Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where few Westerns have gone before

Day 4 in Northern Thailand included a trip that was truly an once-in-a-lifetime experience – visiting Myanmar and Laos
During our first stop, while still in Thailand, Nick conquered yet another of his fears – monkeys.  On the way to the Burmese-Thai border, there is a small area where monkeys roam the mountainside.  There is a monastery there and the monks have fed the monkeys who live there for years, and now anyone can go to the base of the mountain and do the same.  The monkeys are called macaques, and look like monkeys you’ve seen in the zoo – tan fur and pink faces.  They’re fairly tame, and will take bananas right from your hand.

 
  



Nick was incredibly freaked out by them, but decided he had to overcome his fear of a monkey ripping out his throat.  He stuck with giving a banana to a baby, just in case.


Then, on to the Burmese border and the town of Tchileik.  It was a very unique experience walking across a bridge and into an extremely foreign country, one that’s not super keen on Americans, either.  The people in the marketplace, and even the border guards didn’t mind us, but I’m guessing that if the government in Yangoon knew, they wouldn’t be too pleased.  Tchileik itself wasn’t particularly interesting. We walked around the market there, but didn’t find anything too spectacular.  At least nothing that we couldn’t find in China – lots of counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags and sunglasses.  And, several young children tried to sell Nick some fake Viagra and even Cialis.


After finishing in the market, we took a Tuk Tuk (motorbike taxi) up to a village where the women who wear the big brass rings around their necks live (long necks).  I didn’t realize it, but Pamela told us the women are not allowed to leave their village.  The government “takes care” of them, and likewise they cannot leave.  The women were all dressed in beautiful traditional clothing and headdresses.  Once again, I found a toddler or two that I wanted to take with me.
 
  

It’s said that the long necked women don’t really have long necks – it’s just that their shoulders are pushed down extremely low because of the weight of the rings.  I don’t know if I buy that because the 70-year old woman we met looked like her neck was at least twice as long as mine. 

The tale of the long necks said that long ago when tigers frequently roamed the area, there were cases of women who were eaten by tigers because they bit their necks.  So, starting at age 5 the women of the village were to wear the brass rings to stop the tiger bites.

Now, it’s their “choice” of whether or not they want to wear the rings.

As darling as these people were, Nick and I had very mixed feelings about traipsing about their village.  We did buy some of their handicrafts and tickets to enter their village, but we did feel like we were exploiting them a little bit.  The people of Myanmar cannot leave their country; they cannot get passports.  The only way that many of them get out is crossing the river at the border of Thailand (not like crossing the Rio Grande, though – in some places I don’t think the river is more than 50 feet wide and you could wade across). So, I’m hoping that some of the money we spent went into their pockets.

Nick wanted to try Myanmar beer, so our Tuk Tuk driver stopped at a roadside shop and grabbed a can with a straw.  It was not good.

We then made our way to the Golden Triangle – where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet at the mouths of the Mekong and Nam Sai rivers.  And, the former hotbed of opium production. 

We took another short long boat ride over to a small island community in Laos.  The Laotian people are similar to Thais in that they are very sweet and smiling.  Immediately upon setting foot on land, Pamela drug us up to something she said we had to try…

 
 


The Laotians make snake whisky, complete with cobra inside.  We opted to pass on the cobra, tiger penis and chick whisky.  Nick tried turtle whisky and I had a slight taste of ginseng whisky.   Not good.  So, we tried Laos beer and it wasn’t too bad (Thai beer – Singha is quite good).

We walked around the darling outside market that had a bunch of opium and drug-related antiques.  The porcelain tobacco bongs were actually really cool as were some of their purses and bags.  I had to drag myself away.

After crossing back into Thailand, we stopped in the Hall of Opium to learn all about the agriculture of poppies and making opium.  It was good for 10-minutes and then I was bored.

Back to our hotel and another amazing, amazing day.

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