One day when visiting northern Thailand with a small group of travel writers, I ventured out into the Mae Lai forest, an hour’s drive east of Chiang Mai, for a guided hike with Track of the Tiger. No, we weren’t tracking tigers (few remain in Thailand), although our guide did casually mention that an Asian tiger had recently killed four water buffalo in the area.
We were told to expect much smaller creatures – leeches – as it was November, and we were still in the tail end of the rainy season.
At the eco-tourism operator’s lodge, we therefore pulled on thigh-high, leech-proof socks over our own socks and pants before lacing up our hiking boots.
Hiking in Chiang Mai
Now there are many exotic adventures one can experience in Thailand. Sea canoeing. Biking around ancient temples. Zip-lining in the rainforest. Even rock-climbing.
But while I love hiking, hiking among leeches wasn’t particularly high on my bucket list.
The trail started out dry and easy in the cool mountains (5,000 feet above sea level), and we were in high spirits as we passed wild tea and coffee plantations, bamboo stands and gushing waterfalls.
A lime green pit viper with red eyes, curled up at the side of the trail, was also exciting to spot. (In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have stuck my face and camera to within inches of it to get this picture, as pit vipers are quite venomous.)
But then we hit muddy sections.
Little black leeches started clinging to our socks.
And climbing up our legs. And dropping from tree branches onto our backs (and down inside our shirts).
The guides, some of whom were barefoot, were happy to flick the blood-suckers off us when we screamed – and we screamed a lot – though they couldn’t care less about themselves.
Back at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai
The experience of hiking in Chiang Mai was overwhelming for the city gals in our group, and we were most thankful when we returned to the luxurious cocoon of the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.
I visited northern Thailand on this adventure-oriented press trip without George. He didn’t mind missing out on the hike with the leeches :-).