Hill Tribes

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

We awoke in Mae Salong very early to catch the morning market, and the view of the sunrise from the local temple.

Mae Salong

The view from the temple
In the bottom right of this photo you can faintly see the village of Mae Salong.

Mae Salong
This woman is wearing her tribe's traditional costume.

Local hill tribe woman
This elderly lady sold me a little charm bracelet, I just couldn't refuse her. Her teeth are blackened from chewing betel nut.

After the market we returned to our little motel room, packed up and shipped out. I'd acquired a map of the local hill tribe village locations from the motel owner, so we decided to venture into a few of these villages on our own. The first village we went to was about 20 mins drive to the middle of nowhere on a rutted clay road. I felt very apprehensive about it. Were we being culturally insensitive just 'popping in' for a visit? Did they loathe or love visitors? Were we dressed appropriately? Dad's usual cherry optimism encouraged me, and we were soon parked up at the first village.

Over the course of the day we visited 3 villages and created some memories that are probably the most vivid of the trip, for me anyway. It was a totally natural experience, nothing contrived or touristy about it at all. We learned a lot by just observing. I'll let the photos explain...

This is a typical hill tribe home. Raised up to allow floodwater to run freely in the monsoon, and powered by a giant solar panel. Solar power has been introduced to a few of the luckier hill tribes as part of the King's Project - dedicated to improving the quality of life for the tribes of Thailand.

Homes are constructed from simple woven patterns. As you can imagine, they're not exactly weather-proof or particularly robust. They tend to be re-built every five or so years.

Upon entering, villages often appeared deserted. But if we stood still for long enough, the locals came out to play... the furry and flea-ridden kind were especially friendly!

These boys were fascinated by my camera with the giant telephoto lens on it. I took a few photos of them, then showed them on the camera which they thought was pretty neat. They proceeded to have a bit more fun and smile for me... so long as they got to see the picture.

We felt like we'd had a privileged insight to the lives of local villagers that tourists seldom see. I can now see why people are inspired to sell all their worldly possessions for a plane ticket, and go to do volunteer work in these places.

Reluctantly we departed Mae Salong that afternoon, bound for Mae Sa - the Northern most point of Thailand.

Northern Thailand

Monday, February 15, 2010

Our flight from NZ touched down in Bangkok and we flew out to Chiang Mai the very next day. Chiang Mai is a great city. While it is very much on the beaten track of tourism, it’s managed to retain a lot of its local culture. It was a perfect introduction to the oddities of Thai culture... squat toilets, fish spas, market touts. After two nights of shopping and sightseeing, we were ready to get out of the city. Armed with a map of the Golden Triangle route, we hired a car and set off.

Street Food
Street food at the Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai.

The Thais make a mean fruit smoothie, Dad is lining up for his third of the day.

Despite receiving warnings against driving in Thailand from every sane person we knew (“they don’t even use road lanes...” “...there are still road bandits there you know!”) we were delighted to discover that navigating and driving was very easy. In our first glorious day on the road we visited the Mae Sa Valley and its waterfalls (and mosquitos), before moving on to Chiang Dao to explore the famous caves. Things got better the further North we went. Goods were cheaper, faces were friendlier, and the air was clearer.

This little guy was very keen to welcome us to the Mae Sa Valley. He crawled all over us both, and was rather hard to get rid of!

The last waterfall in the Mae Sa Valley.

Entrance to the Chiang Dao Caves

That evening we settled down at the Chiang Dao Nature Resort - a family run place where the Grandmother fussed over us like her children. She cooked us a delicious meal, periodically popping out to the table to clutch my hands and exclaim something in Thai. No idea what she was saying, but I’m guessing it was something like “it’s lovely to have you here”. I felt very appreciated that night.

The following day we departed and drove in the general direction of North. The landscape changed dramatically all the time. For some time we followed a valley lined with giant limestone cliffs, and scarred by massive sink holes. From time to time a tiny village would appear in the middle of nowhere, or we’d come across a stall with a young girl selling oranges on a seemingly deserted road. There were plenty of “what the...?” moments, and we often wished we’d had a local sitting in the back seat to answer our questions! Our lunch stop was Doi Ang Khang, a high altitude farming area; before continuing on to the Wat Tha Thon complex, where there was a shrine on each of nine different levels.

Fresh produce at Doi Ang Khang markets.

The view from Wat Tha Thon was great - a patchwork of fields and villages.

Wat Tha Thon in the late afternoon, shot from the last and highest of the 9 shrines.

By now Dad and I had the whole driving routine down pat. He drove and I navigated. We’d learned that there is no such thing as road lanes, the biggest vehicle has right of way, and that when packing stuff in a car, more is better (“stuff” may include, but is not limited to: chickens, hay, people, furniture, other vehicles, food and of course, animals). Driving was endlessly entertaining.

One example of particularly efficient packing.

Purely by chance we wound up in Mae Salong that evening, a tiny but very vibrant Yunnanese Village in the Northern Chiang Rai province. What a find. We were two of about a dozen tourists in the whole place. There happened to be a tea festival on that weekend, so we meandered through the market where hill tribe women were selling their wares, watched groups of children from different tribes perform in a song and dance contest, and of course we tasted tea from one of the many tea stalls. We curled up in bed that night feeling very content. After just 4 days of travel we had seen and experienced more than either of us had ever expected. Things were only going to get better too...

Mae Salong Tea Festival
Chinese Lanterns lining the tea stalls at the festival

Dad tried to find a sun hat in a local mini-mart... he failed miserably, but had fun trying!

This sign was posted above the toilet in our room. Surely we were allowed to drop some things in there...


Oh our poor blog! I am shocked and appalled that we have left The Naked Run languishing since August last year. It's not like we haven't had any adventure in our lives. The cold hard truth is that we have just been very lazy. This dire situation is about to change though -The Naked Run is going to get a jolly good blogging.

In December 26 my Dad (Alan) and I departed New Zealand, bound for Thailand. This trip was significant for several reasons, mostly because it was Dad’s first real adventure outside of New Zealand. He’d been to Rarotonga once, and Australia once - neither of these really provided much of a culture shock. Of course the fact that father and daughter were joining forces for a trip was also pretty significant, it was a once in a lifetime sort of thing for us.

I’ve been back in NZ for seven days now and have buried myself in photo editing. Over the next wee while I’ll upload photos and stories from our trip... enjoy.

Introducing my Dad, Alan.