The village where Stephen & Bua live
24.06.2008 - 01.07.2008 30 °C
Keeping to our word, we took the slow, overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (but got off at Lampang, as instructed by Stephen). We then bussed it to Phayao, where we were met by Stephen & Bua. After saying hello's and stocking up on provisions, we drove for about 20 minutes, to arrive at Ban Kat Thi. This is a lovely village, which stretches along the roadside for at least a kilometre (though Stephen & Bua's house is off the main road, down a small lane, which leads into the rice fields). Bua treated us to a fabulous Thai meal (she should open her own restaurant) and then we played catch up for the evening (read: boring them with our travel stories).
The next day was spent idling along the lanes of the village and through the rice fields, which are full of people, busy planting this year's crop. We called in to see Bua's daughter and son in law in their field and had to nick some of their water to quench our thirst. This time of year is supposed to be rainy season, though they haven't seen much yet and it was a sweltering hot day. Even the promise of the Bruntons arriving in the village hadn't encouraged this year's monsoons, and the villagers are quite anxious for them to arrive, as this year's rice crop depends on them.
Our arrival into Ban Kat Thi
Toy and Noy planting their rice crop.
The locals working the fields.
Bua & Stephen's garden is full of wildlife. They are often visited by lizards, chameleons, snakes, amongst others (including lots of things that bit us in the evening!) The pictures below show some stuff we've already encountered. We also saw a dying scorpion, but didn't think we should photo it on it's death bed.
Although these were in Bunsi's garden (Bua's sister)
Bua & Stephen have truely been hosts with the most, as they have ferried us around the sites of Northern Thailand. At the weekend, we went for a trip to Phayao and around to visit some temples and the lake. We were joined by Stephen & Bua's grandchildren. They were very well behaved, and Lisa didn't suffer from hives all day.
Kwan (Lake) Phayao
From left to right: Stephen, Bifern, Quan, Lisab, Bua, and Andyb
This was one of the temples that we visited. Lisa felt quite inferior (in size) at the towering Buddha. This is definitely the largest we've seen so far.
This is Bifern in the pond (at the back of their house) fishing for catfish and getting very mucky in the process.
One day was spent going to see Wat Rong Khun (or the white temple), situated to the south east of Chiang Rai. Chalermahai Kositpipat is the brains behind this unconventional buddhist temple and surrounding buildings. He has dedicated his life to the cause of constructing 9 buildings on the site. Building began in 1998. It is THE most beautiful temple; completely white and encrusted with small mirrors that glisten in the sunlight. Inside the temple is just as impressive. Chalermahai has painted enormous murals on the walls, in a contemporary, futuristic style (for example, one shows a picture of September 11th, one shows the Keanu Reeves' character in the Matrix). Some paintings depict the buddhist view of the 4 elements: earth (represented by the elephant), wind (the swan), water (the naga - a type of mythical serpent) and fire (the lion). The project has been funded through donations, but also through the sale of his paintings, which can be bought at the art gallery, within the complex. This was a real find, as we wouldn't have heard of it from any guide book (it only opened to the public a year ago).
Wat (Temple) Rong Khun
On the same day, we also visited the village of Ja Lae. This is where some of the Lahu Laba hilltribe live. They migrated into Thailand from Tibet in 1970. Others had migrated to Thailand as early as the 19th century. Within the village there is a small museum and cultural centre. The information at the centre explained that as the tribe move out of their traditional forest homes, into a more modern environment, their unique language and culture is increasingly under threat, just like other hilltribes in Thailand. Apparently, 5 years ago, they were "forced" to move to their present location (though it didn't say why they were forced). Before this, they grew, hunted or gathered all of their own food, needing to buy only their salt. However, due to the scarcity of land, they now need to purchase 80% of the food they eat. They acknowledge that moving into modern Thai society brings benefits such as healthcare and education (we also saw solar panels to provide electricity), but at a cost of weakening their traditional culture. They still hold onto their own religious beliefs; unlike Thai's who believe in buddhism, they believe in spirits and ancestors.
Traditional Lahu house
Since it was close by, we had a nosey at this waterfall.
Unfortunately, for the trip to the northern most point in Thailand, Bua had to stay at home (it was going to be a long day and she needed to be around for the kids after school), so Stephen took us by himself. Our first stop was to see the village of Mae Salong. This is a village in the mountains that is inhabited by Chinese one time refugees, who were fleeing the cultural revolution in 1949. We stopped for a tea and a walk around. In high season, it is packed out with both tourists and hilltribe members selling their wares, but we had the village to ourselves. The scenery is fantastic along the way, and we stopped at several lookout points to admire the view and took a few photo's.
Tea plantations around Mae Salong
Next stop was to the Mae Fa Luang gardens, situated high up in the mountains. These are gardens that were originally started by the Princess Mother (the King's mum). She has died now, but has left a lasting legacy that continues to grow and develop. Much had changed since Stephen's previous visit, and we were treated to some beautiful sites. We timed it perfectly, just before the heavens opened, we were belted in the car, ready for our onward journey.
The Mae Fa Luang gardens
The next leg of the journey took us along a road, which basically acts as a border between Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. This was slightly un-nerving, not only for it's very winding roads, but also because it is a very sensitive area, and we were stopped and checked (as well as videoed - we are famous!) 3 times, by armed guards, during the 20km ride.
Burma to the left, Thailand to the right. Andyb illegally stepped into Burma territory as he did the "hokey cokey"over the barrier, which is technically the Burmese border line.
The Bruntons at the border whilst the guards checked Stephen's passport.
We then moved on to Mae Sai, which is the "Northern most of Thailand" according to the sign. They mean, of course, the northern most point of Thailand, but they have put up a new sign and they've missed the point, if you catch our drift.
Because it was a long day, and a long drive, Andyb gallantly (and bravely - remember those Thai's don't do driving tests) offered to drive home. All was going swimmingly until darkness fell. Andyb felt like he was in the middle of a computer game, dodging the traps set (such as dogs in the middle of the road, unlit motor cycles, tractors, cars, people). He managed to get to the top level, acquiring bonus points, as he avoided all obstacles thrown at him, and pulled safely into Ban Kat Thi. This was lucky, given that in Thailand, the law states that the biggest vehicle is ALWAYS at fault when involved in an accident.
We gave Stephen & Bua a few days off from being tour operators, and headed to Chiang Mai for a few days (see Elephant Nature Park blog), before they resumed their duties. When we returned, we spent a few days lounging around their lovely home and visited a "floating temple".
Before the locals built a damn to flood the area that is now Kwan Phayao, an ancient temple existed in the middle of the swamp land. The eventual plan is to drain the water around the temple and excavate the site.
The old temple in the middle of Kwan Phayao.
Stephen & Bua with the Bruntons.
It is a very beautiful setting around Kwan Phayao
Lotus flower or in Thai, Buason (which is Bua's full name)
You see the Thai flag everywhere whilst travelling around these parts, even in the middle of a lake!