Bad taste in my mouth and it's not the chilli

Trip Start Mar 17, 2012
Trip End Mar 31, 2012

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Both managed a decentish night's sleep. Had a cold shower (eek) but of course Jacqs had hot running water in the luxury log cabin next door (hehe) so Al went there to shower.

Went up for breakfast and after quite a wait eventually got coffee and tea.  Then plate after plate of thick toast and marmalade came out.  The American breakfast was nowhere to be seen.  Rosey really wanted some fruit but when James asked he was supposedly told that toast was all there was.  Hardly acceptable for the money we were paying. Could see no point in pushing the issue so Al and I went back to the room.

Went down to the pool to try to take a few more pics and to again try to connect to the internet but it was hopeless.  Rosey came down and told us that about a minute after we'd left the restaurant out came the cooked breakfast.  Apparently James came looking for us.  He didn’t look too hard.

Loaded up the van and we were off to our first of the day’s visits – Doi Maesalong 101 Tea Plantation.   

This area of Thailand has lots of tea plantations that have replaced the poppy fields.  Had never seen a plantation before so seeing it growing was quite interesting but the tea tasting that followed went on for a long time.  Some were nice and a couple of them not so nice.  One tasted like boiled bark (at a guess).  Jacqs and I bought some tea of the non-bark variety.

The roads were again very windy and neither Jacqs nor Al enjoyed the ride today at all.  It sucks to get motion sickness.  Luckily it didn’t bother me at all.  I found the days travels very interesting.

It was a very short drive to the hill tribe village.  None of us enjoyed this experience. 

These northern Thai hill tribes used to be 'nomadic’.  They’d farm an area of countryside then once it had become unproductive they’d move on.  This was having an impact on the environment.  It specifically caused a lot of erosion.  This dirt/silt washing off the hillsides and into the local rivers and streams was having a devastating impact downstream.  It also had an impact on the tribal people as it was difficult for the government to provide health care and education to this moving population.

So the government built new villages for the people with sealed roads, community buildings, a school and a permanent water supply and this is what we were taken to see.

It was very obvious that the majority of people did not enjoy living in a gold fish bowl/tourist attraction. Al and I had experienced something similar in Senegal a few years ago.  Just as happened there, some of the women were openly unhappy (who could blame them?) that a bunch of strangers was wandering through their village merrily snapping away.

James did his best to ask where and when we could take pictures.  We had no idea if the people were happy living there.  No idea if their standard of living or health, or education had improved.   There was a real lot of very unhealthy chickens wandering around that place.  The veges and fruit we saw growing looked sad and undernourished.  There was one highlight though - stepping inside the school where kindergarten was in session.  Even though it was a school holiday, kindergarten was still on so that the parents could be out working the 'farms’.

If Intrepid want to take its customers to places like this they need to tell us what THEY are doing for the community.  If they are doing nothing then it is a visit that they should drop asap as it makes a mockery of their sustainable travel mantra. 

We couldn’t get out of their fast enough.

Next visit was the monkey temple.  Lots of mangy monkeys and three sad crocodiles in a concrete enclosure.  Pass.

Lunch was at a gem showroom/restaurant in Mae Sai town.  Food was good but none of us had any intention of buying any gems.  I’d guess James was on some kind of commission if anyone is ever talked in to buying.

The Burma border and Golden Triangle beckoned so we were soon on the road again.  We made a quick stop at the border crossing, then headed to the Golden Triangle lookout where you look down onto the Mekong and see Burma (Burmese Casino), Laos (two Laotian casinos) and Thailand (casinos illegal) with China just a short 200 km hop away.  Quite a bit of boat traffic to those casinos as you can imagine.

Back down into the town where the Opium Museum was quite interesting. Maybe 30 minutes there? 

The most interesting moment occurred when James told us that his family had been poppy farmers when he was a small child and that he had tended the poppy fields.  Wow!  Then we went across the road and down onto a longtail for a quick trip on the Mekong and a step inside of Laos.  Bought a nice table runner and some Lao beer.  The girls did some haggling and came away with a genuine fake Chloe handbag.  I think we all enjoyed this odd little sidetrip.

Was a ninety minute drive into Chiang Rai where we stayed at the Diamond Park Inn  James was all for dinner at the hotel restaurant (yuk) but we wanted night bazaar food.  This didn’t quite work out how we intended as James took us to the Night Bazaar Restaurant.  Pretty ordinary meal and expensive in the scheme of market food.  Suppose he got a freebie for taking us there.

We wandered around the night market after dinner and eventually found what we’d thought we were suggesting – the local’s ‘food court’.  Darn.  The food looked great, even the fried grasshoppers and other assorted cooked insects.

When we’d arrived at the hotel I had looked for my phone to check our email but it was nowhere to be found.  Went back through the day and the last time I could remember touching it was putting it down beside the tv at the overnight hotel before I packed.  I went and found James and asked him to call them.  He got Rung (our driver) to check the van first and when that was a no called the hotel.  Disappointingly it ‘wasn’t there’.  Hopefully all of my contacts will be synched on the laptop at home.

Very angry with myself but nothing I can do.
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