Long Necks

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Chiang Khong Teak Gardens

Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Rai,
Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today was our day to leave Chiang Rai and start heading toward Laos. Our first stop today presented one of those dilemmas we run into every now and again. We really wanted to see the much talked about 'long necks', a Karen tribe of northern Thailand more formally known as Mae Hong Son, but any experience with this group is often likened to visiting a human zoo. This labeling is usually done by overly pompous travelers who fail to recognize that just about every experience with a new culture or country has a human zoo-like element. That said, the 'long necks' are like a number of displaced tribes in northern Thailand who are very restricted by the lack of formal Thai citizenship and, as a result, have come to use the significant tourist interest in their culture and dress in particular to generate much needed cash. Assuming the cash does reach the right people, there's probably nothing wrong with that (and seeing the optical illusion of women with stretched necks is compelling), but I still felt somewhat awkward taking photo's in this less-than-authentic grouping of villages. We had arrived very early- well before the tour bus crowd so we had the place largely to ourselves and the villages themselves were in that sleepy but friendly awakening phase. There's an inordinate number of digital images of the 'long necks' floating around the world of Fickr and you would think that photo fatigue would set in (and there's probably a mathematical link between the number of rings by a woman and the number of pics of that woman) but the women of this village offered up shy smiles and were more than accommodating.

The rings themselves were linked to neck attacks by tigers but were more of a charm than a defensive shield. Adjacent to the Karen 'long neck' village were Ahka, Yao ,Mao, and Shan Lisue tribal villages but, on this day anyway, they seemed to yield the star-of-the-show status to the long necks and only put on half hearted cultural demonstrations. Understandable perhaps but each was certainly unique and intriguing (given her somewhat generous ear lobes DH developed an immediate attraction to a  group that were sporting massive ear rings that stretched the lobes beyond all reasonable proportions).

I had no problems taking photo's at our next stop- the monkey temple. I don't know what it is about monkeys that always leaves me with 10x more monkey pic's than I really need but DH was rolling her eyes before I had the focus set for my first shot. Watching monkeys in chaos probably triggers fond memories of my former work environments??

We can't go much further north in Thailand, so in Mae Sai we head to a vantage point that offers up spectacular vistas of neighboring Myanmar. The town itself is right on the border and has a frontier flavor to it and the people certainly remind us of our previous trekking adventures through Burma. There was a great vibe to the place and we probably should have spent a couple of days here but we're on a tight schedule- we only have three years! So off we went to visit an area known as the Golden Triangle- effectively the meeting point of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos alongside the mighty Mekong River; long known as an opium smuggling area. This, of course, had DH recalling a number of glory-day cop stories when she and her squad effectively shut down the illegal drug trade in Toronto. Apparently they haven't been quite as successful in other police jurisdictions and as a result the drug trafficking is alive and well in the GT area as witnessed via a number of bodies found floating in the Mekong River recently.

Our chessy moment of the day was rolling coins down a chute into the navel of a very large  'Happy Budda which triggered a recording of a budda laughing in much the same way our very own Santa does. Good fun until one of the locals started patting my stomach and chanted "happy budda" with undue enthusiasm. We also did a short boat trip which had one of the boat dudes racing after me with a replacement safety vest for the somewhat tiny thing I was originally given. Apparently the only word of English he knew was "big" which he said over and over again while pointing at me. Nothing like a couple of verbal beat-downs to keep the ego firmly in check.

We bounced around a lot but finally settled in Chiang Khong for a couple of days waiting for our boat ride to Laos. Highlight of our stay here was one of the stranger haircuts I've ever had. I was getting a bit scruffy after the military cut I got in San Diego but the I made the mistake of a spontaneous haircut- presumably the masked man I found in Chiang Khong had never had to deal with hat-head before. Probably would have got a cleaner cut if I had taken DH up on her offer but since we finished up our wills, I'm still not sure I trust her with sharp instruments in her hand.

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Comments

Elaine & Doug on

Some great shots - especially of the 'long-necks'. Wow, a couple of dozen heavy, metal collars in a hot, buggy climate! That's almost as silly and impractical as the stelleto-heeled winter boots some women are wearing during our icey, snowy Canadian winter. Chúc mừng lễ !

Doug on

My New Years resolution will be to check my spelling. The comment above should of course read 'stiletto-heeled'.

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