During my stay in Chiang Rai I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a local village. I contacted a company called the Mirror foundation who offered private tours, offering trekking and visiting local villages around the forests and mountains of Chian Rai.
Obviously it gets a bit more expensive if you go private but I didn’t want to be on a 20 person excursion. And this was a good move. I was picked up by Prasit who was my guide and was a member of one of the local villages. This guy was perfect, he was my age, funny, informative and actually very clever with a real love for nature and the value of it
We set off out of Chiang Rai to the Mirror foundation base, where I was given an introduction and some explanation of what the two days and one night would look like. After that Prasit and I set off in his truck to his village, Huay Khom, where we started the trek. The first days trek was at a good even pace, not too hilly and was a great opportunity to talk to Prasit.
Prasit was originally from the south of Thailand and had previously worked in a guesthouse, here he met his wife and moved to his wife’s village close to Chiang Rai. Politics is an interesting topic always in Asia, Thailand has gone through many changes, the royal family are revered, and from Prasit’s perspective Prime minister Shina watra did a lot to support these minority ethnic tribes. We discussed a lot about how the village community had received lot of support from then prime minister Shina watra to stamp out corruption, to the extent of introducing a telephone line to report such situations. Village life of course is changing at quite a pace, some tribes have not been officially been give Thai status, with many organisations like the Mirror foundation trying to support this transition. Money was also donated to villages for each family, this apparently wasn’t favoured by everyone as of course the money has to come from somewhere.
So we trekked towards a local Waterfall taking some pit stops here and there. It was very hot, but the views of the surrounding Paddy fields were beautiful, with the mountains lying ahead of us. We arrived at the waterfall and tucked into our “picnic” noodles, sticky rice, chicken skewers with some fruit, very tasty. Then a quick dip in the waterfall and 30 minutes to relax. When you stop you start taking in the surroundings, the calm and at the same time nature happening all around you, butterflies everywhere, insects and the odd villagers appearing out of nowhere! We carried on doing a loop to the Akha village
“The Akha are an indigenous hill tribe who live in small villages at higher elevations in the mountains of Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Yunnan Province in China. They made their way from China into Southeast Asia during the early 1900s. Civil war in Burma and Laos resulted in an increased flow of Akha immigrants and there are now some 80,000 living in Thailand’s northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai where they constitute one of the largest of the hill tribes. Many of their villages can be visited by tourists on trekking tours from either of these cities.
The Akha speak Akha, a language in the Loloish (Yi) branch of the Tibeto-Burman family. The Akha language is closely related to Lisu and it is thought that the Akha once belonged to the Lolo hunter tribes people who once ruled the Baoshan and Tengchong plains in Yunnan before the invasion of the Ming Dynasty in 1644.”
This tribe was once a hill tribe, encouraged by the government to inhabit lower ground where the terrain is more adjustable to farming. As we entered the village there were many Palm leaves drying on the road and all around, at this time of year it becomes their source of income, collecting the leaves, drying them out to make brooms for sweeping. As we entered we passed a “spirit gate” to keep out evil spirits. This one has survived despite their being only 5 families out of 35 in the village not converted to christianity. This “conversion” has been questioned, as prior to this the tribe were animists, christianity now flourishes which is strange in a region dominated by Buddhism, later that evening “grace” was recited before our evening meal.
The village is explained best through the pictures, basic stilt huts, with each family sharing a section with cousins etc, all sitting alongside each other. When we arrived, I walked around with Prasit, he chatted with the locals and I took it all in. One villager was making some rice Whiskey, we sampled of course, nearly blew my head of! As you sit there you can take in the village life. One thing for sure is that they work extremely hard, all the women were making the brooms, at the same time keeping an eye on the Children, the chicken running around you, chased by the dogs, around the fattening pigs. Two ladies were preparing some cotton for their traditional costumes, whilst snacking on some Wasp lavae, yes I sampled !!
After that we headed back and I had a walk around the village playing with the children who of course are the ones who have no fear in playing with the stranger in town. The villagers themselves, speak no english and are quite reserved with you, naturally, I think with time this would change, but I only had one night. A little later I was told that some of the ladies would perform a traditional dance for me. This took place in the communal area, lot of particular steps and chanting and of course the kids joining in with the fun.
So my only question is how much are the villagers supportive of this interaction with tourism. There are many benefits to their economy, and income trough the foundation. It also allows the traditions to continue that maybe otherwise might slip away. I can imagine though some being disgruntled at having to perform for the tourists, although I must say I didn’t witness this.
Never the less I’m glad I experienced it, staying overnight in an actual Home stay, living as they do. I must have slept well as Prasit said he could hear me snoring!! The next day, we sat with the whole family, mum, dad, grandma and the two kids. Once again a large hearty meal, that we then had to work off as we set off for the next days trekking. The trek was 12km back to the original village. Initially we had to get up to the top of the mountain. It nearly killed me it was so steep! often walking with no pathway, presto gave me a Bamboo walking stick, I was able to sample tree jungle, Palm and Bamboo jungle. We eventually arrived at Prasits’ house, where one of his four sons was already cooking lunch, he was only 16, but we had a feast of noodle soup, egg omelette and vegetables. I met three of his sons, his wife was away as they had a funeral the previous day.
And that was it, we called into the Emerald Buddha temple on the way back to Chaing Rai, what a great experience, Im glad I did it as things are changing fast, what will the village look like in twenty years time? Id like to see…….
The view of where we went trekking.
Prasit, my friendly guide.
Mother and daughter, the daughter was 28 with Down’s. The mother told me there would be many beautiful women at the village….uh oh!!!!
The Spirit Gate.
Palm leaves for making brushes drying in the sun.
These fruits from the palm leaves are used for gasoline.
Banana tree with the flower
The Home stay in the village
Dinner. Vegetables, omelette, dried fish, and we ate some twigs with thorns on them dipped into a chill sauce.
Tradtional Akha dance
Akha women portraits.