Pornchai, the living trekking legend of Chiang Mai

Learning English in Chiang Mai

Pornchai Singchai is the living trekking legend of Chiang Mai. He was born in Shan State, Myanmar. After finishing high school he came to Thailand to find work. He ended up in Chiang Mai working for a guesthouse. There he met a British friend who taught him English, which was the beginning of his career in tourism. In those days, the late 1970s, hill tribe trekking was the most popular activity for young travelers and tourists. It was the start of the “Lonely Planet backpacking boom”. New guesthouses mushroomed in Chiang Mai and they all had their own trekking guides. It was the “Golden Age” of hill tribe trekking.

Two men standing in the water trekking legend
Pornchai and Frans on a research trip in 2013

A trekking legend

Pornchai started as a porter for trekking guides, improved his English, obtained a guide license, and applied with a company in Chiang Mai. I met Pornchai briefly after my arrival in Chiang Mai. At that time he worked freelance for Queen Bee and for Khiri Travel. I managed the Khiri Travel office until 2012 and often went with Pornchai on survey trips. One of those trips was a survey in Mae Hong Son province to find an alternative trekking route for the Dutch company Baobab Travel.

We left Chiang Mai very early in the morning, drove to Pai, and onwards to Pang Ma Pha. From there we walked the route of a three-day trek in one day, spent the night in Pai, and returned the next day to Chiang Mai. I remember I had trouble walking up the stairs in my office for several days. These are great memories. The below picture shows Pornchai in action during a trip to the Palong village Mae Chon with students from the United States.

Man with people in traditional dress trekking legend
Pornchai with the Palong people

School and University Tours

In the early days we organized a trip of six days to Mae Hong Son provincie for Tanglin Trust, a British International school in Singapore. During that trip we spent a full day in the Karenni refugee camp Nai Soi on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Pornchai was instrumental in making these trips hugely successful. After I founded Green Trails, which started as Tiger Trail Thailand, I worked more and more closely with Pornchai. In the last couple of years we have focused on organizing trips for schools and universities to communities of Karen, Palong and Hmong people. Pornchai has been the leading guide on those tours. The below picture shows him in action at the Hmong village Baan Mae Sa Mai.

Group of tourists
Pornchai with a USAC group at the Hmong village Baan Mae Sa Mai

An invaluable source of knowledge and experience

He has guided most of the tours for the company Moondance Adventures from the US for more than six years. We have organized tours for schools and universities from Australia and the UK to Karen communities, tours that involved the construction of community projects. Most recently we have worked with USAC, the United States Abroad Consortium. These tours required more academic content, during which Pornchai was able to share his life experience with students. On tours like we also send trainee guides along to learn from the master. Pornchai is not only one of the most knowledgeable trekking guides in Chiang Mai, he is also our liaison to the communities we work with. He definitely earned his title Living Trekking Legend! Meet our other guides.