March 30th 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

We were now up in the Golden triangle area, where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet – it’s the world-renowned opium centre.  In order to explore the area at all, one can take an organised tour, or hire a motor-bike or pushbike from the guest-house.  Or one could do what we decided to do, + rely on one’s feet.  This way we reckoned to be able to take advantage of any local transport that might be around, we could venture off the main road if that looked interesting, + we would be spared the necessity of returning to the guest-house.  It seemed we had chosen well, when straight away we were offered a ride up to the Triangle’s focal pt, where one can look directly into the 3 countries, about 10 kms out of Chang Seng.  It was in the back of a battered old pick-up, so we were flabbergasted + angry when the guy wanted to charge us B10 each for the ride – daylight robbery.  We gave him B15 in the end, + that was too much.

There were a couple of guest-houses up there, but apart from a marker to tell you where you were, + a hazy misty view, not enough to occupy one for the day, so as it was still early we decided to push on.  The next sizeable town was another 30 kms or so, Mae Sai, so we wanted to get there if possible, but this was a further cause for contention – we can’t be sure, but it seems the truck-driver might well receive a small commission for taking us to that particular guest-house.  It was a bit of a dusty walk, but we were both, for one, feeling reasonably fit.  Even so, we were pleased to be offered a ride, from a tiny tractor-like vehicle pulling a trailer with 3 agricultural workers in it – a most curious contraption.  The pace was sluggish, but we had some rest, + were pulled up a couple of very steep hills.  After 7 or 8 kms we reached the place they were working, so had to get out + walk once more.

Went thro’ a couple of villages, + it seemed quite a novelty for the villagers to have tourists walking thro’.  It’s a good way to see places like this – it gives one time, + it doesn’t place one on an exalted level.  The places looked more picturesque from a distance than they do from within however.  And they certainly don’t conform to one’s preconceived ideas about tribal people – apart from one village where a couple of women were weaving (+ that was a village we passed when we were being given a lift, so didn’t get the chance to stop + look.)  Bought a coke, + were promptly charged B2 for some ice, which seemed extravagant in the extreme, but may not have been.  Anyway, we contented ourselves with disapproving looks, + paid up.

From just beyond there, we caught a bus to the next town, Mae Sai.  An amazingly dusty ride – when we climbed out we had to brush all our clothes off, + it looked as tho’ our hair had turned grey.  It was just as well that we’d taken it, however – it had been for a fair distance, + would have taken us the rest of the day to walk.  As it was, we had time to have a cold drink to wash some of the dust from our throats (+ into our stomachs) + then catch a bus on to Chang Rai – Mae Sai was an unprepossessing town, + we were happy to leave as quickly as possible.

Arrived in Chang Rai in time to change some money, + then were directed to Pon’s guest-house, which was exceptionally clean.  Even so, when we went on a walk around town after checking in, we were a little disappointed we hadn’t delayed our decision, since we had a drink at Chat’s guest-house, which seemed to have a better atmosphere – while we were there, Van Morrison  was doing his stuff on the stereo.  We made some enquiries about their organised tribal treks, + tho’ we didn’t come to a firm decision, I think we both felt they were too expensive for us.  However, as it turned out, things went well for us.

We returned to Pons to eat, + by means of Val’s Sarawak bead-work, as an introduction, got into conversation with one of Mr Pon’s daughters, + thro’ her, with Mr Pon himself.  He is an impressive man, with the dignity + stature of an American Indian, + tho’ his English is a little weak, he can express himself in that language – in any case, both his daughters who were there speak excellent English.  He knows a lot, + obviously cares a lot, about the tribal peoples, + we spent the entire evening talking about them + other related subjects.  Our small personal photo album has been worth its weight in gold for providing a bridge between ourselves + strangers in the past, but no-one has been as interested in the non-family pictures, the ones from PNG + Indonesia, as Mr Pon + his family.  He had certain theories about the links between various races which struck me, I must confess, as naïve, but then who am I to judge what is or is not possible?  The Pons responded by showing us their own albums, which contained some real gems (tho’ suffered, as do so many photo albums, from a lack of labelling + selectivity – we hope to avoid those pitfalls.)  Best of all perhaps, Mr Pon was able to give us some instructions + a sketch map or 2 to enable us to visit a couple of tribal villages on our own.  Very public-spirited of him, since we could thereby dispense with the services of a guide – one of the services he offers.  All in all, a splendid evening… + an end to regrets about missing out on Van Morrison + his ilk.

Definitely back knto exploring mode, and walking was definitely the way to do it (if you didn’t want to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a guided tour.) But good to feel that we were fit enough to cope.

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