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Wednesday 14 May 2003
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Long-necks

Got a good moto this morning (125 cc) and headed out around 9am to Thaton, about 200km north of Chiang Mai (probably closer to Chiang Rai, but you need to take a boat to do it from there). Thaton has a tribal village nearby where the "long-neck" or "Yao" people live. These people are famous because the women all wear gold-coloured neck bracelets that stretch their necks beyond their normal height (similar to the long neck tribes in Africa)

After spending an HOUR (!) trying to find my way out of Chiang Mai (it has the MOST annoying road system and its very easy to get lost!) I finally moved onto route 1087 and was on my way to get me some hill-tribe photos.

About an hour into the trip, I passed an "Elephant Training Farm".. obviously this must be the place they train elephants to do the tricks you can see at various package holiday touristy stops around Chiang Mai. Not my kind of scene at all, but what caught my eye was seeing 5 elephants clumped together nearby the road, so I thought Id check it out and get a photo or two. The place was empty, save for the elephants, and there was nothing stopping elephants escaping and taking their chances on the open road (probably why they have so many "Elephant" road signs along the road). This was fantastic, I could play with the elephants and not have to pay a penny!

I approached one elephant who was on a raised area (above my head), throwing dust and leaves over his body to cool down. I was able to reach up within touching distance of his trunk (I know this cuz I was feeding him some of the grass!) and he/she didnt shy away at all... in fact he/she put on a bit of a show when he saw me taking the camera out and swung his trunk around, throwing dust up in the air (and at me!! grrr)

Finally, after about 3 hours of BACK-BREAKING moto driving (I also got caught in some HEAVY downpour! erk!), I finally found the Yao village, and saw a sign saying that 3 hill-tribes actually share the village: The Yao, the Akha, and another one I cant remember but the women of this latter one wear large ear-earings (as a sign that they are married) that stretch their ear-skin to about 2 cms wide (they were laughing when they saw me, a guy, wearing an earing too!)

As soon as Id gone and paid the entrance fee (250 baht! About 7 dollars!) I walked down the well-paved steps for a few hundred metres and soon approached the first hill-tribes. As soon as they saw me, they stopped doing whatever they were doing (mostly sleeping) and started playing their instruments, or started running the thread-machines as if to put on a show for "the tourist". I didnt like the feeling that they were performing for me, I would have preferred to just walk through the village and they carry on life as normal, as in Sapa or Laos...

Alas, the whole of my visit carried on in the same vein and I felt like I was at a living museum, rather than a normal village... The Yao women though, were still very impressive and the rings on their necks DID look quite pretty. I was followed the whole time by two Akha kids who were really cute, but they kept on getting into every single photo I took... other tourists were handing out sweets, but I saw the kids just throwing them away when the tourists walked away.. Id say they get smothered in so many sweets from the waves of tourists every day that they are sick of em!

My gift to the girls was to teach them how to "gimme a five", they didnt have a clue what I was doing at first, but as soon as they learnt they were off high-fiving every other tourist in the place

On my way back to Chiang Mai it was getting dark so I had to take off my shades.. bad idea. Driving in Thailand in the evening without glasses means two things:

(a) My eyes started to water with the wind on the bike!

(b) GIANT INSECTS! These things were flying into my eyes, mouth, even hitting my chest... and they FLIPPING HURT!!!!

All in all a tiring day.. the hill-tribes were interesting, but a little TOO touristy for my tastes... where to tommorrow? I have NO idea!!!

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