Facing Fears On The Non-Tourist Trek


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, November 27, 2004 was originally posted on December 02, 2004.

DAY 406:  The standard tour that everyone seems to do out of Chiang Mai is a three-day excursion of trekking, elephant riding and rafting, offered by every tour agency, hotel and guesthouse in town.  The funny thing about this three-day tour is that most places advertise it as the “non-tourist trek” to attract the independent traveler set from doing the cardinal sing of doing something “touristy.”  Of course a tour agency offering a “non-tourist trek” is a bit of an oxymoron.

I say, doing something “touristy” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and so began Day One of the three-day trek through the jungles of northern Thailand.

THE TOUR GROUP OF TWO THAI GUIDES and seven foreigners, or farangs as the locals call them, piled into a pick-up truck with a cab mounted on the back.  Sawit, one of the Thai guides, came to the back at a stopping point to learn our names.

“Elise,” said the female voice in an Australian accent.

“Erik,” said my American accent.

“I’m Claire,” said the female voice in a non-regional English accent.

“My name is Lot,” said the female voice in a Dutch accent.

“Hans,” said the male voice, also in a Dutch accent.

“Luke,” said the Australian accent from the Aussie ex-pat living in France.  “[That’s] Han Solo, I’m Luke Skywalker…”

“And Chewbacca?” I said, pointing to the guy on the end.

“Well he’s got hairy legs,” Elise attested for me.  His name was Nick and he provided the male voice in an English accent.

The two Brits, two Aussies, two Dutchies, two Thais and me the lone American rode north out of Chiang Mai towards the jungle.  On the way we stopped by a “non-tourist” market for supplies, parking the truck in a lot next to about six other converted pick-up trucks. 

“Hey I thought this was supposed to be the ‘non-tourist market!’”

We stopped for about forty minutes to stock up on necessities for three-day away from civilization.  I got waterproof bandages for the wound in my leg while Nick and Luke went to get some more important provisions, and by that I mean booze.

“Should we get a bottle of whiskey?” Nick asked Luke.  They were debating whether or not to get it there or if it’d be available in the village.

“I’m sure you can get it there,” Luke told him.  “Look at how many vans are here.  It’s probably going to be the same thing there.”

However, the “non-tourist trek” became just that; after the market we really didn’t see any other farangs for the entire day.  After a refreshing dip under the Mork-Fa waterfall at the entrance of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, we had a delicious Thai lunch at a roadside restaurant that displayed spinning lanterns made of old soda cans outside, and then were dropped off at the trail head ten minutes away.  The nine of us lugged our bags and our life jackets (for the upcoming rafting on the third day) uphill the single-track dirt path.  After a good half hour, the trail still went upwards.  “Hey I thought you said it would be up and down,” Hans said to the guides, although he didn’t really mind.

Eventually the trail started its undulation and we trekked up and down on the path — the same path shared by dirt bike riders zipping by every so often with their loud buzzing and smelly exhausts.  Each of us walked at his/her own pace and I spent a good hour trekking and chatting with Elise about this and that, including phobias.

“Are there snakes here?” I asked.

“They must be here somewhere,” she said.

“That’s the only thing I can’t stand,” I said.  “Snakes are my weakness.”  I told her how the movement of snakes (and anything without appendages) made me cringe, the way being in a tall building’s observation deck makes a person afraid of heights cringe.  My ophidiophobia is so bad that when I saw the stuffed taxidermy snake at the American Museum of Natural History before I left on my global trip, I froze in the gallery with goosebumps while my friend and Blogreader Don W. continued on the aisle.

Snakes.  Why did it have to be snakes?  But I was happy to know the fact that generally speaking, snakes were timid creatures and usually avoided the loud noises and commotion of trekkers on the trails and campsites.

“Everyone’s gotta have something,” Elise said.  “It gives you character.”  As for her, she told me one of her biggest phobias, as unusual as it may sound, was vomiting — everything about it, from the sounds of gagging, to the smell, the sight and just the thought in general made her cringe. 

THREE HOURS OF TREKKING LATER through the jungle scenery and passed a rice terrace (picture above), we arrived at a small village of the Karen hill tribe, a small collection of wooden huts and houses, a school, dozens of chickens, pigs and cows, all located conveniently around a mountain stream that provided for their livelihood.  “Welcome to the Hotel California,” Boon our guide said without singing when we led us to our accommodation for the night.

“Ah, such a lovely place,” I said and walked through the doorway.  Our home for the night was a basic house with a bamboo floor, some blankets, mosquito nets, a dining table and an outhouse in the back not too far away.  All of these were situated right along the mountain stream, which also provided us with not only our livelihood for the night, but for a constant, relaxing auditory flow of white noise that made it sound like it was raining all the time.

“This is wonderful,” Luke said, who seemed to be constantly impressed with the trek.  I think he was expecting the “non-tourist trek” to be a lot more crowded with tourists, but we were the only foreigners in the village that night.  “Non-tourist trek” was living up to its name.

DESPITE THE SERENITY OF OUR NEW HOME, Elise wasn’t feeling well in the stomach from something she ate and she parked herself under her mosquito net to take a nap while the rest of us caught up on our journals or wandered around the village.  There wasn’t much to it; it was rather small and the only highlight was watching the local boys play a game of volleyball where they only used their feet or heads.  Wandering the houses of the permanent residents of the village, I was only greeted with stares and disinterest.

“They probably think ‘Oh, just another tourist,’” Lot said. 

Boon, Sawit and the housekeeper prepared a delicious platter of vegetables and Thai yellow curry for dinner.  Hans and the rest of us dined by candlelight as the mountain stream continued its relaxing white noise — all of us except for Elise whose stomach was still queasy.  Boon, Sawit and I often went to check up on her, but she refused any food.  She thought perhaps vomiting might help her out, but the idea of it sickened her even more.

Nighttime entertainment came in the form of a roaring campfire created by Boon and the acoustic guitar available played by Luke.  Sawit had a tattered songbook of photocopied lyrics and guitar chords for his favorite acoustic classics, including campfire standards like Don McLean’s “American Pie” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”  It was a night of singing, often off-key, with and without the lyrics sheet in front of us.  What is it about the human brain that only selectively remembers lyrics here and there in a song?  For example, without looking it up, sing at your computer John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  It probably goes something like this:

Imagine there’s no heaven
And something something too
Dah da dah, dah di dah dah
And no religion too

Imagine all the people
Living dah dah daah
Ah ha dah da dah

“I VOMITED,” Elise said when she plopped herself next to me on the wooden bench by the campfire.  As much as she feared regurgitation, she bit the bullet, ran out from the shelter and puked in the bushes.  She felt ten times better after that.

Coincidentally, shortly thereafter, there was a startling beneath the bench.  Something slithered over Lot’s foot and then made its way towards Nick’s.


Now I was sitting right next to Nick and right in front of us was a big dark snake about five feet in length with incredible girth — perhaps a Burmese python.  Before Nick made the “k” sound in “snake,” I had jumped up to my bench in one swift move that probably looked like a video in fast-forward, like a scene in a “Little Rascals” episode complete with a sliding whistle sound.  My heart raced and my breathing got heavy.  I cringed as a chill went down my spine.  But soon the snake slithered away frightened into the bush.

“Looks like everyone is facing their fears tonight,” Elise told me.

THE SING-ALONG DIED DOWN and soon the fire did too, and we all turned into our mosquito nets one by one.  I’m sure the villagers were glad we finally shut up from our singing; for them, there was probably nothing that made them cringe more than the awful sound of bunch of farangs trying to remember the lyrics to John Lennon tunes off the top of their heads.

Next entry: Pineapples and Four-Legged Friends

Previous entry: Recipes

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Comments for “Facing Fears On The Non-Tourist Trek”

  • HERE’S ONE MORE before I head off on the slow boat to Laos…  I could be in the NIZ (No Internet Zone) for the next three days or so… Stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  03:40 AM

  • I have the priviledge of being first, It’s been a long time!!!  LOL
    Erik, I also have a phobia for snakes…I do believe it is a very common one for many!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  01:27 PM

  • vomitting rocks….

    i fear nothing about it….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  02:46 PM

  • I too did a Trek in Chang Mai but yours looks like you arrived in a town compared to the village I stayed at. FYI, stay away from the Village Moonshine !!! it burns .. ohh how it burns !!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  02:52 PM

  • It looks like the local boys were playing “sepak takraw”, a game popular in Southeast Asia.  It’s fast paced, highly acrobatic, and played with a rattan ball. 

    Love reading the blog (from this formerly silent blog reader) - keep it up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  08:23 PM

  • But they play it with their feet?? Craziness… there are pine trees in the jungle?

    I’m getting ideas, E.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  10:24 PM

  • never been scary of snakes. they are beautiful creatures. however, i am scared to death about bugs. especially spiders. last month one crawl into the outer part of my ear when i was asleep. that freaked me out for days. maybe that is why i am afraid of them. cause they can get into your ears. =P

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  10:44 PM

  • never been scary of snakes. they are beautiful creatures. however, i am scared to death about bugs. especially spiders. last month one crawl into the outer part of my ear when i was asleep. that freaked me out for days. maybe that is why i am afraid of them. cause they can get into your ears. =P

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  10:45 PM

  • GREETINGS FROM CHIANG KHONG, the Thai/Lao border town (Thai side)... I’ll be in Laos in about two hours… 

    How funny is it, that here in the middle of nowhere, I see MTV on a bar TV last night reporting from Montclair (NJ) State University?

    METAGS:  Thanks for breaking the silence!  Feels good, huh?

    ALICE:  Last night, we were talking about snakes and spiders and someone says, “You’re either a snake person or a spider person, but not both.”

    This is the same logic as: “You either like mayo but hate Miracle Whip, or like MW but hate mayo.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  11:39 PM

  • Trinidad family - hope all of your family and friends in the Philippines are ok after the typhoon.  My thoughts are with you.

    Posted by Liz  on  12/03  at  01:11 AM

  • LIZ - Thanks….Mom’s side of the family woke up to some knee-high flooding at our Lola’s place (lola = grandmother).....

    Other than that all seemed to be ok…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/03  at  02:32 AM

  • Miracle Whip sucks…..Mayo all the way!  My biggest pet peeve is when you order a sandwich or a sub and ask for mayo and you get miracle whip…...I ASKED FOR MAYO!

    Sorry I could debate Mayo vs. MW issues all day long!

    Markyt: I too was wondering about your family in the Phillipines….glad to hear they are alright.

    Erik:  When will you make it to the Phillipines?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/03  at  06:31 PM

  • I share Elise’s vomiting phobia. I’m completly petrified at the very thought of it…

    Your village was way nicer than mine. Instead of the soothing white niose of running water, we had pigs and roosters that wouldn’t shut up!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/03  at  08:54 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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