their relatively high standard of living depends on tourists taking pictures...
they wear up to a dozen thick golden rings from chin to chest, on arms
and legs. Little Karen girls are slathered with make-up to eclipse Cher.
sixteen people from eleven countries, shake together three days
in the far north of Thailand and they emerge Thai hill-trekking
buddies. At least three Slovenians, two French, a Kiwi, Scot, South
African, German, Aussie, Swede, Canadian and a three Thais donated
their email addresses to the lone American in the group.
Right off we found out why they called it hill trekking. The north
Thai hills resemble wet fire walls: straight up, unreasonably hot
and sloppy humid. Our Thai leader, Kai (easily remembered from Bridge
over the River Kai) claimed we pushed him unmercifully. Poor
Kai was soaked halfway up the first hill but then, so were we.
By the end of the first day wed worn ourselves out, exploring a
Meo village, empty except for one woman mending a blue, pink and black
costume surrounded by pot-bellied piglets. Kai bunked us down in a Lahu
village enveloped by brilliant marigolds stretching to the horizon, which
in Thai hill country isnt all that far. In a house of bamboo propped
on ten foot stilts, precariously piercing the ionosphere, we spread mats
under mosquito netting though we saw no mosquitoes. Our harassment instead
came from little Lahu kids streaking across the outside veranda, braking
abruptly at the end before they might have mercifully disappeared into
the abyss below. Barely older kids carried babies in a cloth sling and
after dinner the kids appeared in costume, singing and dancing merrily
for donations. The villages sole source of energy was four solar
panels donated by the Thai government. Even without real electricity we
stayed up late, playing hysterical card games by candlelight while the
Thais and the village leader smoked herbal stogies as big around as our
wrists, later switching to a bong. Secondary smoke guaranteed deep slumber
The next days highlight was escaping sweat-drenched clothes, BVDing
under a frigid waterfall after which we visited an even more chilling
tableau of photogenic long-necked Karen women. The Karens are refugees
from Myanmar relegated to a single kilometer over the border into Thailand.
The golden rings appear to elongate the neck but instead crush the collarbones
and chests making it excruciating to talk or breath. So why do they continue
the torture and subject their kids to it? Because their relatively high
standard of living depends on tourists taking pictures and what pictures
they make. They wear up to a dozen thick golden rings from chin to chest,
on arms and legs. Little Karen girls are slathered with make-up to eclipse
In camp we sipped Mekong Whiskey for $3 a bottle, topping off the night
by trying to sing our respective national anthems. I confirmed I can never
hit that note where the lands of the free. The prize went to the
Kiwi who did the Haka, an electrifying Maori war explosion invented by
a warrior surrounded like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a cry designed
to precipitate massive heart seizure. We sat stunned before bursting into
spontaneous applause and foot stamping as the Kiwi, a fitness instructor
from Auckland, stood gasping for air to slow his own rocketing heart.
His Scottish girlfriends eyes were as wide as capitol O-rings.
The next mornings breakfast was invaded by elephants, flashing gray
trunks grabbing bananas and banana peels from our plates, less than particular
which was which. We jumped back in case they might take a shine to us
too, and they did, like barn-sized pussy cats as we rubbed their trunks
and they frisked us for more bananas as Kai grandly announced elephant-riding
time. We caught our breaths and mounted a high platform, clambering onto
actual elephants in pairs and at that instant I swore off Mekong Whiskey.
The only way to comfortably ride a lumbering elephant is not in the swaying-side-to-side
top box but astride the hairy neck, passenger and elephant cooled by flopping
ears. If the elephant likes you his trunk whips up and over to steady
you at particularly steep ups and downs of which I had several.
We disembarked to vendors selling huge bunches of bananas for 22
cents with which we rewarded out new elephant friends, furiously
snapping pictures before the trekking grand finale split us into
two groups on rafts. A wildly competitive paddling and splashing
race ensued for an hour down five jouncy rapids, everyone screeching
like pale Maori look-a-nuts, drenching each other for the bragging
rights of which raft won, and I confidentially confide that the
good guys (gender indeterminate) on my raft prevailed. We retired
to our last communal pad Thai feast, hanging our wet duds in the
sun and scribbling off email addresses with abandon for our new
bosom hill-trekking buddies.
© Dave Rich 2002
More from Dave Rich who is at this moment in Myanmar (Feb 2002)
Dave Rich -after
three months in China where the media consists of serendipitous bullhonky
sprinkled with crapulous creativity. I finally found out what was really
up with Brittany Spears.
DOWN THE MEKONG in LAOS
Dave Rich -
lousy Lao whiskey flowing like water. Water is far superior and less vindictive....
Laos is Mexico on downers and in slow motion
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