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Published: January 17th 2007
Hello Everybody! After a good deal of prevarication on my part concerning the potential impact of tourism on the local indigenous hill tribes, Oli and I decided to go on one of the popular treks through the hills north of Chiang Mai. It was the three day 'non-touristy trek', guaranteed not to see any pale faced farangs
other than the people on our trek (13 of us, all young). Meaning, no doubt, that we were probably weaving a narrow path between towns with other 'non-touristy' tourists hiking 20 yards away in either direction.
We drove outside of the city for about an hour and a half, all shoved in the back of a pick up truck. The hike started in a small village that was largely empty, and wound through the jungle. The hiking was moderate, as much for the heat as anything else. We ended the day in a small glade with a creek running through it, and sat down in the water drinking beers and chatting. The majority of the people on the trip were pretty cool, mostly european and australian, and as I recall (though don't trust me entirely on
some strange shit on the streets
this one) the evening ended with most of us sitting around the bonfire playing games and trying to sing an elephant song in thai.
The second day we hiked along the creek bed, jumping from rock to rock, sunlight filtering in through the bamboo. An hour or two into it we passed a waterfall coming off the cliffs, and we stopped and jumped in. After lunch, we rode elephants into the next village. Their skin is fairly loose so everytime the elephant takes a step your ass shifts a few inches in either direction, making you feel like you are going to fall off at first.
At first in the village, we were pretty much ignored by the villagers who just smiled and continued what they were doing when we walked by. We spent more time dodging chickens than dodging the often ubiquitous woman in traditional dress hounding you to buy embroidered purses. I appreciated this, because in many villages catering to the tourists has replaced subsistence activity. Later, though, we did get a small performance by some of the women and children, much to my internal cringing. Many people believe that providing an
Moat around city
avenue for people to make money this way allows the tribes to preserve their culture, but how much is the real meaning and substance lost through commodification? And since when did 'culture' mean nothing more than colorful clothing and a few songs? So yeah, the people still sing the song that was sung during harvest, but now it is only sung for the tourists so that the words remain but none of the meaning and function behind it does. These people are being pressured on one side by the government and economy that is destroying their substistence lifestyle and soveriegnty, and then tourism swoops in and cheapens what little they have left. Then the missionaries unabashedly obliterate everything in one fell swoop.
The village we went to, though, in all fairness, was not yet the tourist trap so many have become. Except, of course, for us non-touristy tourists. After they sang for a bit our guide made us sing for them. We did terribly, really, non of us getting much past the chorus on songs as basic as twinkle twinkle little star. Thank the gods of international media though, as we did finally find a song that everyone, from germany,
Sleeper train from Bangkok to Chain Mai 15 hours
spain, england, australia, and the US, knew every single word to.
Now this is a story all about how my life got twist turned upside down. I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, i'll tell you how i became a prince of a town called bel air
(for those of you who didn't spend countless bored hours of your childhood watching re-runs of will smith going through puberty, it's the theme song to the TV show, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air).
Oliver and I woke up early the third day, to take pictures of the sunrise. Along with one of the other trekkers (still drunk from the night before-he had fallen asleep outside, covered with a blanket by one of the villagers and with the villages friendly puppies and kittens heaped around him. he jumped up half crazy when we walked by and decided to join us) we ended up climbing a large rock face towering above the village just as the sun came over the hills -beautiful! the hill was steep, but it was grooved and pockmarked, so it ended up being just hard enough to get a bit of adrenaline flowing and make us feel hard core without being all that dangerous.
The rest of the day consisted of some easy walking through a few villages and a very slow trip down a river in a
Trek Into the Hill tribe....Our Guide and porter made us bamboo cups wich later that night we drank wiskey out of and sang an elephant song...
half submerged bamboo raft. We drove back to Chiang Mai, and that evening (last night) most of us met at a neat roof top bar. Weird bat birds were swerving around at eye level catching bugs near the street lights, and floating lanterns being let off from the night market below us were spiraling up into the sky until they blended in with the stars. It was a pretty chill place, and oliver and i learned the most fantastic trick of lighting sambouka on fire in your mouth before swallowing it (or, in my case, accidently spitting most of it out and burning a blister on my lip).
Anyway, that was our trek and the last few days have been mostly chilling out. We are now about four hours north in Chiang Rai, still traveling with some of the people we met on our trek. not sure exactly what we are going to do next, but we'll let you know.
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