Diary for GO BUSH Safaris 2001 Thai - Laos Safari

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Wednesday,10 January

The Departure

For the scribe at least (and we suspect most others) this was a day of anxiety and rush. Relaxation only started when the taxi called and we were headed for the airport and unable to attend to anything else at home. Over the next hour or so nine people dribbled into the lounge at Gate 55 at Mascot airport. Various bits of intelligence were gathered and passed on such as that the plane was full but there would be 120 vacant sets after Melbourne. MELBOURNE!!!! We didn't know that the all night flight was going to include a two-hour stopover in Melbourne. It wasn't a thing which we anticipated with relish. So apart from a snack in the 65 airborne minutes it gave us something to chew over.

The less said about the Melbourne stopover the better except that it was here that the witches hour struck and passed and here that we met Barbara and Heather. We were now 11 in number. It was after we left Melbourne that the Sydney gathered intelligence paid big dividends for the Quick who had eyed off the potential for sites where they could spend most of the flight to Bangkok in the horizontal. Stakes winners arrived relatively fresh.

 

Day 1

Thursday, 11 January

Chiang Mai

Fearless Leader

After a further frustrating and anxious wait at Bangkok airport in the international transit lounge, we finally we shuttled across to our domestic flight to take us to Chiang Mai. We looked intently and with anticipation out from the aircraft window. There were huge highways, a mosaic of paddy fields peppered with villages below and from the mists in the distance we could see tall mysterious mountains rising. We studied the map thinking that one of these may have been Doi Inthanon but none were. Instead they were just the tail end of the Himalayan mountain chain which makes them pretty special.

After passing through customs and collecting our bags we finally identified the last members of our party, Richard and Jean Groves. We were now 14 and it took no time to identify the two buses to convey us to the Park Hotel. Here we were greeted by some white elephants much to Mavis's delight and a sign welcoming the "GOBUSH AUSTRALIEN GRP" and a fractured introduction to the Hotel and its facilities.

Not knowing who was jet-lagged and who was eager to go it was a free day and various people went in various directions. Your scribe took notes of what most people regarded as the highlights and then lost them (for a few days). Unfortunately with missing notes, not everyone's impressions were then obtained.

By this stage we had worked out how to distinguish between the two Marie's despite their different spelling - Red Mari and White Mairi. White Mairi thought the highlight of her day was the totally different smells. They wafted through the air permeating everywhere. She declared that there was no way which she would have been seen dead at home riding on a motor bike (tuk-tuk) with three people but here it was permissible.

Heather and Barbara embarked on their own handicraft tour. They were fascinated by the silk factory where they saw the silk coming off the cocoons and being transformed to the finished products. They were also impressed by the lacquer work sailing-gong and with the pottery where there saw the women hand painting the green pottery. They also included Baw Sung, the Umbrella village and so they had a very comprehensive craft tour for the day.

The highlight of Jill's day (and we understand that of many others was the quietness and tranquillity of the Whole Earth (Indian) restaurant. Jill managed to get to an international gem factory where she acquired some blue topaz ear rings as well as some garnet ones of which she is very proud.

Mavis came to Thailand with some regrets. Her ambition was to ride on an elephant as not been included on the program. She missed out seeing the working elephants complete with their chains and ridden by seemingly very young boys walking past the Park Hotel as John and Sharan had and had to be content in Day 1 with having no more than her photograph taken on the statues of the white elephants at the entrance to the Park Hotel.

George cited his highlight as being left by the women. However, he was very impressed by the walled city with its moat which he explored. He was also impressed by the chaotic traffic and the plethora of shops which looked as if they would sell anything.

Eleanora was entranced by the temple and the elephants.   Janette went shopping and purchased a top which was the envy of all.

John and Sharan had a quiet day and as they saw a woman sewing in the street lamented that they hadn't brought with them clothing for repairs and alterations which could have been done on the stop.

The tour of the city and its surrounds over everyone drifted back to the Park Hotel to discover that tonight the planned trip to the night market would be deferred while we dined in with our hosts who had arrived from Bagkok, Noi Potjana and a Japanese volunteer at REST, Iilko whom FL proceeded to mistakenly call "Bilko". Over a grand buffet dinner we also met the ever smiling Toop Tup who wandered in to join us little realizing the much larger role he would play over the next week.

The whole day was a great introduction to the many facets of Thailand and would be something to be savoured for years ahead. Jet lag and weariness were soon succumbed to in the luxury of the Park Hotel but at least we had learnt that we don't have to evacuate our rooms tomorrow and can leave behind what we don't require for the village tour.

 

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Day 2

Thursday, 11 January

The Journey to Mae Jam

Fearless Leader

We first circled around within Chiang Mai which let us see a little more of this fascinating city with its old once walled central square still surrounded by the moat and not far from the Ping River (Mae Ping). We headed roughly south past the airport and discovering that the numerous plantations we saw from the air were probably longans, a fruit similar to lychees. They were very numerous but amongst them were paddy fields, where the rice had been recently harvested and which were now planted up to beans. We observed the many forms of transport and use of implements. The predominant use of hoes as implements led your scribe to remark that this must be Santa Claus land because of all the "Ho-Ho-Hos".

The first stop out of Chiang Mai was the Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum. This was in wonderful old house with some wonderful artifacts which gave us an appreciation of the traditional northern (Lanna) Thai lifestyle which is now rapidly changing. Below the house was a production line which was working to spin out the raw cotton, dye it using traditional colours and then weave it on traditional Thai looms. It was most absorbing. The house was on the side of the Mae Jam River just above where river rafting began and at the end of a long driveway lined with bamboo stands. And the name of the house, "Ban Rai Pai Ngarm", literally mens the house of beautiful bamboo. The shop at the end of the tour didn't do such a roaring trade as we were keeping our reserves for a big spending spree later on although many later regretted not acquiring a "Stairway to Heaven" which were on sale there.

Next stop was t the Obluang National Park. Here we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant and in no time some great Thai food and exquisite Thai flavours were tempting us although some choked on the green chilli in the pawpaw salad. Interestingly there was an entry fee payable to visit this National Park.

The forest was in autumn tones for the cool dry season where many of the trees were deciduous. One of the more outstanding trees was the erythrina which was in full flower. Another tree which attracted our attention was the Ng tree which has enormous leaves. We later observed that many of the Ng leaves were used to thatch buildings. It is similar in appearance to the Teak trees but when the leaves are crushed the Ng produces clear sap whereas the Teak has red sap. We were soon to realize that the teak forests were not the huge evergreen rainforest which grew on the mountains but the dry monsoon forests which are similar to our Australian Top End savannah lands except perhaps being more deciduous. It was an experience which changed our preconceptions of the Thai forests.

We walked up to have a look at the prehistoric rock art. There is some uncertainty as to whether these were petroglyphs or paintings but we could all make out the back end of an elephant which we assumed must have been the original "Jessie the Elephant" of some fame in Australia. Also in the prehistoric site was a grave which was dated back to about 7000 yeas with much of the skeleton in place, the limbs and skull but the torso and spine was missing. In the grave was pottery and other artifacts. However the most interesting part of our exploration was to observe the stunning gorge which the narrow canyon through the granite (gneiss) and surmounted high above by a suspension pedestrian bridge which we had to cross to get to the art site. It was hot and when we eventually got back to the vehicles there was a rush for iced coffee revivers before boarding the bus and proceeding on to the next excitement in the village of Mae Jam.

The approach to Mae Jam through the limestone outcrops was interesting, We could see the maximum use being made of any potential arable land. We could also see that there has been a lot of reforestation with teak being grown seemingly wherever it will grow but unfortunately in ordered rows. We seemed to climb and wind around hills and mountains in bewilderment but we soon came to appreciate that this is the norm for Northern Thailand. On some of these narrow winding roads we encountered truckloads and truckloads of cabbages heading to the markets.

 

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Our first stop in Mae Jam was the community Health Centre. This was to be the focus of this afternoon and evening's activities. Here we were introduced to our respective hosts including the Doctor, the traditional medicine man from this village who then proceeded to introduce us to the subtleties of traditional medicines and plants. He works mainly on the weekend but most of his healing work now is directed towards massage and treatment of coughs and colds because Western medicine is taking over although the modern doctors are still anxious to learn from the traditional healers. We discovered that there is now a hospital in the next village, 3 kilometres away and most villagers go there for the birth of their babies. Despite this trend there were a few tentative questions about any herbal equivalents to Viagra and what was used now that opium was outlawed. The questions moved on to other issues of community health such as mental health and that was when we discovered that there is a big impact now resulting from the widespread used of amphetamine tablets amongst the young.

Having heard the magic word massage there was soon a queue to feel the healing hands and more masseurs were sent for. However after a quick visit to our four respective home-stays, everyone was back to sample the sauna with its steamy atmosphere and herbal infusions.

Revived, washed and refreshed we were soon to be entertained by some versatile village musicians playing on traditional instruments. It was a very Chinese type of sound but it was made more meaningful but the helpful interpretations by Salot who gave explanations of the meanings of the songs, the instruments and later on the dances.

The next step was to eat a wonderful dinner which our various host families had brought to the centre after which a small troop of six lovely young Thai girls demonstrated their traditional dances. It was authentic dancing and was really appreciated, especially with the explanation of the menage of the three dances, one of which was a wooing dance. It appears that Noi Potjana has had a lot of experience with Thai dancing. That was obvious from her amazing gesticulation in the time we spent with her. Noi was able to define the subtle differences between Lanna dancing and other Thai dancing. Lanna dancing has more gestures in a different direction to other Thai dancing.   Noi and the girls then led many of the GO BUSH troop in the dances to the orchestra.

We felt very naked when called upon to demonstrate some of our traditional dancing. We responded by teaching them the "Hokey Pokey" which was just as well because the morrow was "Children's Day" in Thailand and we ended up 14 mature aged Australians doing the Hokey Pokey on a stage in front of about 300 kids. With the dancing over we returned with our respective hosts and some retired. Unfortunately, though some missed the bed they were going to. At the Doctor's House, there was an on-going ceremony to prepared the candles to be presented to the Budda in the morning. A prayer was incorporated in the centre, a wick added and finally the wax was poured. Such merit making required some medicine and the Doctor prescribed whisky as an aid. Apparently Tub-Tub who was present volunteered to explain the intricacies of the whisky which had to be scolled in neat doses. After lucid explanations of the first three toasts, Health" long life wealth etc, Toop Tup became more incoherent. Finally when all was done Toop Tup then found that he could not find his way into the Head mans' house where John and Sharan were waiting for him to bunk down so he staggered back to the already full Doctor's house and bunked down to the amazement of those alredy esconced there.

And so ended Day 2 of our already exciting safari.

 

Day 3

Saturday, 13 January

Mae Jam, Doi Inthanon Chiang Mai

Barbara & Eleanora

Soon after waking this morning to much cock crowing (do they ever sleep) we were offered coffee and biscuits and then a quick visit to our host Jungdee sister's house to admire a litter of 13 baby pigs just a few hours old.

Before breakfast, we attended a Merit making to the monks in the Buddist Temple. We were dressed by our hosts in traditional skirts and John looked especially smart in a black ensemble. (Love those half mast pants! --are you expecting a flood?)

Food for Merit making provided by our host families consisted of cooked rice and boiled eggs, also posies of flowers, carried in baskets. Merit making was performed after a moving ceremony in the temple. We toured the new temple and signed our names on wooden roof tiles after making a donation to the new building.

Breakfast with the host family :-No weeties, no toast, no tea. The basic dish was rice to which was added dishes of your choice,including fish, chicken, pork, vegies and chilli paste.

We walked around the village and we saw all aspects of weaving, spinning and dyeing cotton. Handcrafted items were offered for sale, with bartering the normal practice. A short drive to a neighbouring village where we were to perform an "Australian" dance for the children on "Childrens" day".All our party on stage and introduced to the audience, then to dance the "Hokey Pokey". This dance proved to be popular with the children, who could be seen still practicing as we drove away.

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Hokey Pokey audience & subsequent participants

A visit to a nearby Wat, then following lunch, we were driven to Dio Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain (2595 m.) Many cabbage trucks were passed on the way to the mountain and terraced rice fields and corn drying in the sun could be seen.

During our walk through the boarded nature trail in the Natiuonal Park, we were shown a tree which still had feet imprints made by Bears many years ago. Noi (our guide) told us of a Helicopter crash the remains of which are a monument to Michael who died in the crash. Over 400 varieties of birds live in the park, but many were not visible to us.

Approx. 4 Kms from the top of the mountain Pra Mahatat Napheme Thanidon - A Chedi built by the Royal Thai Air Force for the King's 60th birthday in 1989 can been seen.

We returned to the Park Hotel in Chiang Mai, dinner being enjoyed by our party and also a visit to a night market.

 

Day 4

Sunday, 14 January

Chiang Mai - Mae Salong

George & Heather

Today we depart Chiang Mai to experience the culture and life styles of the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand. Our destination is the ACCU Resource Centre at Doi Mae Salong.

Doi Mae Salong, called Thailand's 'Little Switzerland', is a settlement on the top of a high mountain peak out in the middle of Chiang Rai's mountain country. Sitting on the highest peak at an elevation of over 6000 feet above sea level the settlement commands a grand view of green mountain ridges stretching out to the far horizon. When the mist comes, the view changes as mountain ridges stand out more dramatically. The air is cool and refreshing.

The villagers are ethnic Chinese descendants of the KMT nationalist army regiment that took refuge in Thailand almost 50 years ago when Communist forces won the civil war in mainland China. The KMT took refuge in the remote and inaccessible area and the Thai government let them in, under a mutual understanding that they assist in policing the area against Communist infiltration. The fugitives settled down, developed farms and orchards, raised livestock and their families. When the settlement grew larger the Thai government built a road to incorporate the settlement into the local administration system.

This winding mountain road leads over 30 kms from the foothills to the top connecting to road 1089 at Thaturn linking to Farng and highway 107 to Chiang Mai.

Breakfast was scheduled at 8.00 am with a departure at 9.00am. The morning was misty with some clouds. After farewells to Noi we set off on our way only to return to pick up a bag belonging to Tub Tub.

Highway 107 is a dual carriageway road of high standard with a median of flowering shrubs and small trees. Noted fuel prices: Diesel 13.92bt and Unleaded 15.17bt.

Initially we passed through commercial and industrial development into the suburbs which appear quite affluent to the rural areas of orchards and paddy fields. Pass many road side stalls, through treed areas all very tidy.

Leaving the lowlands into the hills we pass the Mae Ping Elephant Training Centre. Very touristy.

The valleys within the hills are extensively cultivated.

Chiang Dao nestles below the highest limestone mountain in Thailand at 2175m which is also the third highest mountain in Thailand.

The extensive limestone karst area with its limestones spires clothed in scratchy vegetation was quite dramatic. A budda with a golden cloth cloak stood at the top of a ridge. Once again we pass limestone spires amongst bamboo and teak forests.

Police check points did not trouble us, but the locals are often stopped to check identification and for drugs.

A comfort stop at a service station was rather unique for the men: an external loo with a view. Two utilities with the rear tray stacked high with garlic bulbs drew our attention. Robin was indeed fascinated. She was able later to see garlic growing in the field.

At Farng to the west the impressive bulk of Doi Ang Khong is visible. It is the second highest mountain in Thailand at 2285m.

Pass rice paddies with rice spread out on plastic sheets to dry being turned over with wooden rakes. Through Mae Ai the vista of misty mountains and at about 1.00pm Thanton on the Kok River was reached where lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the river. Before lunch an Akha lady and her children did a good business selling traditional handicrafts.

Departing at 2.15 we began the final stage of our journey to the village of Mae Salong. Passing a checkpoint we turned off to the left and began the steep climb to the village.

Two white buildings on a distant ridge top were part of the ACCU Resource Centre: our destination. Most noticeable was the use of local materials for house construction, the many orchards and how steep and extensive the slopes were under cultivation.

The village was reached about 3.15pm, and after a brief stop to check out the village, its markets, and some personal shopping our journey continued past the school basketball court and along a ridge looking down on rose farms and orchards irrigated from a large concrete reservoir.

The Centre was reached at 3.45pm where we were greeted by our hosts: Jahae, Anne and Pai. After unloading the vehicles we farewelled the drivers who were returning the minibuses back to Chiang Mai.

We enjoyed a cup of tea or coffee and after a brief introduction to the Centre we were shown our accommodation, two double storey dormitory buildings, 7 in each, 3 on the top floor and 4 on the bottom. John and Sharan had the 'honeymoon' suite on the top floor to themselves in one building whilst 5 slept below.

Our group is the first tourist group to visit the Centre and stay in the Hill Country of Northern Thailand for four nights: two at the centre and two in the Hill Tribes Villages.

The view of a video gave us an introduction to the formation of the Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF) and its activities involving the Hill Tribes. The catchment area in which they work covers 8000 people in 26 villages. A brief question and answer period followed which gave us a better understanding of the issues involved.

Our hosts had arranged a dinner at the Chinese Sakura Restaurant in the Village which was in an attractive garden location. The area in the vicinity of the restaurant is closely associated with the KMT Nationalist army regiment that took refuge here in 1961. An information centre here depicts in words and photographs this history.

Back at the centre a further video presentation introduced us to the Akha people, their lifestyle, and culture, including their ceremonies. Most spectacular was the swing ceremony.

All retired to bed after a full and interesting day.

 

Day 5

Monday, 15 January

Hill Tribe Villages

Jill & Janette

6.00am: Anne, Jahae, Sharan and Janette are ready to drive to the Mae Salong market to buy breakfast. We wait huddled in the cold for Tub-tub (Dtuk Dtub - Thai spelling) "Good morning", he says with a chuckle, and climbs aboard.

The produce is displayed on tables, fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, poultry, and many red candles and bungers for New Year celebrations. The black-fleshed chicken is a delicacy and reminds Tup-tup of the tiime he was given a live black chicken as a present. He didn't have the heart to kill it and instead started "a farm for one".

The stall-holders are Chinese and Akha women wearing ooknos (headdress). Orders are placed and we sit down to drink warm nam tawhao (soy milk) and eat batongor (fried pastries). Breakfast will be batongor, nam tawhao, khaw buk (sticky rice cakes), khaw ngiu ping (toasted sticky rice), guctiew pot (stir fried noodles), and knaw agiw sai gluay (banana in sticky rice).

As we leave the markets, the high school children set off to school on their motor bikes, two or three children on each bike. We wave to small children, some in bare feet walking along the road to school. Many walk an hour each way. The police are out early at the check point, sitting under a splendid double poinsettia tree.

After breakfast, Mr P and the six chicks set off in the 1243 Hilux Hero for the Lahu village. We discuss the responsibilities being the first group of "farangs" to stay with the people of Jakorna. Mavis and Janette recall their Hornsby Girls High School motto: "Faith with Fortitude", as we bump along the road.

Arriving at the village, many women and children, and a few men, come to greet us. There is no word for "hello" in Lisu language. Anne introduces us to our hosts and tells the children they are not to peep at us when we undress. We are just the same as them, only we are white.

The bamboo houses are on stilts and the roof thatched. Owners prepare the materials to build and everyone comes to help with the constructon. The roof is thatched every four or five years. Lisu live with their dogs because dogs help them to find food. Hens, roosters, chickens, pigs, cows and buffalo wander about the village.

Our hosts are Lasere and her daughters, Lati and Lasor. Lasere had ten children, the last one when she was 46 years old. The people are busily preparing for New Year on 24 January. Upland rice must be pouded in che gu, wood must be cut and stacked. No work will take place during the eight days of celebration.

Jamooey, the acting head man of the village, makes a speech to welcome us, and says he is very happy we have come from so far away, and tells us we will walk in the forest and talk of many things. He is 26 and married for the third time. His father is the head man, and the position is passed from father to son. The father has gone away from the village to earn money and also thinks he is too old to make decisions for the village.

Jahae's wife, Chio, started the school in Jakorna and their six year old son, Surawin, was born in a hospital when she was still teaching there.

Lunch was the usual upland rice which was served with mustard greens, squash and taro, with of course the chili accessories - a wonderful spice taste in all the food. After lunch, the 15 year old daughter/sister of the family, modelled her traditional dress- all hand made and most attractive. The group then reassembled and with the headman and the medicine man, we set off across the rive (in which there were a lot of fish, some 6 inches long) to climb the mountain. The first place we came to was a salaa, a rest house that was built by someone in the village if there was sickness in their family, a pig would be killed and offered to the spirits, and no one could touch the structure behind the salaa. Halfway up the hill, we came to a tiiguay, again a seat to rest, but also built as a last resort to get rid of hives.

A list of some of the trees and plants used by the villagers for various things is as follows: madii (eat the fruit in the dry season), pabaja (eat the fruit, but also the new shoots), heshadagu (insect repellent, but also given as an enticement to fish - they get drunk on it), lamaegu (the roots are used to spray the fields), lamae is tiger's tail, maesao (a very useful tree - the bark is said to heal tinea immediately, the fruit the native animals eat, and the wood is very strong used in their houses to make shutters. Mulberry tree is not for silk worms, but used to make paper. Luksavaa (the seed is used by women and children for games), chechipua (is minced up and wrap in the tsebor leaf, warmed and when placed on the body cures stomachache), naborguli coagulates the blood and stops the bleeding. Termite mound: if the leaves are placed on the body that aches the most, then on the mound, should heal. Yaagapfae (herbal medicine restores the appetite and settles the stomach), chestnut tree can make a lot of money gathering and selling the nuts.

We took a long time to get to the top, where we had wonderful views of the village and surrounding mountains. Only 7 kms to the Burmese border. The village is still getting the odd person from Burma. They are not cutting down any more of the forest, and realise the value of it - being the headquarters of the river system. They have barking deer, squirrel, tigers, and are very keen to protect them. Their main crop, of course, is rice but unfortunately they cannot produce to feed them the whole year - apricots, cherry plums, peaches are also produced.

Pigs, chickens and dogs all seem to be fed in the late afternoon. Once darkness fell, small oil lamps were lit that provided a little light. After dinner, again rice and greens but also fish cooked in a bamboo stick, we went to the assistant head man's house for a welcome and question time to learn more about their culture and try to impart more of ours. The main concentration seemed to be on divorce and marriage. The committee of the village seemed to make any decisions, but only after consultation with the villagers - quite democratic, really. The head man's wife is also important, and men and women seem to be on an equal footing. Their marriage involved some ritual and divorce had to be mutual. It was acceptable to have two wives, but not common. Their burial was interesting - they left the body in the house for one or two days then they were buried in the burial forest, feet to the west so that the spirit when it comes out is not facing the village otherwise they could die. The head man and committee cannot go tot he burial in case they don't come back and everyone then will follow them. The body is buried in white - no metal to buried with them - and tied at the head, waist and feet. A roof is placed over the body to protect it from any soil getting on it otherwise the family can get sick. A partner left alive cannot marry for a year.

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Meanwhile in Heyko

By Mairi Petersen & Jean Grove

After breakfast at the Hill Area Development Foundation Centre, we set off for the Lisu village, Heyko. We meet the Headman and are introduced to our host families and taken to our home. The home consists of a living room (where we will sleep), a children's room and the parents room, all with bare earth floors and raised platforms on which we sleep. In the living room is an open fire with a primus type stand for cooking on and an altar on the wall.

As we talk to our host family (the village headman, his brother and his mother) swifts fly around the room. The family is quick to tell us that they don't ever kill birds, as that would affect the family's journey to Heaven when they die. The roof on the home is thatched from wild grasses which won't let rain in and the walls are also of woven mats.

During our talks with the family, we learn to play an instrument called a serber, which is a Lisu guitar, and that there is a doctor in the village , but that people who are ill conduct a spirit ceremony first and that if that does not make them better then they consult the doctor.  

We then discussed the New Year celebration, which is the big event on the Lisu calendar. During the week-long celebrations, people wear their old clothes and dance around the New Year tree, which all houses have put up at their front door. On New Year's Day, the put on their specially sewn new clothes and go from house to house. They go to their traditional leader, the medicine man, and on the second day go to the Headman. They spend the next five days visiting other people in the village.

New Year is the happiest time in the village. They eat meat, mostly pork, which is kept specially for the occasion, During the other times of the year, most people eat mainly vegetables and beans. The villagers believe that eating meat at this time brings the spirit back to sick people.

After we had settled in to our home, we went off to visit the tea plantation. This plantation is situated right next to the village on Lisu land which was rented from the Lisu villagers by a Chinese tea business person. The tea plantation is fairly large, very well set out, and worked by people from the village. The villagers are in a difficult position concerning the plantation, as the plantation owner is heavily into the use of chemicals in the tea production, whilst at the same time the villagers are dependent on the Chinese owners for the jobs and the money for the rental of the land. We could not see the actual factory part of the plantation as they began spraying chemicals so we had to leave and walk back up a quite steep climb to the village. The villagers celebrated the building of a new structure by decorating it and then having a celebration party. This hut was built for passersby to rest in, probably before commencing the steep climb back to the village.  

We then visited the nursery school in the village. The teacher, quite a young woman, looks after the children who turn up each day from 8.00 am to 3,00 pm. Sometimes none turn up whereas on other days any number up to 25 children turn up. The school was just a one-roomed building with mats on the floor. The teacher only had a few hours of training, all from a book. It seems to me that the pre-school education was purely child minding, as teachers of primary aged children had 3 or 4 years training. The children stay at this school until they are 6 and then go to school in Mae Salong - usually taken by motor bike.

There are 2 sorts of schooling in the hill tribe areas - formal and non-formal.     In both methods the children are taught to read and to speak Thai. Formal teachers are paid about B5,000 per month, whereas non-formal teachers are paid much less.

Our next place to visit was the medicine man. He goes into the forest (and even into Burma) to collect herbs up until May each year and then dries them. The medicine man learnt his skills from his father and mother. Some herbs must be collected when it is full moon and the roots he uses are collected in the daytime when it is not full moon season. He believes that the quality of the herbs depends on the position of the moon. The best herbs are grown in the colder areas, and so the medicine man has to travel into Burma on a regular basis to get some supplies.

There are two ways to use herbs - Boil with water or mix with whisky! Most villagers know some herbal remedies. They try these out at home first and if they do not work, they go to the medicine man. The medicine man is trying to pass on his skills and knowledge to his sone and other young boys.

The Hill Area Development Foundation has just made a video and produced a book about the herbs and their uses, using their scientific names.

After a very informative afternoon, we went back to our home and saw our host mother doing her weaving. The colours were beautiful, but it was a very slow process. She could weave about 10 centimetres a day. She took us to visit her friend who is also a weaver, who very proudly showed us her products.

Then it was time for dinner, which was cooked by the Headman and his brother. We Saturday around a very low cane table on tiny wooden stools - not really suitable for Westerner sized bottoms! It took a lot of persuasion for the host and his family to join us in having dinner. Of course this was all done by candlelight!

We had a meeting after dinner with the headman and various other villagers. We had a long and interesting discussion about the myths and legends of the Lisu people (including the reason why trees are placed outside every house for the New Year).

Then off to bed. How difficult is it getting changed for bed inside your sleeping bag, with the Headman's mother sitting by the fire holding a candle for about an hour. However we managed, and finally got to sleep after a long and interesting day.

 

Day 6

Tuesday, 16 January

Hill Tribe Villages

Jill & Janette

Some Hill Tribe Reflections

 

From an open fire, smoke

And simplicity fills a bamboo home. 

 

Thatch diverts the rain and shelters swallows.

Our introducers to heaven.

 

Pigs, geese, ducks, chickens and cattle,

We live comfortably with what we eat. 

 

 

Another interesting breakfast of rice and vegetables and lovely spices - an amusing episode of Mari being measured for her traditional ceremony jacket with everybody looking on - a few purchases made, we left for Heyko, the Lisu village. What a difference - on arrival we were besieged by villagers wanting us to buy. After being allocated our various abodes, we were introduced to the head man, Awoo, a young 22 year old who was elected by the villagers for a 6 year term. He is a very charming, unmarried lad. There are 37 houses and 250 people in this village - half are Christian and the others animists/ancestor worshippers. We were taken on a walk around the village by Awoo. These houses are on the ground with mud floors, although the beds are raised on a bamboo platform and the kitchen is a separate building. There is no formal school in the village, only a kindergarten. We were shown the Lisu shrine into which no women are allowed. It is generally used for special festivals, but also people come to give offerings when in trouble. They grow rice for themselves, but corn and ginger for a cash crop. Quite a lot of their land was given to the Chinese to plant for tea, which is now causing quite a problem as they use chemicals in this tea production which, of course, go into the river system.

In the afternoon, because the tea was being sprayed, we could not visit the area and joined the women in their daily activity of weaving and sewing. Amazing patience, care and encouragement shown by these gifted craftspeople made us feel very relaxed and pleased with our efforts.

Our backs and legs needed stretching and we walked to the fields where corn, beans, upland rice (which does not need irrigating), mustard, macadamia trees, papaya, black sesame, gourds, taro, loofah plants and longans grow. Near the tree nursery, Awoo skilfully knocked down a ripe pawpaw and sliced it up for us to eat. Stands of tall, thick bamboo grow close to the village.

The barn swallows darted overhead as we returned to the village. They migrate from China in winter and live in the eaves of the Lisu peoples' houses, remaining their until they turn black from the smoke of the household fire. The swallows talk to God and are a witness to the Lisu peoples' character, assisting with their entrance to heaven.

When God distributed written language he wrote the words on rice cakes for the Lisu people. They ate the cakes when they were hungry and so have no written language.

At the evening gathering Alae, the head man's father, welcomed us and suggested we come back in a week's time to join the New Year's celebration.

Aabae, the instrument maker, demonstrated how to play the fueloo, made from a gourd and four different sized reeds. Jahae buys a fueloo every time he visits Heyko - he now has 20 and gives lessons to students. We danced to the music played on the fueloo and the server, a three stringed instrument. Our hearty rendition of "Waltzing Matilda" and "Click go the Shears" was appreciated, followed by encores of "Row, row row your boat" and "The Kookaburra Sings on the Old Gum Tree".

Abae warmly wecomed Jill and Janette to the Lisu Guesthouse, asking us to sign the visitors' book. Andreas Sinclair signed his name a year ago and had written, "I like Thailand and I hope I can come back again".

And so do we.

 

And the other groups experience

By Mairi Petersen & Jean Grove

Up early and off to Jakorna Village. We arrived at Jakorna, the home of the black Lahu people, by fourwheel drive, to be introduced to our host families. Our host family was a young couple with two small children.

A communal lunch was already in preparation, with rice wrapped in banana leaf bundles stuffed down the hollow centre of stout green bamboo stems. These were then filled with water and left to simmer in the fire whilst we went with the villagers to collect greens from along the riverbank or to catch fish by hand from the same river but further upstream. The greens turned out to be the very young fronds of a small fern closely related to bracken which caused no small concern to Richard who has recently reviewed a book on bracken and its toxicity!!

Catching fish involved making a series of dams of rocks and then cutting off the total flow across one branch of the small river with the water being diverted down the other. Then the village children raced along the dried up branch of the stream leaving no stone unturned as they sought out fish as small as 2 centimetres in length, small crabs and frogs - in fact anything of animal protein which could be eaten. The kids were very adept at this. We were fairly hopeless! At the end of a busy morning less than a dinner plate full of acquatic creatures had been assembled.

Back at the village the fish were dry and roasted and served with the boiled greens and bundles of sticky rice extracted from the bamboo tubes. After lunch we Saturday around on the ground watching a toothless old man of great character, who showed us how to weave bamboo strips. The dexterity of these people with their large machete-type knives is amazing. Learned in infancy by allowing even small children to play with knives as we witnessed. The old man started to weave a small basket and then let Richard complete it under his supervision, fitting it with a headband to carry it on ones back.

We all made multiple star-like forms which is a Lahu symbol. (We received appropriate help from various male onlookers). Then we made a number of mini Christmas trees all with "foliage" shaped from fine bamboo wedges, which became part of a ceremony for long life and good luck.

We were privileged to be allowed to take part in this ceremony, which also involved the medicine man tying a string around the wrist of each of us, which we were supposed to keep intact for at least 3 days.

We then went for a walk through the village and were introduced to the village Christian Minister for a few of the villagers who have converted. They have built a very simple dignified little church on a hill top nearby. His wife demonstrated her colourful and intricate weaving on a backstrap loom.

On the way home we passed the village women pounding rice with a primitive lever system, several feet long, operated by foot to loosen the husk from the grain. The product was then scooped out and tossed into a wide shallow basket, so that the lighter husks could be separated from the heavier husks.

We also witnessed the preparation of wild millet gathered locally to make brooms which were used to sweep the floor after every meal.

The evening meal with our host family was like every evening meal - eaten sitting on the floor around a low wicker table piled with bowls of rice and other mixed concoctions fired up in a blackened pot on the earthen hearth set in the bamboo floor of the home. The bamboo slats could easily be parted to dispose of chicken bones and stray rice grains, which simply dropped through to the livestock below.

Our family kept pigs, chickens and a cow and a new calf and a bell which tinkled all night as we slept on mats on the floor. Roosters crowed to wake us at (or before) dawn. The day finished with a gathering of seemingly the whole village, crammed into the family room of "our" house, to meet us and talk with us through our translator Anne) and to listen to the village musicians and trying to sing appropriate Australian songs. Despite the language barrier, we were sad to say goodbye the next morning.

Toilet Trips in Thailand

By Fearless Leader

A midnight trip to the toilet on a GO BUSH Safaris in the Kimberley as a saga is pale compared with the adventures of midnight forays in Thailand.  With the sound of roosters crowing most of the night, pigs grunting under and around the houses, cow bells ringing loudly and intermittently as well as numerous salvos from barking dogs, plus the discomfort of sleeping with negligible padding, it is difficult to sleep with even a half full bladder.  Thus toilet trips assume a frequency which matches the challenges of getting there and back.

It is impossible to surreptitiously make an unnoticed trip to the toilet in a hill tribe village or in a small house sleeping nine or more people- most in just one 10 x10 bedroom. All toilets in rural Thailand are invariably outside and the challenge is both to negotiate your way to them as well as coping with the obstacles to use them.

When the pressure becomes unbearable and going to the loo is a prerequisite to returning to sleep, one must arise from the horizontal to the vertical although this may have some problems in some huts where the roofs are slung very low. It is also more difficult in most villages when the bed is less than a centimetre above the floor. In most cases though this can be done surreptitiously but by the time one is vertical one has to be alert to the many hazards which await. It is also easier in a Lisu house where the beds are raised above the earthen floor and one only has to dangle one's legs over the side and don personal footwear which is vital for the trek.

On the way to the door one must not step into the open fireplace usually in the middle of the living room floor. (Walking over hot coals in bare feet is to be avoided out of courtesy to our hosts). One must also avoid collision with the aforesaid head high beams. While it is possible to tiptoe noiselessly over the earthen floors, it is impossible on bamboo floor where virtually every slat creaks and groans (almost shouts) to let the household know that farangs are very big people with seemingly very small bladders. 

Once at the threshold the problems intensify especially if the barrel bolt comes flying out in ones hand and has to be replaced by someone still only a little more than semi-conscious. This causes additional noise and usually wakes the guard dog sleeping just outside the door. However, he is sleepy and slow to wake so you can continue across the verandah to where your footwear is located out of courtesy to our hosts and in conformity with the culture. By the time

one is halfway through donning the footwear, the dog has realized its responsibilities and begins to bark and raise not only his hackles but every other dog in the village which have to respond.  Thus the whole village is alerted to the urological problems of farangs as another one has headed for the loo.

This must cause enormous mirth amongst the hill tribes who all seem to have CIBs (Cast Iron Bladders) which are developed from a very early age to avoid these challenges.

With one's footwear on, now comes a steeper challenge - descending to the ground. The elevated Lahu houses have an incredible array of forms of access from steps and ramps but all have very steep angle and are best suited to people with very small feet. Once on terra firma at last (with all the dogs still barking) our anxiety increases for some relief and release from this night. Still we have to negotiate our way to the loo without stepping in the droppings of a chook, pig, horse dog, cow or even worse a buffalo.

Once within the sanctuary of the 'loo we discover that this is literally a "water-loo" because the storage cistern is continually overflowing leaving the whole floor awash. (This seems to be the standard practice of every toilet we enter).  Entering is also taken in an almost praying position because most toilets we encountered with roofs have them no more than five feet from the ground and sloping down.  The bending position is really required though to use the pedestal.  That is when one appreciates that Pedis is Latin for "foot".  Two feet must be planted on the pedestal astride the hole. (Thai toilets are not places for sitting in quiet comfortable contemplation and despite Australia once being settled by squatters it seems that few modern Aussies are comfortable about squatting in the 21st century).

Having accomplished our objective with all the commotion and disquiet negotiating ones way back to bed is relatively easy although pacifying the snarling dog takes some time.

Other challenges include the enthusiastic puppy waiting inside. Its yelp at feeling the 100 kg weight bearing down on it can be terrifying. Then there was the rain. Due to the Fearless Leader's pronouncement that this was the dry season, no one had raincoats to cope with the downpours which only seemed to come at night when one's bladder had reached its capacity and the sound of the rain increased the urgency for release.

The challenges of midnight trip in the Kimberley are minor compared with the toilet trips in the hill tribe villages of Thailand.  

 

Day 7

Wednesday, 17 January

Back to the ACCU

Rainy night in Heyko village. Misty and cool morning with freshly picked mushrooms from the back shed for breakfast. Instant market barrage, followed by a swift trot up the hill in the wake of a 4-wheel drive ute driven by a local farmer commandeered by TupTup.

Reunion of the whole group, and into Loh-yu, an Akha village. Seated in Ah-bor-yee's home, we were welcomed by him as brothers and sisters because we have the same ancestral parents. He is 72, and his wife Ah-ber, is 65. Akha houses are double storeyed: ground floor for their animals, upper divided into two rooms. One for men, one for women. The ancestral altar is in the female half of the house, because women have care of the home and family.

Ah-bor-yee has lived in this village for 26 years. He lived on the border of China and Burma, where the Burmese army used him as forced labour. Three of his sons died on this border.

There are two clans in the village. Ah-bor-yee is considered a most unusual man as he enjoys creating beautiful embroidery and other usually "female" activities.

When our visit was at an end, Ah-bor-yee offered John the local whiskey. There were several takers, and we were all privileged to hear this remarkable man sing to us of his joy to have us in his house, ad sorrow he could not offer food.

After this high, we explored the village and its many market stalls, then travelled to a shelter on the main road for the lunches packed for us by our host families. The fire prevention sign by the shelter was a clear reminder of problems that can be faced by the people.

After a short stop at Mae Salong, some walked "home" to HADF, and some were chauffeured. Along the way, there was an opportunity to talk with Tup-tup, to hear about his work, learn some more geography of Thailand, and for him to expand his English and discuss the processes surrounding death in different countries.

Washing and ablutions were very satisfying.

Before dinner, there was time for evaluation of our experiences in the villages and exploring ideas for future assistance. Great changes are already happening to lifestyle of these people as they change to a cash economy, and the problems that monoculture will bring, including economic risk, environmental issues and health problems. Consumers the world over need education and an increased awareness for the consumption of organic vegetables and minimal use of pesticides and herbicides.

The impact of globalisation on rural Thailand starts with the advent of roads, changing lifestyles, creating a need for money and goods, and an awareness of government influence.

 

Day 8

Thursday, 18 January

Mae Salong to Chiang Khong

Richard & Robin

Our last time with Ann (working with HADF through Australian Volunteers International)

and Jahae. Sticky rice and noodles, hot soy milk and fried treats from the market for breakfast. 

NOTE: ACCU = Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO 

Ann outlined the ways in which we could assist the HADF program.

1.   Childrens' scholarship fund. For education 8000B/year for nearest school; 12000B for hostel accommodation plus school.

2.   Elders' fund. When elders are no longer capable of working and have no support from their children. 6000B/year.

3.   One-off Donations of money, blankets, medical, school materials, books, pencils, clothing.

4.   Childrens' environmental workshops and/or Sponsorship of lunchtime meals at school, K-3. 15B/child/day.

5.   Volunteer program - staying in the village to teach English or work in the fields.

Said goodbye to Ann and Jahoo - an extraordinary pair of people - and moved off to wind our way through the hills to Mae Chan where we joined the 4-lane highwway north to Mae Sai. (KMT border town with Myanmar just across the Mae Kok River). On the way we could see Doi Thung (1513 m) -limestone karst country - through the clouds. This area formerly grew opium, but now tobacco, corn, rice and soybeans.

The group chose not to support the Myanmar military junta and stayed on the Thai side and spent their 250B shopping for jade, etc. Left Mai Sai and headed east for the Golden Triangle where we had our first glimpse of the Mekhong. This is the point at which Myanmar, Thailand and Laos all meet and where the Mae Kok River joins the Mekhong. Had a delicious lunch overlooking the river and the Golden Triangle then inland through the hills and tobacco with brick drying kilns and corn fields. Our next glimpse of the river showed

deciduous red-flowering trees - a sign of New Year. Finally Chiang Kong and Baan Tamilla guesthouse and a warm Wat welcome with cool lemon or pineapple juice. Our first farewell to Tuk Tup with John presenting his precious Tullamore Dew to our irrepressible, loveable guide.

A stroll through the village, phone calls, e-mails, washing to be dried, plastic bags to be bought for the rapidly increasing luggage. Monks sweeping the paths around the spendidly ornate wat. 

Dinner - Wat's first dinner guests in 12 months and delicious. Some produce from his own farm 20 km away. Noi's friend and a happy enthusiastic man, so accommodating. The ambience wonderful. The river, clear starry sky, the lights of Houay Xai a few hundred metres across the river and soft flute music. Houay Xai has grown rapidly in the last five years since electricity from Thailand became available.

After-dinner strolls, "hot" showers and beds!

 

Picture

The Pak Ou Cave on the banks of the Mekong near Luang Prabang

Picture

Royal Palace Luang Prabang

Memories from Laos

For GO BUSH Thai-Lao travellers one troubling issue,

Was just how many uses can be found for a toilet tissue.

The Challenge of Ecotourism

In the past, small groups of people visited the hill tribe villages.  In groups of one or two, they would walk into the village, carrying their own bags. They would stay in the village for a few days and live, work and play with the villagers while they were there.  The stay was an exchange between two groups; villagers would learn about other areas in Thailand or other countries, while the tourist would learn about hill tribe village life.  Now tourists go to a village in large groups, arriving in minivans or buses.  They stay in the village about 20 minutes, walk around the village, peer into people's houses, take photos and then leave.  There is no exchange between the villagers and the tourists. The villagers rarely profit from the visit.  They feel exploited and unhappy with this situation, but they can see the potential of tourists visiting their village. 

From the Hill Area Development Foundation stating the dilemma of ecotourism

 

Day 9

Thursday, 19 January

Chiang Khong to Pak Beng

Sharan Daly

Unfortunately this wonderful day on the Mekong River through some really wild and grand scenery was presented in the original diary as a hand drawn strip map which can't be reproduced here.

 

Day 10

Thursday, 20 January

Pak Beng to Luang Prabang

Heather Brimblecombe

This day's diary also depicts the highlights in a strip map form not reproduced here. It noted highlights observed each side of the boat as it rushed down the Mekong River through rapids and continuing the 300 kilometre journey between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang during which the Mekong River dropped 400 metres in elevation. The mountains towing on either side of the river became less deciduous and it was notable that more limestone scenery was apparent. We stopped at lunch-time to visit the captain's village and to eat lunch with his family in his home before resuming our grand. As we got closer to Luang Prabang many more buffaloes were observed and the percentage of the roiverside banks below flood level which was utilized for cultivation progressively increased. It is a journey to be savoured and which will be long remembered. We stopped outside Pak Ou caves and made a foray through these famous cave temples. Finally we journey which ended this wonderful voyage with a spectacular sunset as we reached Luang Prabang.

 

Day 11

Thursday, 18 January

Luang Prabang - Temples & History

Mavis Clements

This day was presented in the diary as a mind map which can't be reproduced here. It describes the activities for the day which included visits to a number of wonderful temples and an unforgetable visit to the Royal Palace Museum with its priceless treasures. We also visited a nearby village to observe weaving.

Luang Prabang is a small but wonderful exciting city. We watched the sunset from the temple in the centre of the city atop Mt Phousi and ate a wondeul dinner beside the river.

 

Day 12

Monday, 22 January

Luang Prabang to Vientiane

George Haddock and Mari Finter

A misty morning in Luang Prabang. Could not see Phousi at all. Children flying kites, many tuk-tuks. Some went early to the Morning Market where mostly women vendors displayed wares on palm leaves/mats on the ground. Wonderful freshness and variety - including small creatures both feathered and furred for sale. Luang Prabang has grown rapidly in the last six years. In 1995 Wat, our Thai guide, had inspected all the hotels for tourism purposes - there were five. Now there are over 200.

Our guide (pronounced a bit like 'come pu-weh') is second in charge of the Planning Unit, Micro-Projects Luang Prabang II, Lao-European Co-operation. After breakfast (both Lao and European), we travelled with him to the village of Naouan, which was moved 20 kms from the waterfall catchment area in 1995, together with two other villages.

The people of Naouan are Blue Hmong, one of 68 ethnic minority groups in Lao PDR. As we arrived we saw some women, several dressed in traditional black blouses with blue borders, creating exquisite hand-embroidered articles. We were assured the village is practically self-sufficient, with each family having its own land for cultivation and both upland and paddy rice being grown. We were privileged to enter one of their houses. These are built on the ground, with a separate family bedroom, cooking fire in the centre, and a guest bed platform next to the raised rice storage area. Much rice is lost to rodents, which in turn are eaten by the Hmong. Seeds and foodstuffs needing to be kept are hung above and around the fire. There is now a school in the village. Children and many young adults wear mostly western clothing, with traditional garb used only for festivals.

On the way to the next village we passed very dusty teak and mulberry stands. The Project provides seeds and advice to the farmers, who do the planting. The ground is thick with leaf debris from the deciduous teak. Many varieties of beautiful paper products are produced from the mulberry trees.

Ban Nonsaath, 30kms from Luang Prabang, is another relocated village (pop. approx. 300) and home to the Lao Theung people, the former 'slave' class. Homes are on stilts with bamboo weave or vertical slab walls and a thatched roof. The Project has arranged training in weaving, which has not been part of this people's culture. Credits are given for woven articles as part of a scheme entitled "Food for Work". Children currently walk a long way to school, but construction of a one room school in the village was begun in December 2000. Materials and labour must come from the village, and the government will provide a teacher on completion. It will accommodate Grades 1 and 2 for children aged 6 and 7.

We passed the third relocated village without stopping. This appeared to be more prosperous, being located on a broad valley floor with more fertile land - limestone country. There was a district clinic and shops.

Next came Banoe, a Lao village (pop. approx. 400) and part of the Project. There is potential for cotton growing in the area, and we saw women working at cotton ginning, spinning and weaving. Banoe also produces cotton wadding for quilts. This is back-breaking work, with the woman standing stooped over the rectangular form using a circular 'paddle' to smooth and compact the cotton. One quilt takes three days, and sells for K180,000 ($42 approx). Near one end of the village there is a large, square concrete water tank built by Americans under the former government. This had fallen into disuse and has since been repaired by the Project. It is gravity fed from the waterfall via a concrete aqueduct and natural watercourses. Housing here is an intriguing mix of poor huts and newer, more prosperous homes. We were told that as old huts either burn down or fall into disuse due to a death, people now can afford to build a much better new home.

And so to Kouangsy Waterfall. The walk through the damp, beautiful forest to the falls was balm. There were many limestone tufa formations along the way to the main falls. Some divested footgear to cool off in the slightly opaque, pale green water. FL was the only swimmer, however. Our guide provided lunch in the spacious picnic grounds: two varieties of sausage, chicken, green papaya salad, chili paste and sticky rice, followed by bananas, papaya and coconut sticky rice balls with banana centres - a Luang Prabang specialty.

After collecting our luggage from the lovely Xieng Mouane Guest House, and visiting yesterday's lunch café to search for John's missing pocket knife - without luck - we checked in at Luang Prabang airport for the last flight of the day to Vientiane. This was a splendid little 17 seater with extensive black burn marks down both engines. And behold-and-lo, while we had tea and waited for take-off, John found his pocket knife.

Scenery on the way to Vientiane was spectacular: jagged peaks, a huge dam, paddies, irrigation channels and small villages, giving way to the flat land round Vientiane. After settling into our hotel, we enjoyed yet another different and delicious dinner at the Fun to Eat restaurant run by Tchim Vardee, (another friend of Noi's).

The last night of an amazing and totally unforgettable holiday.

Thank you, John and Sharan, and all our wonderful, generous guides.

 

 

Day 13

Tuesday, 23 January

Vientiane & our Flight Home

Fearless Leader

The day began with a morning deluge which some managed to sleep through.

Those who then didn't get up with the birds to go for Australian early morning stroll through Vientiane in search of morning victuals, ended up eating with the birds (both in the aviary and one loose but unable to fly with its clipped wings). The table service would make Manuel of Fawlty Towers seem top class as we ate what we were served but not what we had asked for.

The trip to Vientiane airport was much more eventful than we had anticipated. Jim decided on a deviation which took us past the Asian Arc d'Triumph, a symbol of French colonization and at the same time a symbol of France's many military and colonial disasters particularly in this part of the world.

Then it was continue on Pha That Luang (Great Sacred Reliquary or Great Stupa). Here after a quick circle and an anxious look at the time we were given enough time to jump out for a shutter marathon in five minutes before embussing again and heading off.   

Picture

Of the great sight of Vientiane we ticked off quite a few in our short trip to the airport. On the way to the airport and even at the airport we were perplexed by the number of red flags flying with the hammer and sickle. The old national flag of the USSR seems to have become a symbol of the communist party and the workers in this communist and one party nation. It was then Australian irony that we had to pay our departure tax not in Lao kip but in good old fashioned greenbacks ONLY ($US10).

The flight to Bangkok on Thai Air was memorable only for being served a belated breakfast snack with French wine of course. Another feature of note was the salvaging of the orchids pinned in the Royal Orchid Class seats. These were worn by all the women by were to land Robin in trouble later on with a sniffer dog at Sydney Airport.

Then at Bangkok farewells were said with Janette, Richard and Jean and Barbara and Heather who were all to leave us here. However, almost immediately afterwards there was a joyous reunion with Janette who joined us with the Rest team of Dume and Nichole for our last sojourn in Thailand - a trip out to Ko Kret. This is an island formed by digging a large canal through a bend of the Chayo Praha, Thailand's biggest river (apart from the Mekong which really belongs to Laos) in 1722.

We are agreed that except for addicted shoppers Bangkok airport is not a great place to wait longer than necessary. Thus the program offered by REST was welcome. Nobody else would have come up with such a pleasant and enjoyable option so close to the airport and yet something which is so uniquely traditional Thai.

Ko Kret is famous for several things:

It has a large population of Mon people and monks still recite prayers in the Mon language at Wat Pak Ao.

The Mon people are great potters and their pots are famous throughout Thailand. This was appreciated by our group as they embarked on their penultimate shopping splurge prior to arriving home.

The other most outstanding feature is that this island has no motor vehicles on it. ItWarning - unknown option: add-xml-space tidy: can't open file "yes" was a pleasant relief from the traffic chaos on the other side of the water.

We had the most generous and satisfying final lunch after which we made our way back to Don Muang Airport and the tediousness of waiting before boarding a packed Boeing 777 for Sydney where the aforesaid sniffer dog was waiting to intercept Robin who had stashed her complimentary orchid in he hand luggage. It wasn't a prohibited import but it sent the dog into a frenzy and occasioned emptying everything out of the bag.


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