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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Free Time in Northern Thailand


A Weekend Away



Had my first free weekend to travel around and spread my wings. Four of us volunteers decided to make the trip up to Mai Salong in far northern Thailand on the Burmese border. To make the trip we needed to catch a bus from Chiang Rai so we spent Friday night in town in order to leave Saturday morning. Aftert an hour on the bus and another on the song taew (like a ute with built in seats in the back, used as a taxi) we made it up to Mai Salong. And I mean up. The hills were steep and plentiful.

The guest house we stayed in was lovely, Shinsane, and is possibly the best value for money I have ever seen - only 50 baht each per night (about $2.50). The food there was also good. The village itself (village not town, only very small) is built on a hill in a style reminiscent to the coast line of Greece (or so I thought) in that all the houses are white and cascade down the hill, only the result of their decline is not a crystal blue ocean but the the soggy reality of rice patties and the straight rows of tea crops. It is very beautiful, surrounded by mamoth mountains and glistening golden Buddhist temples. The region is famous for its tea and I managed to get a good deal on some Gin Sing tea and some White tea - both vacuum sealed to appease customs.

After lunch we decided to head up to the temple towering over us on the top of the hill. There are precisely 718 stairs leading up and I know that my legs felt every single one of them. Once reaching the summit the views were good, but not amazing and some wise guy (one of the other volunteers, we love him, but this was not one of his more popular ideas) decided we should walk the loop road out instead of going back down the stairs. As we asked the local tour guides for confirmation of our plan, they looked at us as though we were mad, but told us the road lead where we expected. So off we went. I soon understood their sentiments. As they all slowly passed us in vans full of tourists, we slowly climbed the hill, which turned into a long mountain. The climb was truly nasty.

Linda and I had fallen behind, but as we were nearing the rise, Ashley sprinting back towards us, yelling something. He wanted my camera, grabbed it and then, running off, told us to come and see. And come and see we did, the view was amazing. We could see out over the misty hills of Burma and all around was green and golden from the slowing sun. Magic. The photos are amazing. We continued to walk the mountain ridge road, silenced and excited by the surrounds.

We then reached a little side path, which according to our map led to a Chinese cemetary. Again a fabulous bunch of photos.

Further down the road I could hear the distinct sound of pigs, and, sure enough there was a little set of pig pens. It looked as though there was someone down there feeding them, so we went down to investigate. Loraine, one of the groups speaks fluent Mandarin (many of of the hills tribes in this region are of Chinese descent, so Mandarin is more commonly spoken than Thai). After she translated for us we were given permission to take a look around and snap some photos. Most people in the villages are very relaxed about that sort of thing, but sometimes cameras and photos can cause problems. Many of the older people believe the the photo steals part of you soul, so the don't like people taking photos. It is quite spooking to see their point of view - a bunch of foreigners wandering around with soul-stealing devices. The pigs were grubby, but beautilful and look amazing in black and white photos. On the way down the hill we had also seen an oval with some kids playing soccer, so we asked the pig feeder about it and he pointed us in the direction of the village.

Well, upon arrival we were nearly flocked by kids. The were fascinated by the camera and my favourite pics of the trip have come from this group. The just adore performing for the camera and love to see what they look like o film. They even love taking photos of me instead! One kid wanted my attention, so he started pulling faces - with his brother's face! So I have these stunnning pictures of this little kids pulling out his borther's ears, I couldn't help but laugh, they looked just like my brothers!

After that it was getting late, so we headed back to the guest house. All in all our little adventure had taken 5 hours of walking. But it was worth it. This morning we did another 4 in the opposite direction, so that successfuly circumnavigated the village.This was a shorter, but much more cruel walk. Very steep hills in close succession. But we made it and had a hot shower to celebrate.

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