Probably the highlight of our trek through northern Thailand was the time we spent in the small, remote villages. The first day of trekking ended in a Lahu village. We arrived to a welcome from many different types of livestock and the smiles of many local children who were eager to take us swimming in the river. We welcomed the swim as we were dirty and hot from a full day of hiking through the jungle. As you can imagine, the water was cold being in the mountains, but was very refreshing indeed!
We spent the night in the kitchen hut that belonged to the chief of the village. The chief was 33 years old and had been already married for 20 years! A seasoned veteran. The kitchen consisted on a large open room with a bamboo floor. There was a fire / coking area in the middle of our hut, which made it quite smoky, but the smells of dinner were fantastic. After dinner, we sat around with our guide, the chief and a few women from the village that showed us some crafts that they were selling. We chatted a bit with the locals using our guide to translate where our sign language did not cut it.
We slept on a bamboo floor with only the padding of a light blanket to cushion us. They also had plenty of blankets to keep us warm in the cool nights. The floor was actually not as uncomfortable as we thought it was going to be. Those cheeky chickens and their 4AM wake-up though!!
The children were just as curious with us as we were with them. They were free to play throughout the village, the river and the surrounding hills. The village even had a small cement volleyball / badminton pitch that the kids used to play volleyball with their feet and a ball made from bamboo. Simple, but fun.
The adults had hard lives, but they all seemed quite happy. Most of them cannot read or write. In fact, some of the boys become monks so that they can receive an education. Their lives primarily revolve in providing for themselves....food and shelter. Many of the children leave the villages when they are old enough in order to go work in surrounding towns or cities. The money they earn will go to support their families in the village.
The second night of the trek was spent in a Karen village. The majority of the Karen people live in Burma, and yet they also form by far the largest of the major tribes of northern Thailand. There are as many as 280,000 Karen's living in Thailand. The family we stayed with housed us in their son's hut where we again slept on the floor. The couple that housed us were 57 and 59 years of age. They have 6 children. The father was addicted to opium at one point and left the family to cure his addition. He was successful in his quest, but now apparently loves his whiskey.
The wife was constantly busy. If she wasn't preparing food for the pigs, she was preparing food or making clothing for her family. The husband would get up at 4AM and head out to the fields to attend to his cows. All in all, it made our lives seem quite easy.
Overall, the people were very kind and accommodating to us. We loved every moment. They say that Thailand is the land of smiles. This definitely applies to the hill tribes of northern Thailand as well.
We have posted some pictures of the villages, but will post more as we go along.