Leaving Chiang Rai would be like a breath of fresh air. Except that there isn’t much fresh air to be had at this time of year.
Farmers are burning their fields and the still air offers no relief from the unrelenting smoke that fills the air. In fact, as we follow the river out of town and climb into the hills it seems to get worse. Soon, not only is the air so thick we can taste it, but huge black ash pieces flutter through it making their way to the ground.
It is, in fact, nothing like the stunning-vista’d getaway I had envisioned and is, instead, every bit a post apocalyptic movie sequence.
Pressing forward up ever steeper hills we realize just how remote our home for the next few days will be. Past the elephant camp and the massive Buddha in the hillside we are able to stay two on the bike until we reach the Lahu tribe village at the bottom of the single-track steepest hill leading to the red earth, pot-holed, ‘road’ to the finish. Here I must jump quickly off the back so that Jason can gun the engine and climb ever-so-slowly to the top.
We made it.
“Sawasdee-ka”, we call to the seemingly empty clutch of bamboo huts sprinkled on the hillside.
Noi is surprised to see us. A small, thin, wiry, man, he emerges from one of the buildings and immediately starts muttering as he rushes over to greet us.
“What is the date?” he asks as he searches on the endless keychain for a key that will finally unlock the reception door.
“It is the 22nd”, we say.
“And the day?” he follows up with.
“Ahhhh”, he sighs while slowly nodding his head, “we thought today is the 21st…Thursday…not Friday the 22nd. Your room is not yet ready”.
Not surprisingly, in this somewhat remote setting, he and his wife Nok have forgotten what day it is and weren’t expecting us today but in what would be their tomorrow. No worry, he points us to a sitting platform and gets busy preparing one of the huts for us.
Bamboo Nest lives up to its name. Nestled on a hillside the half dozen or so bamboo huts are tucked around a garden carefully tended by the couple. Here they grow bananas and pineapple, flowers and, not-surprisingly, bamboo.
The huts are rustic but surprisingly comfortable. Built by labourers from the village at the bottom of the hill, they are constructed entirely of bamboo. Floors, walls, roofs, porches and beds; all made from grass!
Our room is soon ready and we easily settle in to do, well, absolutely nothing for the afternoon. There is no electricity (save for a little solar power), so no lights, no tv, no wifi. This is why we have come; to unplug for a few days, get our noses out of our computers, maybe even read a book!
Surfing the line between asleep and awake I come to shore to the sound of a truck grunting its way up the track. With a practiced hand Nok guides the 4X4 up the narrow road while new guests hang out the windows wondering how the vehicle is clinging to the roadway.
Yay, more people!
As much as we like our own company, it’s been a while since we’ve shared a conversation with others and we’re looking forward to the interaction.
Making our way through the garden to the common area we meet our new friends for the next few days; two couples from France and a fellow from Denmark. We pass the evening learning about each others homes, travels, and future plans while enjoying a home cooked meal. Later on Noi builds a fire which we all eagerly gather around sharing travel stories and advice until sleep calls.
It is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. It reminds me of our time at the Cave Lodge, another northern Thailand getaway reminiscent of early travel and adventure.There is definitely something to be said for unplugging from technology and reconnecting to each other.
We fall asleep that night to the sounds of jungle frogs and crickets; the cool mountain air a welcome relief from the heat we’ve been experiencing in Chiang Mai.
The next day, following some lengthy lounge time on the patio, we manage a hike to the local waterfall. There are plenty of hikes in the area; many possible on your own or Noi can arrange a guide for single or multi day excursions. The hike is easy. Over cultivated hills and down into a valley before rising again along side the waterfall. Just enough activity to say we’ve done something to earn our beer but not entirely taxing.
The evening follows the same pattern as the previous. Our group is joined by two young English gap-year chaps; amused by their naivety while at the same time longing for some of it ourselves we again spend the evening chatting and laughing and enjoying each others company. Perfection.
Bidding good-bye early in the morning, we make our way back down the treacherous hill in the cool light. It’s been a tremendous retreat, a great way to reconnect with traveling and travellers, and a welcome respite from technology, but it’s time to head back.
There are a tremendous number of luxury resorts in Thailand but, if you want to get off the beaten track and really get away from it all then somewhere like the Bamboo Nest is perfect. If you’re in the area I recommend you stop by and spend a day or two reconnecting.