Published: June 4th 2011February 9th 1974
As required by my rotation schedule, it was time for me to become a construction manager on Doi Inthanon. There I would be responsible for managing the construction of the 48 kilometer access road to the top of the mountain and an 18 building radar station.
I wanted to take Linda with me, but the U.S. government considered Chiang Mai and Doi Inthanon to be an unaccompanied posting as it was too dangerous for families. My home was to be an 8” x 12” cubicle, constructed out of plywood walls and a corrugated tin roof. It was located on top of Doi Inthanon where I was to spend the duration of the project; perhaps two years.
I took Linda anyway. I was provided a Separation Maintenance Allowance for her in Bangkok, which I used to rent a room at the Alliance Guest Home, so we had a place to call our own when we were in Bangkok. I was also given a hazardous duty differential of 25% which we used to rent a modern house near the Ricome Hotel and Chiang Mai University.
My Dad accompanied me in a truck with our furniture, and Mom brought Linda on
the train. Dad had to return to Bangkok, but not before we rededicated the house right after the Buddhist priests invited the spirits in and planted the spirit house in the corner of our front yard. Mom helped us move in. I worked on the mountain Tuesday through Saturday, so had Saturday night through Monday night with Linda in Chiang Mai.
Our time in Chiang Mai was perhaps the best time of our lives, either before or after. The city is much smaller than Bangkok, and had much less traffic. It was very Thai, although it did have some foreign influence. There was a small tight knit foreign community of some 200 that did everything together, like church and the community theater. Most of the foreigners were missionaries or others with various aid organizations, attempting to get the hill tribes to grow something other than poppies for opium.
We also had maybe 50 U.S. Air Force personnel stationed there, and a U.S. Consulate with more than a few DEA agents to monitor opium and heroin production and trafficking. It was good to have some U.S. government presence because we could shop for American food in the commissary, and
Our home in Chiang Mai
When I visited CHiang Mai in 2007 our home had been replaced by two story concrete row houses.
receive U.S. mail.
Living at the end of the runway had one advantage; Sunday mornings we would be woken by the engines of the USAF C-130 making its weekly mail run. We knew we had an hour to get dressed and drive to the consulate to get our mail just as they finished sorting it.
We initially had two servants, Atsupa, a Lisu tribesman was our gardener and Martha, his Lahu wife was our washer woman. They came to us on the recommendation of the Morse family, who had been missionaries in Burma (their story was written up in a Reader’s Digest book). But it didn’t work out. First, when we were in Europe for the month of May 1974, they planted our entire yard with corn and began raising chickens everywhere. We got back and the corn was waist high. We were not pleased. They killed one of the chickens to feed us as a peace offering. However, they hadn’t gutted the chicken beforehand so we took the food to our room and fed our cats. Also in the evenings they would dance for tourists at the Hilltribes Cultural Center which was run by the Thai Border
View from our bedroom
with front gate that never kept anyone out and temples in the background
Police. Soon they didn’t want to work there anymore, so the police started to hassle them. This was another reason they decided to move back to their village in the hills.
Our next servant was Thai/Chinese and had worked for missionaries. Her only problem was that she would enter the room on her kneesin a submissive gesture. Linda would respond by coming down to her level, and she would go lower. Pretty soon they were both flat out on the floor. Her mother sold vegetables at the market, so Linda would go with her to buy food. Linda usually sat down next to her mother and sold vegetables. She got a lot of business.
However, we rarely ate at home. Food at the night market was great and cheap. We also ate often at the Rincome Hotel. A steak dinner there along with all the trimmings with linen table cloth, silver place settings, and candle light was $2.50. We couldn't cook for ourselves that cheaply!
Our next door neighbors were French. He was a professor at the university. We noticed that they had a gardener who was a student there come one or two days per week.
We asked the student if he had time to work for us the other days. That’s how we got a gardener to replace Atsupha. But our French neighbors never forgave us because be treated him so much better; giving him cold water and ice cream when the vendor drove by. The neighbors behind our house were major drug dealers who would buy the poppy paste from the hilltribes and produce opium and then heroin for export. They wanted to buy my Gran Torino when we left, but we took it with us.
While I was on the mountain, Linda also took one on one Thai lessons. Her teacher, Ladawan, was the wife of the manager of the Chiang Inn Hotel. After 4 hours of lessons, they would hang around together. Linda had our car and was very proficient driving around other than one scrape with a bus that almost forced her into the city moat. Another time she made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of the Songkran (the water festival in the middle of the hot season) parade. I think she drew more attention than Miss Songkran.
One day she noticed that her driver’s
license had expired so they went to the police station. All the police wanted to know was where were Linda’s parents and why they let her drive (she looked quite young). The police told her that she needed to have her license renewed in Bangkok. So she drove away without them stopping her for an expired license…a smile will get you anywhere in Thailand!
One day while I was inspecting the construction, the Navy lieutenant who worked at the base of the mountain, and who commuted every day from Chiang Mai, brought news that Linda had contracted malaria. I went back to Chiang Mai that evening and found her under piles of blankets even though it was hot. I nursed her back to health. Soon the U.S. Air Force installed a phone in our house so that Linda could contact me in case of emergencies such as this.
I only had to live on the mountain until the rainy season washed out the road. We hadn’t paved the road for the last few kilometers before the heavy rains hit, so there were 2 meter deep gullies in the middle of the road. From then on I commuted from
Chiang Mai with the Navy lieutenant and ensign who worked in our office at kilometer 31. By the next dry season from November 1974 to May 1975 I was able to complete the road to the top and most of the buildings.
In February 1975 I completed my two year rotation as an engineer trainee, and was permanently hired as a GS-11. I was due home leave, but as this was the height of the construction season, my boss asked that I delay my leave until May. So I planned my trip and made my airlines reservations for late May. In April 1975 Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos fell to the communists. I was allowed to take home leave, but was told to look for a job since mine would end once the construction on Doi Inthanon was completed in December 1975.
There are more photos below