Our Tour of
|Village kiddies in line for candy.
Scenery from the road.
|A long-neck mom and daughter of the Karen tribe.
November 10, 2006
In Michelle’s extensive research, she found an area called ‘The Golden Triangle’ that she wanted to visit. She contacted many tour operators and ended
up booking us a driver for two days and one night that would go to the places that sounded the most appealing.
Kai, our driver, picked us up at our Chiang Mai hotel this morning. The very first thing he said was “I had two glasses of milk this morning. I was just
in the bathroom because it gave me diarrhea.” This kind of conversation doesn’t go over well with me. I was all about cutting to the chase. I told him
that is something we did not need to know. Kai is a talker, I could tell right off the bat.
I never read one itinerary my sister e-mailed me. I intended to. But since I had no idea what anything on the itinerary even was, it felt pointless to
look. Instead I just agreed to whatever Michelle wanted to do (since she was the one with a clue as to what exists in Northern Thailand). Today was
going to be a total surprise (as tomorrow is). Our first stop was the Mae Sa Elephant Camp. Sounded fun to me! But who knew there was so much to
do here??? Okay, my sister did. But I had no idea.
From here, we headed onward to lunch in Chiang Dao at a great restaurant where we sat overlooking a creek. Ahhh…
Then it was time to visit a local village of the Palong tribe. I have to admit that this visit didn’t do too much for me. They were selling some of their
goods but they really didn’t seem too friendly. It is customary on these visits to bring some candy for the kiddies. So I did that. But I was actually
ready to leave almost upon entering. I know this sounds bad. But I just did not get the best vibe. It actually made me almost dread the idea of visiting
another tribal village later in the day.
Chiang Dao is also the home to caves that have many Buddha relics inside. It was pretty cool seeing something beyond stalagmites and stalactites. It
was here that we also learned that Thai Buddhas only come in three different positions: reclining, meditating and sitting with their hands in a certain
position that tells themselves to stop from doing what they’re about to do. The happy, jolly Buddhas are Chinese. There were also Shan Buddhas
here…but I don’t remember what their positioning was.
Next we went to No Man’s Land. We were not in a country. Just a space of land in between Thailand and Myanmar. We went up to a Thai army base
that exists up there. They are there to watch for Burmese people who are trying to smuggle opium into Thailand. Most people from Myanmar are very
poor and are looking for a way to make a buck. Opium makes them this buck…and then some.
The Black Lahu village we visited afterwards was such a refreshing change from the first tribe we visited. This village was a bit more rustic as they
had no electricity at all. With the rustic-ness came the absolute kind-nature of these people. Almost everybody we saw were children. They were so
excited as they knew candy was right around the corner for them. Each a little guy who was a little over a year old came out of his little home –sans
clothes – to get his share of the loot. They knew the drill – they queued up and waited. Then they each got several pieces and ran around in happiness
upon getting it. They didn’t even eat it right away. They just smiled and held the wrapped candy in their hands. There were little piggies and roosters
running around and teeny-tiny puppies that were actually cute (quite a rarity in this part of the world). Here, I felt so comfortable. The sun had just
set and it was starting to get dark so we couldn’t stay too long. But I would have liked to.
It was time to head to our home for the evening and then grab some dinner at one of the nearby resorts. Only I, in a malaria-zone, would forget to
put on bug spray and would forget to bring my little bug-detractor bracelet when going to a resort with an outdoor restaurant. I am fortunate enough
to have a sister who doesn’t want her sister to be diseased so she lent me her bracelet (as her brain was functioning normally and remembered to
lather up in bug repellent).
Tomorrow we have a bit of an early start. And where we go and what we do is a mystery to me. Kind of fun that way…
November 11, 2006
Another day, another early morning. Well, early-ish. I just consider ‘early’ any time I have to set an alarm clock.
I retract my first line of the last paragraph. I should have said ‘Another day, another tribe’ as we started our morning off with a visit to the Karen
tribal village. There is a uniqueness that these people possess – long necks. I should actually say the illusion of long necks. The women in this village
wear brass rings around their neck from the time that they are five years old. Every few years, three rings are added. By the time they are 25 years old
they have 25 rings holding up their heads. These weigh about eight kilograms (about seventeen pounds for those not too familiar with the metric
system). That’s a lot of weight! I don’t know about anybody else but I have a hard time when wearing a necklace made of large beads. By the time
they have had these rings around their neck for so long, they are there to stay for life as it would be very dangerous to remove them since their necks
have become so flexible due to the lack of muscle in them. There are times where some of them do remove them. One woman’s brother had the
profession of putting these on. So he was able to take hers off when she needed it done (mostly when she went back to Myanmar as that is where all of
these people originate). We saw pictures of her and she had a mighty long neck. We learned that we were wrong in our thinking. It was actually that
the rings pushed down on her clavicles and shoulders and that was what gave the illusion that her neck had lengthened. Ohhhhh. That makes sense.
I couldn’t resist buying a wooden tribal long-neck woman before I left. I told my sister that she will get along great with my two wooden tribal people
from Africa. Michelle informed me that my future home is going to have a very ‘Cost Plus’ atmosphere. I would have gotten irritated with her had I
not fully agreed. I have no idea what I am going to do with this stuff. And I have no idea how I am going to incorporate it all together. Actually, I do.
Decorators are always up for a challenge, right? I’m going to hire one of them to figure it out. As my brother-in-law would say: “That is the Nathan
way.” Once again, that might irritate me except for that he is absolutely correct.
On our way out of the Karen village, we walked through the Red Lahu tribal village. These two tribes literally live side by side. Only a few stairs
separates them. Kind of gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see two tribes living so peacefully and harmoniously next to each other. The Lahu women
have huge holes that are completely stretched out by ‘earrings’ (if you can call them that) in their ears. Their lobes were stretched out so much that
there was a space the size of a nickel going right the ‘earrings’. To this I say ‘Ouch’.
Kai then led us into new territory. This ‘territory’ was the Union of Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma). Ten dollars gave us entry into
the country and there were the street vendors that I came to know so well in China. Oh wait. I think there was a reason for this – it must have been
that all of this stuff came from China. DVDs, CDs, fake Louis Vuittons…take your pick, it was here. I forgot that while this stuff wasn’t new to me, it
was new to Michelle. She had fun browsing around. One thing about the Burmese – they don’t bargain the way the Chinese do. I miss the Chinese. It
was so fun over there. They always gave into me. It is much more challenging over here. My sister pointed out something she wanted and I left it up
to myself to get her a good price. But then when we walked away, they let us walk! I couldn’t believe it! My peeps back in China never let me walk
away. Didn’t these people know how it’s done? Principle probably prevented them from giving us our way and it sure as hell prevented us from giving
into their price. So we walked. And we ended up finding stuff that we liked just as much for a fraction of the price. Justice was served…to us, at least.
One thing I had heard my sister mention several times before this trip was ‘The Golden Triangle’. I always assumed it was going to Chiang Mai,
Chiang Rai and some other city and that they somehow formed a triangle. That could make sense, right? Not in this case. It turned out that the
Golden Triangle referred to a viewing point where you are standing in Thailand. When looking out at the rivers (the Mekong and Mae Sai meet here)
Myanmar is to the left and Laos is to the right. And there it is…The Golden Triangle. There are other sights in the world that use the ‘Golden’ word to
emphasize how wonderful a place is. We assumed that was what the ‘Golden’ meant in this case. Nope. We hit up the Opium Museum that was just a
couple minutes away and learned that opium was known as ‘black gold’ and this area used to have this stuff growing anywhere and everywhere. And
that is where the name Golden Triangle comes from. Ohhhh…. I was a bit shocked to find that I enjoyed this museum far more than I thought I
would. I even took quite a liking to the look of the opium pipes. I just finished the book Shantaram and I felt like that had already given me a bit of
knowledge into the world of heroin. Scary stuff…that’s all I can say about it.
Michelle, Kai and I walked over to the dock across the street and got onboard a long-tail boat that took us to a Laotian village. I have been on so
many boat rides that just glide across the water that I forgot how much fun boats have the potential of being. The long-tail boat reminded me of this
as Michelle and I were literally saying ‘Wheeeee’ as we bounced along the river. True to form, I bought something in the Laotian village. Remember
how I said I took a liking to the opium pipes? Well, I bought one. Just another item to add to my Cost Plus household.
Our time up north had now come to an end. All that was left was a four hour car ride home. A four hour ride that left me headachy and nauseated. I’
m not one to get carsick but it happened today.
I feel a bit better now but not well enough to head into town (where my sister now is). I think I am officially calling it a night right now…