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The Golden Triangle


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The Golden Triangle


This story is about my adventures trekking in Northern Thailand in the Golden Triangle in July of 2001, Buddhist year 2544. My travelling companion was my friend's 19­year old son who had come to spend his summer vacation from college with us that year.

Since I first came back to Thailand in December of 2000 to live and work I have wanted to go to the North of Thailand. This is the area of the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet. It is an area famous for drug smuggling, hill tribe people, and rebel groups. It is a very beautiful and extremely mountainous area.

We had decided that we were going to make the trip, and began to prepare. I as usual was going with only a small rucksack, knowing that travelling light is the way to go. I also knew that in most provincial Thai towns there would be almost anything I needed. Sean on the other hand had a very large pack, and another smaller one he would wear in the front. I had all the essentials windbreaker, 33%DEET insect repellent, mini­mag flashlight with extra batteries, my Gerber lockblade, Compass, a small first aid kit, and plenty of med.

We set out one morning for the first leg of our journey to Bangkok. We arrived at the bus stop in Pinklao, and caught a Taxi to the Hua Lamphung train station. Our plan was to take the overnight train to Chiang Mai up North.


When we got there they told us that the train the day before had derailed, and maybe they would have a train in a day or two when the track was cleared. The route to Chiang Mai is through very steep mountains, and it is not uncommon for the train to have some problems.

Well there we were in Bangkok. The bus was out of the question as it would be god knows how long of a ride in a hard seat. We had planned to take the sleeper train, at least you could lay down. I stepped outside, and immediately called Peter the travel agent, and explained to him our predicament. He called me back, and got us two rooms at my favorite hotel down on Sukumvit. I had hoped the avoid spending anytime in Bangkok as much as I love the place because it is too easy to spend money. So we jumped in a taxi, and headed to the hotel. I guess one night in Bangkok won’t be that bad after all.

Knowing that there was no telling when the train would start running again. I suggested that we should fly to Chiang Mai instead. It was a bit more than we had budgeted, but with nights in Bangkok, meals on the way, and losing too much time we booked two tickets for the next day.

So the next morning we checked out of the hotel, and headed to the airport. The flight on Thai Airways was great, and an hour later we where in Chiang Mai. We got out to the front of the airport, and caught a songthaew to the center of town.

Our next mission was to find somewhere to stay for the night. We hiked along the old wall of the city, and found a little run down guesthouse. It was down an alley, and there were dogs, and chickens running around. I inquired in Thai if they had a room. The young girl there said yes, so I asked if we could have a look. It was a real dump but for 250 Bt a night we could survive it for a night. We put our bags up, and went to go have a look around. We stopped at a little sidewalk café for a bite to eat.

Later that night we found a street with a couple of little bars, and had a few beers. The girls there were coming on pretty strong, and so we decided to leave. Someone told us about some reggae place where there were some Thai’s there that think they are Rastafarians or something. We began this trek through the neighborhoods of Chiang Mai at night in the rain looking for the Place. We had actually passed it up, and had to go back. It was down a drive off the street we were walking down.

It was actually kind of a cool place, little outdoor bar with reggae music. There were some stuck up European girls there, and a few Thais. I ordered a pint of Thai whiskey, and started drinking. We finally left and began to walk back to the room.

The next day we got a tuk­tuk to the bus station. After reading the Lonely Planet guidebook. We decided to head to Pai in Mae Hong Son Province. We had a long wait at the bus station for the bus. It was more like a local bus, with no A/C. It was a long bus ride from Chiang Mai. When we got up in the mountains it looked like North Georgia, there were pine trees. The bus driver drove these winding roads like a maniac. Listening to the same Thai music tape over, and over. I have since heard a lot of Falangs complain about the drivers up there.

We stopped at one little village along the way just long enough for a quick bowl of noodles. Looking over in the corner I see a computer. Technology is everywhere. Back in the bus, and further up into the mountains. We eventually come to a military checkpoint, and the bus stops. Outside are several soldiers carrying automatic weapons. They walk along the bus eyeing everyone carefully. Then they wave us through.

Later that afternoon we arrive in Pai, not much of a town really. We get out with a handful of other trekkers, and descend into the town. It is essentially one long little paved road that ends at a small river. There were one or two other roads that led to another part of town, but we primarily stayed in the little tourist section. Got out the trusty guidebook, and checked to see where a good guesthouse was. We found a place that had a lot of trekkers staying there, Charlie’s I think it was.

It was cheap, a few hundred baht or so a night. The room sort of looked like a prison cell, concrete block with two dinky little twin beds, and real small. At least there was an oscillating fan up on the wall. The bathrooms were a communal thing outside in the back. All in all it was clean, and we were only going to sleep there anyway.

One good thing about trekking up North is everything is really cheap. We ate a little place down on the main drag. They served this Burmese style curry, very good. We decided to go out, and have a look around that night. We wound up down by the river. It was a small fast moving stream, and had a rickety little bridge made from logs over it. There was some type of little guesthouse resort on the other side, and someone’s garden.

We walked back down the road toward town, and stopped at a little bar. They had this big ornate Hookah pipe, and advertised to smoke some type of flavored tobacco. We sat down and ordered a beer. There was this old drunken English guy, and some young Falang kid working there. The young guy was lighting some charcoal, to light the pipe. The old guy was really annoying, talking like he was some tough guy, and how long he had lived in Thailand. Maybe because he had a black eye, and had recently got the crap beaten out of him. Sean really wanted to try out the Hookah thing, and they lit it, and we took a drag. It was real sweet tasting, like Pipe tobacco or something. The old guy was really getting on my nerves, and I paid and told Sean let’s go.

We started walking away, and the old drunk comes running after us yelling hey stop. I just ignored him, and kept walking. Then he yells Police, Police, this really infuriated me, so I stopped, and went back. I swear this is as close as I ever come to losing my cool in Thailand. I was really mad, and say what’s your f#*/ing problem. Sean comes, and stands next to me, he was rather amused at the whole situation.

The old Freak starts mumbling something about how we didn’t pay for the tobacco or something. There was no sign or anything about paying for it, and they never said anything to us. The girl at the bar only charged me for the two beers. Sean to avoid a serious problem paid him like a hundred Baht. This whole thing really pissed me off.

It was all a big racket. I felt like going, and sitting in there, and telling any other people Oh, by the way there is a charge for smoking the pipe. We left, and wandered around the town a bit. By 9 P.M. the streets were deserted.

The next day we rented a motorcycle for 150Bt/day and went riding around. We had a little hand drawn map of the area from the guesthouse. The area was really beautiful with mountains, rice fields, waterfalls, and hill tribe villages.

We went looking for this waterfall, and hill tribe village. We came to a pretty good­sized little river that was down at the bottom of this road. There was a bridge there. We crossed it, on the other side was a road that followed the river.

I asked some locals in Thai where the waterfall was. They pointed to the left. I saw a sign that said Pai Mountain Resort, and knew from the map that was near the waterfall. We passed the resort, and carefully drove down this muddy dirt trail. Up ahead a really cute little girl ran out to the road, and was flagging us down. The women up North are very beautiful, light skinned, and Chinese looking. So we stopped. She had little bamboo noodle stand on the side of the road. In the back where a few little bungalows, and the grass was all overgrown.

We sat down and ordered a Coke, and I lit up a smoke. She was really a lovely girl. I think she said her name was Joy. Sometime these women will take Falang names as nicknames. She spoke pretty good English, as the area sees a fair number of tourists. She said she was 22 years old, and her family owned the little bungalows. She was wearing the commie style Black silk pajama pants, and a white T­shirt. She had beautiful long Black hair, just my type.

She asked us where we were staying, and Sean was about to tell her when I chimed in the name of some other place I had seen in town. I later explained to him never tell anyone where we are staying. Being a kid he didn’t have the years of counter–intelligence experience I have. Later he agreed it was a good idea, one can never be too cautious.

I finished my Coke, and she told us the waterfall was just up the road. A pickup came by with a bunch of European kids in the back. We got on the scooter, and took off. We came past a hill tribe Village Lisu I think, but they didn’t appear very friendly. We kept going, and could hear the waterfall off in the distance. It was spectacular. I hiked around some of the trails watching out for snakes.

Piddled around for a while, and decided to head back to town. We were a long way from Pai. Spent the next day or two just exploring around the countryside, getting lost occasionally. There were plenty of rice fields, and we stopped at a big warehouse one­day with mountains of Garlic. This area is a big producer of Garlic, because it is cooler up in the mountains. We even went back to see Joy the day before we left, and she cooked us some killer fried rice.

The time had come for us to leave Pai. Checked out the Guesthouse, and waited at the so­called bus station/stop. The bus was packed with Thai’s and Falangs. Pai is very remote, and there is only one bus a day. Once again we traverse the single mountain road out of town. This time when we stop at the military checkpoint the soldiers board the bus. I was sitting right by the door. The General gets on and begins looking at everyone.

They start quizzing some young Thai girl, about where she is from. A lot of the people up here are Burmese, and hill tribe, and are Illegal. The General just gives me a cursory look, as I casually smiled. These people don’t really bother me, as I have nothing to hide, and have a current Visa. One of the soldiers starts to hassle some old hill tribe lady who has a big sack of something. The hill tribe people are notorious for drug smuggling. She tells him in Thai, why doesn’t he hassle the Falangs instead of her. We were stopped about ten minutes, and then they let the bus go.

We are going to head even further North, so we have to get off at the main road heading to Chiang Mai. There is one other young guy also going that way. They drop us right near the big market in this town can’t recall the name. I inquire to someone where do we catch the bus to Fang. They point up the road somewhere. So the three of us start marching, we are quite a spectacle for all of the Thai’s. As it turns out the bus stop is right in front of the Police station.

After a while the bus arrived, and off we went. Fang is a border province, and is where a lot of the rebel groups, and smugglers come for supplies. The scenery on the way was pretty. Our plan was to spend the night in Fang, and then catch a songthaew to Tha Ton on the Mae Nam Kok River to Chiang Rai. The worst part about travelling was the exhausting bus rides everywhere. We arrived in Fang in the early evening. I was surprised to see it was a pretty good­sized town. {Each province has a provincial capital, named the same as the province, like New York, New York.}

The bus pretty much dropped us off in the center of town. I went into the 7­11 for a drink. We walked around a bit, and seen a really nice looking big hotel on the highway. Even seen a few Falangs in town. We went over to the hotel, and they told us it was 800 Bt/night. A nice clean room with A/C and hot water sounded good to the both of us. We each pulled 400 Bt out of our pocket, and checked in. It was strictly a Thai place, but the room was nice. On these trips you sometime need to treat yourself to a night in a nice room.

There was a big market across the street from the hotel. There was also a carnival with rides, and games. Funny how they seem to copy everything we do in the West. Sean and I walked around, and were quite a novelty to the Thai people. We were in fact quite an odd pair. Sean, 19 years old, 6’3”, 240 lbs. with long blonde hair from N.

Carolina, and me. The Thai people would ask me in Thai if Sean were my son. I would reply Luk Chai Phuen (my friend's son). Eventually I just shortened it to Luk Chai, (Son) which I still call him today. We stopped at a little open­air restaurant and ordered some food, and beer.

After dinner, and a few beer Chang’s we walked around some, and headed back to the hotel. Outside in front of the hotel were some really hot looking Thai babes in little miniskirts. I figured they worked at the Karaoke place that was part of the hotel. As I mentioned before this was a real Thai place, and nearly every real Thai hotel has a Karaoke. Many of these Karaoke girls are available if you know what I mean.

Upon walking up to the hotel the girls at the Karaoke said hello, You! Where you go? Since I really didn’t feel like going back to the room so early I told Sean let’s go have a look. Once inside it was dimly lit, and we sat down at a table near the door, once again counter­intelligence. The little Thai guy waiters came, and asked us what we wanted. In these places you order big bottles of beer, and they bring you ice, and glasses. Thai people put ice in their beer. I ordered two Heinekens, Kuat Yai (big bottle).

In the middle of the room was a Thai guy or two sitting at a big table with a bunch of the girls. They were drunk off their asses, and were singing Thai songs. Most of these places also have food, and they were having a big party. I guess some Thai Businessmen or something. One of them glanced over at me, and I gave them my best Thai smile, and nod. Then I heard something Falang, Falang.

We sat there quietly drinking our Heinekens. I was getting a big kick out of watching these guys sing Karaoke and the girls all fawning over them. I have been to these places before, and it is funny to watch these guys after finishing a song, like they are some celebrity or something. While the girls make fun of them. Something about the Asian culture I guess. They take this Karaoke shit seriously. We were obliged to clap after each horrid rendition of some Thai pop song. All in good fun I suppose. There was a story in the Bangkok Post about a policeman who shot some people because they made fun of his singing.

One of the Thai waiters asked Sean and I if we wanted to have a lady “ sing a song”. There were some little private rooms off to the side that had a big sofa, coffee table, and a TV, and VCD for Karaoke. Sean asked them about it, and they said something like 1000 Baht for the room, and I don’t know how much for the girls plus drinks. The idea is to go in the room with the girls, and “sing a song” good fun I imagine.

Sean kept trying to ask them in his best N. Carolina accent just what exactly happens once you get in the room with the girls. They just looked apologetically and said they didn’t understand. I think he was considering it. I personally had been on the road for over a week, and certainly would have enjoyed some female company. However; I will never go in one of these places for the fear of receiving some outrageous bill.

I decided that I had had enough Karaoke. Sean was still trying to figure out what happens in the back rooms, and the Thai guys were getting drunker. I decided we better leave before they invited us over for a drink, and “sing a song”. Anyway some of the girls at their table were looking over, giggling and smiling at us. We paid up, and headed back to the room.

The next morning we woke up to a misty drizzly day. We checked out, and went to find the songthaew to Tha Thon. It was up near the day market. Sean decided that he wanted to drink some beer this morning, and started getting pissed.

We got on the songthaew and waited for it to leave. After it left a little up further an old lady with some supplies, and a little girl got on the Songthaew. There was also some old guy too. Sean was getting pretty drunk by now.

When they got on they were sitting on the bench directly across from us.

Sean, whose long hair had now become knotted up into dreadlocks, started yelling in his N. Carolina accent Sawadti Kap, Thai for Hello. Holding up a big bottle of beer Singh asking them if they wanted some beer. Yelling because of the road noise “Bia Singh”. The look on these people’s faces was one of complete fear, and horror. The little girl was hiding under her Grandma’s sarong. I tried to smile at them, which just seemed to aggravate matters. It began storming, and as soon as we left the town the road turned into a dirt track. Sean was saying Thailand, Bia Singh, good. He eventually settled down, but the look of terror on their faces stayed. At some point they got off, and he was yelling to them good –bye. Thinking back now, it was really pretty funny.

We rode or should I say bumped our way pass some really shabby little villages with pretty young girls sitting on little stools washing clothes by hand in a tub. Then the truck stopped, and the driver shouted, You. Pointing that this was our stop. My back was killing me from the ride. We paid our fare, and the truck took off. Here we were standing on the bank of the Mae Nam Kok River, in Chiang Rai Province. Not much of a town, just a pier really. The Thai word for pier is Tha.

The first thing I noticed parked in front the shelter for the pier was a big Humvee with a .50 Caliber machine gun on top. On the other side of the bridge was a red & white gate with a guardhouse, and some Thai soldiers milling around with M­16’s. This really was the frontier. It was still drizzling, and we walked over to the pier. The lady said the boat had just left 10 minutes ago at noon. The boat left everyday at noon for 100 baht. A longtail boatman offered to take us downriver for 800Bt. A guesthouse to spend the night was 250Bt. So we decided to spend the night, and wait for the boat the next day. We checked in the room, and it was one of the nicer ones for that price. No TV, No phone, but a bathroom in the room. It was a squat toilet, but with a tank that flushed. You see so many variations of toilets here, but that was the first flush squat toilet I have ever seen.

We went to the riverside restaurant and had something to eat. It was good and inexpensive too. We were the only Falangs in town, the others had left on the boat. After eating we were hanging around the pier when a longtail boat with a squad of Thai soldiers pulled up to the dock. They were the Tigers, because they wear black berets, mostly older guys. They were really cool, and let us take some pictures with them.

Just a few kilometers up the river is Burma, and they patrol the river here day, and night. On the other side of the bridge was the road to Mae Salong. It is home to the KMT or Kuomintang. The KMT is Shang Hai shek army.

For all of you people that don’t know he was the leader of the Chinese Nationalist that fought the Communist. When they were defeated in the 1940’s Thailand let them take refuge in this isolated part of Northern Thailand as a buffer against communism. They once had the fifth largest army in SE Asia. The people there still speak Yunanese, a Chinese dialect.

Luk Chai and I decided to go and have a look around. We crossed over the bridge, and passed the military checkpoint, the soldiers just ignored us, and we were no threat to them. On the other side of the river were some resorts, and we walked up the mountain road that ran parallel to the river. There were some really nice resorts tucked back up in the mountains.

It was still drizzling, and as we hiked along we came across some hill tribe villagers, The Akha. Two older women, and a younger one. If you have never seen them they wear these elaborate costumes that resemble Laplanders. They were peddling some of their wares to tourist. Luk Chai bought some trinkets off of them. They are great silversmiths, and make all kind of jewelry. I kind of like them, and the costumes are really comical, especially the hats.

They were returning home to their village somewhere up in the mountains so we joined them back to the main road. They all meet up at the bridge in the afternoon.

So there we were standing in the rain with a few of Akha women, some kids (they don’t wear the costumes, only the women), and the Goat boy. I called him the Goat boy because he was about 3’ tall with little spindly legs, barrel chested, and with a long chin, and narrow face. I bought a few trinkets from one of the younger women who had a little baby. I also gave the Goat boy some money too,I kinda liked him. They told Sean (Luk Chai) they would show him where the village was.

I decided not to accompany them as it was getting dark, and there was no telling where they were taking him. So there I stood in the rain, under the watchful eye of the Soldiers as Sean, The Akha women, children, and The Goat Boy headed up the mountain. I watched them for a while go up the mountain road, and then duck off the road onto a footpath into the jungle.

I wandered into the little area near the bridge there, and saw a sign that said Massage. I am always ready for a massage. The place was a little hole in the wall, but apparently catered to the few tourists there because the sign was in English. The lady showed me to a back room, and brought over an electric fan, it wasn’t that hot because it had been raining all day. The massage was OK. It was also pretty cheap too. I headed back across the bridge, up on the Mountain was a giant white Buddha. It is a famous temple I found out later. I stopped at one of the little guesthouses in the town, and had a cup of coffee. I wondered what happened to Sean, and when he would make it back.

He had till noon the next day to catch the boat. Near where we were staying I stopped to talk to a Thai girl there. She spoke pretty good English, and asked me about America, she was quite a pleasant person.

Just about sunset there I see Sean coming across the bridge. I really didn’t expect to see him so soon if at all. He said he hiked for miles through the jungle, and came to a village. He talked to some Thai guy there that did trekking tours, and spoke good English.

Later that night we went to the room, repacked, and planned the next part of our journey. The lonely planet said there was a hill tribe village down river named Ban Raumitt, and you could spend the night there. We decided that is what we were going to do. There wasn’t much to do, and it was still raining so we went to sleep.

Got up the next morning and I went to see my friend at the Apple Guesthouse, and had some coffee. It was mid morning, and some people were starting to show up at the pier for the noon boat. The hill tribe ladies from the day before showed up to try and sell some of their trinkets to the tourist. They came over and started talking to me in Thai. The kids came up, and offered me some fruit. I think the other Falangs there were wondering how I knew these people. The boat left at noon fully loaded.

It was a longtail, and the river was pretty rough with some rapids. I remembered reading in the guidebook that there were some police checkpoints that you had to stop at along the way. We passed one, and it was all shot up, and the roof was caved in. I guess we won’t be stopping today. The trip was a bit hairy, and everyone got soaked. The trip was a lot of fun, and the scenery was spectacular. We stopped at Ban Raumitt. It was a tourist trap, there was a small restaurant with drinks, and ice cream. A big python you take a picture with for a fee, and elephant rides. They sold handicrafts, and had a few small bungalows for rent.

We spoke to some people there, and they said we could take an Elephant ride for 600 Bt to a hill tribe village where we could spend the night. From there it was a short hike to a waterfall where we could catch a songthaew to Chiang Rai. The guy showed me a map, and I asked him again how far to the waterfall, he said 2 kilos. It sounded pretty good, and we decided to go for it. The boat continued on it’s way without us to Chiang Rai.

We waited around at the elephant ride to leave. All of a sudden up the road came a big old Bull elephant. His tusks had been sawn off to keep him from hurting someone. I guess they needed a big old elephant to carry the two of us. You climb up this platform to get onto the elephant. There is a seat that is strapped to the elephant like a harness. The top of the seat came off to stow our bags. The driver or Mahout sits on the elephant’s neck. You actually step on the elephant’s head to get on him. It didn’t seem to bother him at all.

Once firmly seated the elephant took off. It was surprising how quickly he moved and also how high up we were. We went up through the village to a paved road. I thought that this is not so bad. Everyone along the way was looking at us, and waving. Then the mahout turned off the road onto a dirt trail. The trail went along some rice fields. It started to get uncomfortable because you are rocking back and forth and side to side. While the elephant was walking along he was grabbing branches with his trunk, and eating. He was also farting.

We came to one point where we were walking along a ridge, not very high, but I wouldn’t have wanted to fall off. Off in the distance you could see some mountains and it was starting to get remote. We were way the hell back up in the jungle now. It was a lot of fun, and we went down this one path, and the elephant went down to a little mountain stream. We were on about a 45degree­angle going down. The elephant started walking down the stream stepping on huge boulders. It was amazing how surefooted this huge beast was. It then started to rain. We where getting into some pretty thick stuff, and the elephant was just clearing the way. The mahout tried to keep most of the branches from slapping us in the face.

The mahout tries to get the elephant to go up a trail to the right. The elephant starts to go, but then turns around. He tries one more time, but the elephant wants to go a different way. The mahout seems a bit worried, but we proceed anyway. There is no stopping an elephant.

We start to get into some really thick jungle, and it is really storming now. The elephant is steadily climbing up this mountain. We emerge on a ridge that is incredibly high. Down to the left there are some rice paddies. There are some women way down in the paddies, and they start screaming My Pai. Sean asks me what are they saying, and I tell him just shut up. My Pai means do not go. I am really getting scared, and I don’t scare easily. Sean thinks it’s hilarious, and starts laughing uncontrollably.

It is such a narrow ridge that I cannot see the edge from the elephant. On the right my side it is not so steep, but straight down. The tops of the trees are right next to me. The elephant is having a hard time because it is so wet and muddy. I tell Sean that I think the elephant is getting tired. He starts laughing saying the elephant’s not getting tired. Just about then the elephant lets out a big bellow. Sean say’s maybe he is getting tired. I said sure he is you idiot, he’s not a machine.

We come to a point where the only way to continue is for the elephant to make a 90degree turn, then another. At this point even Sean was getting worried. The elephant stops, and starts sinking in the mud. It is still raining. We start to slide as in off the mountain. The Mahout starts kicking, and yelling at the elephant. At this point I had resolved myself that I was going to die on a mountaintop in Chiang Rai province, Thailand. I was at peace, not even frightened. My only fear was not that of dying, but languishing in pain at the bottom of the mountain for days.

Now the elephant didn’t want to slide off the mountain neither. Smart animals those elephants. The elephant just lies down. I thought about jumping off, but there was really nowhere to go. Somehow he stood up. You could hear the suction as he tried to free his legs from the muck. He stood up, and we made it. He negotiated the next turn. From there on it got better. I asked the Mahout in Thai how much further, we had been riding the elephant now for two hours. He replied not much farther. I offered him a cigarette, which he graciously accepted. After all we had all just nearly been killed.

I could see through the treetops down the slope some glimpses of some thatch roofs, and figured that must be the village. Soon it came into sight. When we arrived there was one more obstacle. Before we got to the village there was a steep slope down and then another one up. The mahout remarked to me that it was dangerous. It probably wouldn’t have been a problem except for everything was so slippery. The elephant carefully went down, sliding a little, and then up. We had made it.

The village consisted of a whole bunch of wood, bamboo, and thatch huts on poles off the ground. There were chickens, and kids running up to see us. The elephant stopped in the middle at the biggest hut, and we stepped on his head onto a rickety planked deck. The Elephant took a big dump right there. Some old village guy immediately began shoveling it up, and carrying it off. The chickens began eating it.

We paid the guy, and I gave him a 100 Bt tip. He took off the same way we came in with the elephant in a trot. It was almost dark.

At the hut, we where greeted by an older lady, and what appeared to be her daughter. We gathered our bags, and sat on the porch. The place was surreal. It was like going back in time. It was so far back in the mountains, and there was no electric or anything. The younger lady brought us a bucket with some water that had a bottle of water, a Coke, and a beer. She then told me in Thai the price of each. They then gave us a couple of ears of boiled ears of corn for a snack. I had a bottle of water, and snacked on the corn. I was just happy to be alive, and survive the trip.

We sat there looking at them, and they sat there looking at us. I asked them which hill tribe group they were, she replied Lahu. I looked around, and up the mountain could see the little huts spread around. There were some big black pigs running around, dogs, and chickens. It had stopped raining, but was still cloudy. Sean asked the old lady about some smokes, and the younger one took us to a little hut up the trail. She said it was her sister, and she came to the door wrapped in a sarong from the chest down. She handed us a pack of Thai cigarettes.

Back up on the porch everyone was getting ready for the evening meal, and some kids came by to look at us. I started talking to the younger lady, she seemed to like me. I asked her how old she was, and she said 35. She certainly looked much older. She told me the older one was her mother. I didn’t see any menfolk so I never asked. I asked her how many Falangs come there. She said about 100 people a year. I was surprised to hear that many given the place was so damn remote. I reached in my bag, and gave her a nail clipper as a present. She was delighted. I was hoping that we weren’t married now or something. I figured out that their house was a kind of general store, by the stuff they had inside, and some people would come by to get something. She had to go inside to start preparing dinner.

It was almost dark, and I went looking around a bit. Al little bit past the house was a mountain stream, about

1’deep. There was a 10­foot square little bamboo shack built directly over the stream, I went over to take a look. A 14­15 year old girl wrapped in a sarong soaking wet carrying a little basket with soap, and shampoo came running out smiling. It was the bathroom. I walked back over to the house, and Sean was asking me from up on the porch what does Gen cow mean. I told him it means to eat. It was dinnertime. I walked up the rickety stairs, and went into the house. The middle of the floor was a square with sand in it where they built a cooking fire. It was dark by now, and they had these little oil lamps like a tin can with a wick. They set up this round basket like table thing for us to eat on. The meal consisted of rice, a small fried salted fish, and some type of starchy vegetable curry. They were a few children, and young girls that joined us for dinner. The food was really good.

After dinner, the older girls cleaned up, and they asked us if we wanted more. Then Mama made some weak tea for us. , and I had a smoke. We chatted with them with me translating for Sean. At that time my Thai was not that good, and these people actually have their own language. Sean asked them if they had any whiskey, and the old lady got up and from a shelf somewhere in the darkness produced a pint of Mekhong Thai whisky, 80 Bt. The old lady joined us for a drink.

At some point the younger lady asked me something about a massage. I asked her how much, and she said 40 Bt, $1 USD. In the adjoining room there were some pallets on a dusty floor, and I went and lay down. She came over and started giving me a Thai massage. The massage was not really that good, but at least now I could say I had a massage on the dusty floor in a hill tribe village. This is also where we were going to sleep.

The people in the village go to bed very early. Sean and I went back outside. It was completely pitch black. I tripped over something on the porch. Off in the distance up the mountain I could hear some music. Earlier I saw a boy about 17 heading up the mountain with a stereo. I guess the teenagers have built a clubhouse or something up the mountain.

It was boring sitting on the porch in the dark, and I was tired so I decided to go to sleep. Underneath the house was a pen for the pigs. They kept fighting, and squealing all night long.

I woke up to the house filling up with smoke. I could see the first light of day through the cracks in the wall. I got up, and went outside.

A bit later Sean woke up. At least it had stopped raining, and was going to be a pretty nice day. Inside the house they were cooking, and called us for breakfast. Breakfast was the exact same thing as dinner the night before.

The younger lady was getting ready for work. She had some rubber boots on, and a basket on her back with a headstrap. She went up the mountain carrying a big machete. We packed up, and I asked the old lady how much we owed her for the night she replied 50 Bt. I asked her how do we get to the waterfall. She indicated to just follow the trail up the mountain.

We said goodbye, and thank you donned our packs, and hit the trail. The trail just up from the house went straight up the side of a big hill. It was real steep, and a hard hike with our packs. On the top the village was bigger than it looked the day before. We caught our breath, and continued.

We walked pass the schoolhouse, and you could hear the lesson. Soon we left the village and were hiking along the trail. It was big, and you could see some motorcycle tracks. I reached into my bag, and grabbed a half a bottle of water. I took a swig. I asked Sean did you grab the water on the porch, he said no. I said what we only have this half a bottle of water.

I started to get really upset. There was no going back. Sean said people could go for days without water. I replied that not hiking up mountains in 95­degree heat they couldn’t. He say’s Ok you can have the water said good.

The trail leveled out, and there was a drop­off on the left side down to a dense forest. We passed what looked like a small cemetery. Then I remembered seeing a picture of Jesus on the porch. They must be Christians I thought. The Buddhist don’t bury their dead, they are cremated. Then I remember reading about how missionaries have been to these villages converting some of them.

We had hiked for a long way, and I remembered the guy at the elephant camp telling me it was only 2 kilometers to the waterfall. Now 2 Kilos is only a bit more than a mile. We had certainly walked that far. The trail had to lead somewhere because it was well traveled. So here I was in the deepest remotest part of the mountains in Chiang Rai. Only for a moment did I get a bit worried thinking about bandits, or wild animals. Usually walking through the woods I am armed, but this is Thailand.

We have no choice now but to keep going. We stop for a minute and we hear something, it is the waterfall. The trail is gradually starting to slope downward. The noise of the waterfall is getting louder. Then there it is out of sight at the bottom of the huge slope through impenetrable jungle. We can’t see it, but can hear it. Well at least we are somewhat on the right track. We forge onward. The trail takes a turn to the right, and begins to descend. The sound of the waterfall is gone. I hear another sound off in the distance like a car driving on a road. A bit further I can make out some rooftops off in the distance. Hurray, we made it at least somewhere.

The trail let out right into a village. A more typical Thai village with real houses, roads, electricity, even a few pickups, and motorcycles. We amble up to a little store like they have all over Thailand. Sitting there are three young women with a baby or two. By the looks on their faces you would have thought that we had just stepped out of a flying saucer.

I immediately ask for a bottle of water. They seem quite amused with us, and Sean goes into his Sawadti Kap routine. We sit there and rest and rehydrate ourselves. I find out they are the same Lahu people from up on the mountain. These are the lowlanders who have conformed to conventional Thai lifestyle. I ask them about the songthaew to Chiang Rai, and they point up the road. I ask them Ghee Kilo (how far) they reply in the customary Thai, My loo (don’t Know).

It is time for us to get going again, and we start hiking down the road. A few minutes later I hear a truck coming in our direction. I was determined to not let it go by without stopping. I get in the road and flag it down. The truck stops, and it is a nice looking younger Thai lady in some sort of military looking uniform in a nice silver pickup. I politely say hello, and ask about the Songthaew to Chiang Rai. She smiles, and motions for us to jump in the back. I think she was some sort of government nurse that goes, and checks on the villagers or something.

Off we go, we ride for a long long way, and come by the stand of yellow songthaew’s near a main road. Boy would that have been a long hike. They just glare at us knowing they just lost two fares. Soon we start getting into a built up area.

We cross a river, and we are in Chiang Rai. She drops us right in the middle of downtown in front of the Police station. We jump out, and thank her profusely. That was one of the luckiest things to happen to me in Thailand.

I start walking to get away from the police station, and we stop at a little noodle stand and have something to eat. Our next mission is to travel even further north to Chiang Khong. On the banks of the infamous Mekong River overlooking Laos. The two little old ladies there took a liking to us, and asked us where we were going. We said Chiang Khong. They stopped a tuk­tuk, and talked to the driver to make sure we wouldn’t get overcharged for the 10 baht ride to the bus station.

At the bus station we got our tickets, and waited for the bus. Luckily it was leaving soon. The ride to Chiang Khong was long. It is always on these local buses because they go slow and stop a lot. Once we arrived there the tuk­tuk drivers attacked us. You, where you go? I go guesthout. All of these guys work on a commission if they can bring some Falang to a particular guesthouse. The one we wound up at was OK, and reasonably priced.

It was run by an old Chinese guy. We had something to eat in the little restaurant there, and walked around. There is not much to do in Chiang Khong. It is a stopover for people traveling to Laos. You can cross on a ferry there to Laos if you have a visa beforehand.

The guy at the guesthouse could arrange a visa for you for $30 USD. Sean had decided that he was going to Laos. It was the end of the road for me, and I had to get back to work. The only reason I came was to see the Mekong, and eat some Plaa Buk. Plaa Buk are these giant catfish in the Mekong, and only come from that area. All of the restaurants said it was out of season, so I settled for some wild boar curry.

I got to talk to the old guy at the guesthouse and told him I needed to get back to Hua Hin. He said he used to live in Hua Hin. He told me that he had a minivan the next morning taking a group of backpacking kids to Chiang Mai. He said he would speak to the driver, and see if he could squeeze me in, and drop me in Chiang Rai.

Chiang Rai was sort of on the way, and the kids wouldn’t know the difference.

The next morning, I got up early as the van was leaving at 8 A.M. By this point my backpack was literally in shreds. Sean and I both threw out some stuff, and he gave me his small one to go back with, along with some of his souvenirs. We said goodbye, and I made it on the van. Sean stayed there waiting for his visa to Laos. The van dropped me off in Chiang Rai, and I caught a tuk­tuk to the airport.

I had called Peter earlier, and he had already booked me a flight into Bangkok, and a room for the night. I got my ticket, and as I was boarding the plane the security told me to go sit over there.

I could see all of the Police in the office looking at me. They came out, and asked me if I had a knife in my Bag. They had seen it on the x­ray. I said yes had been trekking. They opened the bag, and took it, and said I could pick it up at security in Bangkok. Funny thing I had it with me when I flew up there, no problem. This was before the 9/11 hysteria too.

I made it back to Bangkok mid afternoon caught the airport bus to the hotel. I called my friend John, and he was at his condo in Bangkok. Went out with him that night, and next day headed home to Hua Hin.



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