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Thailand Offers Some Risks Along With Hiking

<i> Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes. </i>

Thailand offers young travelers the opportunity for some very exotic adventures. For example, you may find yourself in a Mao hut where women still have turban-like hair styles and hunters still use poison arrows.

During my five-day trek I stayed in five villages, rafted on a narrow bamboo platform, traveled by elephant and found myself on an extremely popular jungle hike that followed tiger tracks.

However, with any type of adventure travel there are some serious risks.

Don’t trek alone. Join a small group with a knowledgeable, experienced, registered guide who speaks English clearly and can communicate in the hill-tribe languages. You can book treks from the United States or after you arrive in Thailand.

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Beware of Guides

Chiang Mai, the second-largest city in Thailand, is the starting point for many treks. It’s a 13-hour train ride north of Bangkok. Tour agents line the streets selling hill-tribe adventures that last from one to seven days. Some use legitimate, experienced trekking guides . . . some do not.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand, 135 Praisani Road, Amphoe Muang, Chiang Mai, provides a list of legitimate companies.

I liked the idea of traveling with a company that was represented in North America, so I made arrangements to go on a 14-day Top Deck budget tour that included a five-day trek. Top Deck is a British outfit geared to travelers between 18 and 35 years.

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I knew it was Top Deck’s first season running these programs, so I expected a few wrinkles. But I was disappointed to discover that the company courier had not been to several of the areas we experienced. Using a local guide, Top Deck was experimenting on unresearched routes with full-paying passengers.

This year their 14-day budget tours, which begin and end in Bangkok, cost $665 U.S. For details contact a travel agent or Campus Holidays USA, 242 Bellevue Ave., Upper Montclair, N.J. 07043, or call toll-free (800) 526-2915.

Need Medical Advice

Don’t rely on tour operators for medical advice. Candid talks about the risk of tropical disease won’t sell tours.

In July, I attended a slide presentation on trekking through Thailand by a North American tour operator. He brought up the subject of malaria and said: “It’s not a problem . . . the mosquitoes don’t bite this time of year.” That type of information can be very dangerous.

Malaria is a serious problem in some rural areas of Thailand. You can be infected any time, including the hiking season, November to February. Three out of five members of the group I hiked with last December picked up the most serious form of the disease, and we had all taken anti-malaria medication.

Equally as disturbing, some people in that audience talked about independent travel to Thailand.

Malaria Is a Problem

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They heard a so-called expert tell them: “It’s not a problem.” That’s just the reassurance most travelers want so they can put the subject out of their minds and not bother to seek more medical information.

Talk to medical experts before you leave home. Contact a tropical disease clinic and ask about protection, including drugs, bed nets and repellents.

If you experience a fever and chills during your trip or after you return, make sure that the doctor who treats you knows where you have been and all the other facts.

More information on travel to Thailand is available from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1101, Los Angeles 90010; phone (213) 382-2353.


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