Today I woke up extremely tired for some reason. Too much fun yesterday I guess. Either way, it was off to another day of exploring. Today it was a tour of the northern hill tribes in the southern Himalayan Mountains.
I boarded another transport bus, this one air conditioned, and was met by an older American man and young Thai girl. We introduced ourselves and it was off to pick up the rest of today’s gang. After two more stops I realized I was a lone traveller on a bus with 3 older American men and their early 20s new Thai wives who they had just met. This is not a judgment on this practice, only an observation. As the day progressed I could not help but observe the awkward interaction of all three couples as they struggled to communicate through broken English and body language. This day should be interesting to say the least.
Our guides for today were Aah (tour guide) and Mr. Dong (driver). Since I have the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy, I was very pleased that these were their names.
As we ascended into the Himalayan Mountains, we learned that almost all the hill tribe people are catholic because a missionary from South Korea came and converted them all about 20 years ago. Also, I learned that there were originally two kingdoms, Siam and Lanna. Through marriage, the two kingdoms were united into one Thailand. Siam was the region around and south of Bangkok and Lanna was the Northern Province. Interesting…
We then travelled to the White Karen village. This tribe is from Myanmar and is known for their traditional white dress of the young girls. We did not see them on this day as they are in school. We were met by older woman and pedaling gypsy from other tribes – some may even call them tour bus chasers. It became extremely apparent upon reaching these villages that these minority tribes are struggling to maintain their ethnically independent identities as tour buses become their primary income source. I felt guilty but could not change course now.
The next group was Lisu who migrated from Southern China and looked very different. Separated by only a bridge, these two tribe about 30 steps from one another speak different languages but communicate with one another in traditional Lanna language. Apparently most people in this region can speak Lanna dialect but cannot read or write it as it is was forbidden by the King of Siam in the marriage union of the two countries. The official language of the country is Siamese Thai which is what all speak and learn in school. More knowledge for Jeopardy…
We then walked to another village community called the Akha tribe. This tribe migrated from Tibet and their name literally means “people who move away from the river.” Apparently about 90 years ago they moved from Tibet as they were plagued with sickness from said river. Anyhow, we walked into this village and I immediately smelled marijuana (a throwback to the early cash crop of this region, the poppy business). We then walked immediately up to a man boiling a pot of beetlenut which is apparently a root that you boil until it becomes sticky and then chew it to become high (which he was). This was a tradition of the older generation of this tribe and is apparently legal now due to the grandfather clause. At this point, I had become quite friendly with one set of the new lovers and began a good rapport until one of the tribes woman pedaling goods at the Akha village called her beau our papa. This was a little awkward to say the least but we moved on unscathed…at least I think.
The day ended at an equally touristy stop with the long neck Karen tribe. I could not help but feel bad for participating in the bastardization of this culture. Shack after shack of goods to sell and all out for tourist display only. Sad day.
Anyway, the ride in the mountain was wonderful and I feel like I learned a lot. All in all a good day, except the papa comment… Still lucky to be here and happy for the experience.