Edge of the golden triangle
Trip Start Oct 10, 2007
15Trip End May 31, 2008
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We just returned yesterday from a trek to visit the Hill Tribes of Thailand, they are mostly Burmese refugees that settled there about 250 years ago. We met up with some friends, Natalie and Nikos a couple from Greece who we motorcycled to Ooty with us back in India and Elle a Thai girl who took care of us in Bangkok and joined us on the train to Chaing Mai also a yoga student we met in India. We hiked some amazing trails saw some cool caves, elephants, waterfalls and ate until we were overstuffed... So much for 3/4 full! Of course with tourism and changes in life style most of the people wore jeans and t-shirts although some were in their traditional garb. We sat around the fire and talked with the tribesmen who were drunk but quite amusing. They sang native songs off key and off beat but they were able to laugh along with us. We stayed in bamboo huts raised about 5 feet off the ground traditionally so their animals could sleep under them due to the high tiger population. The setting was beautiful; quiet and no smog, light pollution or electricity. A stream passed by the set of huts and soothed my weary legs by its calming presence. The dense jungle beyond the stream seemed impenetrable as the night sky glowed with a near full moon.
The next day we hiked what seemed uphill the entire time for about 4 hours non-stop, when we did finally stop we rode bamboo rafts down a river, Chris opted out for fishing instead, and jumped off a cliff about 20 foot up into 7 feet of water the sand underneath was soft so no issue there. We had a very nice Burmese guide maybe 25 years old named 'Dee' which translates to 'good' in Thai. I really enjoyed his sense of humor and expansive knowledge of the Burmese history in Northern Thailand. Elle headed to Bangkok yesterday as she is on her way back to study in India with Barath Sheti for 2 months and Sharat for 4. Natalie and Nikos left as well for Laos and Cambodia, they promised to email us about that leg of their journey so we can be a bit more informed as we are headed there after our motorcycle trip.
So the gecko on the wall carried more significance than I could imagine, it's the subtle signs when you are aware that if you follow lead you to amazing places.
We rented the motorcycles from 'Lon' @ CP Rentals in Chaing MAi a long hair grease monkey but well groomed, he was a very kind man, a smoker in obvious compensation for his light hearted manner outside of the business details of renting which changed his expression to dead pan serious. The bikes had white plastics with a big 'XR' in red letters on the tank; the seat was red as well as the handle grips. After a circuitous loop in search of a photocopier because I needed to leave my passport in lieu of the cycles, we grabbed the bikes and headed back to our latest residence Grace's Boutique hotel. The bikes were both quite similar except for a larger luggage rack on the back of one. Chris put his helmet on it as some form of dibs as he is the gadget man and needs the potential to bring more or pick up something along the way. We spent about 45 minutes determining the best way to precariously balance all we had to bring on a fairly small area. Once we were satisfied that the placements were bomber, we headed out to Chaing Rai to see Simon and Noon.
The motorcycle trip started of a bit cumbersome with locating the road we needed to take out of town to Chris bike running out of gas before we filled up. After a 2 hours spent in dealing with the packing and gas moments I chilled out with a frappachino and we decided to call Simon to let him know we were on our way. I handed the phone to Chris and he proceeded to get the news that Simon was headed back to the UK that day and assured us to come up and Noon, his Thai girlfriend would set us up and show us the farm.
So we headed out...
A few stops along the way boasted bustling markets with all sorts of food to fill to your hearts content, underwear, drinks and people watching galore. The colorful choices of fruit artistically cut and skewered displayed through a glass box resting on some ice that slightly fogged the appearance making it ever more tempting on a hot day draped in full riding gear. The spinning sticks with colored strings made for make shift fans. Fried chicken lines almost all market walk ways, fried bugs, waffle's, fruit and of course curious stares are in abundance when you stick out like a like a Farang in a small Thai town.
After getting a bite it was time to make the anticipated final 2nd leg of travel that day... Back on the road the hill sides reminded me of an excited man strapped to an EKG, steep peaks and abrupt descents so thick with jungle foliage even from a distance you know it is dark under the canopy. In the foreground lies the field o' plenty with the working class grinding the day away in the hot sun and seemingly endless rice patties reflecting the images of all that surrounds it. A few meters outside of Chaing Rai with about 190 km's under our belt we were quite surprised that Chris's bike had again run out of gas. This time we had the routine down and after a 10 minute delay we were ready to shove off. Upon calling Noon to let her know we had arrived she informed of reservations she had with a friend and could not meet us. Of course at that moment we had forgot about the Gecko, the note on the vertically sliding door, Simon and noon and the Italian restaurant... Including the significance of it all. Remembering that we were experiencing an amazing journey - within a journey - within ourselves in Thailand on XR 250 dirt bikes with red handle grips! We decided we would just go where the road would take us hopefully in the direction of a place to camp. We stopped and were sure to top off our bikes at the local petrol bunk situated on a street that screamed of an industrialized suburb. The attendant was helpful and spoke English well enough to know what we were talking about when spoke of camping. With some general directions and a large cup on the side of a building as a landmark we headed out...
We searched, but the cup never showed itself and the night was consuming the remains of an adventuresome day. The cool air penetrated our jacket vents that were still exposed from the heat. The few signs which read in English were associated with falls, caves and National Parks; we spotted a sign for a waterfall after previously losing the trail of a hot spring. The night was now upon is and the tent strapped to my forks across the headlight became a hazard. We stopped about 10 minutes after all remnants of the sun hid itself for the next 12 hours; we hoped to find something before then! It didn't look like they were open but all the contents of the store were accessible, there wasn't really much else around besides a near mirror image of itself across the street with a shabby beauty salon attached to it and the sign at the corner that prompted us to turn towards the falls we were chasing. There was a lady in the back who revealed herself out of the shadows ready to help a few weary Farang that were lost in the night. We picked up a few snacks, strawberry center biscuits, 2 custard filled sponge cakes recommended by the lady of the house and a Coca-Cola. Not exactly health food but our choices were limited in that small shop on the corner of the road somewhere at the edge of the Golden Triangle.
We managed to pile the tent on the top of Chris' mountain of stuff he takes in the event of nuclear, chemical or biological attack however Chris usually can find a way to make use of each item, if only justification for bringing it along. With that we were down the road, the light on my bike was hot enough to melt a strap attached to my tent and the plastic light cover protecting the filament from sure demise... It seemed a bit masochistic but acceptance of the dimmed lighting because of it was a necessity. The road turned and twisted, narrowed and expanded along the way through a few huts on stilts with thatch roofs, small eateries none of which captured our attention enough to stop and a glimmer of hope that there was really something at the end of the road.
We came upon a sign for camping and rejoiced! We pulled in to see a large group of people maybe 100 or so. Was it a convention? A Thai camping clique? We saw a few middle aged Thai ladies standing at the raised balcony of a cabin... Chris asked what was happening, if there was a place to camp and if they spoke English. They spoke English and explained they were teachers chaperoning a group of students but we couldn't camp there. We asked if it would be ok if we set up in a large open field adjacent to the group and were denied. They told us we should turn around and go back the way we came, we decided to continue up the road, a few kilometers away we reached the end of the road and a right turn over a bridge with a stream below we assumed to be coming from the waterfall. A large wood A-frame building to our left as we pulled in was filled with information in Thai about the Kok River and the national park. Another group of kids about the same size as the previous were in the midst of singing karaoke at decibel levels higher than the screams of rabid fans when Leonard Skynard plays Freebird. We saw a few guys sitting away from the large group that looked officially unofficial; we decided they would be the right people to ask. We got to them and quickly realized they spoke little English as your senses for these things are enhanced when you are traveling in a foreign country that speaks and writes in a different language. We engaged them in hand gestures as they readily understood what we wanted to do given the gear on our bikes and the universal sign for tent. / . They pointed us towards the large open field and we settled on a spot by a couple trees and nearly the furthest point from the group of kids which proved to be not far enough. We set up the tent while watching and listening to the kids sing what would eventually be about the same 8 Thai pop songs over and over as the 2 official unofficial camp attendants gathered wood and started a fire for us. We needed food and we were both pretty exhausted from a long day of riding, we flipped a coin and Chris was the lucky winner of a moonlight ride back down to find some sustenance.
I pulled out my camera and began to capture some of the ritualistic activities of pre-pubescent Thai teens and children as they celebrated round a bon fire and gave what sounded like affirmations over the mic when there was a break between songs, Chris looked for food. He returned after about 30 minutes and was pleased to have been the winner of the flip which sent him through the mountains on a moonlight ride, I was happy to chill. We cooked some food over the fire, a couple packs of Ramen noodles, a can apiece of fried mackerel in tomato sauce and some chips. The food tasted amazing, we a chilled Nescafe after and decided it was time to crash after trying to avoid it all day. The kids were pumped you tell by the amount of effort they gave singing songs and karaoeking up a storm till about 11:30; I fell asleep, Chris informed of this the next morning.
Just before sunrise they were on the loud speaker again prompting the kids to wake up as well as everyone living thing within a 2 kilometer radius. I still slept pretty well until they marched to the waterfall right through and around our site. Chris cleared his throat loudly which prompted a single shhhhhh and then quickly forgotten as is the past. I got up before Chris and checked out the scene in the daylight, I saw a park renger (that's how they spell it) he came over and talked to me in excellent English. After a few pleasantries he asked where I was from, I said the US and he asked which state, I said Colorado... "So are you a Democrat or Republican?" "Uhh well I really don't see myself as either but I would say I relate more to Democrats than Republicans on the majority of life standards". We talked about the candidates, how he likes Obama and I agreed that I thought he was the lesser of evils if we must choose. I asked him to point out on the map where we were, Chris popped his hand out of the tent to hand off the maps. It wasn't detailed enough to show the road but we knew pretty much where we were and where we wanted to head from there. We got up and hiked to the waterfall about 1km away from the campsite and marveled at the surreal scenes that presented themselves to us along the way. The hike was a little more taxing than anticipated with steep ascents and sharp declines, every 200 meters there was a sign indicating how much further to the falls. We were the only ones on the trail which made for a well received contrast to the constant noise of the campsite. The fall was beautiful, about 120 feet tall and sending a mist 30 meters away that spurred the growth of thousands of ferns and moss covered rock. We sat in silence for a while, in awe of the sheer force of the falls and how it churned the water in the pool it met at the bottom. After marveling at it's magnificence we headed back to camp to pack and get underway.
That is all for now I will get the rest entered about that leg in the next week, it was an amazing adventure I hope you are excited to hear about the rest as we are to have experienced it. Until then...
Where I stayed