Photos from the Shoebox: Northern Thailand 1991
If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.
In the 1990’s Thailand was on top of the list of places to see in Southeast Asia. It was the perfect place to go for adventure if you were young and had a shoestring budget. Going north to Chiang Mai to do a hill tribe trek was on the circuit of most travellers.
I joined a group of 8 other 20-something travellers from other parts of the world. We all jumped in a jeep from Chiang Mai and drove 2 hours on dirt road past rolling jungle hills until we reached the start of our trek. After a good hike we arrived just outside a Meo village in an elephant camp for our first night stay in a rather dilapidated hut.
Our second-in-command Nui (right), we dubbed “Rambo”, thought of himself as a Casanova and tried to pick up all the girls in our group. As one of the girls in our group said, “He doesn’t have a heart – he has a groin.” In an act of bravado he strutted around with a live chicken then proceeded to kill, defeather, gut and chop it up for our dinner which I have to say was rather rubbery.
The roosters got everyone up early the next morning. After breakfast we just hung around for a bit and soon heard the elephants coming. They were amazingly silent except for the bells around their necks. It was a sight to see them gracefully emerge from the jungle.
At a Karen village I happened upon a group of girls who seemed to be fascinated by me. The girl in blue spoke the tiniest bit of English. They allowed me to take a few pictures and in return convinced me to try on one of their native dresses.
It belonged to one of the girls and of course when I put it on it became a mini-dress. I almost couldn’t get it off and I guess my antics gave them all such a good laugh they presented me with two bananas.
Our main guide Sunny got bamboo rafts ready for us for our three-hour trip down river. There were three of us on a raft plus a guide and we had to propel ourselves with poles. To add to the excitement we encountered small rapids and almost sank one of the rafts.
At a Shan village I helped a couple pick out leaves from their fishing nets and in turn they invited me to eat with them. They served me rice and shredded pork, chili paste, fish stew and a vegetable that looked like chilies but weren’t hot. We ate with our hands from the same bowl and I thanked them for their kindness.
The last night of the trip we stayed in the Shan village where we were treated to Thai massages and offered opium to try. Before the trip I had my reservations about what to expect but the four days exploring the countryside, interacting with the villagers and the dynamics within the group made for a fantastic trip.