Greeneville native Marshall Harbison, 24, is currently making a five-month solo backpacking journey, self-financed and self-directed, through several countries in Southeast Asia.
A daughter of Steve and Sally Harbison of this community and a 2012 graduate of Wofford College, she has been living and working in Atlanta for the last two years.
During the next few months, she will be sharing highlights of her unusual journey with Greeneville Sun readers through a series of e-mailed columns sent from the countries to which the trip takes her.
BY MARSHALL HARBISON
SPECIAL TO THE GREENEVILLE SUN
CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- For my first week in Thailand, I agreed to join a group tour, per my mother's request. I chose to do the "Northern Thailand Hilltribe Trek" for eight days, with G Adventures.
The tour started in Bangkok, traveled north to Chiang Mai, then trekked to two separate Hilltribe villages for three days, with home stays in each one.
Upon meeting the group and guide, I knew I was in for a load of fun. Our ages ranged from 18 to 30, from eight different countries. So far, I have not met any fellow Americans.
With limited space, I will jump straight to the highlight -- the Hilltribe trek. We began about an hour north of Chiang Mai, all revved up for the journey. We each brought small day-packs, as our big backpacks would have been much too heavy for what we had in store.
On the first day, the trek only lasted for about two-and-a-half hours, but felt more like four or five. Since we were climbing a mountain, the first straight hour was uphill and incredibly steep.
As I huffed and puffed, I couldn't help but think to myself, "If I make it through this, I need to send flowers to the spin and body pump teachers at the Decatur, Ga., YMCA for helping me get back into shape this past year!"
The trek continued to go up and down (equally steep) for what seemed like forever. But then, we made it, and the view alone made it all worth it.
We East Tennesseans are blessed to be surrounded by beautiful mountains and landscape. And not to say this view in north Thailand was any better, but it was completely different from anything I had ever seen.
Coconut trees, banana trees, rice patty fields sprawled throughout -- it was a sight for sore legs ...and eyes.
We topped off the day with a home stay in a village of the Karen tribe, the largest hill-tribe group in Thailand, whose main practice is crop rotation.
We made delicious spring rolls with genuine rice paper they make in the village, while they made us a feast of various curries and vegetables, with fresh pineapple for dessert. The perfect end to an incredible day.
After trekking four more hours the following day, we rode into a second village of the Karen Tribe on nothing else but elephants.
The final dinner in the village was a wonderful feast. Yellow curry with potatoes and chicken, sweet and sour vegetables, pumpkin with tofu, egg and chicken, and, of course, pineapple. Can you tell I loved the food?
We ended the trip with a four-hour ride down the Kloh Tho River on bamboo rafts.
As I gazed at the beautiful scenery that surrounded me, I thought about how thankful I am to be here. The peaceful serenity of the mountains and water with new friends was a much-needed change from the bustling city.
By the end of the trip, we were all exhausted, and equally sad to say goodbye. But I know we will all keep in touch, and hopefully visit each other in future travels.
This trip was such an amazing experience, I can't help but add that my mother really does know best.