April 1st 1984

posted in: The way back | 0

After breakfast, we settled our account (B30 apiece for full board, which can’t be bad), gave an additional present of a tin of jam, + set off early.  The plan today was to cut across to the Kok river to meet up with the boat travelling from Chang Rai to Thaton.  It wasn’t supposed to take all that long to get to the river, but then we weren’t exactly sure what time it was meant to come thro’ – + neither was anyone else – so we wanted to leave ourselves plenty of margin for error.  After an early flap when Val mislaid Mr Pon’s sketch map – vital in that it had the name of the village we were heading for in Thai script – we were off.  And generally speaking it was a very pleasant walk indeed.  We were somewhat disconcerted when the track became a small stream at several points, + it did seem to be going on a long way, further than we’d anticipated, but there was ample compensation when we encountered a real live elephant on the track.  Our excitement was only slightly diminished when we discovered it was carrying 2 American tourists.

20 mins later we were at the river, + here we made our mistake.  Or at least, for the first + only time, Mr Pons’ map let us down.  According to that, once we reached the river, we should turn right + head for the village of Ruum Mit, where we could stop + board the boat.  However, after walking that way for quite a time, all we came across was a small collection of huts.  They gave us the information that Ruum Mit was back the way we had come, but beyond that, once again all attempts at communication were confounded.  We couldn’t get across the concept that was most important, that we wanted to travel to Thaton by boat, that we wanted it to stop here.  All we could discover was that, most assuredly, Thaton was up-river, + equally so, Ruum Mit down.  Once again we were depressed + confused, + had decided that, as soon as we had returned to Chang Mai, we would go on a guided trek.  That didn’t help our current situation, however, so rather than take the risk of missing the boat altogether, we should continue our search for Ruum Mit.

We plodded back along the path that we’d come along so hopefully 20 mins before, + stopped off at a house we had previously by-passed.  The people there turned out to be friendly, intelligent, + helpful.  They gave us tea, understood where we wanted to go + how, + assigned 2 boys to guide us to the village.  In the midst of despair…

It turned out to be not far, but we hadn’t had to turn right on reaching the river.  What should we see when we arrived there, however, but 3 boat-loads of tourists, mostly middle-aged + French, so far as I could judge.  Fortunately, they didn’t stay long – about 15 mins was enough time for them to take all the pictures they wanted, + they were gone again.  There was a real boat-stop here, with a shelter, tho’ no jetty.  We soon discovered the answer to our most pressing question – the boat to Thaton had not yet passed, + was expected soon.  We had enough time to look at the village tho’, + took it in turns to do so.  We found it disappointing, lacking local colour, but I suppose, to be fair, we didn’t give it much of a chance.

The boat was expected at the village for 11, but didn’t arrive till nearly 12.  Tho undoubtedly we could have hailed it equally well from the settlement upstream, I’m sure we would have been frantic with worry at the delay.  When the boat arrived, we were very surprised that it was a small open boat – the sun was beating down pretty hard, + it looked as tho’; we were in for a couple of headaches.  The other headache was that we were travelling with 4 soldiers.  Police, they told us, but they were dressed like soldiers, + they had big guns, which they kept playing with.  3 of them were quiet, but 1 was a right pain in the neck.  He spoke good English, + told me he wanted me to teach him more.  Which was alright – I don’t mind chatting for a while.  But then he wanted to know if “fuck” was right, + a few other things.  When I wouldn’t play that game, + told him we couldn’t stop off to visit, he turned sulky, + said nothing more.  Which was fine by me.

It was a long, long journey tho’, made longer by 2 stops, for the guys to do a spot of fishing, + a compulsory lunch/immigration stop at the Chang Rai/Chiang Mai border.  We arrived at Thaton close to 4.30 – Val + I went immediately to have a drink.  We asked in the restaurant about the Karen Coffee Shop, our destination for the night if at all possible, + they assured us we wouldn’t be able to go up there till tomorrow – in the meantime we’d have to stay at their place.  Which may or may not have been what they honestly believed, but either way we thought we might as well check it out for ourselves.  It turned out there was one more bus going up there, for which we were just in time, so we climbed aboard.

I sat on the roof, where it was cooler, roomier, + generally more comfortable.  The coffee house, now renamed Panga’s Guest House, was simple in the extreme, but Panga + his wife Siva were both friendly people – we immediately felt comfortable.  Strolled briefly around town before dinner, which was a feat – 2 eggs on rice, plus the most terrific bowl of potato soup.  What a meal.  Chatted with Panga afterwards, who told us lots of the local walks to the villages.  We’d intended to head back to Chang Mai tomorrow, but were immediately converted to at least another day.  As an extra incentive, Panga offered us some opium tomorrow night.  In the meantime, we had a ganja joint tonight – he doesn’t smoke ganja himself, but grows it specially for visitors.  Quite a day.  Quite a night.

Quite the adventure, what with walking, and a strange boast ride, and a bus, and some weed… who could ask for anything more?

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