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Elephant Tusks & Bamboo Bongs

THAILAND | Friday, 14 December 2007 | Views [2209]

***DISCLAIMER****
This is not an official beard report, only a pre update due to unforeseen madness, hence you will have to wait for an updated pic on my amazing facial hair.

Alrighty then, where to start where to start. The last 4 days have been many things, but definitely the most insane travel experience I have ever had, and definitely the most amazing. We are currently back in the small town of Mae Sot, where we started our adventure 4 days ago. Here we go, join me and I shall recount to the best of my knowledge what happened:\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>Leaving Mae Sot after lunch, we jumped in the back of a blue toyota pickup for our 5 hour journey over the hills to the even smaller town of um phang. The pickup soon filled up, and it was to be a cramped and tense journey as our possibly drunk driver headed over and around the hairpin curves. Stopping only at the top of a hill for some fried rice, the scenery was rather beautiful as we traveled through gorges and valleys. We arrived late afternoon in town, which was distinctively burmese, due to its proximity with the border. Myanmar Longyi (traditional skirts the men wear) and cheroots (burmese cigars) were everywhere, and me & trish both felt at home after our month spent in burma earlier. This town is famous due to being near Thailands biggest waterfall, apparently the 6th best in the world (who decides this). This town already sees few tourists, but those that \ndo come are here for the falls. This however was not our aim in coming, as we had heard about a secluded hill tribe, seperate from the others, who followed a unique religion, part shamanism, part animism, which was the only one existing in thailand, with a few somewhere still going in burma. We didn't know much about it, only that the village is not always welcome of prying eyes.\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>Being a small town, there were about 5 trekking companies, and after each one we become more and more despondent, it didn't seem like we would be visiting the \u003cspan style\u003d\"font-style:italic\"\>Laetongku\u003c/span\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>  after all. "Impossible, police checks everywhere, cannot get through." "I maybe take you, 10 day trek, OK?" and "No idea, i never go before". It seemed it wasn't going to happen, the area regularly has outbreaks of fighting between the myanmar government and the many local Karen rebel groups, with the Thai soldiers in heavy numbers in case it spills over. As night fell, we were disappointed. With only one place to try, we didn't have high hopes, but fate stepped in. A burmese guide (who turned out to be semi-illegal, just walked over 7 years ago) said it was possible. He had never been to the village with a foreigner before, but he could drive us to the closest village, where we could look for a local guide, and hike in. Even with this uncertainty, we were excited at the prospect, even if remote of going. We agreed to meet him the next morning and see what he could do.\n",1] ); //-->
The last 4 days have been many things, but definitely the most insane travel experience I have ever had, and definitely the most amazing. We are currently back in the small town of Mae Sot, where we started our adventure 4 days ago. Here we go, join me and I shall recount to the best of my knowledge what happened:



Leaving Mae Sot after lunch, we jumped in the back of a blue Toyota pickup for our 5 hour journey over the hills to the even smaller town of um phang. The pickup soon filled up, and it was to be a cramped and tense journey as our possibly drunk driver headed over and around the hairpin curves. Stopping only at the top of a hill for some fried rice, the scenery was rather beautiful as we traveled through gorges and valleys. We arrived late afternoon in town, which was distinctively Burmese, due to its proximity with the border. Myanmar Longyi (traditional skirts the men wear) and cheroots (Burmese cigars) were everywhere, and me & Trish both felt at home after our month spent in Burma earlier. This town is famous due to being near Thailand’s biggest waterfall, apparently the 6th best in the world (who decides this). This town already sees few tourists, but those that do come are here for the falls. This however was not our aim in coming, as we had heard about a secluded hill tribe, separate from the others, who followed a unique religion, part shamanism, part animism, which was the only one existing in Thailand, with a few somewhere still going in Burma. We didn't know much about it, only that the village is not always welcome of prying eyes.



Being a small town, there were about 5 trekking companies, and after each one we become more and more despondent, it didn't seem like we would be visiting the Laetongku

  after all. "Impossible, police checks everywhere, cannot get through." "I maybe take you, 10 day trek, OK?" and "No idea, I never go before". It seemed it wasn't going to happen, the area regularly has outbreaks of fighting between the Myanmar government and the many local Karen rebel groups, with the Thai soldiers in heavy numbers in case it spills over. As night fell, we were disappointed. With only one place to try, we didn't have high hopes, but fate stepped in. A Burmese guide (who turned out to be semi-illegal, just walked over 7 years ago) said it was possible. He had never been to the village with a foreigner before, but he could drive us to the closest village, where we could look for a local guide, and hike in. Even with this uncertainty, we were excited at the prospect, even if remote of going. We agreed to meet him the next morning and see what he could do. \u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>10am the next day, we met johnny, who piled us into another waiting pickup and off we went. Destination, the village of Beung Kleung. The ride soon filled up, this time with colorfully dressed Karen people, who johnny told us were from the refugee camps. There are many camps along the border were burmese have fled the fighting, and after an hours drive we stopped to let the people off, and chatted to some kids. The village held 10000 people, and this was just one of them. After getting back in the car we drove 10 minutes, before being waved down by 3 slightly dishevelled looking teenagers, motioning for me to wind down the window. Halfway there, they shouted "shooting whisky!!??"  "ahhh, sure, why not?" I replied. They ran off and returned with a dirty glass filled with a generous amount of brown liquid. Of course down it went, and actually turned out to be not \nbad. They loved this, and ran off again, to produce two more glasses, one for Trish and one for the driver. After this dutch courage off we went again, and another hour bought us to the village. We hadn't realized just how close it was to Burma; there was a dusty hut with a barrier arm, and there was burma. People from both sides were crossing freely, but johnny said not for us. Within 10 minutes he had found a guide, and we realized we were going, or at least going to try.\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>We set off with Johnny, our local guide and a thai policeman who joined us, we assumed for security. The trek was 6 hours, some of the most gruelling I've done. Over virtually perpendicular mountains, through rivers, all in the blazing heat. Soon it became dark, and with no torch the last hour was dodgy walking. Finally however we reached a hut, which we assumed was the village, and were surprised to find that it had cocacola for sale. Not even the most remote places on the planet are safe! As we walked through the village and encountered more people, we were met with wide eyed stares. Then we came to the biggest surprise, an area with a tv and dvd, complete with about 100 kids watching in in rapture, that is until we arrived. Turns out a school was build by the thai government years ago, and 5 policeman (one who walked with us) live there teaching the kids from the \nvillage and refugee kids how to speak thai. The school was quite impressive, with classrooms, kitchen, garden and a library, the latter which was our quarters, much more salubrious than expected.\n",1] ); //-->



10am the next day, we met Johnny, who piled us into another waiting pickup and off we went. Destination, the village of Beung Kleung. The ride soon filled up, this time with colourfully dressed Karen people, who Johnny told us were from the refugee camps. There are many camps along the border were Burmese have fled the fighting, and after an hours drive we stopped to let the people off, and chatted to some kids. The village held 10000 people, and this was just one of them. After getting back in the car we drove 10 minutes, before being waved down by 3 slightly dishevelled looking teenagers, motioning for me to wind down the window. Halfway there, they shouted "shooting whisky!!??"  "ahhh, sure, why not?" I replied. They ran off and returned with a dirty glass filled with a generous amount of brown liquid. Of course down it went, and actually turned out to be not bad. They loved this, and ran off again, to produce two more glasses, one for Trish and one for the driver. After this dutch courage off we went again, and another hour bought us to the village. We hadn't realized just how close it was to Burma; there was a dusty hut with a barrier arm, and there was Burma. People from both sides were crossing freely, but Johnny said not for us. Within 10 minutes he had found a guide, and we realized we were going, or at least going to try.



We set off with Johnny, our local guide and a Thai policeman who joined us, we assumed for security. The trek was 6 hours, some of the most gruelling I've done. Over virtually perpendicular mountains, through rivers, all in the blazing heat. Soon it became dark, and with no torch the last hour was dodgy walking. Finally however we reached a hut, which we assumed was the village, and were surprised to find that it had coca cola for sale. Not even the most remote places on the planet are safe! As we walked through the village and encountered more people, we were met with wide eyed stares. Then we came to the biggest surprise, an area with a TV and DVD, complete with about 100 kids watching in rapture, that is until we arrived. Turns out a school was build by the Thai government years ago, and 5 policemen (one who walked with us) live there teaching the kids from the village and refugee kids how to speak Thai. The school was quite impressive, with classrooms, kitchen, garden and a library, the latter which was our quarters, much more salubrious than expected. \u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>The next morning we met the other policeman, and had a bit of a tour. Then a bit of good news: There was a wedding happening today, a rare event. And even more, there was a second happening the day after. Our guide proved to be friendly, but this was turning out to be a trip of firsts for him as well, and he was excited to discover this. We went to the wedding at 12, but unfortunately the ceremony was over, but there were still plenty of people around eating. This village is vegetarian, very rare for a hill tribe village, and they also drink no alcohol, also rare. Johnny told us that at other marriages everyone would be roaring drunk by now, so this was very different.. We were handed a mug of bright highlighter green liquid scooped from a giant communal vat. Tasted kind of like koolade, just 100 times sweeter. Next we were ushered to another house, where we were to \nmeet a burmese soldier. Even though he was in thailand, it was apparently quite common for a burmese soldier to cross over. He was there for the wedding, and turned out he was a commander, in charge of 180 troops! A little intimidating, but turned out to be a jolly fellow, with decent english.\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>Next we began asking more questions about the strange religion here, which johnny knew nothing about, and found out there was a separate priesthood who lived 20 minutes away, who were a little odd to say the least. We asked if we could visit, apparently very difficult. We were taken to meet some village elders, who talked with johnny for 20 minutes, asking questions about us. Turned out they were interviewing us to determine if we were mad enough to visit the priests. Having apparently passed the test we were lead down the track and came upon several wooden buildings in a type of complex. Being led into the main building, we were told to follow behind the guide, and came upon 3 dirty men in robes sitting at the foot of the building, surrounded behind by about 10 kinda scary, oman like children. After paying respects, johnny introduced himself, and we were allowed to \nask questions. From what we could gather, they were an offshoot of buddism, and they never leave the temple complex, and never have any interaction with the villagers except for the guides.\n",1] ); //-->



The next morning we met the other policeman, and had a bit of a tour. Then a bit of good news: There was a wedding happening today, a rare event. And even more, there was a second happening the day after. Our guide proved to be friendly, but this was turning out to be a trip of firsts for him as well, and he was excited to discover this. We went to the wedding at 12, but unfortunately the ceremony was over, but there were still plenty of people around eating. This village is vegetarian, very rare for a hill tribe village, and they also drink no alcohol, also rare. Johnny told us that at other marriages everyone would be roaring drunk by now, so this was very different.. We were handed a mug of bright highlighter green liquid scooped from a giant communal vat. Tasted kind of like koolade, just 100 times sweeter. Next we were ushered to another house, where we were to meet a Burmese soldier. Even though he was in Thailand, it was apparently quite common for a Burmese soldier to cross over. He was there for the wedding, and turned out he was a commander, in charge of 180 troops! A little intimidating, but turned out to be a jolly fellow, with decent English.



Next we began asking more questions about the strange religion here, which Johnny knew nothing about and found out there was a separate priesthood who lived 20 minutes away, who were a little odd to say the least. We asked if we could visit, apparently very difficult. We were taken to meet some village elders, who talked with Johnny for 20 minutes, asking questions about us. Turned out they were interviewing us to determine if we were mad enough to visit the priests. Having apparently passed the test we were lead down the track and came upon several wooden buildings in a type of complex. Being led into the main building, we were told to follow behind the guide, and came upon 3 dirty men in robes sitting at the foot of the building, surrounded behind by about 10 kinda scary, omen like children. After paying respects, Johnny introduced himself, and we were allowed to ask questions. From what we could gather, they were an offshoot of Buddhism, and they never leave the temple complex, and never have any interaction with the villagers except for the guides. \u003c/div\>\u003cbr clear\u003d\"all\"\>The children were novices, from the village, had to stay for 6 years, then could choose to leave or stay, if they stay its for life. They were interested in my beard, called me osama bin laden. I asked how they knew who he was, they said they have shortwave radio. I asked about what they worship, and I was taken to a separate altar out the back. Trish wasn't allowed to come, being a woman and all ;p The alter contained two huge ornately carved elephant tusks. I wasn't allowed to get close, but i didn't really want to, the whole thing was creeping me out. After leaving me and trish were both pretty stunned. This shit just keeps getting crazier and crazier.\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>That afternoon we were taken to an amazing tiered waterfall. Huge, with no tourists at all. This place really was amazing. Going back to the village I was invited to play caneball, kind of like volleyball and hackeysack combined. A really fun game, quite challenging, and the locals were bloody awesome. The next day we went to the second wedding, and this time caught it in full flight. Hundreds of people were in attendance, and we soon became the main attraction. Although johnny assured us we could take pictures, we were nervous, feeling the people would be offended. Soon after I took one however, it soon became a fad, people queuing to have the picture taken by the foreigner and to see the results on screen. I put my camera away after a while, not wanting to take the glory away from the wedding couple. The wedding itself was interesting. The bride and groom were kept \nseparate, then a procession with lots of chanting bought them together, then more chanting. We left soon after, as one  of the thai police, who were becoming quite attached to us, due to lack of visitors, wanted to take us to the thai soldier outpost. Up we went and were greeted by the friendly military, and went up to get a panoramic view of burma. You could see the other outpost just down the hill, but apparently the area has been safe for a while now. With promises of more caneball that night from the soldiers, back we went. After the game me and trish spent a few hours recording an english textbook and giving a lesson to one of the teachers for an english lesson for the students. They really wanted us to stay and teach the kids but we had to get back the next day.\n",1] ); //-->


The children were novices, from the village, had to stay for 6 years, then could choose to leave or stay, if they stay its for life. They were interested in my beard, called me Osama bin laden. I asked how they knew who he was; they said they have shortwave radio. I asked about what they worship, and I was taken to a separate altar out the back. Trish wasn't allowed to come, being a woman and all ;p The alter contained two huge ornately carved elephant tusks. I wasn't allowed to get close, but I didn't really want to, the whole thing was creeping me out. After leaving me and Trish were both pretty stunned. This shit just keeps getting crazier and crazier.



That afternoon we were taken to an amazing tiered waterfall. Huge, with no tourists at all. This place really was amazing. Going back to the village I was invited to play cane ball, kind of like volleyball and hackeysack combined. A really fun game, quite challenging, and the locals were bloody awesome. The next day we went to the second wedding, and this time caught it in full flight. Hundreds of people were in attendance, and we soon became the main attraction. Although Johnny assured us we could take pictures, we were nervous, feeling the people would be offended. Soon after I took one however, it soon became a fad, people queuing to have the picture taken by the foreigner and to see the results on screen. I put my camera away after a while, not wanting to take the glory away from the wedding couple. The wedding itself was interesting. The bride and groom were kept separate, then a procession with lots of chanting bought them together, then more chanting. We left soon after, as one of the Thai police, who were becoming quite attached to us, due to lack of visitors, wanted to take us to the Thai soldier outpost. Up we went and were greeted by the friendly military, and went up to get a panoramic view of Burma. You could see the other outpost just down the hill, but apparently the area has been safe for a while now. With promises of more cane ball that night from the soldiers, back we went. After the game me and Trish spent a few hours recording an English textbook and giving a lesson to one of the teachers for an English lesson for the students. They really wanted us to stay and teach the kids but we had to get back the next day. \u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>The third day we left after breakfast and we were surprised that it was quite sad to leave, there was even a tear in the thai soldiers eye. The trek back was much better, as we went by motorbike trail and it only took 4 hours. Arriving back in Um Pang we got a room and tried to digest what had happened. We thought the madness was over. We were wrong.\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>That night Johnny wanted to take us to his family's house. When he turned up he was in good spirits, which we put down to the whisky we could smell on his breath. First he took Trish on the back of his bike, then came back for me. The ride was only 5 minutes, but when he came back for me, he had already downed half a can of chang. Hmmmm. Jumping on we went to his house, which was really nothing more than a bamboo shack, although it was cozy enough. We felt bad for johnny as he was such a nice guy, but he could never be legit in thailand, although things were better for him here than in burma. We met his lovely family and began drinking chang. Soon johnny was quite liquored, and went off into the bush, returning with some bamboo hacked from a plant nearby. He proceeded (with a very large machete) to make a fantastic bong, using mud and candle wax where necessary. Then \nsome thai bush weed was produced, and bowl after bowl was consumed by me and trish, but not by him as he doesn't smoke. Soon we were quite wasted and johnny began rambling madly, in the throes of whisky and beer, about all sorts of madness that i cant really remember. In our stoned state we didnt really know what was happening, and couldn't work out if he was working himself into an anger or just joking. He knocked over a glass which smashed and his wife yelled at him. We decided to get out of there and made our excuses and goodbyes. Outside johnny was determined to take us back on the bike. Not a good idea. We tried to dissuade him but he was a man possessed. Getting a little worried we walked away. Luckily it took him 5 minutes to kickstart his bike, and we were almost home before he caught up with us. Luckily he wasn't pissed off, and seemed to be back to his old self. Completely mad.\n",1] ); //-->



The third day we left after breakfast and we were surprised that it was quite sad to leave, there was even a tear in the Thai soldiers eye. The trek back was much better, as we went by motorbike trail and it only took 4 hours. Arriving back in Um Pang we got a room and tried to digest what had happened. We thought the madness was over. We were wrong.



That night Johnny wanted to take us to his family's house. When he turned up he was in good spirits, which we put down to the whisky we could smell on his breath. First he took Trish on the back of his bike, and then came back for me. The ride was only 5 minutes, but when he came back for me, he had already downed half a can of chang. Hmmmm. Jumping on we went to his house, which was really nothing more than a bamboo shack, although it was cozy enough. We felt bad for Johnny as he was such a nice guy, but he could never be legit in Thailand, although things were better for him here than in Burma. We met his lovely family and began drinking chang. Soon Johnny was quite liquored, and went off into the bush, returning with some bamboo hacked from a plant nearby. He proceeded (with a very large machete) to make a fantastic bong, using mud and candle wax where necessary. Then some Thai bush weed was produced, and bowl after bowl was consumed by me and Trish, but not by him as he doesn't smoke. Soon we were quite wasted and Johnny began rambling madly, in the throes of whisky and beer, about all sorts of madness that I cant really remember. In our stoned state we didn’t really know what was happening, and couldn't work out if he was working himself into an anger or just joking. He knocked over a glass which smashed and his wife yelled at him. We decided to get out of there and made our excuses and goodbyes. Outside Johnny was determined to take us back on the bike. Not a good idea. We tried to dissuade him but he was a man possessed. Getting a little worried we walked away. Luckily it took him 5 minutes to kick-start his bike and we were almost home before he caught up with us. Luckily he wasn't pissed off, and seemed to be back to his old self. Completely mad. \u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>The next morning johnny came round at 7am and rang for a ride back to town for us. No effects of the liquor were showing, kind of adding to our idea he was a wino but he was so damn nice we didn't care. It was another sad goodbye, and another cramped ride back here, to where I write this email.\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>Whoa, this has been long, and it really doesn't do the last four days justice, but i had to share this, as it has been such an amazing and fantastic experience.\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>Hope all is well, stay tuned for the beard report part III\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003cbr\>s.\u003cbr\>-- \u003cbr\>Check out my photos online......Steve French Demands It!!!\u003cbr\>\u003ca href\u003d\"http://community.webshots.com/user/Deralikt\" target\u003d\"_blank\" onclick\u003d\"return top.js.OpenExtLink(window,event,this)\"\>http://community.webshots.com\u003cWBR\>/user/Deralikt\u003c/a\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr\>\u003c/font\>\u003c/blockquote\>\u003c/div\>\u003cbr clear\u003d\"all\"\>\u003chr\>50% of XBOX360, PS2 and Nintendo Wii games. \u003ca href\u003d\"http://g.msn.com/8HMAENAU/2752??PS\u003d47575\" target\u003d\"_blank\" onclick\u003d\"return top.js.OpenExtLink(window,event,this)\"\> Don't miss out the sales!\u003c/a\> \n\n",0] ); D(["ce"]); //-->



The next morning Johnny came round at 7am and rang for a ride back to town for us. No effects of the liquor were showing, kind of adding to our idea he was a wino but he was so damn nice we didn't care. It was another sad goodbye, and another cramped ride back here, to where I write this email.



Whoa, this has been long, and it really doesn't do the last four days justice, but I had to share this, as it has been such an amazing and fantastic experience.

Hope all is well, stay tuned for the beard report part III

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