Deep in the Mountains

Trip Start May 22, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

This morning we made our way into the mountains bordering Burma with our trusty, knowledgeable and down right hilarious guide Mr Dam. Mr Dam is originally from a Shan Hill Tribe that originated from China around the time that Communism took over (I think). He made our day an absolute blast where we saw and learnt heaps while also having a great time.

We made our way into the mountains, where our first stop was to go for a trek on an elephant. The elephant had not arrived yet, so he took us somewhere that was not really on the tourist map, a Black Market Whiskey Distillery..... Awesome!!! While there we also saw a lady working there who was from the long neck tribes (the ones that you see with all of the rings around their necks). There was a long neck village that you could go and visit, but from what we had been told it was a zoo where people just went to spectate, so we had decided to give it a miss. Seeing this lady was a bonus, as she was not someone who wanted to commercialise her traditions, she just wanted to work. For this reason, I did not take any photos while we visited this area.

Our elephant had arrived, so we made our way to the seating platform and jumped on!! The elephant that was taking us for a ride was beautiful and it was great to see that the place we were using treated their elephants really well. She looked in great condition and her Mahout (driver I guess), could command her with different sounding grunts instead of beating them with barbs like some other people do!!

The ride was great and we made our way through mud, fields and flooded areas before crossing the river. Our taxi decided to stop a few times to feed and also for a drink in the middle of a pretty big river which was a crack up as the Mahout expressed his disappointment. From there we jumped off and fed her a huge bag of mangoes and gave her a pat and a scratch. Elephants are such beautiful animals and it is amazing how gentle they are considering their sheer size!

It was time to venture higher into the mountains, where Mr Dam took us to a retreat that was used by Thais and was made entirely of bamboo (pretty much everything). As well as everything being made of Bamboo, there were a heap of different species growing there which Mr Dam told us about. I never knew that there were so many types with so many uses!! The place was so quiet and peaceful... I can see why Thais came here for holidays!!

We stopped to look at a waterfall before making our way even higher into the mountains. We just seemed to keep going up and up and up... it was amazing, and it was starting to get very cool! We passed though a few Hmong, Karen and Shan villages before stopping at a village who made coffee. One thing that Mr Dam explained to us was the difference that we had noticed in the trees that covered the majority of the mountains. They all seemed quite new and were mainly pine trees instead of the traditional Team and Hardwood that covered the mountains closer to town. 

Before the government had managed to get up to this area in the mountains, the locals had torn down all of the teak and hard woods and either used or sold it. Its replacement on the mountain was the crop of choice back in those days, opium. So here we were looking at mountains and mountains of what used to be covered in opium plantations... amazing!! The Thai government had promised the people that if they stopped growing opium, they would give them roads, water, electricity etc etc and the locals happily obliged. They were also taught how to grow other types of crops to make money, including tea and coffee. The majority of the opium trade now took place in Burma, far away right? No, in fact you could see the guard towers hidden in the trees on the ridge line less than a kilometer away from us... whoa!

We had a sample of the coffee (luckily dodging the rain) and relaxed, the place was so quiet, and so cool!! In winter, the temperatures could drop to single figures, which is a big thing for Thailand!!We then made our way to have a look around at a Hmong. village. Erica made friends straight away with a group of little kiddies who look like they had an absolute ball playing!! 

We went to a Shan village located less than 200 meters from the Burmese border for lunch. We had an amazing lunch of pork and noodle soup, fresh pineapple, Chinese tea and sticky rice with coconut and then had a walk around. It was a beautiful village that made lots and lots of tea, and my goodness was it good! We also saw a group of Thai soldiers who were down from their guard post on their lunch break and were around when the school bell rang for the children to leave school. It was funny watching all of the kids running past us, some excited others shy as not many foreigners came up here. One of the kids actually hid under a table when he saw us!

The afternoon was spent checking out some more villages and making our way to "The Fish Cave", a sacred Buddhist site. The cave has water running through it and it is filled with - you guessed it- fish. These fish cannot be eaten however, as they are believed to belong to Buddha and are fed instead. There is story circulating at the moment about a man who took fish from here and ate it, getting very ill as a result. The doctor could not figure out what was wrong with him, so his family took him back there, where he apologised to Buddha, and suddenly he was better.

On returning to town, we played it pretty boring, getting a feed, relaxing and getting organised to move on again tomorrow. This was such a rewarding day, and it has made us think about changing our planned route through Laos to see some of the more remote areas.   
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