dec 2012: minority tribes

soppong is more like a drive-through town, whatever you see along the road is more or less what you get.

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but if you’re up for walking some miles (sometimes uphill), or if you rent a bicycle/motortaxi, you could get to some neighbouring villages and visit the minority tribes. a sample of the roads you’d be walking on –

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here i got to nong tong, where the parish was preparing for christmas…

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enjoy some views along the way!

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isn’t this plant lovely? i can’t tell where the leaves end and the flowers begin! such a very lovely vibrant colour though.

and i reached the next village, where i bought biscuits from a negligible snack shack and shared them with the villagers seating around.

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my thai was far too limited to communicate, but for some odd reason they could speak some words of mandarin. this is nowhere near the chinese border, but at the thai-burmese border – how? chinese missionary groups? there were actually more people sitting around, mostly men playing cards. i wondered where all the women were. were they resting in the huts, or out in the fields while the men gambled? (my feminist sensibilities were buzzing, but there were no answers to be had because we didn’t understand each other.)

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dec 2012: teak log coffins

i always thought things i watch on the discovery travel and living channel to be a bit out of reach, and so, i was pleasantly surprised to come across the ancient teak log coffins while exploring soppong. it’s like finally seeing with your own eyes what you thought you’d only see on tv. it’s just as well i have a bit of a morbid fascination with death and paraphernalia, so this was actually exciting for me.

here’s one you’ll see if you explore the tham lod caves

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given the rather atmospheric dim lighting from the gas lamp, i was actually quite pleased that there were no remains to see – am a coward at heart. relooking at these photographs, im mildly worried that the flash from my camera may have caused light damage to the delicate wood – oops. i now comfort myself by showing you more photographs of coffins that indicate the teak wood is a lot hardier than i give them credit for. you do not have to go all the way to tham lod to see the teak log coffins, there are a couple in soppong itself.

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there’s a fellow traveller i met who pointed out the coffin to me, which is on the upper-right of the photograph. a closer look below if you are interested…
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given that these coffins are estimated to be more than 1200 years old, it’s amazing that they still exist. i speak particularly about the ones in soppong – weathered by the elements for centuries but still staying strong. little is known about them, but here is an article by karen coates for further reading if you are interested. the answers regarding who once inhabited these lands remain elusive, but the article sheds light on the difficulty of research (and how taking samples from the wood for research are unfortunately distressing for the spiritually-inclined villagers).

dec 2012: tham lod caves

it was sunday morning, and i sat in at a church service in soppong

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after, i wandered off to the marketplace to find a motor-taxi who might take me to the tham lod caves. i couldn’t tell which bikes were for hire, so i tapped a lady on the shoulder to ask whether she knew where the motor-taxi uncles were. she offered to take me because it was her day off, and she wanted to practice her English.

say hello to jamsai!

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off to tham lod on her bike it is. locals could go in for free, but you know how locals hardly ever visit the major tourist sites close to them. she’d only been in the caves once, many years ago, so i persuaded her to join me. during the cave-walks, she taught me thai, while i helped her with english, a win-win situation! (i am ashamed to say i have since forgotten most of what she taught me.)

entrance to the cave

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and my guide with a gas lamp, which i’d only ever read about in storybooks!

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our mode of transport were bamboo rafts

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this is the rocky/packed soil-like surface we walked on (sorry, im sure a geographer would do a far better job at describing these photos)

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and here’s what you’ll find inside the caves. these rocks here have been nicknamed ‘crocodile’ and ‘ice-cream cone’, for obvious reasons.

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back then i was too bewildered to learn much, but looking at these photographs again makes me want to read up about cave systems to understand what it is we marvel at. that’s a lot of reading and research projects i have for myself!

dec 2012: staying at the soppong river inn

i stayed at the soppong river inn for several nights, in the bamboo room. the bamboo room is the cheapest ensuite room they have, though they do have a cheaper stand-alone hut (lahu room) with no attached washroom.

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(random paperweight at the dining area)

to be honest, much of the view is obscured by foliage, but here’s the lang river (mae lang), which you can enjoy from the common area on an overhanging balcony.

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you can even wade in the river via a small set of steps overgrown with moss and weeds

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i liked the peace and quiet the place afforded, and spent the evenings watching sunsets

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and the nights reading ray bradbury’s fahrenheit 451.

the staff members were incredibly sweet to me, and aum, the caretaker/manager of the place, looked out specially for me because i was travelling alone. i spent one night away in pai because i missed the public bus between pai and soppong (there are only two a day that go from chiang mai all the way to mae hong son via route 1095), and when i finally returned the next afternoon, aum came up to me, held my hands, and told me how worried she was when i didn’t turn up the day before. i was incredibly touched; she didn’t need to care, and i was surprised she noticed.

on my last day, aum insisted on sending me to the bus station to take the mini bus back to chiang mai. we took her scooter for the short distance of, what, 200m? with her half sitting on the seat and on my little suitcase. it was a bit of preferential treatment, and another couple that checked out that same morning watched us arrive at the bus station a little incredulously.

this was service like none other, and soppong river inn deserves all the good reviews they get for this personal touch.

dec 2012: day-tripping with two geographers

i became more emotional than i expected in the previous post; i guess i will blog about Pai as a distraction.

Thailand was my first proper solo trip (the ones before being more like weekend jaunts out of London), and God up there decided to send friends. i ran into edwin and esther at the arcade bus station in chiang mai, and we were headed for different villages up the same route. we made plans to meet up for a day trip.

i popped over to pai via a songthaew. i highly recommend taking motion sickness pills as i spent a good two hours trying not to heave at the lady opposite me.

EE rented a car for the day so that we could explore the natural wonders of pai (read: geog majors geeks)

first stop: the pambok/pembok waterfall

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there was this rickety bridge that i felt rather doubtful about

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until i saw a huge man walking across it. looked sturdy enough! i was a little bummed about not bringing a change of clothes (no, skinny-dipping is really not for me..) so i could only wade about knee-deep.

next stop: the pai land split. we stumbled across a wooden board advertising it, and because these are geographers we are talking about, of course we had to take a look.

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the crack in the land was about 10-11m deep, about 3-5m wide, probably the result of a very minor, localized earthquake (this is hilly terrain after all). the split is set to get even wider due to soil erosion from rainfall etc. possible solution to restore it to arable land: the back-breaking work of filling the split up with surrounding soil, essentially levelling the land, which gets harder every year as more soil gets eroded by rain etc. so this enterprising farmer turned his soy plantation into a hibiscus and roselle drink + jam stall, visited by tourists enroute to and fro the waterfalls.

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a view of pai from what felt like the middle of nowhere.

anyway, this was the reason my day trip turned into an overnight stay at pai –

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i missed my bus because we didn’t factor in time for such! heh heh except for the fact that i had no change of clothes for that evening, this experience of driving at a stately speed behind strolling elephants is remarkable so no complaints there.

and thus starry night back at the resort it was, and i woke in the morning to a beautiful view of padi fields

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im still grateful to EE for adopting me and spending such a fun and educational day with me!

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(they’re getting married soon!)

starry night over a padi field

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the more loving one, by w.h. auden

reading this poem made me think of the crisp, clear night when i saw so many stars in the endless tapestry of the night sky over Pai.

it was a coincidence – i crashed overnight at the Pai hotspring resort, in the hut/villa of friends whom i ran into. it happened because i missed the bus to Soppong (only 2 a day). their hut overlooked a padi field and offered a completely unobstructed view of the sky. i think about that night sky frequently, and how I’d love to return to that spot to stargaze with a lover.

i suppose it is true, as stanza 3 suggests, that we never realise what we are missing out on until we do. living in Singapore, where light pollution levels are one of the worst in the world, stars are a luxury we can only enjoy when we leave the country to visit the countryside in another. most of the time, we make do without. we have the beautiful moon to gaze at, and it was indeed beautiful on mid-autumn night. yet, how many of us took the time to enjoy the sight, instead of rushing off to do whatever it is we busy ourselves with?

and thus i find myself disagreeing with the persona in stanza 4, where he finds the total darkness of the ’empty sky’ sublime. there is a grandeur in the shadows and in darkness, but i suspect many of us would not notice the difference.

* * *
[failed, unintelligent, lazy attempt at ‘reader-response’]

i know, i am missing the more obvious point about [not] having an object to love that the poet seems to be lamenting. getting used to that, accepting that, is presented as a rational solution to unrequited love. i disagree with that sickening seemingly self-imposed self-sacrifice that the persona exerts on himself.

perhaps i dislike it only because the opening lines seem to describe my post break-up state only too well: “the stars…for all they care, i can go to hell”. it does feel that way, when one is cut off so abruptly and so cruelly from your beloved; when, within a month or two, your beloved’s facebook is cleared of all traces of you.

and so, which would you have? would you rather be the indifferent one, and have your beloved suffer as you do, pining for you as you have for him, or would you submit yourself to be “the more loving one”, accepting the way things are stoically, trusting the passage of time to get you used to solitude?

sometimes, i can persuade myself to be that, to wallow in unrequited love and want only the best for him. sometimes, i turn selfish and find myself nowhere near as self-sacrificial as the persona. i want him to hurt the way i have, if only to make it feel more fair, even if it serves no further purpose than having more broken hearts than necessary.