|Chiang Mai (March 8, 2002 - March 16, 2002)|
Ayutthaya & Bangkok again
Krabi & Bangkok again
Chiang Mai is known for its crafts, temples, and also as a launching point for treks.
Our room in the Tawan Court Guesthouse was conveniently located near the night market. Sarah shopped with Trish, who we had met on the train, while the kids and I did homework and watched some of the DVD's that we bought in Bangkok. By the way, if anyone knows what happens at the end of Lord of the Rings, please let us know. I think out bootleg DVD was missing the last minute of the film.
We signed up with Panda tours for a three day trek in the Pai - Chiang Dao area to see hill tribes, ride on elephants, and take a rubber raft down some white water. The trek started out badly, as expected. But it ended up being terrific... again, as expected.
It was hot, dusty, and a relatively steep walk on the first day. We covered about 7 km and went up about 1000 metres. As in Mt Kinabalu, Chloe immediately started complaining loudly and dragging her feet. Heather was also struggling, but quietly. Chloe's pack didn't have much, but she only weighs 20kg, so it doesn't have to weigh much to be a significant problem for her. I carried Heather's pack, and Ed (one of the other trekkers) carried Chloe's pack for some of the first day. Then Heather found her second wind and carried Chloe's lighter pack instead of her own for the rest of the trip.
our guide, was terrific with Chloe and very quickly brought her out of her
slump. He brought Chloe up to the front of
the group and gave her a bamboo walking stick after our first rest stop.
She happily led the group ... until a biggish snake scared the daylights out of
her while slithering past her feet. At the
next rest stop, Kai made Chloe a dagger out of bamboo so she could protect
us and herself from the snakes - then she was off again. By the end of our
three days, Chloe carried (or delegated to others to carry) an assortment
of bamboo 'arrows', quivers, walking sticks, and her dagger - all the usual
things that 8 year olds collect while on jungle treks in Thailand. Actually Kai had
all sorts of tricks to keep kids, and kids at heart, entertained. We even learned
how to make a blade of grass shoot through the air like a javelin.
Another issue that the modern world had with hill tribes was opium. Poppies grows readily in the hills and it was an easy source of cash. In 1975, it was estimated that 150 tons of opium was grown by hill tribes in Thailand. To combat both land use and opium problems, The King of Thailand, the Thai government and the UN started programs to introduce different farming methods, and cash crops to replace lost opium revenue. They also brought water supply, schools, solar power, and other more modern services to tie the hill tribes to a permanent village. Cash crops we saw included lychee nuts, pineapple, banana, coffee, and tea. Another tour company offered poppy field tours on their trek, so the opium problem is not entirely gone.
We stayed at a Lahu
village on our first night. About 20 of the village's children (aged
perhaps 5 to 12), came to sing songs to us after our dinner, and then they asked us to
sing to them when they had finished. Heather and Chloe sang one of their
Guide songs, and Ed and Dave impressed us with their singing and
dancing talent. All the tribes in the area
we walked were in the process of burning stubble off the land before
planting a new crop. We nervously listened to crackling fires throughout
the night from the 'security' of our flammable bamboo hut
with thatched roof.
I wouldn't say visiting a hill tribe was a deeply
cultural experience - it was the kind of experience you would expect when
thousands of other tourists have preceded you in identical treks. However,
it was a great time. The group shared a closing dinner back in Chiang
Mai before going our separate ways. Its funny how traveling is - you get
quite close to a group, then say goodbye. Within a few days, you're all
thousands of miles apart going in different directions. May our paths
cross again some day.