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One of the fancier huts in Laku Zalah VillageApr. 21-24, 1999 Hill Tribe Trek and Chang Mai, North Thailand

Late afternoon concludes our day long trek and brings us to Laku Zalah Village for the night. Laku Zalah looks to be a pleasant and simple village, as yet unspoiled by either electricity or running water. Homee shows us to our 'guesthouse'. It's a newly built structure, enjoyed in peace by one of the village's more well-to-do families - that is when it's not being shared by the rare appearance of a handful of visiting trekkers like us. We drop off our things and immediately head back outside for a short hike up the hill. Working hard in the fieldsOur intention? To cool off in the nearby waterfalls. It's a bit of a walk in the late afternoon heat, but Homee promises us that we won't be disappointed. Again, he's true to his word. The 30 foot high falls cascade into a beautiful crystal clear pool of inviting mountain water. We strip down to our bathing suits and jump in to join the dozen or so locals already enjoying this refreshing reservoir.

Laura and new friends hoppin down the trailWe've made it about a third of the way back to the village, when four little girls join us and literally 'attach' themselves to Laura. There's a huge language barrier, but it doesn't seem to matter, as each of them grab two fingers of her hands and walk with us happily along the trail. Back in the village, we wait for the sun to set as Homee borrows our host's kitchen to prepare our dinner. Suddenly, the quiet of the dusk is broken by a bit of commotion from around the corner. We peak about to check things out, and see that one of the boys has managed to catch a three foot long lizard, and tie it up to a tree. The whole family seems excited, as Homee explains to us that what's a playmate today, would most likely be an appetizer by tomorrow.

Grinding ginger in a hollowed stump outside the kitchen - for almost every mealNot too surprising, as apparently the Thais are proud to admit to "eating anything and everything on the planet earth, with the possible exception of the planes in the sky, the cars on the ground, and the submarines in the sea". I can only hope that Homee decides to stick to a more traditional choice of ingredients. As we sit cross legged by a small short table, he serves up loads of Thai treats - all made (I trust) only with fresh veggies, lots of ginger, and of course rice. A cheerful, knowledgeable guide AND a great cook - what a bonus!

Laku Zalah VillageA wicked weather front, coming down through the valley, has the wind really starting to kick up around us. Our candles are blowing out every few minutes, and rather than waste all of our matches, we decide it's best to surrender the fight and call it a night. With smiles on our faces and yum-yum in our bellies, we retire inside and do our best to get comfortable in the ultra-thin sleeping bags, neatly spread out upon the bare wooden floor. My memory's not that great, but I'd swear that the night sounds (frogs and crickets) tonight are the loudest that I've ever heard. They quiet only when a tremendous storm rolls in, blowing the strips of cloth nailed up to cover the windows over our heads, in with the pelting rain.

One of the women from the Akha tribe - yes, they really DO wear those headsets every dayStill a tad groggy from last night's sleep deprivation, we're up with the sun (and the roosters) to continue the rest of our journey in a 4 wheel drive. Each twist and turn brings us higher and higher into the Thai hills, and further away from the 'civilization' of the bigger towns. When passing through a village, we'll normally stop and talk for a bit with whoever isn't out working the fields. On one such stop, it was an extended family busy building a new house. And during our last stop, it was a couple with a newborn.

Ferocious dragons guard a Buddhist templeThis stop, it's the village witchdoctor. That's right, the village witchdoctor. A super nice fellow with a big warm smile, he's responsible for keeping the village's religious affairs in order - sort of like a mayor, but with magic potions and sacrificial spears. He invites us up and into his thatched hut on stilts for a chat and quick look around. After some small talk about the weather and the rest of our trip, we exchange the traditional sawasdee, or Thai 'goodbye', and continue on our way.

Just past the checkpoint roadblockThe day is drawing to a close as we pull up to a checkpoint roadblock. Since we're so close to the Burma boarder, we're checked for contraband weapons, warned about possible dangers of being kidnapped by Burmese guerrillas (nine environmentalists were captured and executed last week), and sent along. We stop for the night, just within the shadow of the ridge that separates the two countries, at the village of Banhomag Come. Deep in the heart of what, until recently, was the leading opium producing region of the world, we learn that this small village is receiving more than its share of foreign aid to help it convert the base of its small economy to more stable (and legal) crops.

A big event in any village - the building of a new houseAfter finding a place for the night, and while Homee's cookin' up some eats, we take the opportunity to do a little exploring. For the first time since we left Chang Rai, Laura and I feel like we're really out in the middle of the proverbial 'nowhere'. In fact, seeing someone with white skin is such a rare occurrence for the majority of these villagers, that the children all run away, and the adults gather in groups (at a safe distance at the top of a hill) to just whisper to each other and watch suspiciously as we walk by. I must admit, it's a pretty strange feeling, even for intrepid travelers.

Striking view from over miles of former poppy fieldsBut it's not long before Homee comes to the rescue once again. Over khantoke (a Thai style of dining where bowls of food are prepared and shared by all) on the small porch of our guesthouse that night, he insists we have a little fun by each singing a song. He sets the example by starting out in his best English with, of ALL songs, I Love You More Than I Can Say by Leo Sayer. Laura follows him with Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog. And I round things out with the only song I can remember all the words to right now, Blue Christmas. Not more than two seconds after I've finished, Homee starts to beg us to teach him an 'American fun song'. Sadly, the only one we can come up with under such pressure is 99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall. That's right, the good ol American drivin' song.

Homee in his true form - always a heart felt laughAfter a few verses of careful listening (down to 93 bottles, to be exact), Homee joins in with us. Down around 82 bottles I think to myself how seemingly insane it is to be sitting smack dab in the middle of former poppy fields, occasional border skirmishes just a few kilometers away, eating Pad Prik, and teaching a Thai hill guide to sing 99 Bottles at the top of our lungs - all in our own sort of sort of wacky 'cultural exchange program'. Ain't traveling grand?

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Last modified: July 02, 1999    Photographs and text 1999 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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