Mountains replaced our view of buildings for the weekend– Our team at Wildchain caught the night train from Bangkok to the North to plant trees in Chiang Dao.
Last March, wildfires burned over 400 rai of the Chiang Dao Forest that resulted in a pollution crisis that extended to Chiang Mai. In response, we decided to join forces with some friends and partners such as Socialgiver, Global Shapers Bangkok and Big Trees Project to help revitalize the flora and fauna of the jungle. 54 volunteers came together to help make lasting changes for our natural world and the critters that call it home. Our group of amateur arborists eagerly took the opportunity to escape the city to get our hands dirty in Chiang Dao.
A little about Chiang Dao…
Chiang Dao is a small town surrounded by a nature lover’s paradise. Hiking trails, natural hot springs, stargazing, animal sanctuaries and lush greenery contrast the city of Bangkok- all under Doi Chiang Dao, the third tallest mountain in Thailand. Chiang Dao could best be described as a village– so quaint it only has four 7-11’s!! But the area of Chiang Dao is not best known for the town, it’s known for what the natural world has to offer– and we went to help revive the forests in the area to keep it wonderful 😇.
We departed Bangkok and journeyed North to Chiang Mai Friday evening. As the night train isn’t regarded for comfort, it is the most sustainable mode of transport to Chaing Mai from Bangkok: the train releases 1/10 of the carbon emissions compared to a plane. While it releases 10 times less emissions, it also takes 10 times longer– so we were prepared to enjoy the company of one another for our 13 hour journey. We hung out, chatted and played card games during the evening. Later, we retired to our bunks to rest for a big day of tree planting.
We woke up to a view of Thai countryside that made up for any discomfort of the night train. From our windows, we saw old barns, rolling hills and beautiful greenery. At 7:15 we arrived to Chiang Mai. We got a quick breakfast around the train station then boarded vans that were waiting to take us to Chiang Dao.
We drove 70 km North to Chaing Dao. As we got closer to the tree planting location, our van bounced along dirt roads. We arrived at the Chiang Dao youth camp around 9:30.
The Chiang Dao youth camp is a great site– there is a cool stream running through camp, fruit trees and good facilities all under Doi Chiang Dao. It was a very comfortable site and a great place for volunteers to hang out and relax.
Tree Planting in Chiang Dao
At the youth camp, we were given instructions on how to plant trees. Then, we went 1 km into the woods to the reforestation location and begun planting! This location was chosen to be reforested because it was affected by the recent fires and was ready for new saplings. We dug holes, planted trees and covered the roots with soil. My favorite part was hopping on the soil around the trees so make sure it was well packed.
We all enjoyed working together to make a difference in the forest. Not only was it fun, we shared a sense of accomplishment and got to see a fuller forest from our hard work.
Lunch time came around and we ate at the youth camp. We ate northern food such as khao soi, rice noodles, green curry, pad fuk tong and fruit including fresh bananas grown in the camp. After lunch, we relaxed, cooled off in the stream before we listened to a panel.
The panel was held by a local village leader, a forest ranger, an astronomy professor and an environmentalist; they discussed their roles in the reforestation project of and the roles of other groups associated with the Big Trees Project.
Roadside Seed Collection
After lunch, we took the vans down the road to collect seeds that have fallen from trees. We picked up yang deang seeds that fell near the roadside. These seeds are especially interesting because they have “wings” that spin when they fall from the trees– allowing them to fall far from their parent tree. We accidentally pulled on some that were already rooted into the ground; we were surprised to find that these seeds are self burrowing, meaning their roots grow into the soil so they do not have to be planted by humans.
We walked along the roadside for 2 km and filled up empty rice sacks with the seeds. As our bags filled, our pace slowed due to the heat and our growing collection of seeds. Fortunately, we were revived by popsicles that we got from an ice cream man who happened to pass by on a motorbike.
Some volunteers chose to stay the night at the youth camp, while others opted for a hotel (I chose to stay at a hotel) but the youth camp looked comfortable too. For those who stayed in a hotel, we showered and freshened up before our evening back at the camp.
Evening Events at the Chiang Dao Youth Camp
We returned to the youth camp from the village and refueled with a nice dinner. Then, we listened to a talk by an environmentalist. He discussed the our impact and the importance of reforestation. Then, all 54 volunteers had the opportunity to share why they choose to come to the tree planting event and a little bit about themselves. It was interesting to hear why people from such different backgrounds chose to come together for this event– everyone shared a common love and appreciation for the environment that was inspiring 😊.
After the talk, we got to celebrate a birthday! Pete, an ambassador for Wildchain, turned 22 on Saturday! He has been tree planting a lot growing up, but it’s been a while so he decided his birthday would be well spent this year giving back– we got to share cake too!
We returned to the hotel and I fell asleep within minutes… I wanted to stay up and hang out, but I was too tired. Those at the youth camp stayed up and watched the stars. In fact, Chiang Dao means “city of stars”, making it the perfect location for stargazing.
Sunday morning we woke up to a nice sunrise and fresh breakfast that included orange watermelon and fresh passion fruit juice. Then, we got ready for the day and headed back to the camp to do some more good for the environment.
Seed Planting in the Reforestation Zone
From the camp, we walked through the forest and saw the charcoalized zones on our way to the reforestation site. I was surprised to see how close the burned zones were to the camp– it could have easily been in the path of the fire. Walking among plants such as mango trees, banana trees and a variety of other trees and shrubs really made me think of the biodiversity of the forest. Walking next to what was lost really put the devastation from the recent fires and deforestation into perspective. This made me believe that our contribution really could make a difference and raise awareness for reforestation efforts.
Because it didn’t rain overnight, we planted seeds instead of saplings. The soil needed to be more moist to plant saplings, but conditions were suitable to disperse seeds in the forest. We planted the yang deang seeds (dipterocarpus turbinatus) that we collected Saturday, in addition to makha seeds (dracontomelon dao), khajok seeds (Afzelia xylocarpa), five god seeds (schleichera oleosa) and other species to increase biodiversity in the area.
After we planted the seeds, we were once again revived by popsicles. We went back to the camp and had lunch before heading back to Chiang Mai.
Fun in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai we took part in some leisurely sightseeing. We went to iBerry and had ice cream and fried chicken while we took in the relaxed vibe of Chiang Mai. Then, we visited the beautiful mountaintop temple called Wat Doi Suthep Temple. We enjoyed the view of Chiang Mai from an overlook– a view that I could take in for hours.
At the temple, we got blessed with holy water by a monk who spoke German, English and Thai. It was a new experience for me as I have never been blessed by a monk or splashed by holy water.
For dinner we had northern style food at Han Teung Chiang Mai. We had a variety of dishes that are hard to find back in Bangkok– so that was a treat!
After dinner we walked around a night market. It was similar to those in Bangkok, but this one was special because it was held on city streets that were closed for the market. It was a large market that weaved in streets and around temples in Chiang Mai. Though I didn’t get any souvenirs, I did refresh myself with coconut juice.
Wrapping up a Great Weekend
Then, we returned back to Bangkok… I was sad to go but so happy to have a wonderful weekend with great people. We learned so much about tree planting and the forest ecosystem, met other like minded people, celebrated Pete’s birthday and made unforgettable memories in the beautiful backdrop of the North.
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Until next time… XOXO Lily at Wildchain
Hi I’m Lily! I am a conservation associate at Wildchain, a non-profit tackling wildlife conservation problems through gamification. I research biomes and ecosystems to assist with game mechanics and help with conservation related developments.