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This is a story about how I got lost in a jungle in Thailand. It might better be called “Why You Shouldn’t Get Lost in a Jungle in Thailand!”
The story begins when another blogger (Celia of TravelMarinade.com), her friend and I decided to ride a motorcycle (just one) up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and then hike up to the summit and back. We weren’t quite sure where the trail started from or where it went, but we figured we would figure out when we arrived.
We parked our motorcycle at the temple around 2 PM and found a song tao (think tuk-tuk and pickup hybrid) to take us to the beginning of the trail to the summit. We paid him 50 baht each and were driven beyond Bhuping Palace and just past the Doi Pui View Point where he dropped us off, saying the trail started there. We found the ruins of a tiny temple a few meters from the road, but no beginning of any trail.
We continued to walk along the road to where it seemed the trail was supposed to start. After nearly 2 km we found the Pui Campsite with a great view overlooking Chiang Mai. There we met a group of hikers who had come up from the temple and now were headed back down the way we had come up. We asked them about the trail. They said it was a five-hour hike up and we shouldn’t do it since it would be be dark before we got back. But it was only around 3 PM and we felt we should still attempt it, at least since it was 5 hours uphill for them and we would be going down. So we rested up for a few minutes, got some selfies at the lookout and established we were headed in the generally correct direction.
After a few minutes more walking along the road, a local pickup drove up and offered us a ride in the back, which we happily accepted. They drove us the last 4 km to a village high in the mountains. There we took another break to drink coffee and escape the sun for a few minutes while watching the local kids have fun scaring the chickens.
Finally we were ready to head back down to the temple. It was about 5 PM now and the sun was scheduled to set at 5:50 PM. A villager who spoke almost no English pointed out the trail for us. Maybe just a bit of a mistake trusting that advice. It wasn’t much of a trail to start with, but there were orange arrows hammered into trees every couple minutes to ensure we didn’t get lost.
At least for the first half hour.
Then we left the forest and entered the jungle. Instead of trees and bushes it became palms and thick vegetation. Streams crisscrossed our path. We came upon fields where farmers lived in small shacks. There were a couple farmers in the distance tending the fields, but no other hikers on our trail. We also didn’t see any more orange arrows pointing our way.
At 5:45 we went by one final shack. Then the trail disappeared.
So did the sun.
I have international 3G with T-Mobile from the States, and I was able to still get internet in the mountains. Searching Google Maps showed that we were only a few hundred meters away from the road that led back toward the temple, but with no way to get to it. We retraced our steps and found a farmer in his hut cooking dinner. We mimed that we were looking for the road and he pointed the way.
We got to the road and Google Maps even confirmed we were standing on it. After ten minutes walking along the road, Google said we had strayed. Ten minutes later, the little blue dot was on the other side of the road. As we continued walking straight, Google Maps said we were going backwards. I quietly held my tongue so as not to scare the ladies, but I was quickly losing my faith in Google. I might have mentioned something to that effect (without saying why) which was not happily received.
As dusk turned to dark, we ran into another dead end. The road, tire tracks and all, turned into a dirt path and then disappeared altogether. We backtracked and tried another branch. That didn’t work. We tried a third. This took us in the direction of the road where we had received the ride in a pickup. After several minutes hiking up a steep hill, we were close to the road (per Google Maps), but the girls refused to go on. I scouted ahead to see how close the road really was.
Climbing up the hill in the dark with only the light from my tablet took some courage. In my blog I’ve often said I never get scared. Climbing alone, I noticed twin reflections at the base of a tree ahead of me. My heart began to race. Approaching very slowly, I found it was only a plastic bottle. I continued on. Finally I arrived at a wall of vegetation. No path. No trail. No road. Google Maps said I was very close. Obviously not close enough.
Overall the jungle wasn’t bad. The temperature was cool (maybe low 20’s), there were hardly any flying insects and I had heard there weren’t any deadly, wild animals roaming these jungles (insects and snakes excepted). Aside from the fact that we hadn’t eaten in hours and it was pitch black, the hike wasn’t that bad. The feeling of frustration at not being able to find a way out of the jungle certainly was bad. I think I would rather have been terrified.
Finally we got back onto a road headed back to the village. The best part was finding a trail marker tied around a tree near the village (our first sign of civilization in a couple hours). We arrived shortly after 9 PM, talked a local villager into driving us back to the temple where we parked our motorcycle and got out of the mountains.
The moral of this story is: don’t get lost in a jungle in Thailand. Or maybe to listen to the other hikers when they say it’s too late to hike a trail. Or that you should always read up on some blogs for what to expect when you go into an unknown jungle. The next morning, after posting a comment in the Chiang Mai Digital Nomads Group, I received a map of the trails in Doi Suthep – Pui National Park. Click on this link to receive the interactive map on your mobile device.
I would have drawn a line on the map where we wandered, but honestly I have no idea where we actually ended up. Just somewhere in the center of all that green. I’m sure it could have been worse. At least we got home the same day.
All that’s left to do is to get up early, drive back to the temple and start the trail from there to find where we should have gone. After all, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This is what travel is all about. And this is an adventure blog after all!