Friday, December 2, 2011

Laos, Golden Triangle, and Hill Tribes

Oops, I mixed up these two blogs! The previous post, about the elephants, orchids, and tigers, was actually Wednesday, Aug 10th. This day was actually before then, on Tuesday, August 9th. Oh, well. Mistake fixed!

The following day was our big trip up north from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai to visit the Golden Triangle, Laos, and hill tribe villages. We were picked up at our hotel around 7:30 in a big van. Our guide, Nam, was a Thai woman who’s English wasn’t quite as good as Chiya’s, but still understandable. Along the way, we stopped at a beautiful hot springs.

Here’s some of the mountains you can see in the north:

And the hot spring:

I bought a really pretty pink dress in that town. I bought a total of three summer dresses in Thailand, all very nice and cheap. The dress I’m wearing in the picture is from Japan, a present from Pastor Toshi and Kumi for my two years of service at the church.

Next we stopped by the famous “white temple,” a very strange, contemporary structure designed more as a tourist attraction than a place of worship, I think. Here’s Mom and me in front:

And here are the hands before the entrance supposedly “reaching up from hell.” That was really creepy.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the inside, but right alongside the pictures of people in modern dress from all nations being flown on magic carpets to meet the Buddha in heaven, were images of spider man, the Hulk, Superman, Neo from the Matrix, even Japanese cartoon characters. Modern-day superheroes painted all over the walls. I asked Nam what that was all about. I assumed it had something to do with “karma” or heroism or something semi-intelligent like that, but she said no, the temple designer simply liked those characters so he included them inside the temple. Talk about irreverent. Who could possibly take their religion seriously when they’ve got anpan man (red bean paste bread man), Snoopy, and violent video game characters right alongside Buddha, who preached against violence and worldliness? They were still working on the mural too. It’ll be a sight to see when it’s finished.

Even creepier was the full-sized figure of a monk meditating in the middle of the temple in front of the Buddha statue. He looked like a real man, right down to the wrinkles in his skin and robe, but he turned out just to be a wax statue. Nearly fooled me!

The creepiness didn’t end there. There were demon heads hanging from all the trees with mossy plants growing from them like hair and beards, and weird statues sticking up from the ground, designed after the creature from Alien and other horror movies:

If they’re trying to freak people out, they got what they wanted!

Of course, if you visit the white temple, you’ve got to visit its golden bathroom. It’s gold on the inside too!

From there we took a river cruise to the golden triangle. Our guide explained that this was a triangle-shaped area of sandbars between Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos in the Mekong River. In the old days, that’s the only place where trader were allowed to buy and sell opium, and since the currencies of the three countries were all different, everyone had to use gold.

“You want opium?” Nam asked. “I can arrange for you. You buy drug, then get free stay in jail. Good deal, no?”

The river is also a major form of transportation. Boats can sail down it from as far away as China, and we saw some bearing the red five-star flag. We passed a lot of casinos, fancy hotels, and famous residences. Here’s some photos:

We finally got off at Laos. The difference in wealth was immediately obvious, even more striking than when you cross over from the United States into Mexico. In contrast to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy, extremely consumerist, tourist, capitalist society, Laos is communist, and it shows.

As soon as we arrived, some of the children got onto the boat, road it for a few seconds, and then jumped off to swim back to the pier, probably the only fun they ever got. But most immediately started begging for money. I gave them each a little something, and then said, “photo, photo!” Even though they spoke little English, they sure knew that word!

Some more pictures:

Sorry my finger’s partly in the way of this one:

Apparently we were in one of the richest parts of the country too, right on the boarder with Thailand, one of the few areas allowed to sell products to tourists. The big attraction in Laos is the super cheap fake name brand goods, but Mom and I weren’t interested in that, so we went for about a twenty minute walk, since we only had thirty minutes in Laos. Here’s what we saw.

Mother and daughter shrimp fishing:

Kids watching over their cattle:

Some huts for who knows what:

Mom and I wondered if the proper adjective for everything from Laos was “Lousy.” We joked about that for awhile. Laos sure does have a “Lousy” economy. Here are some “Lousy” ducks:

Here’s “Lousy” snake whiskey. Yes, that’s a real cobra biting its own tail, and “Lousy” doctors prescribe that you drink a small cup twice a day before meals to cure “rheumatism, lumbago, and sweat of limbs.” It’s supposed to make you stronger too.

Nam told us the proper term is “Laotian,” not to be confused with the term “Laodicean” used to describe the church in the city of Laodicea in the New Testament. I sure hope things improve for the Laotians.

After that, we had a nice buffet lunch, then headed to a bustling market street on the boarder of Myanmar (former Burma) and Thailand.

Here’s a strange sight in front of a modern clock shop:

Ethnic dolls from the hill tribe peoples:

Woman with an umbrella hat:

Mom and me in front of the border crossing:

We didn’t cross, because that would have cost 500 Baht, or about $16.21 per person. It also takes time off your Thailand VISA because Thailand and Burma have never been on the best of terms. It’s like how India cuts your time in India or denies you all together if you’ve been to Pakistan or have relatives in Pakistan or any connection with Pakistan whatsoever. Israel does that for some places too.

Here’s a peak at Myanmar:

Next, we stopped by some of the hill tribe villages. I felt like we had stepped into a national geographic special:

The bridge into the long neck and long eared villages. Quite wobbly!

Some pictures of the long neck ladies and their weaving:

These were a nomadic or aboriginal people (many of them Christian) who got kicked out of Myanmar, much like the Myanmar refugees I now teach in Oklahoma. At first Thailand didn’t want them either, but now they’re making quite a pretty penny from tourists as a novelty, so the Thai “let them stay.” But they don’t have any legal rights and none of them are allowed citizen cards, even those who were born in Thailand to families who have been living there for a few generations.

We asked why they put those long brass coils around their necks. Some suspect it used to be to protect from tiger bites. Others think it’s just considered beautiful. It looks awfully painful. Some think it’s a symbol of “women’s oppression,” since only women wear them, but in recent years it’s actually helped their status. While the men are out working in the fields (or in many cases are unemployed), the women make scarves and other weavings and look beautiful and exotic for the tourists, bringing in most of the village income. So women are more valued in their culture than ever before. Kind of strange how that works.

Here’s a “long-eared” woman. The tribes are related, but not the same:

Here’s a little tribal girl who hasn’t started wearing the bronze coil yet:

We stopped by a little store on the way back and bought some dried papaya. It was OK, not nearly as good as the kind from the Philippines I bought while I was in the airport there last year. But the chocolate and sesame coconut was really good!

Then we had the long drive back to Chiang Mai and arrived at our hotel about 9:00pm. What a wonderful day!


Rich said...

Wonderful to see your picture and words again, Laura. It feels like a long time, and that's because it has been. I'm not sure why. I'm just only able to concentrate on so many things at once, and with you so far away, it's easy to delay, then eventually forget what I am forgetting.

Well, you're much further away in Thailand than you are in Oklahoma, but still it feels like a world away.

I have some knowledge of Laotian hill tribes. Not too much. I dated a Hmong girl back in college. Born in the U.S. Quite beautiful. Did you meet any Hmong? Also, years later I met a man at a Bible study who had lived in Myanmar as an aid worker with Heroes Serving Humanity (IIRC)
I found this link:

The Burmese are exceptionally genocidal to many of their minorities, from what I understand.

I will talk to you again sometime soon, I hope.

L.J. Popp said...

Hi, Richard! I didn't meet any Hmong, but it's very interesting that you mentioned Myanmar/Burma, because I am back in Tulsa now, and volunteering to teach English to a bunch of Burmese refugees escaping the very genocide you mentioned! They are Christian from the Zoe tribe. Very wonderful people!

VITS said...

Wonderful to see your blog picture.
golden triangle