Into the Deep Jungle

The best thing about working in the travel industry is this, the opportunity to travel… and my best work trip began in February 2016.

In the morning of 8th of February, I took a Nok Air flight (1.20 hours) to Mae Sot, Tak Province, one of the Northern Thailand provinces; the town sharing border with Myanmar in the west. On arrival, I was picked up by a local supplier, the expert for adventure trekking in the area, and a very professional trekking guide Haroon led my whole trip. As a small town, Mae Sot offers a few interesting attractions.

Rimmei Border Market: Located at the border between Thailand and Myanmar (Myawaddy City), it is similar to Mae Sai in Chiang Rai, but just a bit smaller, available with various imported products mainly from China and Myanmar. The market offers two zones: open-air indoor by Thai vendors and outdoor on the pavement side by Burmese people who live in no-man’s land where is not occupied by either Thailand or Myanmar. A touristic place for mainly Thai people though. Only about 10 min drive from town/airport.

Wat Thai Wattanaram: Within a walking distance to the border market, this is a 85-years old Thai temple, which is influenced by Burmese art, culture and style. The main hall locates Marble Buddha and Jade Buddha. Here, if you are lucky on the day you visit, and the monk is there, you will receive a  complimentary gift set (a necklace of sacred beads), along with the blessing. One highlight is an enormous Reclining Buddha, an imitation of the biggest Buddha in Myanmar, followed by another highlight, a museum-like hall, or a donation hall, which is designed as a map of Buddha bone’s locations (India, Iran, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangkladesh, etc.). Each location has its alm bowls in which people can enjoy throwing coins. A great way to make a donation, while learning more about Buddhism.

Khaomong Khaofang Restaurant: Only 10 min drive from town. A very beautiful restaurant, eco-friendly, so green, cool and shady with disciplined, nice garden and waterfall decoration. Also, a sustainable place with anti-plastic bottle use, daylight rooftop, and refillable hand soap. Busy for Thai tourists, but still a good place to visit for foreigners. However, the food tasted so so. Suitable for both groups and FIT, but during its peak time, you may not receive great care.

Morning market: Located right in town, it is pretty busy with locals.which was pretty busy with locals. Most of the vendors are Burmese selling their local products. The market has various zones, and some is open up to 24/7 while some opens until early morning. Good for morning walk and enjoy local lifestyle. The guide explained well for all kinds of interesting fresh food, snacks, and even local ingredients.

The true highlight of the trip is 4D3N Umphang, a remote district of Mae Sot. The program includes 1 night stay in Umphang town, 1 night camping at Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, and another night at the real Karen Hilltribe Village.

The distance from Mae Sot to Umphang is 164 km, approx. 4-5 hours, and 1,219 curves up on the scenic mountainous routes. Be prepared if you easily get carsick, take the pill beforehand. On the way before reaching the hills, a lunch stop at a local restaurant and a short visit to Pha Charoen Waterfall National Park at 37 km, a limestone waterfall with small levels surrounded by truly abundant environment.

The vehicle starting climbing up the mountain to Umphang at 49 km, we passed amazing scenery along the way. Arrived in Umphang at around 18:30, checked in at Umphang Hill Resort, which was the number 1 resort and accommodated for a large group, but not anymore. Now, no good maintenance and management. Rooms are spacious but not that clean and even hard bed. In room facilities is provided with TV, refrigerator, and hot shower. Dinner served at a small local restaurant nearby.

On the second day, the rafting trip began in the morning, and the transfer to the pier from the resort is only 5 min. The rubber raft (can cater up to 6 persons) was unloaded into the water. The river journey went along the Mae Klong River, passing lush jungle scenery, terrific mountainous cliffs growing beautiful plants, the raining waterfalls “Thee Lor Jor”, and spotting some rare species of birds, all along the way. After one hour journey, we came to the highlight of the trip, “The Rainbow Waterfall”, a beautiful nature phenomenon that works best with the sunlight. The next stop was a small natural Hot Pool under the natural bamboo roof. A small pool, so it might be jammed during high season and long weekends.

The rafting duration can be up to 3 hours or more, or less, depending on the season. During the dry season, the trip can take up to 5 hours to Tha Sai, the starting point for the hard trek, while it can take less than 3 hours during the raining season.

Included in the program, after the rafting, it was the hard trekking through the real deep jungle. The jungle in this area is still pure and natural, pretty steep, so the level of trek is ranged from difficult to most difficult, depending on seasons. The trekking distance is approx. 14 km, about 4 hours, to Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, where the second night is spent in the tent by the stream, and where the biggest waterfall in Thailand “Thee Lor Su Waterfall” is located.

Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary: Distance about 50 km from Umphang town. Very eco-friendly place to environment with many signs reminding people to care about it, and even a list of laws regulations that people should keep in mind. Since the program includes 1 night camping here, the permission form needs to be filled in beforehand, which Max One always arranges for clients and even have the tents set up. (No tent available for rent from the sanctuary). The bathroom / toilet facilities are also provided for foreigners in the Western style.

After the night at the camp, the next morning, we walked to Thee Lor Su Waterfall, about 30 min walk (800 m to 1 km) to the fall from the entrance. One good thing before entering, no plastic bottle allowed to bring in, so people need to drop at the provided bag at the entrance first. The walking trail is easy, along the cement path. During the walk, the guide told many interesting stories about different kinds of plants and even showed how to survive in the jungle like drinking water from the tree, etc. Once arriving in the area of the waterfall, the guide took us to get a closer view of the fall as to climb a bit up. Beautiful scene! Different season different perspective of beauty. A place to relax and enjoy swimming!

In the afternoon, it was a soft trekking through the deep jungle to Khota Karen Hilltribe Village, and the distance is about 7-8 km, about 3 hours. The level of difficult is moderate to difficult, depending on season. Nice trail along the stream, until we hit the rough road and walked up a little bit of hill. In the late afternoon, arrived the village.

Khota Karen Hilltribe Village is a remote village up on the mountain, about 50-60 km from Umphang, and not very easily accessible, especially during the rainy season, as the road is still rough and bumpy. It’s pretty much an off-the-beaten-track route. Coming here, see no set up but a real local lifestyle. Learn the way people have been living for many many years. Mingle with locals, say hello to kids, and visit a local school. Their living is based on farming, and some handicraft products from weaving. Support them by purchasing their products, if you like. Spend the night at a local family’s house, made of bamboo and wood (typical style lodging here), enjoy chatting and dinner with the host family. Most of the houses here are available for tourists. If a bit bigger group, the school is also available for overnight stays. The toilet facilities are far from modern, but local. So be prepared for authentic local experience.

Returned to Umphang on 12 Feb by a local pick-up truck from the village, normally not included in the program, but Max One can arrange this (depending on request). The current program includes the elephant trek through the jungle, but in the near future, it will probably be excluded. Then people can do the trek out, another hard core trek, to Palata, another village, about 10-13 km, where the transfer will be waiting to bring them back to Umphang.From Palata to Umphang, it is approx. 30 min drive.

Another 4 hours drive back to Mae Sot. Flight back home on the same day in the evening around 6 pm. But recommend for another night in Mae Sot and fly out the next morning.

In the end note, Umphang is a perfect place, a good mix for adventure, from river rafting, trekking both hard and soft, amazing natural scene, and authentic local hilltribe lifestyle. Popular for Thai tourists during dry season, especially long weekends, and for foreign tourists during rainy season (when the level of trekking is the most difficult).

Highly recommended are for those who are an adventure lover. But keep in mind, during the trek, travel light and bring only necessities: refillable water bottle (recommended to bring your own), flashlight, sunscreen cream, mosquito repellent, and comfortable trekking shoes.

Enjoy travelling and trekking through the deep jungle…


About pixomentum

Wantipa Patumanon, or Fang, is a Bangkok-based amateur photographer, traveller, and writer, as well as an English teacher. She is currently working for a wholesale tour operator based in Bangkok, and during her free time, after work and on weekends, she offers an English lesson to Thai people, both young students and adults.
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