Trekking and Hiking in Thailand
Trekking is a very popular way of seeing the more remote areas of Thailand. In the north of Thailand it is possible to do treks, either by foot, elephant, horse or motorcycle, to visit Thailand's hill tribes in their villages. If staying in national parks, or smaller villages in the mountains, often it is possible to do treks organized by the guesthouse as some of the guesthouses and hotels are run by people from the hill tribes who understand the language, origins and customs. This can be far pleasanter than doing treks out of Chiang Mai, on a well-beaten tourist trail. Treks can last from one to five days. Make sure you are properly equipped physically, and mentally, for the journey. The treks can be physically demanding so make sure you are fit enough, and they do require a certain amount of responsibility towards the environment and the people you are visiting in the villages.
There are ethical issues involved with trekking which you should consider before deciding to go on a trek. People used to live in the hill tribes cut off from the outside world but now exposure to Westerners (farang) is changing their customs and way of life. Seeing farang smoking opium encourages the young people of the villages to take up opium smoking: the tourists move on but there is constant temptation for the people who live there. So there are strict rules against smoking. In some of the guesthouses and hostels in the hills, there are government posters advising tourists on how to behave in the villages.
Trekking near the border with Myanmar can be interesting as it may give you a chance to meet Burmese refugees and often the guides are from Myanmar. However, check the current situation before you go, as there are occasionally outbreaks of warfare in these areas. Other ethnic groups living in the mountains of north Thailand are from Laos, Tibet, China and Laos. They have their own religion, language and culture and tend to live separately from the Thais. They do not have Thai citizenship and therefore do not have the benefits of education and the right to own property. However integration with the rest of Thailand would mean the loss of their cultural identity over time. The hill tribe people dress very distinctively and look different from the Thais.
Trekking by foot can be enjoyed in the karst forests of Krabi and Khao Sok which have outstanding hiking trails. The best time to trek is between November to February and in June and July. Try the Evolution Tour or a Siam Safari.
Elephant riding is a positive move toward ensuring the survival of this magnificent national animal since so much of their habitat has been distroyed. The best places for elephant rides is in the south and in the east. Nong Nooch Village, to the south of Pattaya, offers some of the best opportunities for elephant trekking as well as at the Pattaya Elephant Village where you can experience daily elephant shows and elephant rides into the nearby countryside. For a more commercial experience, both Samui's Namuang Safari Park and Bangkok's Dusit Zoo and Safari World offer rides.