I Booked another full day tour with Nam Rin tours today, only this time it involved some serious trekking through the mountains south of Mae Hong Son. Today there were 7 of us on the trek : Francoise (the French lady from yesterday), a friendly Danish family, and a German guy (who was incredibly boring!)
We took a Songthaew to a Hmong village, where we wandered around for a while watching the amusing, carefree and incredibly photogenic kids at play. There we plenty of them because although Hmong women know about birth control and have good access to condoms, they think it’s a sin to use them. An example of the result of this was a girl of 27 (that’s younger than me) who had 9 children!
We then started our 3 hour trek before lunch, and it was hard work. The terrrain wasn’t as varied as in Mae Sariang but a lot of it was uphill, and with no shade from the trees. We were walking over ground covered in ferns, elephant grass, bamboo, sugar cane, castor trees and Mexican sunflowers. We learnt that food – in the shape of small black worms- can be found inside the fern, and that these worms can help prevent cancer. We were also shown how to make weapons out of Elephant grass, and how to find a bamboo worm (these are worth quite a bit of money when sold as it requires a lot of effort to find them). We were shown how to strip Sugar Cane, in order to eat it (tastes delicious but is very tough to chew once the initial flavour has gone) and learnt how the fruits from castor trees are used to make castor oil. However, the protein found in castor beans, called Ricin, can also be used as a poison, its average lethal dose in humans of 0.2mg is considered to be twice as deadly as a Cobra’s venom!
I was still chewing on my sugar cane by the time we reached the second Hmong village. The children in the village were walking around with hugeparts of the plant, and were stripping them with knives almost as big as they were! There were also hundreds of bamboo flowers laid out neatly on the ground outside the Hmong houses, drying in the heat of the midday sun. The Hmong people use them to make brooms, which they can then sell at the market.
Ban Na Jetlock
The final part of the morning trek was downhill on very dry soil and through cabbage gardens, in order to reach the white Karen village of Ban Na Jetlock. We ate lunch here and were able to sample 3 types of sticky rice : green, black and white. I tried the green and the black. The green was a little dry but the black was lovely and tasted wonderful topped with coconut milk custard. We also ate papaya, pineapple and bananas from Dam’s garden.
After lunch we walked up to the top of the village to see the new temple in the process of construction and to talk with the resident monk. Just before leaving the village, i was able to try on some traditional white Karen clothing (although strictly speaking it should have been white, as i’m not married) and see some of the jewellery the villagers had made with fruits from the surropunding jungle.
After leaving the village, the trek was all uphill and on some very steep gradients in parts. Although i was managing to remain at the front, my legs were telling me not to! We finished up, 3 hours later, in the Hmong village from where we had started our trek. I asked Dam how far we had walked and it was around 18km!! We had also been up as far as altitudes of over 1600m. It was a wonderful but very strenuous day with fantastic view across the mountains, and well off the beaten track, which is what i wanted. It wasn’t quite as remote as Mae Sariang but it wasn’t far off!
Nam Rin Tours : Outside the post office in Mae Sariang. Run by funny, knowledgeable and professional guide, Dam. Full day 8am-5:30pm, strenuous trekking through mountains scattered with Hmong and Karen hilltribes, with lunch at a Karen village included 700 THB (price depends on how many people sign up for the trek)
Final thoughts on Mae Hong Son
Mae Hong Son is quite a pretty littlle place (set around a picturesque lake and gardens) with a good cluster of shops, guesthouses and eateries. The only restaurant i ate at was The Fern, which was a pleasant enough place and the food was good. Otherwise i ate from the small cluster of food stalls at the night market (by the lake). The food there is good and most will cost you no more than 10THB. Jong Kam is not a bad guesthouse, if a bit basic and worn (but what can you expect for 100THB per night?)
Photo is of curious Hmong child at the village where we started our trek, nr Mae Hong Son.