Yesterdays post was a blomit, (apologies) but today’s will be a little more considered, interesting and hopefully not so meandering.
After Chiang Dao, we decided to head up towards the Golden Triangle – that opium soaked corner of Thailand where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. It seemed suitable remote and mountainous enough to satisfy our call of the wild.
We’d need to head up though Fang via Thaton, but I also wanted to go via Mae Sai and Tachilek – to cross into Burma via the land crossing there – and then head across to The Golden triangle and back down to Chiang Rai before heading down again to Chiang Mai.
Its basically a big Northern loop and we only had a few days to get back before heading down to the Gulf of Thailand for Meg’s birthday scuba experience.
Before we’d left Fang for Thaton though, we wanted to do a day trip and get out of the city . Again the guidebooks weren’t a lot of help, but we’d zeroed in on some interesting things nonetheless.
We decided on a day trip to the Royal Agricultural Project at Ankhang. It sounded interesting as it wasn’t a Westerner tourist spot but extremely popular with Thais.
Set up by Royal decree by the King, and used as a training facility for local Thai and Burmese farmers to develop modern agricultural techniques and practices. The primary aim being to move away from slash and burn land clearing, and to reduce their reliance on growing opium poppies (and hence reduce the drug trade that has historically ran rampant in the area).
I thought it sounded a little bit shit.
Taking a “special tour” arranged through our hotel (which turned out to be a red taxi truck and a driver that cost a stupid amount for the day) this was easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Thailand. A social experiment and research station set right up alongside the Burmese border, we wandered virtually alone through the massive site, through orchards and lush farmlands, greenhouses and gardens, all immaculately set up and maintained.
Burmese workers picking chrysanthemums or poppies.
We wandered around for hours, taking in the silence of the hills and the beautiful countryside. Then our driver gave us the hurry up as the rains were coming and we quickly moved on up to the nearby border crossing at Ban Nor Lae to look over the battlements, as it were, into Burma.
Borders make me nervous. Bad shit happens at borders. Border guards with dirty great machine guns also make me nervous.
It appeared to be closed at this point, and standing at the border gazing across I couldn’t help but wonder if some bored Burmese border guard was sighting in on my face as I gazed absently across no mans land.
The best thing about this visit was the small Hilltribe market there – a group of wonderful little ladies in traditional Akha dress that were expert weavers, ruthless marketers and consummate professionals. We ran the gauntlet – a row of stalls piled high with clothes and trinkets and whatnots, both of us slowly being passed of to each successive lady as we were moved along the market rows (make no mistake, we we being expertly handled) politely looking but refusing each offer (strangely enough EVERYTHING seemed to be 100 baht here).
(not my photo – i wasn’t game to take a photo as it would have cost me a fortune)
Then as we neared the last stall, they delivered their coup de grâce. The last stall was owned by a teeny tiny grey haired old lady, dressed to the nines in traditional Akha dress with an enormous toothless smile and a personality larger than Tony Robbins.
I never had a chance.
Quickly convinced to buy a 100 baht handwoven scarf each (it was 34 degrees and 90 percent humidity), she turned the charm up to 11 and like a grandmotherly black hole, began to hoover the money our of our wallets.
I managed a brief hug and got the Hell out, but not before almost buying several bags of fruit. Pulling out a massive pair of rusty dressmaking scissors, she insisted on hand peeling the raw fruit and then practically forced it into our hands. We had to eat it or appear rude. Mmmm dirty potentially fatal raw fruit.
Time was against us though and the sun was getting low, so we jumped back into the back of the truck and headed back down the mountain (narrowly missing herds of mules that seemed to roam free along these steep curvy mountain roads). We headed back into town as the road became treacherous at night and our driver was getting anxious.
Settling in for dinner and an early night, after fixing yet another flaky shower heater, it was welcome to hear the rain on the roof, the barking geckoes on the ceiling, and to sleep in a comfortable bed.
And so another day ended, but from the next day onwards, the mood changed slightly.
After week or so schlumping along together in cramped overheated buses, tuktuks and taxis, sharing shitty hotels and run down resorts, shonky meals and bad coffee, despite the beauty and wonder of this amazing country, there were small hairline cracks starting to appear in our merry traveling twosome. It was only a matter of time really and to be completely honest I’m not the easiest person to travel with (I can almost hear the nodding of heads).
We developed a case of the niggles.
Long silences. Many “Hmmm” moments. Lots of staring off into the distance. There may have been some frowns at times and possibly more than a little frustration. Mostly from me as I tend to project my own issues onto others, then provoke a discussion but hey – its that restless mind of mine creating its own faulty reality again.
It was easily fixed though – after a few days of an odd growing discomfort, she basically called me on it – several times. Kudos actually as its the perfect way to snap me out of this – a quick slap and I’m back in the room. So after an open and honest chat (or two) and some alone time, we established some groundrules, fell back into the rhythm of travel and got on with having fun.
So early the next morning we headed for the bus station, with a relatively short but interesting journey ahead of us up into the mountains again, this time staying at a traditional Akha village in a adobe mud house high in the mountains.
To be continued…