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Pai, Thailand

Written on: Tuesday November 21st, 2006

A journal entry from: Southeast Asia

When we left Chiang Mai we headed north on a local bus about four hours on a switchback mountain road to a very fertile valley where Pai is situated.  It is a beautiful small town in a  rich agricultural valley surrounded by high hills. 
Greg rented a motorcylcle today and we headed for the hills. He's a cool guy on a bike... the Easy Rider of Pai. He's been trying to keep me out of trouble. I, on the otherhand, seek it.  Hope the pictures give you a feel for the "spirit" of our travels.  Each day is a new adventure. Today we visited a farm and the Thai farmer proudly showed us his rice fields, fed us bananas, mangos and papayas picked from his trees and fed us tea from bamboo cups.

 Exploring the surrounding hills was fascinating as we were able to venture away from the main roads and visit a few outlying villages. There are about seven different hill tribes in northern Thailand, each one distinct from the other depending on their origin - Burma, China, Tibet,or Laos.  These people live in the high hills using slash and burn agriculture to grow rice and other vegetables to be self-sufficient. It is believed that their numbers are close to a million,not recognized as Thai citizens, crossing back and forth across the borders. They used to grow opium but in Thailand they have no tolerance from the drug trade anymore.   Major "ethno-tourism" companies have been capitalizing on these people.  Ethically, it feels very sad.  In some areas there are mini-buses after mini-buses filled with tourists being taken to gawk at these people.  It has helped to raise their standard of living as they sell their handicrafts, but it means that their culture is being exploited and "theme-parked" somehow. Their culture is being lost as roads and back-country vehicles are able to reach these high places.  Visitors in the past have gone in to experience the lure of opium and this has filtered down to being a drug problem with the villagers. Traditionally used by the elders, with westerners seeking it out, it became more used by the villagers themselves. There are organizations set up now that help provide education, blankets and warm clothing. 

While in Pai, we left our packs and room overnight and went on a bike (scooter) trip to a small village in an area that has SE Asia's most dense concentration of caves.  We hadn't expected quite the steep roads to this village - a more powerful bike was definately needed. Anyways, what a great trip we had.  You hire a guide with a lantern who takes you into this huge cave. Because the river is high, you then have to hire another guide with a bamboo raft to guide you from cavern to cavern where you get off with your guide and walk around. Spectacular stalagmites and stalactites! Huge columns. In one area there were wooden coffins - (no bones) that had been suspended from the roof. They've been dated to be about 2,000 years old.  We stayed in these jungle huts and ate dinner around a campfire. We met people from Germany, Vancouver, and New Zealand - great campfire conversations.