I’ve waited awhile to share this most incredible week we had at the beginning of this month, but now here it is so hold on tight…..
Michael had a week off work and I (because I’m the designated adventure organiser) decided we should get ourselves a little dirty, get up close to the hill tribe people, getting beneath its skin and experience life the way it really is. In doing so we would also be supporting the tribal communities in a sustainable and Eco-friendly way….I loved the sound of it and the week that followed didn’t at all disappoint! I won’t bore you with every activity we did because it was non stop as we went for the ‘adventure package’ but here are a few entertaining highlights.
First day spectacular sunset
Start of the week we were picked up from our place in the morning and met our fabulous guide, Sonny, who would be with us for the next 4days. His name is quite fitting of the person he is and we felt very comfortable knowing he’d be looking after us. It was a 1.5hr drive up to the first lodge, on the way we stopped off at a big local market so Sonny could get some food for our dinner and whilst he was doing that we wandered around with our eyes almost falling out of our sockets on a few occasions. We had a huge fish trying to leap free from the counter, a pile of ant eggs that they apparently fry and eat with scrambled eggs (I might pass on that), as well as whole pig heads next to the pork. I was feeling quite an inclination to revert back to my old vegetarian self I must say!
Once we arrived at the lodge Sunny told us to pack our packs with what we’d need for overnight and the following day, leaving our big bags at the lodge where we would come back to the following night – in our eyes, this was an adventure in itself. Packs finally organised, we were then driven to a point at the bottom of steep mountain which we proceeded to climb for the next 2.5hrs. To say it was just steep is an understatement. Half way through, Sunny asked if we wanted to take a short cut, ‘hell yeah’, so we started walking around the side of this mountain on a non existent track barely as wide as ones foot, one step wrong and me and my overnight clothes and toiletries would be toast. After 10mins I asked Sonny how much longer we’d be walking in this manner, when his reply of 40mins came I made the executive decision of going back to the proper track even if it meant an extra half our of steep climbing.
The Scary Stairs
Finally arriving at the Red Lahu Village we walked up to our accommodation for the night – a large bamboo and grass shack on stilts. It was such a classic moment! As we approached, I could feel Michael becoming somewhat tense, not quite believing that this was to be home for a night – you have to understand that I sold this week to him as being fabulous and he knows I have high standards when it comes to accommodation. I however knew that this first night was going to be especially adventurous but he didn’t! He did quickly get over himself, especially seeing the view the shack had over the mountains. The amenities did however have me feeling slightly concerned! Just walking down the stairs that weren’t anything that would be passing an Occupational Health and Safety test in a western country, had my heart in my mouth! Though once you survived them, the showers had the most spectacular views and lucky we had one before dark as there was no electricity in the village and all of a sudden at dark it became the march of the ants, absolutely no kidding, we hadn’t seen anything like it before, there were thousands. Then there were the spiders, cockroaches and I really don’t want to know what else! Another delight of our ‘western style toilets with hot water shower’ was the distinct lack of a hot water shower no matter what trick we tried, we had
a choice of cold or colder – thank god for the view to take our minds off the cold water.
Manual flushing in the loo with the view
The whole way up the mountain, Sunny had told us how lucky we were to be at the village that night as they were celebrating their New Year although warned us we probably wouldn’t get much sleep. The tradition is dance ALL night to drums and other instruments, sing and let off fireworks. So after dinner we all went down to the village ‘stadium’ (a space with a fluorescent light attached to a pole in the middle) with our head torches so we could see where we were going, and observed as well as joined in the celebrations (when there’s dancing involved I’m always going to be a sucker). It was quite something to see and be part of, though we weren’t so excited by it all as it continued through to 5am! Besides the drumming, it felt we were trying to sleep in a war zone as the fireworks were going off very, very frequently. As I said, 5am peace came, but only for a split second as we heard a big whoosh of a bird landing with its wings and……COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO, non stop! It really was like someone had scripted us into a comedy. Needless to say we had a pretty rough night of sleep if you’d even call it that.
New Year dance with the tribe people
Another memorable moment came after rafting down the river. We got out of our raft and moments later there was screaming all around, we looked up to see that an elephant was on the loose in the little town we were in, dragging its huge chain he managed to break, behind him. We were both stopped in our tracks Michael especially was holding his breath as the elephant came up to our truck that had all his precious camera equipment sitting on the back, but to our relief the elephant was only interested in food. The people managed to chase it away and into the river which it began crossing when its Mahout came running out from the jungle and towards us and his elephant. It took a fair bit of time, lots of drama and running about by the Mahout, but eventually across the river and up the mountain, elephant and Mahout were reunited.
Fancy that…Michael has an apron on and is cooking!
Our mid-week accommodation was set high in the hills surrounded by rice paddies and was all about food! Not long after we arrived we were having our cooking lesson, learning how to make four different dishes which we then ate for dinner. Neither of us have ever been to cooking school and were very happy with our efforts, it did come with some giggles though as the chef was describing the ingredients. He seemed particularly impressed with Knorr (with the ‘K’ firmly pronounced). Michael and I cottoned on straight away but the other couple in the class took the bait and thought it was something exotic until we pointed to the stack of it in the cupboard…not so exotic after all 😉
Our foodie experience also came with a murderously early morning start to cycle to the morning markets. Neither of us were overly enthused but once on our bikes, cycling through the rice paddies with the morning mist so low was truly magical. The markets were fun with Sunny introducing us to some delicious (safe with no animals involved) foods as well as traditional Thai coffee which is with sweetened condensed milk. Though perhaps most memorable was the lady serving us…when asking if we’d like milk, as her way of breaking through the language barrier, she cupped her breast. Sure did get a laugh from us and we totally understood her!
Morning mist in the rice paddies
Our final destination was in the Chiang Rai district, set amongst the Hmong and Lahu tribes. We visited the Shamans of both villages who were surprisingly different from each other. We learnt how he pretty much tells people’s future, if they will have good luck or bad luck, all with a chicken bone! We didnt try it out. The Hmong shaman has a particularly hard time as to become a shaman he/she must have a near death experience with the belief that when they come back,
Getting creative doing some Batik (like manual screen printing with beeswax) with the village people
they will come back with the ‘holy spirit’. It was all fascinating stuff!!!
This district is well known for its Golden Triangle fame and fittingly we visited the Hall of Opium Museum. It’s an incredible museum and building in itself let alone what we learnt about the history of Opium, it’s connection to tea and how much money the Brits made in the opium wars not to mention its huge contribution to the fall of China!!!!!
It was an eye opening and exciting week, delving into the unknown. It was so interesting to have such close interaction with the hill tribes who were incredibly hospitable. We made an effort and learnt how to say ‘ hello’ and ‘thank you’ in all the various languages which they greatly appreciated if not finding it a little amusing at the same time. It felt great that we had such an incredible experience and were contributing to bettering their lives at the same time…..a good karma holiday 🙂