Good Vibes with the Hill Tribes – Davis Lakeman
Getting Out of My Comfort Zone
My most memorable experiences have been the ones that require me to breach my comfort zone. After three weeks in China with my study abroad group, I landed in the Bangkok International airport, by myself, at 11:30 PM local time. It was time to embark on the second leg of my trip to Asia; the leg that I planned exclusively for the sake of my own adventure. I took a surprisingly cheap taxi ride to a hotel in Bangkok where I would spend the night. After a solid five hours of sleep I met a group of strangers in the lobby. One of these strangers, a Thai woman named Saii, would be guiding me and the others into the mountains of Northern Thailand in two days time.
After a half-day in Bangkok and about fifteen hours on a sleeper train, my company of curious travelers and I landed in the city of Chang Mai. We were in Northern Thailand now and would spend one more night in a hotel before venturing into the jungle. Early the next morning we boarded the barely furbished beds of the pickup trucks that would take us to the trailhead. We made two stops on our 2-hour hey ride into the mountains. Our first stop was at a market where everyone was encouraged to explore the stores for any last minute essentials. Our second stop was at a waterfall where everyone was encouraged to cool off and take cool pics. Our final stop would be the edge of the jungle.
The pickup trucks carried us high into the mountains to a trail that descended into the village where we would spend the night. The journey to the trailhead itself was an exhausting one, but the group shot into the jungle with feverish enthusiasm nonetheless. The trail presented an array of sights and sounds the likes of which none of us had seen before. There were oddly shaped trees being climbed by thick vines with intensely green leaves. The scene went on in greater detail for miles all around, and I found it all to be astounding. Our camera phones could do no justice to what our eyes captured around every corner, but everyone attempted to snap a digital memento at some point. While the endless views of foliage covered mountains never lost their appeal entirely, it didn’t take more than a few miles of hiking in the Thai summer climate for them to lose just a bit of their novelty. Needless to say this hike was a bit of a challenge, but upon emerging from the jungle my spirit was entirely reinvigorated.
What I saw was one of the quaint villages of the Karen tribe. Here my companions and I would rest for the night before embarking on the second leg of our trek. At first, it seemed like the only village inhabitants were animals. There were pigs, cows, dogs, chickens, and oxen… at least I think they were oxen. It wasn’t until I attempted to take a picture of a pig that I noticed a human inhabitant. I instantly recognized the bizarre nature of the interaction between this person and myself. I was visiting her village on vacation from the United States, somewhere she will almost certainly never go. In fact, she may never go south of Chang Mai. I wondered how she really felt about these foreign people coming into her village week after week. Are the tourists a total nuisance to her or does she appreciate a chance to share her way of life in order to stimulate her local economy? I wasn’t exactly sure what to think, but I was grateful for the experience that her and her village were allotting me.
Once the group settled into the wooden sleeping hut, we were summoned to the dinner table where we rolled the spring rolls that would be served with our dinner. The spring rolls were great and all, but the curry concoction that our trail guides whipped up really knocked my socks off. I really don’t know how these guys did it. There are two Krogers, a Publix, and a Piggly Wiggly all within 3 miles of my house, yet I’ve never cooked anything half as good as what I ate out in the Thai jungle. I’m not saying I’m a bad cook either; these guys are just culinary geniuses. After dinner, we gathered round the fire to play some traditional Karen Tribe games. All you needed to play any of these games was a few sticks, but let me tell you, these people are clever. What they did with their imaginations and a few sticks baffled all us westerners to the point of hilarity. We were consistently stumped by the creative yet straightforward ways that the Karen people think. It was clear that the Karen tribe had been sheltered from the overcomplicated ways of the western world.
After two nights in two different villages, another sweltering trek, and a bamboo raft trip, we were extracted by the trusty ole pickup trucks and taken back to society. My entire time in Thailand was priceless in every sense of the word, but my favorite part of the trip was undoubtedly the two nights I spent with the Karen tribe. While my surroundings and accommodations were far from what I was used to, I can confidently say that I had some of the most memorable and joyous days of my life out there in the jungle. Looking back, I couldn’t be happier that I went on an adventure even though no one I knew could go with me. I now know that the only limit to that adventure was my initiative, but I would have never known if I hadn’t breached my comfort zone.