Vibes from the Tribe

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

We just got back from spending 2 days with an Akha Hilltribe up in the mountains near the Burmese boarder. We followed a recommendation from Wills friends who told us about Natural an organisation who arranges homestays with hilltribe families to provide an opportunity to exchange knowledge and understanding between visitors and the local community, and promotes local cultures and the natural environment.  You get to spend more time in the village and learn more about their way of life.  So we met our guide Dusit, a local man from Chiang Rai and hopped on a series of busses and pickup trucks up the mountains to meet our host family.

It's absolutely beautiful up in the mountains.  You see for miles across the valleys onto tea plantations and mountains top villages sat amongst fields of corn, wheat and fruit trees listening to the orchestra of the insects and birds.  We were staying with the grandfather and grandmother who were the chief elders of the village.  The kindergarten was closed for 2 days when we were there and so all the little kids came to play with us. They were adorable and had real character.  One in particular took a shine to Will and kept repeating him despite not speaking English. Will had them all eating out of his hands though! Dusit was a bit like the pied piper, wherever we went all these kids would appear.

After playing with the kids for a while we set off to trek to a waterfall with the grandfather, one of the young men from the village and Dusit.  They made us some walking poles out of bamboo, which was a must as the terrain was pretty steep and hard going at times.  We walked through this horrid grass that releases sharp spikes that got stuck in our socks shoes and trousers.  Will was provided with wellys and so was ok but my feet ended up looking like hedgehogs!  We reached the river and followed it for a bit climbing over rocks carefully making our way.  Then we got to the bottom waterfall and then started to wade through the river.  We had to leave our camera behind at this point with Dusit and continued with the grandfather so you’ll have to believe me.

 It was treacherous at times and slippery climbing over rocks and wading through fast moving water. The river eventually turned into a canyon and we found ourselves waist deep staring up at the canopy through the rock walls towering above us.  The canyon got narrower and we got to a point where you had to swim to go further.  I waited there with the grandfather and Will went on to the head of the waterfall with the other Akha man.  There were three 'rooms’ going up towards the top waterfall with three tiers cascading down which they had to climb over and swim across to get to the top.

In the evening we walked around the village and played with the kids some more. They took us to the family farm and showed us some furry caterpillars and fruit.   We ate a feast of Akha style traditional food which mainly came from the family’s farm.  It consisted of beans, cabbage and pork, roasted peanuts and a yummy spicy sauce which Akha have with most meals made from chilli, peanut, coriander and garlic.  The Akha eat more Chinese style than Thai with rice bowls and chopsticks.  Most of our meals were on a similar vein, including breakfast and lunch but with a slight variation so maybe papaya salad, omelette or egg plant.  You also eat green beans and another green vegetable raw and dip into the sauce.  All served with sticky mountain rice and washed down with green tea.  After dinner they brought out the Arrack and we sank a beer while Ducit got quite drunk and the young Akha man played us some Thai and European pop music.  We slept on roll mats in their living room.

We were woken by the sound of cockerels in the morning.    After breakfast we walked through the farms to the neighbouring Lisu village and to the tea plantations. Then back at the village the kids took us to show us their kindergarten.  In the afternoon the grandmother taught me how to make an Ahka style bracelet and the grandfather taught Will some handicraft with bamboo.  The grandmother then dressed me up in traditional Akha dress, the head dress is very heavy so I take my hat off to her for wearing that although they now only wear the traditional dress for tourists and festivals. 

The Akha people are from Tibet and started to settle in Thailand around 200 years ago.  This particular village has been around for around 40 years and the grandfather was one of the founders when he was a young man.  Originally there was no running water and they had to collect water at the highest point and use bamboo to pipe it around the village.  They now have electricity and running water.  Unfortunately many of the man have to go away to find work and we met a little girl who hadn’t seen her father for 3 years but he was coming to visit in a week so she was overwhelmed with emotion.  The Akha are Christian and so their main festival of the year is Christmas when they have a weeklong party for the whole time between Christmas and new year with dancing and a lot of arrack drinking.  The second main festival of the year being when the wheat comes into harvest but that festival is only for a day.

All in all it was an amazing experience.  We were given some cups made of bamboo and got to keep our handicraft when we left.

For the rest of the time in Chiang Rai we hired a moped and explored the region, visiting the Black House which is an artist colony full of amazing carvings and sculptures.  We ate in the night bazaar and chilled at our beautiful guest house in a converted colonial house owned by a lovely Thai lady called Nong.
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