17 May Elephant Trekking and White Water Rafting in Chiang Mai
After visiting Luang Prabang and partying at the bowling alley in Laos, I crossed the border to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. Chiang Mai is a popular spot on the backpacker trail and it’s a great base for exploring the lush jungle of Northern Thailand. There are numerous tours and trips you can book from Chiang Mai, including jungle treks over multiple days, or you can also enjoy a kung fu holiday in Pai, which is just a few hours’ drive from Chiang Mai.
Since my friend and I were on limited time, we could only manage a 1 day excursion.We booked a 1-day elephant trekking tour to the Mae Taeng area, which included an elephant ride, a hike to a waterfall, lunch, white water rafting, bamboo rafting and a visit to the Akha hill tribe. There are shops selling tours all over Chiang Mai, so I would recommend shopping around to find the best price. We discovered that we had paid a lot less than some of the people in our tour group.
And don’t forget to make sure you have adequate travel insurance when you’re traveling Southeast Asia to cover all the cool and awesome adventure activities you’ll be doing there.
We were picked up by a Songthaew at 08:30am in the centre of Chiang Mai and immediately drove to the elephant camp. I would say it took around an hour to get to the Mae Taeng area. It was a fairly hot day ao I was glad of the fresh air in the back of the truck!
Before I go on, I’d just like to say that I am aware that elephant trekking is a controversial topic, and whether you decide to do it or not is up to you. A lot of people come to Chiang Mai to volunteer with rescued elephants, so you get to bathe them, feed them and really get a proper understanding of their behaviours. Unfortunately for us, this option was not cheap and it was just way beyond our budget. We also had very limited time in Chiang Mai so this played a big part.
As soon as we got to the elephant camp we were introduced to our elephants and we had the option to purchase some bamboo sticks for them to eat. I did an elephant trek once before in Koh Samui, so this wasn’t my first time riding an elephant, but it was fun nonetheless. My elephant seemed to want ALL his bamboo sticks straight away, so our mahout told me to give him the lot!
We saw some very scenic countryside along the way, and the trek lasted about 1 hour.
Next we embarked on a jungle trek to a waterfall, where we were able to cool off and drink a beer in the sun. The trek is fairly easy and takes about 2-hours round trip. That is of course, if you’re wearing some comfortable shoes. There was a Japanese couple in our tour group who did not come dressed for the occasion! Flip flops and a your best clothes are not really very appropriate on a tour involving hiking, so it took them a LOT longer.
After the waterfall, we ate a lunch of fried rice and fruit, which came included in the tour price.
White Water Rafting & Bamboo Rafting
I don’t have any photos of this part of the trip because I didn’t have a waterproof camera with me, but it was a lot of fun! First we spent 1 hour white water rafting down the Mae Taeng river.
Our group was split into two teams, and since the rapids weren’t very strong, we seemed to spend most of our time cruising down the river splashing each other with our paddles!
On the way we saw some people bathing an elephant in the water, and then it was back to our water fight.
When we reached calmer waters we switched to a bamboo raft- it’s amazing how these things feel so strong and sturdy! This was a very relaxing ride so we just sat there and admired the scenery.
You get very wet on the white water rafting, so make sure you either strip down to your swimwear, or bring a change of clothes! There are showers you can use afterwards if you want to shower and get changed.
Akha Hill Tribe
At our final stop we got to meet the Akha Hill Tribe, an indigenous tribe originating from Tibet. They now live in small villages at high altitudes in the mountains of Thailand, Burma, Laos, China and Yunnan Province of China. In Thailand, you can find the Akha tribe in Thailand’s northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.
These Akha women have set up stalls selling tourist trinkets to the tour groups that pass through. They are wearing their traditional clothing and striking headdresses adorned with things like silver coins, beads, shells and other colourful objects.
To be honest it felt a bit awkward rocking up to their village just to take photos and leave. When visiting poorer rural communities in Southeast Asia, the children and women often have stalls selling souvenirs to sell to the tourists. On the one hand, there isn’t really anything I want to buy, but on the other hand, I feel like I should be purchasing something just to give them a little bit of money.
I noticed one of the ladies seemed unhappy about having her photo taken, because she wanted us to buy something from her stall. Would you be happy if a bunch of tourists came to take your photo every day, and never stopped to buy anything?