S: A three hour bus ride north from Chiang Mai took us to Chiang Rai. The largest city in northern Thailand, Chiang Rai was more of an administrative stop before we continued our journey across the border to Laos. That said, it provided us with an excellent opportunity to add another temple to our tally.
Wat Rong Khun – it’s white, you know.
The town centres major monument was just as glitzy – a golden clock tower.
One of the few advantages Chiang Rai has over Chiang Mai is its closer proximity to the hill tribe communities. These are ethnic minorities living in mountainous northern and western Thailand. Each hill tribe has its own language, customs, mode of dress and spiritual beliefs. Most are of seminomadic origin, having migrated to Thailand from Tibet, Myanmar, China and Laos during the past 200 years or so. There are up to 20 different tribes.
Hill tribe trecks have become very popular in northern Thailand. This is where companies get groups of individuals together to trek up to where the hill tribes live, sometimes spending a night or more in nearby accommodation. This gives the visitor an opportunity to stretch their legs and see how these interesting tribal people live. We also thought we would put our legs into gear and take part ourselves. By way of introduction and research, first we visited the hill tribe museum and education centre.
Our findings made us rethink our decision to take part in a hill tribe trek. Below is a picture of the Karen Tribe, also known as the Long Necks. The reason the ladies wear a series of gold hoops beneath their chins is to elongate their necks. Among the Karen tribe it is believed that this enhances their beauty, making them appear swan-like.
The display card we saw below the photograph made us feel very uncomfortable.
Further reading and research showed that although the hill tribe people may benefit from tourism by way of donations, little else is of much benefit to them. These are people just like you and I, the only difference being their distinctive way of life, living as they do in a much more rural and underdeveloped environment, and following a spirit-based set of beliefs and customs. It seems all this is being exploited by rogue tour companies, making money from unwitting travellers.
The hill tribe museum and education centre served its purpose and provided us with an eye-opening insight into the lives of these fascinating people.
As we mentioned above, our journey in Thailand has come to a close. Today we begin our two day slow boat trip down the Mekong River to Laos… Those of you who have been following the blog closely may have noticed that we haven’t journeyed through Bangkok. We are leaving this megalopolis until the end. We are due to return home from Bangkok and thought we would leave it until then to experience.
Thailand had given us just what we needed on our trip so far: a comfortable cushion on which to lie back and relax our tired bones. And so to Thailand we will return; if, of course, we survive the slow boat to Laos…