Monday, January 23, 2017

These High Green Hills

December 20, 2016

Mick and June joined us for breakfast, then we went our separate ways.  Our day was orchestrated by Untouched Thailand, taking us southwest of the city to Doi Inthanon National Park.  But our first stop of the day was Wiang Kum Kam - from Wikipedia:
 Wiang Kum Kam is an ancient city (Thai: เวียง, wiang, meaning "walled city") located ... around 1.9 mi south of the southeastern corner of Chiang Mai's city centre....built by King Mangrai around the latter part of the 13th century.  The city was established as a new capital by the King after his victory over the Mon people... Due to repeated flooding, a new capital, Chiang Mai, was built a few years later.
The old city was lost from history for many years after Chiang Mai was conquered by the Burmese in 1558. There is a presumption that (Wiang Kum Kam) was seriously flooded... and was finally abandoned.  In 1984... (they) discovered remnants of the old city.
Just a few original stones and bricks were interspersed with new bricks, but the outlines of the original structures are plain to see.  The area didn't seem to get much attention - no entrance fee, and very little in the way of signage.  Much of the ancient city appears to currently be used for worship.  Religious practices in Thailand often combine modern Buddhism or Hinduism with ancient Animism beliefs, such as the worship of spirits.  Animism attributes a soul to objects, so many believe these ancient objects and places have souls or house spirits.

Buddhist statues are often draped in gold fabric
We enjoyed a lovely drive through a part of Thailand we'd never seen - beautiful, big shade trees lined the route through the hills, passing farms and temples and slowly rising in elevation.  In about an hour and a half, we reached our first stop on the lower slopes of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak of the Inthanon range at just over 8400 ft.  The awesome Wichirathan ("Diamond Creek") Falls has a cumulative height of 80 meters, and we took our time viewing it from several  points.  Much of the walking areas were quite slippery from the spray of the falls.  Our guide said the falls are even more magnificent in rainy season, when the flow of water increases dramatically.  Still, I could have enjoyed their "cool season" splendor for hours.

We had lunch across the parking lot from the falls, at a very rustic, outdoor Thai food place.  Our guide ordered for us, and we had much more food than we could eat.  Some of the food was a little "iffy," as my digestion system would later point out, but it was an interesting experience.  The all-male staff was no-nonsense, cooking on huge grills over open fire.

We then visited the Thai Hmong community market, where the local Hmong people plied their wares, mostly fresh and dried fruits, and bottles of fruit juices.  It was such a colorful place, with the beautiful faces and dress of the Hmong.  Many were young mothers with babies strapped to their backs, others were the elders whose faces belied their years of hard work and fresh air.

The colors!

The next stop was just a little lot on the roadside, where we met up with a local guide.  The mountain trek is through their land, and it is the locals who maintain the route. No one is allowed on the trail without paying a local guide for his services, so we had two guides for our walk down the scenic mountainside.

"Do not cast every garbages"
The walk was mostly downhill, but lots of uneven stairs and big drops.  The scenery was lovely and rejuvenating.  It was such a pleasure to be out under a canopy of trees and massive bamboo plants.  All the stairs and bridges are constructed by hand by the locals, and use the wood and bamboo native to the area.  No fancy civil engineering here - just go old fashioned ingenuity.

PVC pipes carry water down the mountain along the trail
We passed other, smaller but equally beautiful waterfalls, walked past rice paddies and through strawberry fields.  This area used to grow poppies almost exclusively, but the former king of Thailand, Rama IX, traveled to the area to educate the people about the negative impact of opium addiction, and helped them to develop new crops appropriate for the climate and terrain.  The poppy industry has not disappeared entirely, but has been greatly diminished.  Now the primary crops are strawberries, coffee and rice.

Strawberry fields forever...
We were lucky enough to have come when the strawberries were being harvested.  A man and woman were hunched over their baskets in the field when we passed, gathering the juicy red fruit.  They had a tarp set up in one corner of the field where they gathered their berries, and we bought a bag fresh from the vine.

We passed coffee plants growing under the shade of larger trees - the beans were not yet ripe, although we did spot a few isolated splotches of bright red.

I think this is a Giant Golden Orb Weaver - one of the biggest
spiders in the world, up to 20 cm across!

Our two-hour trek concluded in Mae Klang Luang, home of the White Karen hill tribe, one of many Karen tribes who immigrated into northern Thailand from Burma.  This tribe is separate from the "long neck" karens, or kayans, who wear brass rings around their necks, making them appear longer than natural.  In actuality, the clavicles are deformed by the rings.  We had the option of visiting the long neck village, but it just didn't feel right - a little too much like a sideshow.

Pictures from friends who visited the "long-neck" Karens village
In Mae Klang Luang, we visited a little hut where coffee was prepared without electricity, using a wood-burning fireplace to heat the water, and a hand grinder to grind the beans.  It smelled lovely, and Tim said it was one of the best cups of coffee he'd ever tasted.  I had a sip, too, just to have the full experience.  The woman preparing the coffee reluctantly posed for a picture, and was not feeling too generous with the smiles.  We bought a bag of beans, and when I spoke to her in Thai, she was suddenly all smiles.

Thankfully, our driver, Frank, met us here, (he's the one grinding the coffee) and we enjoyed a relaxing drive back to the hotel, getting a little taste of rush hour traffic as we came back into the city.  Mick and June joined us in the hotel lounge for drinks and some Chinese checkers.  Tomorrow we would leave Chiang Mai and drive south to the old capital city of Sukhothai.

                                                                Some sights and sounds of Doi Inthanon                                            

(Big thank-you to Tim for his excellent camera work!)