Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Long Necks and Cobra Whiskey

I decided to take a well earned break from kicking a bag and being hit in the face. Doing so provided me with an ideal opportunity to explore further north. I booked myself on a tour up to the Golden Triangle to visit Laos, the Burmese border and the Karen Long neck mountain tribe.

First stop was a spectacularly crap hot spring! The less said about this tiny hot puddle the better. It was surrounded by shops and I started to surmise this tour would be of whatever shops the guides get commission from.

How wrong I was. An hour later we stopped by Wat Rong Kuhn near Chiang Rai. I hadn't really heard anything about it and was utterly amazed by the incredible beauty of and other worldliness of the place. It literally looks like a palace made of ice as if it should of been in Narnia.

If you get a chance to go try and get there as close to sun rise as possible and its east facing and apparently lights up like a diamond in the morning sun.

There is a large mural inside the temple which depicts all manner of distractions from the spiritual life and documents the violence of the material world. Naturally its symbolic but some of the memes used to illustrate these ideas are odd to say the least. The Predator is in there, Superman, Ultra man, September 11Th, The Matrix and a pair of converse. The point however is clear but the incongruousness of the imagery with the reverence of the Wat is jarring but kind of in line with the Thai identity and sense of humour. Anyway its amazing and one of the best things I've seen so far in Thailand.

The Golden Triangle and boat trip on the Mekong was next. Apart from the excitement of actually being on the Mekong and the rush of Vietnam movie cliches that rushed through my mind it was pretty average. We made a pit stop in Laos and checked out the legendary Whiskies. Laos whiskey is made with rice and has a number of interesting ingredients. That most famous being a Cobra. The purpose of the Cobra is to enhance male sexual potency. In essence, simple imitation magic.

I tried it and to be honest it wasn't that bad. I've had worse shots. Saying that my expectations were pretty low. Unfortunately for the ladies present the female version was even more unpleasant. This time the special added ingredient was a Tiger's penis. I guess it was more unpleasant for the poor Tiger who donated said pièce de résistance. Photo set

Tiger Penis Whiskey

Post that it was off to the tip top of Thailand to the boarder town of Mae sai that sat on the Thai - Burmese border. It was pretty much a market town with lots of knock off gear for sale. The most interesting thing about the town was the appearance of tribal face decoration on some woman working in the town. This varied from wide but light strokes of gold coloured make up on the cheeks and brow to a simple yet thicker stroke on each cheek.

From here it was south via the highlands and meeting the Long neck Karen tribe women. It was two hours before we got there. Eventually the road got smaller and smaller down to a track as we went deeper into the highlands. The brick building disappear and are replaced with bamboo thatched huts. Eventually we came to our stop. The village was at the end of a dusty path down into the saddle of two hills. The hills were thick with vegetation, the ubiquitous bamboo and banana trees and other flora. Myself and two Canadian girls I was with, followed a tiny man with an horrific ear abscess and after 10 minutes or so we met the first hill tribe women and their wears.

They had stalls along each side of the narrow path. The path itself covered with a thatched roof that was supported by the stalls. Pretty young long neck girls sat there working on their looms or making the thread for the scarfs they make.

Even at a young age the girls start to wear their neck rings. They are made of solid brass and an adult woman's will weigh in and around four kilos. Rather than stretch the neck the weight actually pushes the shoulders down and the more rings a women has the more beautiful she is within the tribe.

Without being naive to the fact that these things are obviously a major ball ache to wear. There was something quite regal and elegant about the women wearing the neck rings.
The great thing about being able to visit these people is that it preserves traditions that simply could not survive in the modernisation of Thailand. Basically if it wasn't for the small number of tourists visiting they'd be working in factories for 100 baht a day and village life would be over. Of course this is hardly an example of authentic village life for these people. But it allowed them to stay where they wanted to be, raise their kids and earn a living. It also really empowered the women of the village as without them there was nothing to see.

Anyway I got the number of the lady with the most neck rings and split. We jumped in the van and drove started the LONG drive back to Chiang Mai. But at least I got to see the sunset in the Thai highlands


  1. Mate, sounds like you're having a great time! Rich

  2. That white palace makes Christ Church look like something from the land of mordor..

  3. Thats so true Eoin. If churches actually looked like that, I'd contemplate going.