Written by Owen Lipsett on 12 May, 2013
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep literally and figuratively symbolizes the city of Chiang Mai, which it overlooks (although "guards" might be a more apt description) from the mountain whose name it shares. Each year, newly enrolled students at the city’s university walk sixteen kilometers up…Read More
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep literally and figuratively symbolizes the city of Chiang Mai, which it overlooks (although "guards" might be a more apt description) from the mountain whose name it shares. Each year, newly enrolled students at the city’s university walk sixteen kilometers up the mountain as a matriculation exercise. For less ceremonial visits, most laypeople (myself included) prefer to take a sawngtaew (a pickup truck with seats in the back) from the city’s Chang Phuak gate, while monks often use a series of mountainside trails that are also open to the public.At just under 1,700 meters, Doi Suthep is high enough that your ears will pop on the ascent, but low enough that you’ll most likely feel no altitude sickness. This might serve as an analogy for the initial discomfort but enhanced well-being you’ll feel if you choose to deepen your visit with after your stay at the wat’s International Buddhism Center (www.fivethousandyears.org) where you can attend vipassana (insight) meditation courses of varying lengths. Many people imagine meditation centers as either places of low-key comfort or plain austerity, and my own experiences in Asia and North America is have been similar. Notwithstanding the ornate beauty of the mountaintop wat, the Center, located a few dozen meters below it, fits into the latter category.Looking down from the upper meditation hall at the simple tin-roofed dormitories on the mountain’s slope and the city of Chiang Mai on the plain far below, I felt suspended between the religious and secular worlds. The orientation and basic instruction in both sitting and walking meditation was similar to that at the secular retreat I attended. We were then sent to change into white long-sleeved temple clothing (available in most markets in Thailand for around 300 baht/$10 for pants and a shirt). The opening ceremony, led by a monk, was explicitly Buddhist, featuring bowing, an exchange of objects, and chanting in Pali (the language of the Buddha). I should note that as students are constantly coming and going, there’s an opening ceremony of this kind each evening (as well as a closing ceremony each morning), however an hour later everyone was literally chanting from the same book.My days at the International Buddhism Center followed a simple, but challenging routine. We awoke at 5 am (an hour later than Buddhist monks) and then listened to an hourlong lecture by the presiding monk on applying principles derived from Buddhism to our daily lives. These lectures, known as dhamma talks, are common to religious and secular meditation retreats alike. The word "dhamma" itself means "truth" in Pali and also can be taken to mean Buddhist doctrine; you’re likelier to have heard its Sanskrit synonym "dharma." Although they reflected a particular Buddhist principle, the talks themselves were entirely secular and based to a great degree on the monk’s personal experiences, much like those at secular meditation retreats.Aside from the dhamma talk, breakfast at 7 am, lunch at 11 am, and chanting each evening at 6 pm, my only responsibilities were to meditate and to report my daily experiences to the monk in charge. I was also expected to observe eight Buddhist rules (precepts), including silence (which excludes reading and writing as well as speaking), and not eating after 12 noon, intended to deepen my meditation practice. The practice itself, under the monk’s direction, consisted of alternately walking and sitting for 15 and then 20 minutes at a time. (This period lengthens with longer retreats.) If all of this sounds simple, that’s exactly the point. At the same time, it’s incredibly difficult, not because it’s challenging to take a certain number of steps or to walk back and forth, but rather because it’s challenging to truly focus on them. The center’s location away from both distractions and noise assisted and repeatedly drew me back to these things, however while sitting I often found my mind wandering. This decreased with each passing day, which is what the monk I worked with told me I should work toward. He was both supportive and warm, although he did not give his name, nor did he call me by mine. I suppose that might perhaps have created a further attachment. After the closing ceremony I cleaned out my room, changed clothes, and made a small donation (300 baht or $10 per day seems to be the expected standard expected at such retreats). I left lighter in every sense. Close
Written by LenR on 10 May, 2007
This spectacular and unprecedented display of orchids from around the world brilliantly showcased Thailand's potential as a global orchid centre. Over 50,000 orchid plants representing nearly 10,000 different native species, hybrid varieties, new as well as rare orchids were on display. The result was stunning…Read More
This spectacular and unprecedented display of orchids from around the world brilliantly showcased Thailand's potential as a global orchid centre. Over 50,000 orchid plants representing nearly 10,000 different native species, hybrid varieties, new as well as rare orchids were on display. The result was stunning and this was one of my favourite areas of the whole Flora Expo. I was not surprised when we were told that this was the largest and longest-running orchid exhibition and competition ever held in Thailand.The Orchids of the World section was designed to demonstrate Thailand’s potential for being the orchid capital of the world, to promote the growth and development of the orchid industry; promote greater awareness of technological advances in orchid cultivation and production; and highlight Thailand’s success in research and development initiatives related to orchid cultivation and production. I don’t know whether these aims were achieved but I do know that the pavilion and adjacent garden were always crowded with visitors and all were impressed with what they saw.The adjacent Orchid Park was the largest of its kind ever created in Thailand. It was specially designed to showcase a wide variety of exquisite orchids in surroundings that emulate closely their natural habitats and it achieved this dramatically. My wife and I became separated in this area and it took us 45 minutes before we got back together simply because we were both fascinated by everything on display.The display brought a range of orchid ‘heavyweights’ together. The exhibition was jointly organized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Department of Agriculture and Horticultural Science Society of Thailand, along with the Ornamental Plants Association of Thailand, numerous orchid clubs and associations, educational institutions and other related government organizations. It was supported by the International Society for Horticultural Science and the World Flower Council.During the Flora Expo the organizers held weekly orchid competitions. These include natural orchid gardens; landscaped orchid gardens featuring the innovative or imaginative use of orchids; potted orchids; and cut flowers. One of the competitions was live orchid arrangement in which entrants used their creativity to design an arrangement of living orchid plants, either incorporated into a small natural garden setting or combined with other decorative objects in a free style arrangement. We were amazed by the wonderful creations.While I had always liked orchid flowers, this exhibition has given me new appreciation of the beauty, fragility, and variety available. I am growing a few in my own garden and if I succeed, they will be a wonderful reminder of my Thailand visit and particularly of the Flora Expo. Close
The centrepiece of the Royal Flora Expo was the Royal Pavilion, constructed in the exquisite Lanna architectural style, right in the heart of the event site. This had a display of artworks dedicated to the king as well as an exhibition of his contributions to…Read More
The centrepiece of the Royal Flora Expo was the Royal Pavilion, constructed in the exquisite Lanna architectural style, right in the heart of the event site. This had a display of artworks dedicated to the king as well as an exhibition of his contributions to Thailand's industry and agriculture.The building was stunning and could be seen from most parts of the Expo. It was built on high ground at the end of the main Expo spine. The ground floor displayed the King’s initiatives and activities focusing on the agricultural projects. We and most other visitors were surprised by the countless ways in which the lives of the people have been positively affected by His Majesty the King’s work and his dedication to the Thai people.The upper floor was a spectacular space. Inside were decorative works created by the renowned artist Associate Professor Precha Thaothong. The most spectacular is the 10-virtue tree, made up of 21,915 leaves, representing each day of the 60 years King Bhumibol has been on the throne. The tree was constructed in clusters of lotus blossoms, nine blossoms per cluster. Bodhi leaves of copper, silver, and gold were attached. On each leaf was crafted one of the 10 Royal virtues which the King has exhibited in ruling his subjects for the past 60 years.From the upper floor of the Royal Pavilion, there was a good view over the Thai Tropical Garden. This was a colossal 100,000 square metre area where visitors were able to witness first-hand an extensive variety of tropical horticulture encompassing fruits, plants, flowers, and herbs. This was the largest area of the Expo and the garden contained a range of exhibits including the Shaded Paradise, Grower House, Sky Walk, Biotech Greenhouse, Tropical Dome and Sunken Garden. Collectively, these exhibits gave a great insight into the development of new varieties of plants, the importance of horticulture in Thailand and how soiless technology is being developed.Another highlight was the performance of the marching bands from the Royal Thai army and many schools which was held on the front path of the Royal Pavilion from 1 to 1.45pm on the day we were there. This complimented the daily cultural events which occurred at the Grand Amphitheatre and the Music Theatre. While we were there, the Kho Pai Thai musical band and the Spanish Caleidoscopia were performing in these venues. Close
There was quite a carnival atmosphere at the international section of the Royal Flora. Lots of people gathered at the Netherlands pavilion. There were many tulips under shade cloth, I guess to protect them from the harsh sun that is here in Thailand compared to the…Read More
There was quite a carnival atmosphere at the international section of the Royal Flora. Lots of people gathered at the Netherlands pavilion. There were many tulips under shade cloth, I guess to protect them from the harsh sun that is here in Thailand compared to the kinds of conditions you might ordinarily see back in the Netherlands. It made a pretty display and the Thais loved it. There was a giant windmill creaking away in the background.Across the road there was the Malaysian pavilion with its beautiful teak houses and tropical palms and the like, and along a bit was the Japanese pavilion.Among the countries which showed their finest blooms and greenery were Japan, India, Indonesia, Spain, China, Vietnam, Bhutan, Qatar, Iran, Brunei, Turkey, The Netherlands, Mauritania, Gabon, Morocco, Trinidad and Tobago, Bulgaria, and Laos. All up there were 33 countries from 4 continents on display.I particularly liked the Japanese pavilion with its large outdoor garden and its smaller indoor garden. Japan also brought in cultural performers and showcased the country’s traditions to join in the celebration for His Majesty the King of Thailand.The Japan outdoor garden was designed in accordance with the theme of the Expo, "To Express the Love for Humanity," and with a view to wishing long life to the King. The highlights of the garden included a three-meter tall model of Mount Fuji, a pond that symbolizes the ocean, a "turtle" island symbolizing longevity, and a "crane" stonework symbolizing fortune.Not only did Japan participate in the event on the national government level, the country's three prefectural governments; Hyogo, Kyoto, and Osaka, also joined to build a "Kansai Cultural Garden." This garden is a present the three prefectural governments have given to Thailand in return for Thailand providing assistance to the Hyogo prefecture when it was hit with an earthquake in the past. The garden was designed in a traditional "Karesansui Garden" style using a bamboo fence and stone garden.Another pavilion that appealed was that of the Lao PDR. It was in the form of a Luang Prabang-style temple. While the Thai and Laos vegetation is similar, this style of temple is different to those seen in Thailand and many Thais commented that it was better than their own. Close
Several Thai corporations and companies decided that a picture of Thai rural life would provide an interesting setting for their garden display. In combination they provided the visitor with a rare opportunity to see some aspects of rural life up close. Apart from seeing the…Read More
Several Thai corporations and companies decided that a picture of Thai rural life would provide an interesting setting for their garden display. In combination they provided the visitor with a rare opportunity to see some aspects of rural life up close. Apart from seeing the obvious houses, ponds, out-buildings, and rice houses, we learned about the way the household and village operated. It was very interesting.We were told how certain basic rural social patterns are still seen in modern Thai rural society. United States anthropologist Jack M. Potter was quoted, "The spatially defined rural village, which receives the allegiance of its members, furnishes an important part of their social identity, manages its own affairs and communal property, and has its own temple and school, is present in all parts of Thailand as an ideal cultural model, although in many cases the actual form of community life only approximates it." The temple (wat) remains the center of the rural community in many respects, although some of its functions, e.g., as an educational center, have been lost, and it is increasingly difficult to retain monks. Most rural communities built and maintain a wat because the Thais consider it necessary for a civilized social existence. The wat includes the special quarters and facilities reserved for monks, a building for public worship and religious ceremony, and a community meeting place. Abbots and senior monks often enjoy considerable prestige. In times of personal crisis, people often seek their advice.Within the village, the basic organizational unit is the family, which changes its character over time. A nuclear family becomes, in time, a larger unit, but the death of the older generation once again leaves a nuclear family. Typically, a man in the rural areas goes to live with the parents of the woman he marries. Such residences are temporary except in the case of the youngest daughter. She and her husband (and their unmarried children) remain with her parents, taking care of them in their old age and inheriting the house when they die.We saw how a rural family cooks under the house, how they can spin and weave silk cloth, how handicrafts are still important and how three generations interact smoothly and to the benefit of all. It all sounds too good to be true but we were assured that many Thais still live like this in a situation that we envy. It was one of the best social lessons I have ever had. Close
We took a taxi from our hotel towards the Flora Expo but discovered that there were traffic restrictions near the site. After some debate the taxi dropped us about 200 metres from where the driver thought the entrance to be. Unfortunately, he proved to be…Read More
We took a taxi from our hotel towards the Flora Expo but discovered that there were traffic restrictions near the site. After some debate the taxi dropped us about 200 metres from where the driver thought the entrance to be. Unfortunately, he proved to be wrong so we ended up wandering around the car parks before we saw directions to the main gate.This was certainly a poor start and when we saw the lines of people waiting to enter we were put off even more. As we neared the lines we realized that these were people waiting to get entrance tickets and because we had pre-purchased ours, we were able to walk right on by. That lifted the spirits a bit.The entrance statement was a group of Australian boab trees and these were certainly causing some excitement. The Australian boab tree (Adansonia gregorii) is related to the Madagascan and African Adansonia species known as baobabs. Like its relatives it is sometimes called a "bottle tree." All Adansonia species, Australian and African, have long been used as a staple food source by the indigenous populations. Studies on the species have shown parts of the tree to be exceptionally high in Vitamin C, more than ten times the Vitamin C content of oranges! We didn’t eat any of the trees but like many other people, we did take a couple of pictures.Once inside the gates, map in hand, we decided that the smart thing to do was to catch the public road trains that circled the site. These cost Bt 30 and were advertised as doing a 30-minutes round-trip. This enabled us to get a quick appreciation of the whole site and decide which areas we wanted to spend most of the time. Unfortunately, we did about 90% of the circuit but were then told that everyone had to disembark because the trains had to do the remainder of the circuit empty. We then had a long walk to where we wanted to start our exploration.Despite this somewhat shaky start to our day, from here on things improved considerably. We loved the country pavilions, the orchid house and garden and the magnificent Royal pavilion. In fact, when it was time to go, we wanted to stay and see more. The only problem was that nine hours of walking and looking had taken its toll and the body was just not up to it. Close
Written by SeenThat on 15 Jan, 2007
Visiting the Hill Tribes in northern Thailand creates one of those eternal problems for travelers; on one side they need the income generated by our visits, on the other, visiting them means accepting the deep discrimination against them. There are no definitive answers, but I…Read More
Visiting the Hill Tribes in northern Thailand creates one of those eternal problems for travelers; on one side they need the income generated by our visits, on the other, visiting them means accepting the deep discrimination against them. There are no definitive answers, but I prefer the Human side: they desperately need the help.There are many tribes scattered along the northwest of Thailand; generally, the biggest the distance from Chiang Mai is, the less visitors the tribe gets. I visited the tribes on the very far northwest, which are accessible with a day trip with a rented car from Chiang Mai (a three days tour including a jeep, food, guesthouses and a guide cost around $100 per person).Huay Sua ThaoHuay Sua Thao is southwest of Mae Hong Son, was founded in 1988 by refugees who crossed the border from Myanmar and is the only hill tribe's village with an entry fee (250B). The main bulk of the village consists of regular persons, but beyond a small current, there are two rows of houses climbing a hill. The lower row hosts the "long neck" people that are called so since their women put a copper spiral, which gets bigger with time, around their neck. In fact, they do not have long necks; they have low shoulders, as these are being constantly pressed down by the spiral. The upper row hosts the "long ear" people; their women use heavy earrings. They sell souvenirs and postcards with their own pictures.Mae AwMuch north from there, in a small valley completely surrounded by hills, is Mae Aw, a Chinese village of former Kuomintang people. At the centre of the town there is a beautiful lake, with water-buffalos enjoying its deep mud. Low, simple houses climb the hills around and a church stands by the village’s entrance. Their main businesses are green tea and tourism. At the tea houses it is possible to taste the tea for free and buy a nice packet of Oolong; they serve it Chinese style with a smaller cup inverted inside a bigger one, while the tea is trapped between them.Ruam ThaiClose to the Pang Tong King's Palace, is this mixed Karen and Shan from Myanmar and Thai people village; on its one street live thirty families. There is no electricity, no phones and no running water; the water is brought with pumps from the nearby river, but some houses have electric lamps powered by batteries connected to solar panels. In the first house, there is a big garden with coffee trees, and it is possible to buy it fresh from the tree (a cup for 20B and 50 grams for 30B).Ban Huay Ma Keau SomDown of Ruam Thai, is the Tomato Village (Ma Keau = tomato in Thai). H'mong people live at its centre, while a other ethnic groups live in the outskirts. There is an unusual monastery there, which looks like a dormitory in an open Thai pavilion. Close
Written by alan_nesbit on 09 Jun, 2006
As it happens, we didn’t spend much time in Chiang Mai, just long enough to look at some of the Wats and some markets. The town itself has a similar feel to Bangkok, although it’s smaller and more relaxed. The smells, the broken pavements, the…Read More
As it happens, we didn’t spend much time in Chiang Mai, just long enough to look at some of the Wats and some markets. The town itself has a similar feel to Bangkok, although it’s smaller and more relaxed. The smells, the broken pavements, the street vendors, the tuk-tuks – they’re just the same.
We visited Wat Chedi Luang the day after a festival had finished. Young monks were clearing the debris – collecting rubbish in sacks or sweeping it into the shallow water of the moat surrounding the central, crumbling, chedi. Burnt candles and offerings of flowers and incense sticks told of the previous day’s celebrations. In one corner of the grounds was an old banyan tree, which will stand as long as the city thrives, with many faded silk cloths tied around it. A wooden Buddha head lies at the base.
The most interesting Wat (well, that’s what the guide book says) is Wat Phra Singh; white buildings, bright in the sunlight, surrounded by the quarters for monks. Golden Buddhas sit in the middle of temple buildings, surrounded by carpeted floors for Buddhist worshippers. One building holds a reclining Buddha, although on a much smaller scale than the one in Bangkok.
Our accommodation in Chiang Mai was Gap’s house. At just under £10 for a double room for a night, this is a mid-range guesthouse. The generous-sized rooms have wooden floors and walls, and the vegetarian buffet in the evening was excellent.
Written by allthai on 27 Aug, 2004
The hottest time of the year in Chiang Mai is April and May. Temperatures can easily exceed 40 degrees Centigrade by mid-afternoon. There is a place very close to Chiangmai where you can escape the heat and enjoy some of the finest natural scenery in…Read More
The hottest time of the year in Chiang Mai is April and May. Temperatures can easily exceed 40 degrees Centigrade by mid-afternoon. There is a place very close to Chiangmai where you can escape the heat and enjoy some of the finest natural scenery in the Kingdom and that is Doi Inthanon National Park.
Each year my wife and I pack up our gear, load it in our pick-up, and head for the mountains. We like to go the first week in May after the Mango rains in mid to late April. The so-called Mango rains is a period of about one week when the weather changes from the cool to the hot season which causes brief heavy rain showers. This rain causes the vegetation, a dingy brown color because of lack of rain for several months, to turn to a lush green.
We departed Chiangmai at 9 am it was already 35 degrees C. and started the short 1 1/2 hour drive to the park. We left Chiangmai by highway 108 through Hang Dong and Sanpatong and then about one kilometer before Chom Tong turned right on highway 1009. There is a big sign in English stating "Doi Inthanon" where you turn so it's easy to find. Continue 8 kilometers to where the road forks and then keep to the right where you will see the park entrance. The entrance fee is 200 baht and they have free maps and information for you that you will need. A copy of the park map can be seen online and might be a useful reference as you read this article.
Your first stop should be the Visitor's Center a kilometer or so past the park entrance on the left side. There they have more information and many exhibits and a slide show about the park in English. You need to know the park rules that levy stiff fines if broken (such as for picking flowers); these rules are written on the back of all the maps and brochures.
After getting all the information we needed we headed straight to the Park Headquarters at Kilometer marker 31. As we approached the booth for accommodations reservations both we noticed a thermometer and found it was a perfect 26 degrees C. We decided to spend our first night in a tent and second night in a bungalow. We made our reservations for the bungalow. Since we were going to ride around the park the park ranger kept our bags for us and we proceeded to the campgrounds to pitch our tent. Tents can be rented for 60 baht and blankets at 15 baht each.
After putting up the tent we were getting hungry and headed back to see our friend Mr.Dang at the Doi Inthanon Birding Center. Mr. Dang’s restaurant is open from 7 am to 8 pm serving delicious Thai food at great prices. While having lunch we were told that a 7- man soccer match was being played this afternoon on the soccer field next to the restaurant on the Park Headquarters grounds. The match was between a Karen hill tribe village and a Hmong hill tribe village located in the park so we stayed and watched the action under the shade trees drinking ice-cold beer. We made plans to do some hiking on the Gew Mae Pan Trail near the Doi Inthanon summit (above 2000 meters tomorrow) so today was for relaxing, which I myself am very good at doing.
Just before dark we ate our dinner, again at Mr. Dang’s, got our things from the park ranger and went to our campgrounds. In May there aren't many people in the park so a secluded place to put our tent was easy to find. We built a nice campfire and I spent the evening reading while my wife did her crochet. The only sound was that of the crickets and with the smell of pine and clean fresh air drifting off to sleep was a total pleasure I haven't experienced in many months while living in the crowded city. The next morning we awoke early and packed up the tent and returned to the park ranger and again he kept our bags for us. I checked the thermometer and it was a cool 18 degrees C.
We had our breakfast at the birding center headed toward the summit passing fruit and flower stands owned by Hmong Hilltribe people. Here we stopped to have a look and across the street were green houses filled with beautiful flowers. The growing of flowers is a Royal Project so the hill tribe people can live in harmony with the park's conservation plans instead of doing their traditional slash and burn farming.
The 2.5-kilometer Gew Mae Pan Trail begins about half a kilometer past the twin Chedis at kilometer marker 42. We decided to leave our vehicle at the Chedi and walk the horseshoe shaped trail to the end and return the same way. This turned out to be a good idea as the mountains were covered with mist and clouds and the view although beautiful was limited on our way out. On the way back the clouds had lifted and the view was spectacular.
The trail begins through dense forest with lush ferns and moss covering the tree trunks. Wild orchids and colorful birds are plentiful. It's uphill most of the way, crossing streams and climbing over and ducking under logs. The temperature is perfect for hiking and the sounds of the many birds and creeks are very enjoyable. After about an hour you come upon a clearing looking toward the west. When we arrived clouds were rushing up from the valley floor to meet us.
The next portion of the trail is through dense forest again crossing several streams. The park has provided small bridges to make crossing the streams easy. The last part of the trail is through a lovely evergreen forest with pine trees much different and larger than those found at our campsite.
We returned the way we came following the trail to the clearing and this time the clouds had lifted leaving a spectacular view of the valley floor and surrounding mountains. Two hawks were circling above, diving to the valley floor then lifting again on the air currents along the cliff edge, their screeching echoing through the canyon below.
We spent a total of six hours on the trail and saw only two other people. They were Thai photographers doing a story for a nature magazine. We could have stayed longer but hunger was setting in so we returned to the restaurant at the Birding Center.
This evening was spent in our comfortable bungalow. We made reservations the day before. The bungalow has electricity and is equipped with a king size bed in the bedroom and a single bed with table and chairs in the living room. It has a big but simple bathroom with shower and Thai style toilet. Simple accommodations for only 300 baht per night and the bed was very comfortable and the night quiet.
The next day we spent visiting the many waterfalls in the park. The first one was very close to our bungalow and actually two waterfalls named after the King and Queen and called Siriphum waterfalls. The next two waterfalls were also close together and the road getting there was a little difficult but worth the effort. We went just past the second check point at kilometer marker 38 and turned left toward Mae Chaem and traveled about 8 kilometers. Here there is a sign where you turn right and travel the dirt road for 2 kilometers to the ranger station. From there it's a 500-meter walk to Mae Pan waterfall and 200 meters to Huai Luaeng waterfall.
Our last stop was on the way out of the park at Mae Ya waterfall. To get there you need to go back to Cham Tong and just before you get to highway 108 you will see the sign Mae Ya waterfall. Follow the signs for about 14 kilometers from here. There will be a checkpoint where they collect a 200 baht fee to enter. Just tell them you have been staying in the park and show them the receipt and they will let you in for free. This waterfall is great for photographs and over 250 meters tall. Try to go on a weekday, as the weekends are very crowded with Thais picnicking and swimming.
We had a great time although we didn't see everything such as Brichinda cave. We would also like to spend some time bird watching. The Park staff was a great help and very friendly and I would recommend this trip to anyone.
You can see a short 7 minute video of my wife and friends at Doi Inthanon at
Written by allthai on 28 Aug, 2004
As we walked along the stream there were beautiful king fisher birds with their bright orange beak and florescent green and blue bodies. We made a stop where someone made a nice bamboo bench to rest. Our guide went to a stand of bamboo and…Read More
As we walked along the stream there were beautiful king fisher birds with their bright orange beak and florescent green and blue bodies. We made a stop where someone made a nice bamboo bench to rest. Our guide went to a stand of bamboo and started digging around the roots. He came back with a grub and put it on his fishing hook and cast into the water. He did this a couple of times when all of a sudden a fish took the bait. He gave the pole to my son who brought the fish in slowly. It was sort of a white bass and was told by Kit it is very delicious and this would be part of our dinner. We caught 3 more fish while following the stream then waited for the elephants to arrive. Meanwhile Kit had cut a stalk of bamboo and was making cups for us.
When the elephants arrived we were told to get back on as we had a stream to cross and there was no bridge. Here is where we found out what the front bar on the chairs were for. When we came to the bank the elephant had to go down and the front bar kept us from sliding off. It was a little scary at first but after you do this a few times you learn where to hold on and it was kind of fun.
We rode on for about another 30 minutes when we came to a large bamboo bridge crossing the stream. On the other side were children playing in the water and women washing clothes. This is the Karen Hill Tribe village where we would spend the evening.
Here we had a choice, we could take the bridge or ride the elephants across. Children were running across the bridge to greet us and this made it sway from side to side. Right away mom said "there is no way I am walking across that bridge". We all laughed and the kids said "lets do it Dad". We asked Ott and Kit if it was safe then Kit ran across the bridge and back again and said "no problem".
The kids and I got off the elephants and Mom went ahead of us across the stream on her elephant. Kit went across the bridge first and then Ott told us to go one at a time and hang on to the side rails. One at a time we made it across with no problem and Ott followed behind. It wasn’t that scary although the bamboo did bend under my feet. The bridge was about 100 feet long and I was amazed on how they did the construction. I asked how old the bridge was and was told that they replace it every year in November after the rainy season.
There was a sand bank on this side of the river and it was covered with thousands of butterflies of all shapes, colors and sizes, it was incredible. We must of stayed here at least 30 minutes taking pictures and video. I had the family sit on the sand bank and they were soon covered in butterflies. I had one of the boys run through them and thousands flew up and all around in a cloud of color. I have never seen anything like it and probably never will. Again a moment of a lifetime none of us will ever forget.
We followed the path about 200 feet up to the village. Kit took us to our own Karen style Bamboo home while Ott went to visit the headman of the village. Kit told us that the villagers built this house for visitors so we wouldn’t disturb their natural way of life. We were also told that we would be able to visit other homes but for now just relax. We were given fresh cold drinks and took turns using the toilet and shower. Kit and 2 other boys from the village started a fire in the kitchen and started preparing food for dinner.
Ott retuned from the headman’s house and said he and his family will be joining us for dinner. We wanted to visit the other homes but Ott said wait until tomorrow morning as it was not polite to visit when the families are bathing, preparing their dinner and eating. She said that this is their family time when they talk about their day and is a very personal time for them. We were very glad that our guide knew so much about their culture and that we could be part of it without disturbing their way of life.
Ott brought out several bags that were filled with writing tablets, pencils, chalk, crayons and other school supplies. She said that tomorrow we would visit the school and hand these out to the teacher and students. She also had antibiotics, antiseptic, creams for cuts and bandages to give to the headman. She said many of the villagers receive cuts from their knifes while working in the fields and needs these to treat the wounds.
It was time for dinner and just when we were starting to eat the headman and his 3 children came to visit. I was told the wife stayed at home to take care of a new born baby only a few weeks old. During dinner we asked many questions using Ott as a translator and learned lots of thing about the village. One of the things we found out is that 80% of the villagers have never seen a TV and there were no radios as being in the valley surrounded by mountains they could not pick up a station. Another reason was that batteries were not available anywhere for 30 miles.
After dinner the headman and one of the boys went home. Two other boys stayed and played these wonderful harp-like instruments and sang folk songs. We were all tired and wanted to sleep and told Ott to send the boys home. She said never mind as they will stay and play until we fell asleep. We got into our very soft beds with clean sheets, pillows, and blankets under our mosquito nets. The music was so soft and soothing we fell asleep in minutes. What a wonderful day and we still had 5 days to go.
We were all wakened around 3 AM by the sound of roosters crowing. Most were roosting right under the house and our beds. Before we fell asleep Ott, our guide, asked if we had brought along earplugs which were on a list provided by her office via email before we left for Thailand. We had them ready right next to our beds so in they went and we fell back to sleep. We didn't want to put the ear plugs in before we fell asleep as we wouldn't be able to hear the music from the Karen hill tribe boys who played there soft sounding instruments and gentle voices before falling asleep.
The next thing I remember is the smell of coffee that woke me up. The kids and wife were still sleeping. Before I could wipe the sleep from my eyes, one of our local guides asked if I wanted a cup so I crawled out of bed and took the cup of hot beverage. I put on my flip-flops and stepped outside. There was a wonderful cloud bank hovering around the tops of the surrounding mountains and a slight fog in the village. I kept hearing the sound of pounding seeming to come from almost every home. Ott then got out of bed and joined me. I asked her what that sound was. She said come with me.
We walked through the small dirt covered streets and saw young girls in their white Karen dresses using rice pounders, which is a large log on a pivot with a wooden head on one of the ends. Under the head was a wooden bowl buried in the ground filled with unshelled rice. The girls were on the other end using their feet to bring the head of the rice pounder up into the air when taking their feet off the heavy wooden head dropped into the bowl of rice. The next process was to take the rice and put it in a large flat round bamboo tray with which they would flip the rice into the air and let the slight breeze carry away the rice husks catching the now unshelled rice in the tray.