From my travel journal, 6/14/08:
We arrived the day before yesterday in Chiang Mai and spent the evening wandering the night market.
The next morning, we piled into a pickup truck to go jungle trekking. Our guides call themselves James Bond and Jack Sparrow, and they very much live up to their nicknames. Both of them carry 2 1/2 foot-long machetes which turned out to be surprisingly versatile. James used his to cut me a bamboo walking stick, make a waterpipe out of a gourd, and make dinner.
When I signed up for this trek, I didn't quite appreciate how tough it would actually be. I imagined something like the hike up Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala, or perhaps my jungle treks in Tikal--but instead, this hike was, oh, about 10 times harder. We trekked with all our gear in 90 degree weather with 100% humidity, through red mud, alongside and across streams, hopping rocks to keep from falling in the water, and through jungle foliage so dense that at times it brushed against my body on both sides (which helped wipe off the sweat that was running in rivulets down my body), and over paths so lightly trodden we were still stepping on live grass. I don't think I have ever hiked or exercised that hard in my life. Two hours into the hike, I was soaked through from head to toe in my own sweat, laboring to take the next step and leaning heavily on my walking stick. James Bond and Jack Sparrow, on the other hand, sauntered along barely even breaking a sweat (Jack was wearing rubber flip flops), entertaining us with whistled pitch-perfect renditions of favorites from Bob Marley, the Beatles, the Scorpions, and the Lion King.
We finally arrived at a hill-town perched in the clouds in the middle of the jungle. We enjoyed a dinner, cooked by James Bond with the aid of his machete, of red curry with fish balls, tofu with bean sprouts, and stir-fried veggies.
That night, we gathered around a campfire and listened to our guides play the guitar and sing.
It's morning now. I am sitting in a hut on stilts, literally inside of a cloud on the jungle hillside. All around there is no other sign of civilization. The only noise is the crackling of the fire behind me as our guides cook breakfast, and the occasional rooster crow.