Eating from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang Mai

Food from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang Mai #farmstayasia #thailand #ttot

You know I’ve wanted to go hiking near Chiang Mai for a while now. So when the opportunity presented itself to explore the Pong Yang Sub-district just North West of the city, I jumped at the chance.

Chiang Mai is well-known city that is used by travellers as the gateway for exploring Northern Thailand.

It’s also a favourite hangout spot for expats and freelancers. Yet just one hour away from the conveniences of city life you can find an entirely different world – one full of green surroundings, wilderness eating and a few creepy crawlies!

Pong Yang Sub-district

Our hike took place in a part of the Pong Yang Sub-district, which is situated just over 70 km away from Chiang Mai. It’s a little out of the way but is still close enough to get there without any great difficulty. Taking around one hour or so to drive from central Chiang Mai.

I organised the hike through Farm Stay Asia, who also arranged transport to pick me up from my Scoot flight at Chiang Mai Airport.

While I frequently hike unsupported and often alone, it’s important not to underestimate this part of Thailand. Apart from local villages, there’s nothing in the way of signs around the mountain area, and much of the track is overgrown. There are also various ethnic groups living in the forest, so having a guide is priceless regarding navigation and local knowledge.

 

About My Guide

My guide it turns out is very active in the local community and owns a farm that produces various fruits and vegetables. I named her ‘aunty’ simply because during the hike she treated me like part of her family. Although I know her real name isn’t aunty, this is what I decided on, simply just to avoid butchering her Thai name!

Once I arrived at her farm, I had the opportunity to meet many people from the area, with some even being employed by her.

The scheduled trek eventually turned into a full blown affair with other villagers joining in with the hike around the mountain. My guides niece even brought some of the children along that she teaches in her English class.

Aunty sorting things out in the forest

Aunty sorting things out

Hiking near Chiang Mai

Once we got onto the mountain forest trail I was blown away by her detailed knowledge on just about everything to do with the area. Everything about local traditions revolving around the various parts in the forest, what plants can be used for food, medicine, or materials for making home furniture.

Forest food

I’ve learnt a little bushcraft in Australia, but hiking near Chiang Mai was more like a bush buffet. At one point I was just about convinced everything in the forest was edible!

We even got to see the tallest banana tree in Thailand.

Tallest banana tree in Thailand

Later we passed by some areas where the king of Thailand has invested his time to teach the locals how to be self-sufficient and grow their own crops.

There were also parts of the forest where the various mountain tribes live.

Some of the track was a little overgrown in places and needed cutting back. However what surprised me the most was everyone’s fitness levels. Once we got into the swing of things the pace was challenging, yet not once I didn’t hear any of the kids complain.

Maybe it’s just because I don’t speak Thai but anyway…

Hiking near Chiang Mai

The kids showing the adults up!

Food from the Forest

Bamboo

There are nearly forty different types of bamboo growing in Thailand and with so many uses it’s probably one of the most important plants in the region. Thai workers make use of its strength to help construct houses, apartment blocks, guesthouses, shopping malls and just about everything else.

Gathering bamboo while hiking in Thailand

Some people in the north of Thailand say they can see bamboo grow, and surprisingly it’s true. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, which has been recorded to increase up to 91 cm in 24 hours.

Gathering bamboo while hiking in Thailand

Bamboo is also used widely as an ingredient in many of traditional Thai dishes. It can easily be cooked, pickled, or eaten raw. Bamboo also has good nutritional value with a high amount of vitamins A, B1, B2 and C.

Once you know where to find it all that’s needed is a little chopping action. Then there you have it, one of the key dinner ingredients for free.

Gathering bamboo while hiking in Thailand (3)

Mushrooms

Another favourite ingredient in many Thai dishes is mushrooms and they are commonly seen in street markets. Mushrooms are everywhere in the forest and easy to pick. Allowing foragers like me to throw together a decent meal.

Mushrooms also are a rich source of protein and can be cooked in a verity of dishes. Everything from curries to stir fried with vegetables and meat. They are a key ingredient in many spicy Thai salads too.

Gathering mushrooms while hiking in Thailand

Collecting mushroom is less time consuming than chopping the bamboo.

Preparing traditional Thai lunchBut like many countries, aunty explained to me you have to be careful as some look similar to others and can be poisonous.

Food from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang Mai

Eating the food we gathered from the forest

Tree Ordination

Throughout the hike, it became clear that aunty is very passionate about the local area and protecting the forests. This allows both locals and visitors to enjoy the forest now and in the future.

Prohibited logging is quite common in Thailand, but it’s not always big corporations chasing money. Sometimes it can be as simple as a family chopping down a healthy tree to build a house or shelter.

Eating from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang Mai b

We passed places in the forest where illegal logging had been done and then began to ordain the trees. This involved tying an orange robe around the trunk of the largest and oldest trees.

Realistically this processed is not going to physically prevent someone who is determined to cut down the tree.

However, the hope is it will discourage some tree loggers who might not want the bad karma of cutting down the forest around an ordained tree.

Tree Ordination in Thailand

The Weather

Depending on the time of year there can be plenty of sun, rain or even a cold chill. Yes, I’m told by the villagers in winter it can reach zero degrees on the mountain, not something you would expect when hiking near Chiang Mai or visiting Thailand. The coolest month is January.

The rainy season is typically in May, June, July, August, September and October. I hiked in July and there a was a bit of rain and some sun, but it was mostly cloudy.

On average, the warmest month is April, with January, February, March and December being the driest months.

 

What I Packed

The hike took most of the afternoon so there was no real need to go overboard with the equipment list.

Like most of my warmer day hikes, I took with me:

  • Day pack
  • Water (my guide arranged this)
  • Smartphone (I used True-H sim) & Sony A6000 camera for photos
  • Rain jacket & comfortable clothing – bring extra layers if you go in winter as it can get cold
  • Hat and sunscreen
  • Walking shoes

Costs involved?

I arranged the trip through Farm Stay Asia along with accommodation. As it was part of a bigger trip for current pricing is best to contact them.

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Hiking near Chiang Mai images created by Tools of Travel.

Barry Sproston
Barry is a traveller and expat who spends most of his time between Asia and Australia. He has spent 12 months training at a Gung Fu school learning Wing Chun. Explored the island of Taiwan by scooter more than once. Been tricked into eating raw horse meat sushi in Japan. Even tried to overcome the fear of heights by bungee jumping in Thailand. One day he plans to open a guesthouse.
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25 thoughts on “Eating from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang Mai

  1. Siddharth and Shruti

    That is so cool! We have never had a chance to eat directly from the forest. Can’t get any fresher than this! Personally we would like the temperature to not be too hot when we hike. Mushroom foraging sounds interesting. Although it can be tricky since some mushroom can be poisonous.

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      I admit the temperature was good and a lot cooler on the mountain than the other parts of Thailand I have visited. I’ve done a few hot & humid hikes and they can get uncomfortable.

  2. My Travelogue by Bhushavali

    I’m reading quite a bit about Chiang Mai of late! I’m yet to explore the far eastern countries…
    This looks like one awesome hike! The lady, your guide, seems to be a very nice woman.
    The locals do know which of the forest produces are edible and I’ve eaten wild fruits in one of my hikes!

  3. Megan

    Such a thorough description of the area and your hike, I really like this! We were in Thailand last december, but not to Chiang Mai. I tried to get it into the itinerary, but was out voted. 🙁 I love the idea of going with the guide, and learning so much about the forest, the foods that can be foraged, and also about some of the cultural & political climate of the area. Wonderful!

  4. Katie

    I would be so nervous to eat unknown plants in a country I didn’t know very well! Maybe even with a local guide, but I suppose that would help ease my concern a lot. I didn’t know so many things could be used for food though, super interesting.

  5. Kreete

    How exciting Barry! As you know, I love hiking and this seems like a fantastic experience. Definitey great to learn more about the local culture! It also brought back so many memories from back home in Estonia where have always gone to the forest for berries and mushrooms. Its invaluable knowledge for survival situations as well! Great work!

  6. James

    I’ve done a little hiking in Lamphun which is the state next to Chiang Mai, this looks very similar. Seeing the tallest banana tree in Thailand is defintely one for the bucket list, I don’t think you’ll find many people who have seen this!

  7. Angie (Feet Do Travel)

    What a great read! My hubby would love this hike as he has also been on bushcraft courses and is fascinated by jungle food, especially if it feels like it’s all edible (apart from mushrooms, hr would definitely stay away from them!). I also knew that bamboo was fast growing but wow, that much in 24 hours?? Amazing. Pinned for when we return to Chiang Mai and thank you for this great read. #feetdotravel

  8. Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler)

    What a great and educational hike in the forest near Chaing Mai. Sounds like you found a great local tour group to use to especially help with the navigation. I would love to do a hike like this. Great tips also…thanks for sharing! #feetdotravel

  9. Raymond Carroll

    Nice post and pics. Hiking is one of my favourite pastimes and I enjoyed reading about your hike through the Pong Yang District in northern Thailand. I am married to a Thai (18 years) and visit the country regularly – I’ll be sure to check out this hiking route in more detail next time I find myself in the north. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      Nice one Raymond. I bet you’ve had the chance to hike quite a few trails in Thailand over the years then. I will be coming back to try a few different hikes in the future for sure. Hiking is a great way to clear your thoughts and relax.

  10. Travel Lexx

    That’s an incredible trip and definitely something different from the similar itineraries most people do when visiting Chiang Mai. We did a really cool hike near Chiang Mai and our guide told us about eating ants which were a delicacy for him when he was a kid and we all decided to try them! Absolutely love your hike and I will be in touch for more details when I go back!

    1. Barry SprostonBarry Sproston Post author

      That’s a cool story Lexx – I’ve eaten some weird stuff but not sure how keen I would be on eating ants. I guess if everyone’s eating ants though then you just have to go with the flow!

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