting cleaned up and decided to treat myself for a yummy dinner. I went to Blue Lagoon, which turned out to be an excellent choice! For about $25 CAD I got a glass of wine, a soup appetizer, as much bread and herbed butter as I could ever have eaten, a shrimp ravioli in lemongrass parmesan sauce, and a chocolate mousse dessert. It was unreal and aside from the slightly over attentive wait staff, one of the best meals I had had in since I left (or even before)!

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*** My wine at dinner.

The following day, I woke up fairly early to go exploring. I first found breakfast, a delicious little cafe where I got a huge spread for no more than $5 CAD that included eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and a coffee. I then explored the Royal Palace Museum (the former house of the King of Laos and his family) which had some incredible artwork and very old Buddha statues etc. One of my favourite things, which I took a picture of even though you weren’t to take photos in any of the buildings, was a 14′ “Sea Horse” boat that was made in Canada that the King apparently used to use. I continued my explorations to see Pha Bang, an 83cm-tall gold-alloy Buddha for which the whole city is named. Its arrival here in 1512 spiritually legitimised the Lan Xang royal dynasty as Buddhist rulers.” (Lonely Planet) It was housed in Wat Ho Pha Bang.

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*** Wat Ho Pha Bang

I then climbed to the top of Mount Phousi to get a view of the whole city. It was quite beautiful despite being overcast. I climbed back down and went to Ock Pop Tok to book my dying and weaving class for the next day. I was so grateful that they had space. I rented a bike, and toured around the city for a while stopping to get a 1 hour shoulder and back massage and to get some lunch before heading over to a place called Utopia to do some yoga. I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to find, so I went about an hour early to make sure I didn’t have a repeat of trying to find the yoga place in Ubud. When I got there, I was pleasantly surprised – the place was very chill and had a fantastic view of the river. It was actually a restaurant that they used one of the platforms for yoga a few times a week. Below is a pic of where I sat for a while chilling. It was this platform that was then used for yoga. While I was waiting for yoga, a few people started up a beach volleyball game, so I played for about 15 minutes. It definitely made me miss it!

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*** View from the yoga platform

After yoga, I dropped off my bike (which was actually harder than I thought because I couldn’t remember exactly where I had gotten it from!), then went for dinner. I was considering going to the night market, but instead chose to have another delicious dinner since I reasoned I wouldn’t be able to get half as good of a meal for twice the price when I went to NZ. Again, it was delicious, but maybe overpriced this time (at a restaurant called Tangor). The following morning, I was picked up to go to the Ock Pop Tok Dying and Weaving Class! It really interesting, had great food, and I would definitely put down as one of my trip highlights.

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*** With our finished projects!

When we got back to town, I wandered around for a while before deciding I wanted to see the sunset from the top of Mount Phousi to see sunset. I ended up being just a little too slow to decide this and had to basically sprint up the steps to just barely catch the tail end of the sunset. It was definitely beautiful though.

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*** Sunset from the top of Mount Phousi.

I then walked down, got a quick bite to eat, did a little last minute shopping (mostly at Ock Pop Tok), then headed to the market and found the 10,000 LAK buffet, which surprisingly was very good. I then called it a night so I could wake up early the next morning for Tak Bat. I woke up around 5am to be out there before 6am. When I got to the main street, this pushy woman offered to sell me some biscuits and rice for 100,000 LAK. I declined because it was way too much for what she was offering me and because I really didn’t have that much money to spend on it. She finally negotiated herself basically down to 20,000 for a tray so I agreed, she put out a mat for me, and I got to participate in Tak Bat by giving to the monks.

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*** Giving to the monks.

The woman kept filling up my basket with stuff. I actually didn’t want anymore and started getting bored, but she just kept coming with more. When they were gone, true to form, the woman wanted more money and then got upset when I only gave her 20,000 LAK more (which I shouldn’t have even given her but I felt a little guilty). Flustered, I walked down the street to get a fruit shake, then walked around the morning market looking at all the crazy things that you could buy from the curb vendors. I then got breakfast, headed back to the hostel to shower and pack, and finally picked up a tuk tuk to Luang Prabang International Airport to start my voyage to New Zealand!

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Ock Pop Tok Textiles Class, Luang Prabang, Laos

One of the things mentioned in the Lonely Planet Book as a “splurge” was learning to dye and weave silk fabric in a traditional Laotion manner at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre. I decided it would be my “big event” in Luang Prabang.

The morning of the class, I was picked up from a bakery near my hostel and taken by tuk tuk to the Living Arts Centre. I met a girl, Sara, in the tuk tuk who I ended up working alongside for the day. We sat down in their cute cafe and had a tea while we waited for our instructor. We were then shown around to where the women were weaving, where they died the silk, and also a brief introduction to the many stages involved to make a simple piece of fabric (from a silk worm, to spinning the silk, to making the dye from natural ingredients, to weaving).

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*** A local woman weaving.

We were then lead to the area where we would be dying our silk. We each got to pick three colors, so I chose red, blue, and purple. Each was fairly complicated on how to make and each was made from local, natural ingredients, which I found fascinating.

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*** Dying my silk. I swear I’m wearing shorts.

After we dyed our silk, we spun some previously dyed silk of the colors of our choosing onto bobbins to use for weaving after lunch.

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*** Spinning my silk.

After lunch we started weaving. The woman who was helping me started my placemat for me and had about two inches done before I got started on it. The first part was just a solid color. It wasn’t until the pattern that it really got complicated. We wove for almost four hours before I finished. When we both finished, we took a quick picture and went on our way. This was a great way to spend a day. I love learning new skills even if I’ll never be anywhere as skilled as the women working there, it’s still nice to know that I could make a piece of fabric if I wanted to.

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*** Our translator (the happy one) and weaving instructors (the less happy ones).

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SEA & New Zealand Trip: Chiang Rai, Thailand

From Chiang Mai, I made my way to Chaing Rai. (Why are the names so similar? I have no idea but I stumbled more than once while traveling in the area.) I opted to take the public bus, which saved me some money and was probably actually nicer. The bus was actually quite nice (AC, reclining seats, and I had a window seat so great views). The only problem was that although I’d paid 3 THB to go to the bathroom right before I had left, I had to pee sooooo badly by the time we arrived in Chiang Rai! By the time we got to the hotel, I had to run to the bathroom!

I shared my room at The North Hotel with a girl from Montreal, Annabelle, and a guy from France who’s name I don’t think I ever got. Annabelle and I went out to get food and book onward tickets and tours once we got settled a bit. We found the night market and I got pad Thai, spring rolls, and a mango, banana, coconut shake (my new favourite). After we ate, we found the tour office and I booked my transport to Luang Prabang – bus, taxi, slow boat. Then we went back and just chilled for the night.

In the morning, I packed my bag (small one with stuff for my hill tribe trek and big one with everything else to leave behind at the hotel). I had breakfast at the hotel, then got picked up around 8:30 am to head to The Mirror Foundation for an introduction for my Hilltribe Trek (which I’ve once again done a separate post for).

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*** A house in one of the villages from my Hill Tribe trek.

After the third day on the tour, Nov 13, I was dropped off back at The North Hotel. I had previously booked my last night in Chiang Rai before leaving for the trek, so I checked in, showered, and then went for a delicious American-food dinner at a bakery/cafe called Polar Boulangerie and Patisserie and got a sandwich and smoothy that were both very good! I also got a slice of chocolate mousse cake that I took back to the hotel with me and devoured later.

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*** Smoothie! So good!

On my way back, I stopped to at the 7/11 to get some snacks for the two day boat trip to Luang Prabang. I got a sleeve of Oreos, three packs of M&M’s, and a snickers bar with the intention of eating all of that over the two day journey. When I got back, I met the girl I shared my room with, also ironically from Montreal. She went out for dinner and invited me long but I said I’d eaten and I needed to pack for the early morning pick-up.

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Hill Tribe Trekking with the Mirror Foundation

One of the “things to do” in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is to go to see the Hill Tribes of northern Thailand. In my Lonely Planet book (aka my Bible for the last month), it mentioned a few NGO agencies that have tours out of Chiang Rai. I found one, The Mirror Foundation that had a three day tour that looked interesting. The only downside was that it was quite expensive to do on my own, but in the end I decided that it was worth the money since it would be supporting the local hill tribe communities directly.

Day 1 – Nov 11
On the first day, I was picked up from my hotel at 8:30 am and transported about 30 minutes to the Mirror Foundations headquarters. When I arrived, I was shown a video about the work they do, then was given an introduction by Thellie, an Englishman who now lives in a neighboring village with his wife and children, about the rules of the tribes and what to expect. I looked around the store, which had many unique Hilltribe crafts (my favourite being hand painted and crafted clay whistles that were originally used for bird calls for hunting). At about 10 am, Pat, my guide for the next few days, met us and we started off on our journey. We walked through a neighboring town stopping to get a coconut to drink and then eat, and a papaya for lunch later.

The rest of the morning consisted of a fairly intense walk up a nearby hill through the national forest, through a rubber tree and pineapple plantation, to the top of a lookout hill that I climbed to get a view of the surrounding valley areas.

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*** View from lookout point

We then descended into the valley of the village we would be stopping at for lunch. On the way down, I kept slipping and getting frustrated. To make things worse, my guide kept saying “be careful”, which got frustrating because I was trying to be careful! I know that it was just a language barrier, but I got upset at one point and had to just calm down a bit. We finally made it to the village and had fried noodles with egg and papaya for lunch. (And I purchased a Fanta because I felt I had “earned” it.)

After lunch, we went to the Hilltribe Museum, which was a two room building – one room for a “theatre” and one room which housed Hilltribe artifacts. Then we walked to a nearby waterfall, Huay Mae Sai Waterfall, and I got changed into my bathing suit and went for a quick swim.

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*** Picture of swim in the waterfall

We continued walking for a while afterwards until we got to the Akha village we would be staying at for the night. I went to my bamboo room with a mattress and mosquito net and got changed into dry clothes before we had dinner (stir fried veggies and pork with rice). After dinner, they dressed me in traditional Akha clothes and I got to participate I their dance. The moves weren’t very hard, but they did a strange pause every few moves that seemed to trip me up a bit.

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*** Me dressed in traditional Akha Hilltribe clothing for dancing.

After the dance, we went back to the homestay and they offered me some of their special dish… dog! I was extremely reluctant at first, but then I thought back to the cooking class that I had done when the girl kept saying “Don’t try, don’t know”. So I tried (a very tiny piece). And now I know that I do not like it!

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*** The dish made from dog. Not a fan of the meat texture but I have to admit that the flavor was pretty good.

Day 2 – Nov 12
We started out the second day with a breakfast of eggs and toast with jam. I don’t normally eat so much bread, but I had about six pieces that morning. Then we were off to trek through the forest for a few hours. This time, another guy from the village we had slept at came with us. We trekked for a few hours through some pretty thick (and prickly) bush until we reached the top of one of the hills. (Which was convenient, because I was able to get 3G on the top to contact my mom and Cory.) There, he made us each a mug, chop sticks, and spoon out of bamboo.

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*** Making bamboo mug

From there, we walked for a few about an hour and a half more until we got to a hut on the side of the hill to rest and make lunch. The guy once again used bamboo to make us “bowls” (larger versions of the mugs previously made), a “kettle” (a longer bamboo tube to use to bowl water for soup and coffee) and a holder to cook sticky rice (slender bamboo that he packed with sticky rice and water to cook). He also used bamboo to make a rack to lean all of the other bamboo against. I took a nap for the hour or so it took to make lunch, then woke up to eat the surprisingly delicious meal (soup, sticky rice, and coffee).

*** The secondary guide making lunch out of all bamboo.

After lunch, we hiked for another hour to the village, a Lanna village this time, that we would be staying at. After a shower, my guide gave me a tour of the town. There was no electricity and it had just had a road and school put in fairly recently. Unlike the previous village, which had houses made of cinder blocks in many cases, most of these were made of bamboo.

*** Picture of house in Lanna tribe.

We had dinner (rice, fried veggies with chicken, egg, and some spicy curry-like paste) then went to watch the Lanna dancing. This dance involved a drum, gong, symbols, and a man playing a flute-like instrument and no singing or chanting unlike the night before.

*** Picture of the Lanna tribe dancing.

The dancing was quite interesting, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit strange paying these women to dance for me. I think if there had been more people in my group, rather than just me, it would have been okay, but I definitely felt strange being the only Westerner watching. That night I was feeling quite tired, and there wasn’t much going on, so I went to bed quite early (around 8pm) and just read. I really got into the one book I had downloaded before leaving, Silver Star, and ended up finishing it in a little over a day (my third book of the trip, which is unheard of for me).

At about 4 am, I woke up to go to the bathroom and felt something on my forehead so I brushed it off. After coming back, I decided to take a look to see what it was… and it was a huge spider! Needless to say, I did a lot more reading and a lot less sleeping until my guide and the family we were staying with woke up.

*** The spider that had been on my head.

Day 3 – Nov 13
We started out the third day with pretty much the same thing for breakfast that we had had for dinner the night before, packed our things, and then trekked for two hours to the elephant camp. This trek felt extremely long and very hot and in order to reduce the weight of my pack, I had opted not to bring sunscreen – a bad decision since the last day there was little shade on the hike and I got burnt on my shoulders and face. When we got to the elephant camp, we took a 15 minute break, I had a quick snack, then I got to ride an elephant! For the first bit, I rode in a basket or seat on the elephants back while the trainer/keeper rode on its neck. Then, halfway through, we switched! It was pretty cool to get to ride right on the elephant, but honestly by the end of the half hour, I was ready to get off. I was happy that they seemed to be quite nice to the animals and didn’t use any bull hooks, as I had heard some places did.

*** Me on the elephant.

After the ride, we walked down a side street to where a woman was doing Karen (another hill tribe that I didn’t visit) weaving. I got to give it a go and it really wasn’t that hard.

*** Weaving.

Then we went to a local “restaurant” and got chicken wings, fried noodles, and a coke. We were then picked up by someone from the mirror foundation, taken to Wat Phra Keo back in Chiang Rai. The temple is famous for its Emerald Buddha, the original of which has been moved to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. I looked around for a bit, and they offered to take me to a local market, but I said I had already been to a market as part of my cooking school, so just got dropped off back at The North Hotel to shower and relax.

Overall it was a very well organized trip. I have to say that I think it would have been more enjoyable, and less expensive, if I had been put in with another group, but large group tours aren’t really what the Mirror Foundation is about. In all, I was happy I chose to do the tour even though it didn’t quite match what I had envisioned it being in my mind.

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