Thailand Diary

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mad in pursuit 5.12.90

Yesterday at Mae Suai. Ate good noodle soup for 10 baht at a small restaurant that seemed to specialize in takeout -- dumping portions of soup and rice mixture into plastic bags and passing them to customers on the fly. We bought towels for 60 baht. 94 degrees but drier -- or perhaps we're growing accustomed. About 2:30 we pile into pickup trucks and head for the Akha village. The roads are red clay -- narrow but well-maintained and the scenery spectacular -- a crumpled green quilt. The swiddens [slash and burn agriculture] are apparent.

At the village we are surrounded by children. We interpret their interest first as affection (and of course there is curiosity) but then it's clear that they are murmuring "one baht," "two baht." Later, bolder kids run after us with their hands out screeching, "Okay? Okay?"

There wasn't enough room in the common hut so 3 of us stayed with a family in a neat hut perched on the side of a steep valley.

House was typical Akha layout (p. 59 of our book, reversed). The guest quarters was a raised bamboo platform covered with woven mats, sleeping 3 comfortably on our modern mats and down bags. The outhouse was miles away ("only for tourists") -- Akha use the land. Slept okay. Awakened before dawn to a chorus of roosters, then pigs and dogs, a cry of the nursing baby and finally a pig being slaughtered. Pounding of rice. House dark -- candles, cook stove for light. Water from gourds in A.M. for washing. Put in contact lenses with the 2-year-old baby watching raptly, while the pigs and chickens were feeding out of a half a tire behind me.

Not uncommon for girls 6-8 years old to have a baby on their backs or chests held in place with a piece of cloth. My special friend Anyim is about 7 or 8, dirty, once-ivory thongs, dirty blue pleated skirt and dirty t-shirt. Short black hair, serious eyes, smiles reluctantly, but beautifully -- broad, broad big-toothed smile in her broad jaw.

Use of opium is prevalent and obvious. Although headman has forbidden it for women, it is the women we notice -- empty eyes, wasted bodies. Chewing betel nuts (turning teeth blackish red) adds to the bizarre look.

Today. We trekked downhill to another set of villages -- Aka, Karen, Lahu -- all Catholic. Heather managed to put a large gash in her shin. They had to truck her to Mae Suai for stitches. We settled at the Lahu village where all the houses are on stilts. It appears prosperous -- lots of new buildings with concrete pylons, teak wood and brick. The women did stop by to show some weaving, but the children have kept to themselves -- no begging. Chan says in a few months they'll have electricity.

In the afternoon after siesta, we trekked up to a remote Lahu village accessible only by trail. The village was started about 7 years ago by 14 families to be nearer their fields. The walk was brutal -- 1-1/2 hours mostly uphill. In the sun the temperature was as high as 106. The scenery was spectacular, overlooking rice fields being worked by Lahu and water buffalo. Heard boy singing gaily. The village is snugged into a very steep hill. The residents responded to a Thai bow with smiles. We gathered at the church -- the children piled in and sang songs for us. Very well behaved -- received gifts politely and finally filed out. Their dress: more traditional -- some t-shirts but the girls all had wrapped flowered skirts. Exquisitely beautiful brown kids. Only visited by Explore groups. Trek back was more enjoyable.

Over-population -- bringing Westerners and Hilltribes together... will destroy both.