After we wandered over to the Hill tribe Museum. It didn't allow any pictures to be taken, I'll try to keep this short and sweet since I don't have anything to keep this section of the post interesting! The Hill tribe museum focuses on educating the general public on the Hill Tribes instead of participating in the focus to educate and make tourist a attraction out of the tribes. The Hill tribes, or mountain people, are the various tribal people who live in the mountains of the northwest of Thailand, Laos, and Burma. There are 6 major tribes: Karen, Hmong, Yao, Lisu, and the two tribes we visited, the Lahu and Akha. Preferring to live in the mountains, 1,000 meters above sea level. They all have their own particular style of dress, language, culture, and art.
The struggle with the hill tribes and the Thai government is something I still don't quite understand. Many of the tribes are indigenous populations that have migrated into Thailand from China, Tibet, and Burma. As I mentioned in the post on jungle trekking the Thai government has been relocating the tribes to lowland areas (because the government claims that the tribes are contributing to deforestation) and giving them land to farm; however, generally this land is unsuitable for farming. The population of the Hill tribes in Thailand is estimated at around 1.2 million, less than half of which are registered as Thai citizens even though most were born in the country!
The museum explained that in the early 1990's the Ministry for Education set up guidelines for integrating the ethnic minorities into the Thai schools; however, other than setting up those guidelines nothing else was done. Many schools still don't accept hill tribe children and when they do they don't have any support set up to help with the language, cultural differences, or costs. There is also extreme poverty throughout many of the hill tribes so many of the children are forced to work, often peddling goods to tourists.
Here's a picture, so this post isn't too boring, of Alyssa brushing her teeth with a tiny toothbrush!
Restricted freedom of movement is also an issue:
"Movement of non-citizens within certain areas is allowed but if they are found outside of these areas they face instant arrest. In hospitals, non-registered members of the tribes are often refused health care."
It's sad how quickly these indigenous populations are used for tourism when they're not even recognized as citizens. While walking through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai there are many signs advertising trips to see an authentic long-neck Karen tribe. (The tribe that wear rings around their neck to 'elongate' their necks). However, with a little digging you'll find that this is far from an authentic village. The women are forced to wear their rings and live in this village to make money. If they refuse to wear the rings they are kicked out and not paid. Many of the women depend on the meager pay to feed their families.
After the museum Alyssa and I hopped onto another bus to meet Naomi and Ryan in a little village farther north where they were staying with a friend. We enjoyed an incredible home cooked meal and afterwards played many rounds of the board game Resistance that resembled a popular field game, Mafia. Out of the 4 rounds we played I was the 'bad guy' 3 times! It was exhausting and fun! Alyssa and I will be looking for it on Amazon so we can bring the game to our house! The next morning we left for the Golden Triangle!
On the bus to the Golden Triangle a police officer sat down next to Alyssa and began to interview her. I say interview because he was basically practicing his English with her by asking questions such as, "Do you like movies?" Any time he didn't know how to say something he would turn to a girl across the bus from him to ask her to translate. Then he asked Alyssa for her phone number! This sign seemed appropriate!
The Golden Triangle is the area where Thailand, Laos, and Burma meet. The US government coined this term in a memo about the Opium trade throughout the world. It is still one of Asia's two main opium producing areas. The area encompasses almost 400,000 square miles, it covers the mountains of Thailand, Burma, and Laos. We checked out a museum in the area called the Hall of Opium that Alyssa and I both agree is one of the best museums we've ever been to! It was very educational about the history of Opium while remaining interactive so as not to be boring everyone to tears! I could probably write an entire blog post about this museum, but CNN Travel does it much better. If you're interested check out this article: http://travel.cnn.com/explorations/play/chiang-rais-museum-drug-addiction-116182
We also learned a lot about how the Hill tribes were often used to grow and harvest large quantities
because of their location in the mountains. The Hill tribes have been using Opium for medicinal purposes for centuries. The Golden Triangle actually produced most of the world's heroin until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world's largest producer.
China is really necessary on this map.
The picture version
The real life version
The Golden Triangle has some strange monuments that have popped up for the tourists.
After we were done Alyssa and I began looking for a songthaew that would take us to Chiang Saen where we would catch a bus back to Chiang Rai. After 15 minutes of walking, a Tuk-Tuk stopped to pick us up. When we told him we wanted to go to the bus stop he informed us that we had missed the last bus by 30 minutes! Luckily we hadn't booked a room yet in Chiang Rai and we had our packs with us so we asked him to drop us off in Chiang Saen so we could find a hostel for the night. One of the better choices we've made yet! We found a nice clean room in a guest house run by an incredibly friendly older man. He was very helpful in getting us a map and making sure we knew what time the bus would be coming the next day! Chiang Saen is great little town with crumbling old defensive walls similar to those of Chiang Mai. The town was also captured by the Burmese at one point and was abandoned for over 100 years! The town seems to still be trying to regain its footing. I was surprised with how well they treated us as tourists, it almost felt as though people were tripping over themselves to help us! Chiang Saen is only 10km from the Golden Triangle but it seems that tourists chose Chiang Rai as their jumping off point and only use this small town as a point to grab a tuk-tuk or songthaew to take them that last couple kilometers. I would recommend Chiang Saen over Chiang Rai in a heartbeat!
The motorcycle Tuk-Tuk
Looking for dinner we found a row of street carts lined up along the Mekong River, with small tables (similar to coffee tables) set up with straw mats on the ground on either side for sitting. As we stopped to look at a menu a few people called over to us, "Sit down! Sit down!" So we did. One of the men, Pong, who had been calling for us to sit down ran over to see what we would like to eat. At the time I assumed to worked there but we later learned that he did not and was just excited to help 2 white girls order some food! There was some confusion when he was asking if we wanted something, Alyssa and I absolutely could not understand what he was saying and he clearly didn't know another way to say it. So he grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the cart and put a pinch of rice into my hand. Ah Rice! Yes, okay!
Everyone eating along the river
Alyssa and I eating our meal
The food was delicious, we enjoyed eating our dinner while looking across the river to Laos. While in the middle of eating the man came back over again to make sure we were enjoying our food and to bring us a liter of Pepsi! We invited him and his friends to come join us. Pong and his brother (I don't remember his name) were from China, though spoke Thai, and the woman they were with (whose name I also don't remember) was from Thailand.
Alyssa and our new friend Pong
They practiced their English with us as we repeated the only Thai words we knew, they seemed to appreciate that we knew the word for bathroom. Thanks Naomi! It's exhausting to try to have a conversation when you can't understand what others are saying and they can't understand you! Alyssa and I spent a decent amount of time saying "I don't know" and smiling, there was a lot of smiling! After a while the woman called someone on her phone and next thing we knew there was another man, a small boy, and a 20yr old girl joining us at our table! Alyssa and I began to look for a polite way to dip out and head somewhere to find ice cream when Pong suddenly got into his car and left. The woman told us that he had gone to buy a New Years lantern for us. I'm not sure what they're actually called but they're the lanterns that get sent off New Year's Eve for good luck. We couldn't leave yet! Sure enough he came back with 3 lanterns. They helped us each with one of them and then had us work together to send off the third. It was an incredible experience that we will never be able to appropriately recreate. We did eventually bow out, politely, and stopped at a 7 Eleven to buy ice cream. A great ending to a perfectly unexpected night.
Pong and his brother
Alyssa and their friend
Alyssa and I with the 3rd lantern
Pong kept saying, "Go KEEEE" which is actually more efficient than "Cheese!"
The next day we made it back to Chiang Rai and decided to splurge on a hotel with air conditioning and a tv! We laid around in bed most of the day and watched movies, it was exactly what we needed! We eventually ventured out to the night bazaar and shared a hot pot while watching a lady boy comedian jump around on stage singing and dancing making everyone around us laugh! Something Alyssa and I say regularly. . . "I wish I knew Thai"
Our fancy pants hotel room! With the beds adorably pushed together.
Hot Pot for dinner, reminded me of college!