Back in the beginning, when Fjällräven founder, Åke Nordin, was developing the concept of Fjällräven Classic his goal was to get more Swedes trekking in the Swedish wilderness. It was a simple goal, though not without its challenges.
In the mid 2000s, mobile communications and social media were taking flight. People were looking down at their phones rather than looking out at nature. But Åke thought that if Fjällräven made it easy for people, taking care of the logistics and the finer details, some would give it a go.
And he was right. There may have been just a couple of hundred people the first few years but the idea of the event, to trek with like minded-individuals carrying all you need on your back, took off. And spread. First to Denmark, then to the US and Hong Kong.
People were inspired. They found out that you really can trek self-supported over long distances. You don’t need to stay in huts; you don’t need a porter; you don’t need vast sums of money and to head off to a far-flung location with a bag full of Imodium and hand sanitiser.
However, this notion of Swedish trekking, carrying everything you need on your back, was new to our Asian sales teams. “In Thailand, trekking culture is not like what it is in Europe,” explains Tatrawee Harikul, from Thailand Outdoor, one of our distributers in Thailand. “People don’t really trek that much in Thailand and if they do it’s with a porter and they take loads of stuff. But when we joined the Swedish event in 2015 we were really inspired and impressed by the people we met and the outdoor culture. Not many people in Thailand can travel to Sweden. So we wanted to bring this type of trekking to Thailand.”
Together with local Fjällräven distributer Pun Pratchaya Kulthamrong – and with some guidance from Fjällräven event manager Carl Hård åf Segerstedt – that’s just what he did.
They had three different objectives. Firstly, they wanted to make it easier for Thai people to get out and experience “real” nature. Secondly, they wanted to create an “outdoor culture” in Thailand. “And what we mean by ‘outdoor culture’ revolves around three things – the first of which might sound strange to you in Sweden. But in Thailand people aren’t used to carrying their own gear and being self-sufficient.” Tatrawee and his team wanted to encourage self-reliance; they wanted people to really think about what to bring and what is really necessary; “we believe this will lead to less rubbish on the trail, too.”
This smoothly leads into the idea of ‘leave no trace’, a concept which hasn’t yet caught on in Thailand. You usually see loads of rubbish left lying around on trails and at beauty spots. “I was so impressed when we trekked the Classic in Sweden,” says Tatrawee. “A couple of thousand people were trekking with us yet there wasn’t a single piece of trash on that trail. We thought this was amazing.”
The third and final objective was respect – for everyone on the trail. “During Fjällräven Classic in Sweden we met a lot of people from all over the world and everyone was friendly. There were no boundaries at all. People spoke to each other like friends. It was beautiful and we wanted to create it here.”
In Thailand local porters and guides are often treated disrespectfully by tourists. The goal with the Thailand trek, which uses local people as guides, is to encourage a spirit of togetherness, friendship and respect. And by using local guides, the event supports the area’s communities and encourages and enables them to maintain the wildness of the jungle the trek winds through.
And the landscape is truly beautiful. It’s lush and green, just how you’d imagine northern Thailand to be. But there are also open, elevated sections, where the landscape unfurls into the distance. It’s undulating, with a few hundred metres of height gain – and loss – over the 50km course.
150 people in year one and 230 people in year two trekked together during the event, with a guide for every 10 participants. They stayed in designated camp sites and ate locally produced food. The participants were educated about outdoor life and the region; they learned where the water comes from to feel a truer connection to nature; they discovered local communities and saw how they live with the jungle; and they learned how to take care of themselves in nature.
And it’s been a big success. “We’ve had really good feedback so far. We’ve even seen great things written about the event, for example in National Geographic Thailand. I’m so glad people are talking about the event. It will help local nature and communities,” says Tatrawee.
So far the event is predominantly enjoyed by Thais. But the plan is to encourage people from around the world to trek this way in Thailand. “We have so many good stories, nice people and a beautiful trail and we want to share this experience. The event is inspired by Fjällräven Classic Sweden, but it’s very different in terms of scenery and local culture,” says Tatrawee. “I’d love to share this with more people.”
Text: Sarah Benton