|Last Friday evening
as we were driving back down to Chiang Mai from a visit to some hilltribe
villages in the northern border area, we passed a herd of elephants out
grazing in a pasture. This was neat, I thought. We’ll have
to go back for a closer look. We did, but that's another tale.
September 27 -- Our first excursion into the countryside was a day trip up to some northern hilltribe villages. We ended up somewhere north of Chiang Rai, just a few kilometers from the Myanmar border on the edge of a region known as the Golden Triangle. It's beautiful, strange and familiar at the same time.
We visited a Karen village and met a few of the Padong (the "long neck" people, refugees from Myanmar), an Ahka village, and a Hmong village. All of the hilltribe people have settled in Thailand from other countries, often as refugees. In many ways, their status in Thai society reminded me of our own indigenous peoples.
The "long neck" women were particularly fascinating. The bronze rings around their necks were originally designed to protect them from marauding tigers. Makaow, at 46, was the oldest person in her village, and after 20 years in Thailand as a refugee, had been given Thai citizenship. Her husband had been killed fighting the Burmese army.
There are six major tribes living in northern Thailand, many in refugee camps along the Myanmar (Burmese) and Laotian border, but some resettled into villages of their own. Most have come originally from Tibet, Burma and China, bringing their own language, culture and religion. For the most part, their religion is animist, worshipping the spirits of the forest. Most of the hilltribes have very limited access to education and live at a subsistence level.
Carol and I had initially intended to visit Myanmar as well, but all the border crossings were closed back in May. The main reason apparently was to stop teak smuggling into Thailand, but there are also bands of Karen rebels fighting the Burmese army who operate from camps in Thailand close to the border.
This led to an incident we read about earlier this week where five stray mortar shells (do they really wander about?) landed in the Thai border village of Mae Konkaen, near Mae Sot, about 200 kilometers southwest of Chiang Mai. One woman was injured when a shell landed in her yard and blew out her windows as she was cooking dinner. The Thai authorities complained both to the Burmese Army and to the rebels, who apparently had agreed not to launch any attacks from the Thai side of the border.
When we were visiting the hill tribe villages and close to the Myanmar border, we were told if we wanted to go there, we could sneak across the border at night. Fortunately, we figured we had plenty of other places to go visit and explore.
|Nui (pronounced No-WEE) our guide,
and Makaow, a 46 year old Padong woman
originally from Myanmar
|This was our multinational band of travellers
to the northern hilltribe villages: Yukari, from Japan; Wim, from
Belgium; Carol, from good ol' Saskatchewan; Carmen and Beatriz, from Madrid
and Bilbao, Spain; our intrepid guide Nui from Chiang Mai; Guiseppe, from
Italy; and Keisuke, from Japan.