Friday, January 27, 2006

Chiang Saen, Thailand

Chiang Saen is an old walled city that sits on the banks of the Mekong at the point where Laos and Burma meet. It’s a moderately busy riverport whose walls and temples are quaintly overgrown due to a 200 year stint where the town was kept empty as a result of conflict with Burma. It’s a nice place to visit if a bit noisy due to an excess of riverfront karaoke joints. It’s at it’s nicest when the amateur singers are note quite ready for their warbling and you can eat on the promenade where foodstall owners have laid out bamboo mats and low tables on the ground. It’s also barbecue paradise with anything from fish to huge cockroaches being seasoned and put over the coals.

I am not here for the charms of this place though as I am on a mission. I have finally organized my exit from the overtravelled Siamese kingdom. The rumors and recommendations of backpackers have once again shown themselves to be more useful than the travel books and I have found a cabin on cargo boat for China. I will get to see the Golden Triangle from the relative safety of being in the middle of the Mekong. I will not be able to get off the boat until China as I have got no visa for either Laos or Burma. I guess it makes sense to the border guards. Or at least I hope it does.

I will have to wait a while as I was dumb enough to try and catch transport to China 2 days before Chinese New Year. I was very politely informed of my stupidity and after a short flurry of mobile phone calls I was told I could maybe get a ride on the 3rd. Chiang Saen is nice but I am going to return to the Hills form whence I have just come. I have been staying in an Akha Village and enjoying myself thoroughly and, as it’s the only place in Thailand I have had difficulty leaving, I am sort of glad I get to go back.

The Akhas are originally a Tibetan people who moved to Burma before having to up stakes and move to Thailand due to the Burmese government’s enlightened policy of integration by rifle fire. The place I have stayed in is owned by an Akha so it has quelled my anxieties over some of the negative aspects of hill tribe trekking. To be honest I have done little trekking and have just enjoyed taking walks in the immediate area, taking sporadic dips in the pools of a nearby waterfall, getting humiliated at impromptu slingshot contests by the local kids and sitting by the fire with old betel-nut chewing women. Even the walks are made easy as the village dogs come along with you and show the way back. And all this perched on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley dotted with terraced paddies, tea plots and jungle. Life can be harsh when you're on the road.

The village was actually installed there by Apae, the guesthouse owner, as he wanted the kids to go to school despite the best efforts of the Thai state to keep them stateless and without rights (they have only recently given them ID cards). He moved the village to the end of a new road and opened a guesthouse to get some income,. He has been successful and has managed to open a sister guesthouse in a quiet neighborhood of Chiang Rai on the river banks.

The success story stops here though as someone wants to put a 5 star resort on the island opposite Apae’s new place and have started to plot a road that will go straight through the 2 month old guesthouse. As the developers are linked to the Prime minister’s family and he is part of an impoverished minority, the chances of stopping this are slim. A few of us guests did start a petition but I fear it will not do much more than provide a bit of moral support. After a few beers we also cooked up a few plans that involved planting archeologically significant artifacts or protected on the island to put a hold on construction.

Anyway I am going back to the hills for a last bit of peace, quiet and good living.

Take care,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aww that's being well-travelled for you: being humiliated by children in slingshot contests on 2 different continents :) well done :P

Monday, January 30, 2006 9:20:00 AM  

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