Thursday 21st December 2000 Day 9


Woke up before the alarm, which was set for 7:00am, to watch another stunning sunrise. It was so peaceful.

Breakfast arrived, and we decided to eat it out on the balcony. It couldn't get any better than this!

The moment was brought to an abrupt end when Julie vomited after lifting the lid on the toilet to see my floating surprise! Ten flushes later, it was still there! It's got to be the vegetarian diet!

Our excursion today also started at 8:30am. We met our guide, not the same one as yesterday, and he said, "So you want tour No.6?" You could sense the apprehension in his voice. We said yes, the one that is described in the brochure as going into "deepest jungle" to see Tad Kuan waterfall.

"Mmm, No.6" he continued, still with unease in his mannerism. At the time we thought he was just a nervous type of person. We got in this luxurious 4x4, a Toyota of some kind, and started our journey.

Within minutes of leaving the hotel we had stopped at the nearby village of Sop Ruak because of a procession of school children. Apparently all the schools in the area were having a day of games and competition today. We were lucky to have caught the parade!

We drove for an hour or so, following the Mekong river south, past Chiang Sien. They were resurfacing the main road, but there was no concept of traffic control. No traffic lights, no cones, no warning signs. Just sticks and stones laid on the road to stop you from driving over the particular stretch they were working on.

The guide and the driver were in deep discussion, turning occasionally to smile at us. He then mentioned the last time they went on this tour. It was back in June during the rainy season. Tour No.6 took them deep into the jungle along dirt tracks, that had become almost rivers, and hillsides that had become mud slides in their path. The final straw was when they came to a swollen river they couldn't cross because the bridge had been swept away! So this is why he was a worried man. In fact, I think Tour No.6 has left him psychologically scarred! We continued further South, onwards towards the mountains near Chiang Kong. We had to go off road to continue, and before we knew it we were going up dirt tracks, deeper into the jungle.

We passed through several mud hut villages. Apparently they were mostly Chinese settlers who had only recently, (about 20 years ago), left neighbouring Laos during its civil war. The guide didn't give them a tribal name, he only referred to them as Chinese.

We stopped and got out at one village, and just walked from one end to the other. It was quite obvious that they were not used to seeing tourists. No one rushed up to us to try and sell us anything, quite the opposite in fact.

They remained doing exactly what they were busy doing, with one eye on what we were doing! Some children did pick up the courage to follow us, but from a distance.

We stopped at the next village, which was larger, and more affluent with the inclusion of a few larger houses, and proper steel shacks instead of the wooden huts of the previous village.

Once again we got out and walked up the main street. A large crowd of uniformed school children walked passed us. They were probably about Hannah's age. We were as much of an attraction as they were to us! They were all saying the same thing, and the guide told us they were saying "So White!" There was I thinking that I was building up a decent tan!

There weren't any men in the villages, apart for the old or the invalid. The rest had gone down to the town for work. We saw pick-ups full of them going down the dirt tracks in opposite direction to us. As we left the village our guide finally cracked and had to voice his concern over what lay ahead. He told us that we could drive for two hours, only to find the bridge hasn't been rebuilt, and we would then have to drive for two hours back. It could be a wasted journey. We allowed him to be the judge of the situation, and he suggested that we have just a morning excursion, and he could take us instead to a Hmong village that was off the beaten track. We agreed.

We returned the way we came, and back onto the main tarmac road. We eventually turned off that road and used the full potential of the 4x4 by climbing up an incredibly steep slope towards the village. We stopped with only a couple hundred yards to go, and walked the rest. It was a perfect vantage point with stunning views over to Laos.

As we walked into the village, a group of women and children were gathered in the shade. They greeted us with warm smiles, but the children were just staring at us!

They were shocked by our presence. The guide later told us that we were the first white people they'd seen in over six months! (Although the presence of a blond haired little boy suggested that they weren't as western-shy as he suggested!)

It however did make us feel privileged to have experienced it.

The guide took use around the village showing us the rice warehouse, on stilts to keep the rats out. Rows of tobacco leaves drying in the sun. A lady making roofing tiles from other leaves.

She said she would make on average 20 of those 5tfx2ft tiles a day, and would get 5 Baht each. Working seven days a week she would make 700 Baht, which is only £11.50 a week.

All the children were inquisitive.

Peeping from behind walls, following us from a safe distance. Running away from us if we turned to look at them!

We reached the highest point of the village where bizarrely they had what looked like a church, and a basketball pitch!

As we walked around we stumbled across someone selling sweets, so we bought a whole bag full of mints. Similar to Fox's Glacier Mints, but not.

We tried to give them to the children, who by now had built up the courage to be seen by us, but they wouldn't take any from us. Eventually, after the guide started to give some out, they became comfortable enough to take sweets from us!

One little girl was hiding her face behind a post, and was far too shy to come out! When she did, and Julie gave her a mint, it was such a wonderful moment.

Out of all of them, she was the one who then followed us down the hill. We'd made a friend!

I hope these areas remain isolated, and untouched by tourism. I hope they don't see another westerner for another six months!

The children we met yesterday had us holding bananas at 10 Baht each before we knew what has hit us. The children we met today were so sincere in their reaction to us, and to make them smile was very rewarding.

By the time we returned to the shaded area at the village entrance there was a soldier waiting for us! After a deep gulp, our guide slipped back into his jelly mould and composed himself to speak to him. Apparently he was a member of the Black Army or Tak Army? I wasn't really listening properly. I was too busy seeing if he had a gun! It was definitely not the Thai national army, but a local militia. They are however a proper army like any other. He was dressed in camouflage with huge black boots. Perfect place to hide a bowie knife! We learnt that the rest of his mates were on manoeuvres up in the forests above the village, and they'd spotted our arrival into the village. He was sent down to investigate.

Our guide took this moment to disappear to the toilet! Leaving us alone with the guerrilla! I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't slightly worried, but by now I knew he wasn't carrying a gun, and he was in fact a happy smiling soldier. I can't remember whether or not we shook hands, but once we made eye contact and smiled, I felt more at ease.

God only knows what was going through Julie's mind though! To be fair our guide returned fairly quickly, and noticed nearby a group of women folding traditional Hmong costumes in readiness for their New Year celebrations. He picked up one of them and wrapped Hannah in one, much to the amusement of the villagers, and the embarrassment of Hannah!

My hand slowly reached for the camera but she immediately said "Don't You DARE take a picture!!" Which was a shame because it was definitely a Kodak moment! Especially will the smiling soldier in the background!

We left the village waving cheerfully hiding our relief. We had just experienced something different!

By 12:30pm we had returned to the hotel. We decided to have lunch at the restaurant, and not from our lunch boxes. Yesterday's weren't particularly appetising! Our guide however followed us into the restaurant with the three boxes. Again he looked worried and flustered as he tried to get us to take the lunch boxes off him. We turned him away, but with hindsight perhaps we should have taken them off him as he'd probably got into trouble with his superiors!

The irony was that Julie had a cheese sandwich for lunch, which was exactly what she had in the lunchbox! Hannah finished her lunch off with yet another White Chocolate Cheesecake.

We still had use of the 4x4, so we had a lift down to the village of Sop Ruak. We were taken to an excellent vantage point to photograph the whole Golden Triangle area.

I'm sure we could have seen China from there, if we knew where to look!

Afterwards we walked up steps, flanked by two multi-headed stone snakes, apparently representing the evil spirits that visited the Buddha during his enlightenment.

The ruins at the top of the climb weren't really worth the effort of getting there. Further down the hill we stopped at a Wat, which housed a golden Buddha statue. It actually looked almost comical!

At the bottom of the hill, was the Opium Museum. I'd read somewhere that it was well worth a visit, but we failed to be entertained by the pictures and the artefacts. It only took us three minutes to walk through the entire collection.

It was housed in only two small rooms, and contained mostly pictures and text describing how they harvested the poppies, produced the opium, and the effect it had on the communities. They did have a few tools and equipment, and opium pipes in glass cabinets, and a few dummies, slumped in a hammock, depicting the zombie-like appearance of an opium addict.

Perhaps if we were more interested in the topic we would have spent longer in the museum, but I doubt it!

At least at the shop attached I did buy some wooden beads for only 15 Baht. Along the roadside, and also the riverside, there were many market stalls set up to tempt the tourists.

We wandered up and down the village and bought another bottle of Mekong rice whisky, and two packets of Cheroots. They were mini cigar-like rolls of very green tobacco leaves. They looked a really rough smoke!

Back to the hotel again by 2:45pm, and a lounge around the pool was in order. We had re-booked our foot massage for 5pm so we only had a few hours. It was extremely calm and relaxing around the pool, apart for the moment when I was shamed into getting wet by joining Hannah and Julie in the shallow end. I only lasted two minutes before complaining about getting water up my nose! What a wimp. If I could swim I'm sure I would probably appreciate swimming pools a bit more!

We spent half an hour packing before it was time for Hannah and I to walk down to the sports club for our foot massage. This time there was no mistake. We sat at reception waiting for our masseurs to arrive, watching two Chinese kids play ping-pong, or table tennis to give it its proper name. I was saved from making a fool of myself after being challenged to a game by one of the players when our masseurs arrived and whisked us downstairs. The English receptionists back at the hotel, had told us that they were both Burmese, and hardly spoke any Thai, let alone English! One masseur must hardly of been 5ft tall, whilst the other was larger in all directions. Hannah and I took our sandals off, exposing our sweaty feet and lifted ourselves onto the tables. They were like doctor's couches? I was on the left, and Hannah was on the right. So when we were instructed to lie down, we couldn't see each other. I unexpectedly got the petit masseur, whilst Hannah got the incredible hulk.

The massage began with gentle squeezing of the toes, and the balls of the feet. Then out of the blue she tugged at the toes, making them click. With more oil, the motion became more frantic with increasingly frustrated attempts at ripping my toes off. As her grip slipped, her fingers snapped! Despite the shock of this technique, it in fact felt strangely relaxing. Which was something I couldn't say about the next phase. It could only be described as acupuncture with a blunt wooden instrument. She was trying to skewer me with the end of a wooden spoon! The stick was obviously too blunt to pierce the skin, but that didn't stop her from trying. She worked her way around the foot, and all the toes, taking great care at every pressure point. Both feet were done extensively. The numbness that arrived once the torture had finished was a curious reward. All of a sudden she hopped onto the bed, and I thought to myself "Hang on a minute, I didn't order this!" Of course it didn't develop into anything sexual, she only wanted to get better leverage to crush my ankles and tear my lower calf muscles apart. The wooden instrument had been discarded, and now she was kneading with her hands. I could feel her incredible strength between her fingers. I'm sure she could have squeezed peanuts into butter! She progressed quickly up my legs, hardly stopping at the knees, totally skipping the thighs, and dived straight into my groin. Thoughts of excitement were the furthest from my mind because it bloody hurt! She was applying tremendous pressure where the legs joined the body, stopping any circulation. That numb sensation took over my entire lower half. Then, as she released her vice grip, the blood flooded back into my legs, with quite a rush, which actually did feel really good! But it certainly wasn't worth the agony building up to it. Finally, in tandem, both masseurs clapped their hands and chopped away furiously along our legs for one final flurry of inflicting pain! It was certainly an experience to have said to been given a Thai Foot Massage by a Burmese masseur. Different, and surprisingly relaxing once the pain subsided!

We returned to our room and spent an hour chilling. Hannah even read a book! She started on 'To Kill A Mocking Bird". Phoned home. It was 11:50am in Caergeiliog. I told my mum and dad that Hannah and I were feeling a lot better, and that the jungle wasn't at all hot or humid. It was a healthy environment to recuperate. We spent some time in the cocktail bar before our supper. Julie enjoyed a Gin Fizz, and I had another rice whisky. When we went down to the restaurant the head waitress was very jolly with us. She had the unfortunate name of Sureenporn. She was wonderfully charming and very chatty. She remembered that Hannah and I were vegetarian, and suggested that I could choose almost any meal from the menu. The chef could make the veggie alternative to any dish. She recommended that I should try the King Curry, and who was I to argue? When it arrived it certainly looked impressive. Fit for a King perhaps! It was served in a large clay pot, heated by a small candle beneath it. It was a Green Curry dish and was spectacularly delicious. Julie had Lamb and French Onion soup, and Hannah had pasta. We finished off our last evening with a much-loved White Chocolate Cheesecake each! Au revoir Ban Boran!

We had a few more drinks at the cocktail bar before retiring to our room, where Julie hiccuped her way through watching the film "Patch Adams". We all fell asleep before it finished.

Day 10>>

©Copyright 2000 - 2020