Day 2: 20 Jan. 2011: Matt’s birthday!
Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up. Typical jet lag. Hurray for sleeping pills, I fell right back asleep. Woke up to Matt’s alarm at 08:00, time enough for breakfast and checkout before being picked up by our guide for an abbreviated hill tribe village tour. (We’d originally wanted 5 days, but time constraints limited us to 2.)
As it turned out, it was a guide, Pat, himself of Shan descent, originally a tuk-tuk driver in Chiang Mai, and a driver, Ae, about whom we never learned much. Pat talked nearly incessantly in a very strong accent, hard to interpret. Ae spoke seldom, but was usually much more interesting and much less didactic.
I chose this tour operator because he proclaimed “responsible tourism” and “giving back to the community.” As it turned out, this seemed to be more about making us feel like rich and callous foreigners. More on that later.
First, we got gas, which we paid for, 2200 baht. Then for some reason he took us to Tiger Kingdom, which was ok. The tigers were gorgeous and seemed well taken care of, but it wasn’t really what I had in mind. We paid for tickets to go in and touch the “middle” tigers, about 2 years old. Brother and sister. They are SOFT! I really didn’t know. We also looked at the babies, 4 months old. So cute!
When we were getting ready to leave, Pat’s girlfriend Mel called. She wanted to let me know the price for the 2 days and to warn me that we’d have to be quite firm with Pat about what we did or did not want to do. I was glad, too, because he next tried to take us to Orchid World, or some such. I said no, and we went into the hills.
First stop, a slightly pretty stream the road passed over. I’m not sure why we stopped there. Smoke break? Then higher up to a Hmong village. Very nice view there, and wonderfully sweet people, but then, no different from the Hmong I’ve known throughout the years. We spoke with some women outside a shop, who were really impressed that I can say hello and count to six in their language. They tried to teach me 7-10, and maybe I remember. Maybe not! One of them has a sister in St. Paul, and wanted to know, half-jokingly, if she could go back with us. I didn’t bother to explain that we live now in Amsterdam. Maybe Pat did, but may she wouldn’t have cared.
The village was very pleasant, and the people seemed poor but not dreadfully poor. They were happy and relaxed, going about their business while we wandered around. We were the only outsiders there, and I didn’t get the impression they get many.
We went to the school, where I was glad to find we were only disturbing their lunch. The different classes were lined up outside the lunch hall as we climbed the hill, and by the time we got there they were mostly inside. The principal and one of the teachers were overseeing the progression in. The oldest students were monitoring the lunchroom. Everyone had a tray with rice, sauce and egg, which looked very tasty, and water.
At this point, Pat pissed me off. There was, next to the lunchroom, a small snack shop where older students were selling sweet drinks and snacks. Without asking us, Pat bought there entire stock, had them load it into baskets, and told us to distribute it to the children. His reasoning was that he was supporting the community and paying more for the treats than they were worth. However, there were clearly not enough to go around, and I would have preferred to discuss this idea first with the teachers, having been a teacher myself. However, with a basket of drinks forced on me in front of a large room filled with excited children, I was in an awkward position. Pat became impatient and pushed me towards a table. Predictably, we ran out. The children who missed out looked pretty disgruntled. Which sucked.
Then we wandered around to the classrooms and spoke a bit with the principal and another of the teachers, both of whom were eager to show off their couple of English phrases. The classrooms were quite pleasant and showed Thai and some English lessons. We watched the children playing on the playground, then left.
We drove down down, and stopped at another village’s market for lunch, where we ate papaya salad, sticky rice dipped in sticky chili paste, BBQ chicken, pork rinds and rice water. We wandered the market briefly and ate an ice cream sandwich: 2 slices of sweet bread with a scoop of sticky rice and 3 scoops of ice cream. Weird but tasty!
The next village we went to was a Karen village. The people there had beautiful stilt homes. We stopped to see some knife baskets an old man was weaving, and wandered down through the village, from terrace to terrace. Most of the people were quite shy or busy elsewhere, but 2 young women with 2 old women showed off their babies and chattered a bit with Pat, who explained almost none of it.
We got to a small tourist town for Thai tourists around dark, checked into a fascinating terraced “resort” hotel, and went down to the hotel’s outdoor restaurant, where Pat had already ordered a meal. We walked through a group of women dancing and singing karaoke, who smiled happily. It turns out they were having a post new-year company party (local new year was a week or so ago).
Dinner was: 2 types of chicken bone curry, 1 unidentified leafy green with chili (quite yummy), a soup with bok choy, and rice. And Singha and Leo beers.
After dinner we walked down to the market, where Pat greeted a frien and bought a baby-carry cloth for a sister or cousin. We drank delicious hot Ginger drink. (oh, by the way, it was quite cold in the north.) Then Pat took us to light lanterns for good birthday luck (me too), which we watched sail quite far. You make a wish just as you let them go. That was very cool. Pat said that when a million are released from Chiang Mai during some festival or another, everyone wishes that they come down far away. 🙂 because they are burning paper hot air balloons.
We were tired after dinner, but the party was still going on below us in the restaurant and next door Pat was arguing with Mel on the phone about his computer problems, so I was very glad I had earplugs! After a long hot shower I layered on my clothes, put in my earplugs, and was asleep even before Matt was out of the shower!
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