Day 7 : The Golden Triangle

This morning we woke up overly excited for food. The guesthouse lane leads straight to the main drag that circles the walled city just a few blocks away. Mornings are so extremely peaceful in this country. The air is warm, damp and smells sweet. Birds chirp and motor bikes groan far off in the distance filling the background with constant low rumbles. Lined up along the narrow street are small cafes, stores and bakeries.

The morning of our 2 day adventure. Having a qhick breakfast in Chalie's sister's restaurant.

Yesterday morning Brian and I chose one of the few cafes that were open and walked into the back where we sat under a giant palm plant. While eating breakfast we meet Charlie. A local's local who is maybe in his late 20's –early 30’s. He was average height, thick in build and round in belly. It seemed everyone that walked or drove by the restaurant would crank their head around looking hard for something or someone, then hell in, "Charlieeeee". He could have been the Mayor of Chang Mai for all we knew. Talking our ear off as we ate our breakfast, we found out that his sister owned the place and that he offered informal versions of the Local tour into the Highlands. On a handshake, We took a risk and booked a "tour" with Charlie - We agreed on the price ($35 a person).

The guys before we hit the road in the vehicle of potentisl death.

We will be traveling over 5 hours north. And for 2 days we will spend time in northern Thailand’s highland jungles (near the boarder’s of Laos and Burma). "It’s what I do. No problem… Let’s see with five of you…" Charlie paused, eyes looking up at the vine and tapestry ceiling, “hmmm…what do you want to do... “  This was not a question to us, but more of an internal conversation he was having with himself. “We can go white water rafting, ride elephants in the jungle, bamboo raft. We’ll see some temples, visit Laos and Burma, long boat on the Mekong River, Opium museum in the Golden Triangle and sleep in a long neck tribe village. That is pretty much what the other tours do but we’ll be on our own schedule. Food, transportation, and lodging are included”.  There you have it. That’s how you book a trip in Thailand. No brochure, no contracts, no deposits. Just a handshake for 2 days in the middle of the no-where jungle with a random guy named Charlie who we met having breakfast. 

In the back of at the death truck that spews diesel fumes. You can see the glazed looks starting to set in.
The Market was nothing more than old wood timbers supporting corrugated roof panels. We wandered through the rows of fruits, vegetables, pig heads, slabs of highly salted meats, toys and paper products. Homemade apparatuses made from batteries, trimmer cord and fan parts performed a dance to keep flies away from exposed food items. Well, at least they care about sanitation. A long wooden table sat poised with woven baskets filled with bright red peppers of every variety. You name it, they have it.
We were in the Mae Taeng Valley where a variety of crops grown. It is an attractive contrast of landscapes which makes it a popular spot among trekkers and the best place to witness the best of everyday life in rural Thailand.
We got to take a pit stop along the way at a rural open aired Market. Our first third world market experience. This lively, pungent market almost spills out onto the street. The sights, the smells. Oh the smells.
The deeper back you went, the more intense it became. Buckets, children’s sand pails, of fermenting fish parts lined the back wall. Even if I wanted to, I do not think I can even recall in my mind how bad that smell was. It’s been repressed like a bad car accident possibly involving a port-o-potty truck colliding with a another truck carrying dead things on it’s way to a rendering plant crashing into a fish hatchery. That might, might, do it some justice.
Our fearless leader Charlie in action. Remember it's 10:30 am. Charlie abandoned his co-pilot post and jumped into the back of the truck with us. On our little pit stop, he picked up a provision of his own - some local moonshine. Sato (rice whisky), is a sweetish brew that is hugely popular in rural Thailand. He is already pretty drunk at this point and demonstrating a bamboo ladder the locals use to harvest jungle plants.

We were getting pretty worried out track would be a fail because Charlie was tarting to get pretty drunk. Well, we did get to swim up to the waterfall,  the white-water was no Colorado, but still fun due to the surroundings and the elephant riding was pretty cool because they let us drive. The bamboo rafting was slow and relaxing, until a thousand spiders scattered onto us when the water flushed out their home inside the bamboo tubes.


So during the hike we learned of an old Iowa game called "Feats-of-Strength:: a boy game, created by boys, for boys. The gist is simple; bet. Bet on the abillities (or lack there of) of your friends. Bet on the strength (or lack there of) of your friends. Or just simply bet on who can be dared to do the dumbest things – usually Ryan. The funniest part about betting Ryan’s muscular prowess on feats is that Ryan is the skinniest of the bunch. Bob and Moe, being ex-Iowa football players find it funnier to bet on him then themselves.
First we began our 2 hour hike; a fairly easy trek through the jungle. We passed through small villages where children sat inside lean-to type huts selling bottles of water, bags of chips and candy bars. Chickens ran amuck everywhere and everyone stared gleaming huge customary smiles as we passed. Look, crazy tourists who pay to walk through the jungle
We rounded the corner to a descent little water fall.
Full moon at the waterfall. “Marish, hey Marish take a picture will you?” my back was facing away from them and all I heard was giggling muffled my falling water. I rifled through my bag, grabbed the camera and casually turned towards the falls for a nice picture to send to the Moms. Moms always like nice waterfall pictures.
Bob, pointing to the purple goo, before we realized what it was for...
The trek was nice only because of the setting we were in. Raw jungle and from atop an elephant, no less. It got even better when the driver jumped down and asked me to move from the seat to the top of the neck where he had been sitting. Holy cow; we get to drive? Sweet.
Trekking through the river headed back to the main village.
There were many more Feats-of-Strengths made up along the way, most involving giant bamboo shafts. Bri's bamboo monkey hold is maybe the only one I can post - that kids can see. There are a lot of things boys find funny using big sticks.
Hmm, Charlie is drunk, does anyone know where we are?
A local girl selling snacks from the family hut. A jungle 7-11 of sorts
I was the first to venture into the cold pool below the falls. Cccold, cccold. I got out and gingerly walked across the wet rocks towards my things. I am not sure what it was the guys were dong, but it took them a good while to make it in.
Why again did I chose to be the only girl in this pack? Well, Moms, there’s a picture of your sweet sons, your baby boys, just the way you saw them first.
We love taking Chaco photos. We figure someday we can submit them to Chaco and get free shoes for life. Lets see - "Chacos - made for anywhere". Good? Worth a slogan?
The crew

What started out as a pretty cool experience was changed by the purple goo. What we discovered on our trek was if an elephant misbehaves, or wanders away from the trainer, a whack on the ear, face or leg would teach them. The weapon of choice each trainer carried was a long metal stick with a hook on the end. Hence the small gouges and scabs all over the animals face and legs along with rips in their ear flaps – all over, purple goo. For some reason the elephant ride began to lose its luster for us. And to be honest, we are pretty sure we will never do one again.

Still Day 1: Lunch. Up the steps we went to a tree house style restaurant for one of the most delicious lunches I have ever had. God, Did I say how much I love the food in Thailand - yet? Again? We each had a huge plate of salad, chicken curry, soup, some sort of shrimp stir fry, bread, fresh fruit and fresh squeezed juices. Unbelievably tasty. It was great hanging out there and relaxing for a while, along the banks of the Taeng River.


The bamboo rafting was one of the things on the list we were pretty excited for. Not because it’s an intense adrenaline rush down a raging river, but because it is cultural - real Thailand. A History: The Bamboo rafts have been used down this particular river and others like it for hundreds of years. The raft is a series of bamboo poles, tied together with twine and made into a flat platform-like surfboard of sorts approximately 10 feet long by 4 feet wide.

 There was a pile of rafts stacked along the shore. They did not look like they had been used in a while. Our guide grabbed the first one off the top and dragged it to the water’s edge. We all piled on and filled the boat. 

Spiders began to spill out of the sides of the raft and were headed for anything high enough to get them out of their watery grave. Every second or two we were slapping spiders off our bodies. These were not just tiny every day variety spiders, but 8 leggged monsters of all sizes. Too many to count.

You know the phrase "His eyes were the size of saucers?" Moe's eyes were the size of saucers. And with eyes wide, he pointed at Bob’s foot, mouth as open as it could get. On Bob’s ankle, clinging for dear life, was a black spider so big, it would make National geographic wince. It was so large that its legs disappeared around the sides of his leg, exposing ...only ....body. Bob’s arms started flailing like a rotary fan and it took all of 2 seconds for that spider to hit the river with impressive speed.

Our little group, we were told, would be sleeping as guests in a small Kayan tribe village for the night. The stay in the village was by far the most exciting. Not only because of the experience, but because our guide, Charlie, hammered down 2 bottles of Thai moonshine on the way there. When we arrived it was dark and all we could see were flickering torchlights up in the jungle hills. During dinner Charlie was mildly aggressive and yelling stories at us so immediately after we tried to ditch him by spinning him around in circles then hiding in the dirt pit bathrooms while he barely navigated himself around a tree. And the story doesn't end here.... When he eventually found us in our hut, he ripped the door off its hinges and tried to crawl in bed with Bob. Hahaha hahahaha hahahah. You can't pay for enough for this kind of entertainment. 

Day 2: We woke up to the cool misty morning of the mountains - and watched the villagers set up for the day. Neatly decorated stalls were filled for the villagers to sell their wears. All was better and Charlie made up for his "indiscretions" by making all us breakfast and seeming perfectly fine. How someone can ingest that much grain alcohol and not have a hangover - let alone, not die, is truly impressive.

Getting there and back was also a story to be told. Trapped in the back of a closed in pick-up truck (5 hours each way) ...definitely a first. Light headed, queasy...We are all hoping there are no long term effects from the constant plume of diesel exhaust we have been inhaling.

Here we are unpacking in our hut - our little slice of heaven for a night.
When the sales force opened in full swing we tried, as a group, to spread out and buy at least one thing from each booth. Necklaces, hats, bags blankets and more, all hand made by the tribal villages of the region.
Ryan and HIS betty. A completely different culture, with the large ear piercings .
Our caravan led us next to the infamous Golden Triangle; where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet along the Mekong River. An ever mysterious land, the Golden Triangle still contains remnants of an untamed region fighting for control of the Opium trade.
The boat crew. The long boats are nothing short of a hollowed out log turned speed boat. Sitting not more than inches from the water you race at death-defying speeds.
About 50 yards from the Burmese shore, we made a quick unexpected u-turn. Speed Racer, had a cell phone to his ear and explained to us ever so nonchalantly,like it hapened every day.... “Someone has just shot at one the Governing Generals. We cannot go there”. Needless to say – boarder crossings were closed for the afternoon. Next stop, Laos.
After effects of the shot. Fire fills the throat and my eyes watered with just one sip. Saki mixed with Nail polish remover – that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
The Opium Museum. This was actually pretty cool.... Opium dens sound a lot like the denver bus stations at 3 am.
Wat Luang Temple. This is a temple we stopped at on our way back to Chiang Mai. Peaceful, and just really cool.
Wat Rong Khun. A fantasy ice palace or a frosted wedding cake: whatever your opinion, Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun is certainly unique. Another pit stop along the way back to Chiang Mai.
Us outside. Headed back to Chiang Mai next- and taking a break from the fumes that will eventually make us all sick!
Bob and Moe outside our hut. Needless to say, I had nightmares all night about giant spiders crawling up from the floor boards. Instead, we got chickens. Chickens clucked all night from under the floor boards. It was cold and damp throughout the night. Well before dawn approached the roosters began their morning ritual and no one was sleeping in today.
Brian and his Betty. The red teeth are stains from leaves the ladies chew on. And we thought red wine stains were horrible?!
I do love my hats!
Where Laos, Thailand, and Burma meet. Longboat rides will take you across the river to cross the Laos and Burmese boarders for the day.
Speed racer. As we all climbed in (Brian and I in one boat, Bob Moe and Ryan in another) Brian looked me and said, “Why is our driver wearing a crash helmet? And if he wears one, where the hell are ours”?
Welcome to Laos
Huay Xai, Laos The boarder town in Laos. Laos is very much like Thailand, but pre-tourism and about 100 years ago. Note to self, come back and see the entire country.
The Naga Staircase - Golden triangle
Wat Luang Temple. The grounds of Wat Luang. These temples are 100's of years old.
Wat Rong Khun. Soon to be completed by Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, this Narnia-like temple outside Chiang Rai is festooned with white paint and glass. A bridge representing the passage to Nirvana crosses over a pit of outstretched arms symbolising desire. Observant visitors will spot nail-varnished fingers and a Wolverine claw in the mix. Unbelieveble on the white and then the sun hit it.
I Love love love the teak wood against the white. Thai designers have got it goin' on! Across one wall inside the temple is a beautiful, golden depiction of the Buddha. Opposite is a huge mural representing the greed of the modern world. Petrol-pumps become demons, rising from the smoking remains of the World Trade Center. Star Wars robots, Jabba the Hutt, The Matrix’s Neo, Superman, a sumo wrestler and Converse trainers also appear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *