Bangkok-Ajuthaya-Surin-Chiang Mai
November 1984
Part II - Chiang Mai

Golden Triangle

Back in Bangkok from Surin I took the night train to Chiang Mai right away. The trains in Thailand are very comfortable and I had a good night's sleep in one of the sleeping berths, so I could immediately go on a sight-seeing tour after I settled down in the Youth Hostel in Chiang Mai. Next day early morning l went by bus into the famous (or infamous) Golden Triangle, first to Tha Thon at the Maekok River.

Remark: The photos on the right side may not be correctly adjusted if you use Mozilla Firefox or Chrome. I propose to use the Explorer of Microsoft instead.

The new Buddha of Tha Thon looks down to his new temple and the Maekok River
Since this area was not so save at the time I was there, we were accompanied by an armed guard during our five hours boat ride to Chiang Rai. On that excursion I met a nice couple from Australia, who invited me to visit them someday: the guy was a professional salvage diver in Sydney. We arrived late in Chiang Rai where we had to stay the night.
Will we get an armed guard or should we pray to Buddha?
Couldn't see neither insurgents nor bandits only some simple huts with peasants
Chiang Rai itself didn't have much to offer, but it was a jumping-off point to Chiang Saen at the Mekong River just 30km up north with many temple ruins and Laos on the other side of the Mekong. However, the real triangle, where Thailand joins with Laos and Burma, is another 11km further up north.

But unfortunately there was not enough time to go there, so I had to head back to Chiang Mai where I stayed in the Youth Hostel again, because it was such a wonderful place. The staff was very kind and helpful. The food was the way the travelers like it. And a movie was run every night for entertainment. And last not least, the best thing was the offer to join a guided trekking tour to the hill tribes of the Golden Triangle. I made already reservation before I went to Chiang Rai. So I was ready next day, so were eight other people.
Get ready for the trek Good bye. Don't cry
First we went by car as far as we could go on a dirt road. This was the beginning now of the least trekked area which was southwest of Mae Sariang and Mae Hong San with only 10km to the border of Burma (and not far to Tanggy where I had my nightmare a month ago). But this was already the first contact with a hill tribe, the Meos.
Life is hard but don't be sad
The boys always have fun and our guide has a monkey
Our guide was a Shan (same tribe as the one also living in Burma). He has done this trek many times before. He was fluent in English and could also speak in many other hill tribe tongues. Beside him we had a porter and a monkey as our lucky charm. And we were really lucky about our crew.
Better harvest rice instead of opium
Ok, the Golden Triangle is also called the Opium Triangle. Opium cultivation used to be the main source of income for the hill tribe people. The government is trying to have them switch over to other crops. But they are still trying. Both. And most of the indigenous people do not want to give up smoking their opium pipe (more later on).
This is an opium poppy Our guide cuts it open
We had to continue to climb hills and balancing over creeks without any opium boost. And it needed full concentration not to fall into the troubled water as you can see from the face of one of our companions.
Trekking over the hill (see my people?) and balancing over "Troubled Water"
On our way we also met a lot of locals in the forest and in small settlements. They were all very friendly and we have never been afraid of anybody, even if some people had a gun. Though, there have been robberies and murders reported from other parts of the Golden Triangle.
Our porter with hunter family l and a maid looking at us
Before sunset we always happened to reach a village where we could settle down for the night. The villagers not only provided a place to sleep but also pots with rice and sometimes chicken meat. The rest like bread and other ingredients were carried by our porter in his basket .
Our porter carries our food Our guide toasts our bread
Our delicious dinner After dinner opium pipe?
After dinner everybody did get offered to smoke an opium pipe. I never tried but a young lady from France. The village people looked at us all the time, because we were like alien from another star.
And everybody seems to be happy
Then we were sleeping all night on a hard floor in the only room of a hut together with the whole family. That was always the case for the next four nights but always in another hut in another village. The wake-up call was always by a rooster just happened to be just half a meter from my ear underneath the floor. There was no bathroom, just a loo. Washing was done either under a water pipe coming from the hills, or if we are lucky, we could take a shower under a waterfall or just standing in creek, but always in the open and in the morning cold.
The village wakes up with the first rooster's cry Our final wake-up was a cold shower under the sky
We didn't mind the inconvenience and enjoyed this adventure very much. We knew that we did not have to stay here forever. And also the way we did stick together in our fantastic group was a nice experience. Let the following pictures speak for themselves.
All married woman are very fertile the children coming one after another
Little sister has to take care of her brother And when will I become a mother?
Having breakfast with our nosy fans around then we are ready to trek to our next adventure
Finally we reach our next village and this is our new domicile
Girls are happy about the new arrival Will we get suckling pig for dinner?
We are strange to them so they are strange to us
Women are smoking a pipe Warming their feet in the fire
Kids are eager to learn but then we had to leave them
Meeting another small hamlet on our way to the next village
My feet are not really killing me but let's ride an elephant for a change
Arriving at the next village received by a beautiful hostess
A mother feeding her baby An old woman twiddling thumbs
Village live is really nice Not much to do but looking for lice
In the next village people were very busy
The first busy tribe a saw she almost looks like a squaw
No opium but veggie and the boys look happy
That was the end of our six days trek through the Golden Triangle. Back in Chiang Mai our group did get together for a farewell dinner. Some of us visited a folklore show performed by different hill tribe people. Their traditional costumes were all more colorful as the ones we saw on our trek, because they wore these only during festivals, of course. One tribe we did not see before was the Akka with their most colorful outfit.
Why do these old women look so sad?
A family. But where is the father maybe he is playing the flute
Aren't they beautiful in their outfit A proud young mother with child
Who is most beautiful? Who is the best dancer?
More beauties from a different tribe
And they are just peasant girls
She can't work with long fingernails They are professional folklore performers
Men are doing the dangerous things
A lot to see around Chiang Mai. Not staged for the tourists. It' s a working place , it's business, it's production, it's handicraft. Every product you can buy, but you wouldn't buy timber delivered by an elephant.
An elephant camp in the jungle where elephants have to work hard
Beautiful Lotus pond and an orchid garden
Beautiful orchids you can buy
Even more colorful are the umbrellas and beautiful the girls who make them
And painting the umbrellas is the artist's job
Painting china coffee pots Painting ceramic figures
Spinning silk from the silk worms
Weaving fabric and carving wood
Souvenirs: Wooden elephant or wooden furniture?

Back in Bangkok

I did not buy anything in Chiang Mai. But back in Bangkok I bought a suitcase big enough for my new Buddha to smuggle out of Thailand (actually forbidden because you may misuse that statue as hanger).
I did not buy a heavy golden stupa but a smaller version of this Buddha
This time I stayed in a backpacker joint at the Khao San Road (cheap, cheap, cheap, all cubicles with no windows like in "The Beach"). But it was close to everything, like the six lane thoroughfare along the Democracy Monument and the Banglamphu area.
The Democracy Monument with a Mercedes logo in front
For a Mercedes you have to win in a lottery otherwise taking the tuk-tuk is the only choice
There was no need to take any means of transport in this area. Many interesting places can be reached by foot from here, even the Grand Palace, but there were also other nice temples around and a huge department store.
Many golden Buddhas in their fantastic temples
Most Thais are Buddhists and all Thais are royalists
Buying royal pictures and more in a fancy department store
Even marketing girls were there and the proud police is everywhere
This little marine is also proud so is already this boy scout
Not many Thais have a fancy life. Most of them have to strive for a better life. Many dwellings look pretty old and decaying. Some Thais even can't afford a decent stay.
Many are living in old flats as shown or outside at the klong settled down
But all are trying to make both ends meet as best as they can. And they are very diligent and can be very innovative. Especially women, I noticed, seem to be a strong work force, prevalent in many different kinds of businesses.
Many women are sales ladies or tending a veggie market stall
Binding orchid flowers or cutting Durian fruits
Last thing I did was paying a visit to the infamous Patpong Road (without paying for anything, however). This is the one sexy place where it all started, though didn't know that when I was in Bangkok in the year 1969.
Better working in the Padpong road at night than working all day at a con-struction site?

Ok, that was Thailand, though only a small part of it. There could have been seen and done a lot more. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more all about the places I have visited, then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the internet.

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