Discover a travel secret in a land time forgot

I spent the day travelling around the city of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand with a new friend Monica – Founder of Cheshire Parlour She had stumbled upon this place while searching for an off-beaten-path bungalow to stay in a few days. sounded like exactly what I was looking for, so I thought it would be a fun adventure to join in and see what this place was all about, and if she had in fact stumbled upon a true travel secret or just another tourist-packed venue.

WSE Travel - Bamboo Nest Lodge
Panoramic view from the lodge

Having just lived in a hill tribe village for the prior 3 months, my expectations of finding something which offered a real, non-touristic experience were quite low. I knew what it was like to live in a village, and thought the only way to really get that feeling was to do just that. I didn’t feel this would be possible by staying in some bungalows built to accommodate tourists and their foreign needs. Even the odd meeting instructions to get to this hidden gem left me a bit apprehensive at first. We were to wait in a touristic coffee shop next to the main bus terminal at a time which was dictated by Nok, one of the bungalow, Bamboo Nest‘s owners. I definitely didn’t expect any travel secretly to be in store for us.

We sat in anticipation for the unknown adventure that awaited us. Suddenly, we were greeted by a tiny woman with a smile that stretched ear to ear.  She walked us to her 4×4 where we loaded our bags and prepared to set off on our journey. Moments into our departure, we made a stop and picked up a tiny man with a beautiful white dog almost his size. This was her husband, Noy, and their pup, Kow (which simply means “white” in Thai) who had just spent the day at the vet.

WSE Travel - Bamboo Nest Lodge
Bamboo Nest high atop a mountain

We set off on our journey, expecting to arrive at almost every turn. Had I not been in the company of my new friend, we may have thought we were being kidnapped as the journey there seemed unending and through some fairly uncharted terrain. My suspicions of this being off the beaten trail quickly dissipated, and were soon replaced by memories of scenes from kidnapping movies such as “Tourista”. The next thing we knew, the 4×4 was almost completely vertical, as we ascended the easily steepest dirt road I have ever seen. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster, and we were about to take a dive over the edge at any moment. I don’t scare easily, but my knuckles were definitely white from strain grasping onto the car door’s handle as if it would somehow protect me… and then.. serenity. After passing through a small Akha Hill Tribe village on the way up, we were now in complete solitude amongst the peaks of several lush, green mountains. The chances of discovering a travel secret were definitely improving.

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Breathtaking scenery around every turn!

That’s when we saw the few scattered bamboo bungalows, each strategically placed to give an element of privacy to its lucky guests. This is where you completely disconnect. My phone had lost all reception. There were no power lines – no internet. Each bungalow had a small solar power to provide some light in the evening after the sun sets, and a propane water heater for hot showers. Otherwise, this place was off the grid. Welcome to Bamboo Nest.

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Private Bungalow

We each found our way to our own private bungalow and unpacked just enough to dig out our own sources of entertainment. I found an old copy of Herman Hesse’s “Journey to the East” which suited me perfectly well for the hammock I was about to unwind in overlooking the valley below my home for the next couple of nights. Later in the evening, I heard some laughter coming from the main hut. Monica was socializing with Nok and Noy, and gathering some of their jungle-based wisdom. A cute, friendly Siamese cat joined us. His name was “Mew” and was “Kow”‘s best friend. When asked if they had any other pets, Noy simply replied “One Cat, One Dog, One Woman. That is all I need to be happy”. And so it was true. What more could they ask for living in this paradise, and welcoming guests to share in the raw beauty found therein.

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Catch of the day
WSE Travel - Bamboo Nest Lodge

A locally caught fish prepared in a traditional fashion with spices stuffed inside and grilled was on the menu, along with some Saffron tea. Sticky rice and mango, all locally grown, were dessert. It may have been the best meal I had eaten since arriving in Thailand. Ask dusk fell, Noy lit a campfire on a platform over the valley’s edge. I lay beside it staring at the sea of stars above. This is bliss.

The next day, Monica and I decided to go for what was claimed to be a moderate hike to a nearby waterfall, with Kow as our tour guide. Of course… Kow knew the way, but when we made a wrong turn, he loyally followed us for the adventure. Moderate turned challenging and the day’s heat was upon us. We eventually found our way through the dense, unmarked jungle to a nearby village. This was where the tourists go. There was a large, well-established guest house there, and the locals were immediately upon us with basket weaving courses and handicrafts. We politely snuck past and made our way to a breathtaking waterfall… quickly realizing how fortunate we were to find such a place, still mostly undiscovered by the busloads of tourists.

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A breathtaking waterfall
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After heading back, it was time for a nap and another good meal. Another night by the campfire, with some more great jungle wisdom from Noy and I drifted off to sleep to the sounds of the nocturnal jungle creatures that lurked off in the distance.

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Nightly campfires under the stars
WSE Travel - Bamboo Nest Lodge

Going back to town was also dictated by Nok and Noy, as they had more guests to pick up, and of course, with an hour journey each way, I can understand why they would only want to make the trip once in a day. We said our farewells, and made our way back to the bustle of the busy city streets of the city, wishing only that our time had been extendable by a couple more days.

If you are looking for others remember to do your homework and make sure they are operating with sustainable practices. This is one of the best-hidden secrets in Northern Thailand by far. I would encourage anyone to spend some time getting to know this lovely couple and disconnecting from the world to reconnect with the planet.

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Noy, myself and Nok
WSE Travel - Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai, Thailand - Map
Bamboo Nest, Chiang Rai, Thailand – Map

Have you found any travel secret spots which left you with a feeling of awe? Are there any places you’ve been which were just so wonderful you couldn’t believe they weren’t more well known? Share your stories in the comments below!

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WSE Travel - Bamboo Nest high atop a mountain
Bamboo Nest high atop a mountain

8 Responses

  1. An excellent and captivating read from start to finish that left me content and relaxed as if I had just had a full body massage and oozing with love for the world and everyone in it! x

  2. Stunning photos Ian and a very well written story. Thank you! Please be my guide if Im ever in Asia when you are!

    1. Hey Audrey! It definitely felt as remote as you can get. Even after living in a village only 10 km away for 3 months, it didn’t compare to the isolation this incredible couple offers their guests. Hopefully you’ll get to experience it one day!

  3. Hi Audrey,

    what village do you recommend to stay in that is NOT touristy and will see full culture?
    thank you!!!!

    1. Hi Amber, the main issue for what you are asking is that many hilltribes are very private and do not like anyone who isn’t part of their tribe visiting. This comes from a long history of wars with other tribes… stealing crops and stealing women (yes this too). So really, only a few hilltribes have opened themselves up to having people visit… they still live in a traditional style, though you may encounter other tourists there.. and this is because they are welcomed.

      If you aren’t interested in Bamboo Nest mentioned in this article (which I feel is an incredible experience, and very off the grid), then you could also look at Akha Mudhouse, also located in Chiang Rai province. It is an akha tribe who have build a guesthouse for visitors. tourists (such as yourself) do find their way there, but the community still lives, for the most part, as they always have.

      Both Bamboo Nest and the Akha Mudhouse are incredible places to visit, and places that you will be welcomed with open arms (rather than closed doors). 🙂

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