15.02.2013 - 18.02.2013
We left Pai for Tathon on the following day. Because of the length of the ride, our plan was to spend one night there and then go on to Mae Salong, before returning to Tathon in order to take a riverboat ride to Chiang Rai. We spent the first two hours on a minibus talking to two Thai nursing students, one of whom said she was wanted to go into psychiatric nursing. Her English name is Nice, and she certainly was. She seemed very interested in hearing about our work, our travels, and our daughters.
When we arrived at a crossroads about an hour from Chaing Mai, we got out and waited for the bus to Tathon. Not much later, an interesting Canadian family stoppd to wait for the same bus. Kirk, Denise, and their two boys, 9 and 11, are traveling the world for nine months. He is a principal and she, a guidance counselor. Both on are on sabbatical at 80% pay. They live in the country in Ontario, and it was not long before we realized we had a great deal in common. We exchanged various travel stories, including their recent excursion to Egypt with the boys. Despite the political turmoil, they felt safe as tourists, though they didn't appreciate all the touts. Their favorite experience so far was a safari in Tanzania. The hour wait passed quickly, and athough the "chicken bus" ride to Fang and Tathon was long and hot, we spent much of it talking with Kirk, who regaled us with stories of the three years he spent teaching in an Inuit village in the Canadian arctic. He loved it all he said, despite the winter darkness, and still has some friends among the villagers. He told us about some of the old men "going for their walk," in which they just walked off onto the ice and never came back, because they felt as though they were of no more use to their community. It happens less often now that the Inuit govern themselves with less interference from the government. He also told us about a night he spent stranded on the ice because of a whiteout. He and his companions managed to build an igloo to protect themselves from the minus 40 temps and 60 mph winds. They didn't take into account the rising tide, and they came close to being swept out to sea as the bottom foot of their igloo filled with seawater in the middle of the night. When he was living there in the mid 90's, they were icebound for eight to nine months. Now, it is more like four.
We arrived in the late afternoon, and after a short walked opted for an early dinner at the guest house riverside restaurant. The next morning, we said our goodbyes, and headed off to Mae Salong by songthaew. Our hotel was a few kilometers out of town, but luckily we were able to telephone the owner from another guesthouse in the center. He was willing to pick us up, and it so happened that this guesthouse was owned by his brother, so he knew just where it was.
Local woman with cell phone
The Maesalong Mountain Home is set in a Shangri La like setting, surrounded by green mountains and tea plantations.
With their geometric rows of tea plants, they form a beautiful mosaic of patterns on the steep hillsides.
Thirty to forty years ago, most of these hills were planted with opium and not tea. It makes sense, as it is very near to the Golden Triangle. There are small Akha villages scattered amongst the hills, and the border with Burma is visible in the distance.
Our host, Sanjit, is the youngest son of a Yunnanese father. Like many people here, his father was part of the Koumintang army, which escaped Mao's advancing troops by fleeing into the mountains of Chiang Rai Province. In fact, there are so many people here from Yunnan, that Mae Salong is known as the Chinese village. Thanks to his older brother, Sanjit was educated in Taiwan, where he spent some 22 years. Eventually he returned to his birthplace.
The main street of Mai Salong is full of Chinese tea shops and restaurants. It has a KMT museum which, naturally enough, was paid for by a wealthy Taiwanese. To read the history in the museum (in English as well as Chinese and Thai), you might think the KMT would have won the war, were in not for those dastardly Burmese, who joined forces with Mao's army to help defeat them. There were also several statements about the government of Taiwan providing the Chinese community in Thailand with a great deal of humanitarian aide and military assistance. This was disputed by Sanjit's older brother, who said the people living in Mai Salong were dirt poor for years, and got little help from anyone. He ought to know. After being conscripted by the Thais into what remained of the KMT army, he spent 28 years fighting the Burmese, the Laotians, and God knows who else. However, this allowed his other siblings to lead a better life. Now he is doing fine, as the proud owner of the Little Home Guesthouse, as well as a small organic tea farm.
He also brews as a mean oolong.
While staying in our simple, but lovely hotel, we hiked over to a nearby plantation.
Guarded by a couple of giant lions, one of which is still under construction, the place also had several campy looking, and enormous concrete teapots.
On another day we made our way down through the steep tea rows to the river below.
And then spent an hour wading in the stream, before a local cow herder showed up. His regal looking cows looked better fed then he did.
In the heat of mid afternoon, we hiked back up, and then enjoyed a couple of much needed beers with a small group of bright, young, Australians. They had just come over on their motorbikes to enjoy the view, and it wasn't long before we had the place mostly to ourselves. A few hours later, Jeffrey, from Long Guyland, showed up. A committed expat, more or less by default, he has taught English in Korea for the past 17 years. He doesn't work too hard though, about nine hours per week. Prior to this he was heavily involved with Yogi Desai at Kripalu and other yoga centers, not far from our home in upstate New York. He was a friendly guy, but a bit too new agey for me. He actually has a red diaper background, similar to mine, and it is even possible that some of his relatives knew my parents, although he is about 15 years younger. Small world indeed.
View From Patio of Mae Salong Mountain Home