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.
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.
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.
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…
Food from the Forest
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.
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.
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.
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.
Collecting mushroom is less time consuming than chopping the bamboo.
But like many countries, aunty explained to me you have to be careful as some look similar to others and can be poisonous.
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.
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.
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
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.Eating from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang Mai Click To Tweet
Hiking near Chiang Mai images created by Tools of Travel.