Thailand, Tribes and Torture!

Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Sunday, May 8, 2005

We have just arrived back from our 5 day trek in the hills surrounding Mae Hongson which is cloase to the Burmese border and we are still reeling from our experiences which were so intense, challenging, humorous and revealing. This is probably the toughest trek we have ever been on.

Our trek was accompanied by 4 Thais:

- He runs the trekking company.
- He is an amazing cook, who made every tasty meal for us.
- He speaks every hill tribe language in the area
- Knows all the local fauna and flora (a Zooloogy degrees worth)

Smoking Man
- Nicknamed by us due to his giant role ups he smokes all day
- Known to his Thai friends as "Mr Black Penis"
- A relaxed and carefree man who contemplates the world
- Dissapeared every night and then reappeared with a bottle of local Whisky (Moonshine)

Quiet Man
- Known to his friends as "Mr Cried Too Much As A Boy"
- Quieter and kinder than smoking man
- Able to jump from rock to rock with basket of supplies on his head.
- Gathers food all day as he walks (mushrooms, greens, caterpillars)

Coughing Man
- Known to his friends as "Headman 2"
- Sous chef to Chan
- Enforcing copious drinking of local whisky
- Singing and getting everyone partying

The Trek
The trek begins and ends at the Fern Resort in Mae Hong Son, a very small town near the Burmese border. The Fern resort is a community-based tourism project employing local tribespeople and located in stunning grounds. Our cabin faced across lush green rice paddies and at night the thousands of froms competed with the sound of the fans in our rooms. Our first night there welcomed the start of the rainy season with a massive storm which brought down a large tree only feet away from where we were downing G&T's.

The toughest thing about the trekking is the incredible heat, marching up and down steep narrow forest tracks, carring rucksacks in temperatures upto 37 degrees C in the sahde. If you want to get an idea of what this is like take a stairmaster into a sauna, don't forget to add mosquitos and a backpack.

Day One
Despite MHS being in the hills our day commenced with a 3 1/2 hour 4WD journey winding up tight S-Bends on dirt roads climbing high above the clouds (and rain). Our trek began after what became our regular lunch of noodles and rice wrapped in banna leaves, followed by fat juicy lychees. Chan pointed out the highest most distant mountain in the range called (Chilli) Pik Mountain and said "that's where we will be tonight".

As we walked we could see across to Burma, fantastic valleys, pristeen rain forest with a continual commentary fron Chan on the local Flora and Fauna. The terrain varied from dry ridges to steep slopes and valley floors to 30ft high bambood jungles in thich clumps.

6 hours later we arrived at Pik mountain at the Lisu tribal village where we would stay for two nights with a Lisu family. See Pics. The Lisu, are originally from Tibet and settled in this area about 80 years ago and until 10 to 15 years ago were prodigious opium farmers. Now this is outlawed they live a subsistance framing life.

As we walked into the village we were a little shocked at the litter and poverty surrounding us and tried hard not to show it on our faces. As it turned out, this was "downtown", where the first couple we met were crouched outside a fence castrating piglets with their bare hands. We walked through to our host family who live in a newly cleared, cleaner area near the school.

The family were very welcoming and made us feel at home despite our lack of common language. There was a Husband (30), Wife (29) and 4 children ranging from 4 to 13. We were never given their names - a fact that seemed not to bother either Chan and the porters (nor our hosts surprisingly). They lived in a small (20 x 15ft) bamboo hut, surrounded by chickens, pigs and dogs who would run in and out of the seating area. Inside the hut had a mud floor with 2 platforms,the lower one was for sitting on with a large clothes rail, the second higher platform normally used for storing rice sacks, became our bedroom.

The kids were great fun and seemed to get enjoyment from watching foreigners (us) eat, wash, put in contact lenses or anything we did. Only 6 tourists go through this village a year and therefore we were BIG news. In the evening we had our first introduction to lacal whicky and finished with a drunkan Chan taking us star gazing.

Day Two The Valley of 1 Million Spiders
Our Lisu host took us on a "short" hike to some waterfalls and a cave. Hike turned out to be 7 hours scarmbling in a deep ravine in 35 degree C in the shade. Along the way we saw Lisu farms and picked up an escort of local hunting boys armed with ancient Flint Lock rifles.

The most amazing thing in the ravine was the spiders - millions of them. At one point the rock face was 100% covered with them jumpping back and forwards. Every tree, pile of leaves and planted revealed more.

Dee had a little sense of humour failure after an hour of scrambling, sliding and falling down a sheer ravine side covered in loose leaves. Thankfully, Quiet Man provided a bamboo walking stick and cut steps into the hardest parts of the slope. However that did not prevent the leeches which were to become an important part of Dee's life each day!

The waterfall, due to this being the dry season, was small and unable to provide the promised swim. Much missed.

The route to the cave was a 35 min vertigo-inducing climb to arrive in large but not really spectactular cave. Phil was taken to the back of the cave by a guide, to discover it was full of bats that the guide insisted on stirring up, he left very fast having heard bats carry rabies. In the meantime Dee (sensibly) refused to go in and sat, cursing trekking as a sport, outside. The trek back was only 3 hours but was complicated by being cut off by a local forest fire. Think the local village burnt much more of the vegetation than they planned to as we kept hearing the swoosh as the flames took hold well back to the Lisu village. We provided a lot of hilarity this evening to the kids as we were so dirty that we washed outside the hut (Dee wearing a sarong to cover her modesty in the local fashion) - before the kids were shushed away anbd everyone politely ignored what we were doing...SO refreshing!

Day three
Breakfast included not just the children watching us eat but also a few neighbours. The don't have TV. We said good bye to the Lisu who we had made a bond with. The Wife in particular wanted to say something to Dee but couldn't - probably to wish Dee good luck getting pregnant as a major topic of discussion is our failure to produce any children after 5 years of marriage!

This was a hard but good day trekking (only 30 degrees C in the shade) across many valleys. We moved into the Karen tribal lands. We saw lots of wildlife and orchids. Most amazing where the "walking flower" who are beatles disguised as little white flowers.

We arrived at the Karen Village after 7 hours trekking. The Karen make much better houses than the Lisu they are built on stilts with bamboo floors. The pigs, chickens etc all live underneath. Our host family had a particularly nice one with 2 floors and most importantly a shower.

The hosts were great fun and many people from the village dropped in to catch up on the gossip with our guides and drink more "whisky" . The old neighbour spent much time praising Dee for wearing a sarong not like other tourists he has seen. He also spent a some time feeling Phil's legs and arms, telling the rest of the room how strong they were. The lady of the house was the most elegant and beautiful woman, in traditional dress. She also led the drinking. Her daughter took her outside when she was quite pissed and we could hear giggling for 1/2 an hour while they fed the pigs.

Day Four The rainy season arrives.
We were sad to leave our hosts but were heading to a new Karen village. Within minutes of us leaving it started to rain. Everyone locally was pleased the rainy season had started. but the rain was heavy and fetid for us - for similar experience take the stairmaster out of the sauna into a steam room. The good news is the mosquitos left but were replaced by even more leeches.

We trekked all day but can only really report rain. We arrived at a the next village very wet and exhausted. The new family are good friends of Chans and the porters. we stayed one a 2 bedroom stilted house high above the rest of the village and it was quite nice to get our own room. Tonight was party night as we were 1 night from home and could get beer and more local whisky. The night included singing and guitars whilst the rain poured outside.

Phil and Dee were given a lump of local spice, described as a sweet. Dee subtley dropped hers through the floor to the pigs. Phil ate his and spent the night very happy. Dee spent all night dreaming she was falling down muddy slopes as the rain sounded torrential outside!

Day Five
The trek home was only light rain and we walked down a river valley. It was a beautiful trek and Quiet Man and Smoking Man spent most of the day finding food and planting seeds in hidden spots in the valley. This being their home valley.

We arrived back at Chan's house which turns out to be an Eden of plants and crops he has gathered from his treks. It is situated in the bottom of a valley with stunning views of the surrounding mountains, which he loves so much. It truly is one of the most beautiful places we have seen in the world.

A short ride took us back to the Fern resort for a much needed sleep.
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