Ever notice how being an “eco-tourist” occasionally bears a startling resemblance to being a broke traveler? I ended up as an eco-tourist in Northern Thailand (and loving it) due to some poor financial management on my part. I had saved up my money and decided to take a year off from my day job as an elementary school teacher to travel the world. Unfortunately traveling through Europe really cleaned me out and by the time I reached Thailand funds were running low. In an attempt to get my budget back in check I turned to the cheapest form of accommodations and entertainment: camping, hiking and nature watching. Not having been a particularly outdoorsy person prior to the trip- I had a few mishaps along the way but overall it was a wonderful experience. I got lucky because Thailand happens to be one of the best places to be an eco and/or broke tourist.
Thailand has 76 national parks and the majority offer places to camp. Many will even rent you a tent for 5 baht a night. I would recommend that you try to bring your own tent because rental tents, as you can probably imagine, are occasionally stinky. I initially bought myself a cheap one-person tent but after a wet night during “the mango rains” I sucked it up and invested in a larger, sturdier model. The mango rains for those who don’t know refer to a one-week period in April when the season changes from dry to hot triggering heavy rainstorms. It is also the time when the land changes from brown to green. While it made for a wet and smelly week of camping the opportunity to watch the remarkable changes in the land was worth it. During my trip I stayed primarily in the Chiang Mai province.
Doi Suthep – Pui National Park
This national park is located just 12 km outside of Chiang Mai City. The park is basically a mountain and as you go deeper into the park you are simultaneously climbing the mountain. The park is home to a breathtaking Buddhist site the Wat Prathart Doi Suthep, which draws pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. I was lucky to camp near the Mok Fa waterfall where I was lulled to sleep by the rushing of the water. Beautiful walking and biking trails criss-cross the park. During the day you can see butterflies and at night the view of the stars is incredible.
Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon National Park boasts the highest peak in Thailand and is the most popular of Chiang Mai’s parks. In addition to Thailand’s highest peak- it is home to one of the most gorgeous waterfalls, Mae Ya- truly awe-inspiring. This is also the place where I began my “nature watching” in earnest. I did not know it at the time but the park is home to more than 300 species of birds so you don’t have to be a professional birder to spot some. If you are lucky you may see a deer or a gibbon (ape).
In conclusion, fellow travelers, we no longer have to admit when we are broke instead we can proudly claim to be part of the latest global trend, ecotourism.