Where does the heartbeat of a country come from? Is it in its people? In its history? Is it in its spirituality? Or, I wonder, is it in the land?
I can tell you one thing for certain: it’s not the spiders.
There we were, marching along, when our videographer stopped suddenly, causing us all to domino into one another, me right into Sue’s dreadlocks.
“Do you see it?” Parting the deadlock sea, I looked onto the dense jungle foliage as one searched for Waldo: with purpose and blurry vision.
It wasn’t until Sue reached her hand out next to a black gash on the green and I turned ever so slightly, so that the light through the trees illuminated the neatly spun threads, that I saw it.
There, just a foot off the path, was a spider the size of my face and an electric yellow bottom that may as well have been a hazard sign. I woah’d my legs back as a cowboy woahs his horse and immediately began brushing away imaginary webs that magically appeared all over me at the sight of our new friend.
“Little miss wilderness, are you afraid of a little spider?” Sue laughed, surprised at my reaction as I dusted invisible crawlies off my arms.
“Little spider?” I thought, rolling my eyes.
I just really don’t like spiders. I mean, house spiders and daddy long legs are no problem. But spiders that spin webs the size of my body, trap birds for breakfast and boast a leg span the length of my arms? Those I have a problem with.
I also have a problem with depth perception—at any moment I could see that spider jumping backwards off its web and onto my face, similar to one of those ”Found in Australia” articles that feature a man trying to trap a spider with a plate, only to have it nearly suffocate him.
Those eight-legged demons are very unpredictable.
Besides, I didn’t feel like having another bug-induced trip to the emergency room. One hospital visit is enough for any backpacking trip. That said, such encounters are a consequence of taking in the natural wonders of the Thai jungle, which are entirely worth it.
Try to tackle every activity, see every wonder and eat every bite that Chiang Mai has to offer. I dare you. As our time in Thailand was down to the dregs of what started out as a very full bottle, the team was confronted with a typical endless Thai menu of things left to do. Exhausted, templed out, and hungry for not food but nature, we all agreed, the jungle was where we needed to be.
Chiang Mai’s jungle excursions can be found for any duration of time and of any intensity. Some may have you rafting down the river on bamboo slats, others may have you white-water rafting, still more may have you visiting the hill tribes. (As Sue mentioned, the presence of elephants in any jungle trekking experience, specifically elephant riding, should be carefully vetted.) For those who find themselves with an afternoon off or wanting a quicker escape from the city, there are numerous waterfalls a hop, skip and tuk-tuk away from the city centre.
We arrived at the Mae Sa waterfalls, just 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai in the rolling San Doi Daen mountains. Here, 10 waterfalls cascade into one another, spanning 1,500 metres between lush jungle—full, I’m sure, of plenty more of those hand-sized spiders.
As we took to the path, I immediately felt the speed of our trip fall off my shoulders. We’d flown through Bangkok, central and Northern Thailand at an incredible pace so the only reflecting that had been done so far was during the tuk-tuk rides among the rattling engines, tinging motorbikes and low buzzing of the surrounding traffic.
To hear the crunch of my Merrells on the loosely established path and the crash of water on the rocks, really, was what I came for. I could finally reflect on our time with Win, the awesomeness of the White Temple, the chance encounter with Khun ya Poon. I could finally sit still enough to miss a moment of home.
If I have one piece of advice to you, dear reader, it would be this: Yes, experience the city, the cultural epidermis. Observe the surface of a populace as they mill about their daily routines. Eat the food, the cultural stomach; for “we are what we eat.” Explore the temples, the brain and view the creative output of spirituality which makes up so much of a country’s beliefs and its history.
But return to nature, the heart, because the land is the pulse of a country and it is here that if we are still enough, and we truly listen, we might just match our heartbeat to its own—or perhaps slightly faster, if you’re scared of spiders.