Travel: Manoftheworld - Thailand's a Beautiful Blur as Our Intrepid Adventurer Rafts Down Jungle Rivers and Treks with Elephants

Article excerpt

Byline: Neil Sutherland

WELCOME to the world of born-again backpacker Neil Sutherland.

He's no teenager on a gap year, this 39-year-old had been working in a bank in Edinburgh for 19 years before he decided to pack it all in and pack his bags.

Now he's touring theworld, looking up friends, family and contacts around the globe.

He bought his roundthe-world ticket three weeks before he left and his backpack a couple of days later, so it hasn't been the most organised of trips.

His six-month tour kicked off in Hong Kong, now he's in Thailand, it beats winter in Scotland...

BEFORE you start chastising me, I'm just relaying, albeit phonetically, what I heard in a bar in northern Thailand.

I was wandering about looking for a beer and heard the unmistakable sound of this Tony Orlando & Dawn classic drifting down the narrow streets from a corner, karaoke bar... Thai a lellow libbon... and no, it isn't this week's song title.

From Bangkok, I caught the overnight train north to Chiang Mai, Thailand's second biggest city much more relaxing and a lot less humid. I'm here primarily to see more of the Asian countryside.

So being the fit, adventurous, outdoor type, I signed up for a three-day mountain trek to the nearby... eh... mountains. It went a little something like this...

Day 1: Collected by the minibus at 9 am and there are 13 people in total plus our English-speaking guide, Nan.

It feels a bit like an Agatha Christie novel as everyone tentatively checks out everyone else, each one wondering who's got a dark secret or emergency cigarettes or a secret stash of toilet roll.

There are two Spanish couples, three English girls, two French guys, two German guys, an Australian woman (spiritual earth mother called Sheila I kid you not) and a strapping, blond, handsome Scottish guy. He has to cancel to meet a friend, so I take his place.

Nan's breaking us in gently as our day is punctuated with stops at markets, cafes, waterfalls, hot springs, geysers and we trek a total of two and a half hours albeit up and down some severe climbs and descents ending up at a tiny village in the jungle occupied by the local Karen hill tribe.

Most hill tribes are pre-literate societies and they live very simply and basically. We're all sharing a notso-large, one-room, hut on stilts and during the night we very quickly become accustomed to the different tones and pitches of global snoring.

Day 2: Woken by the dawn chorus of Asian roosters, except it's not bloody dawn it's 4. …