Though this is usually a "causes" blog, I figured it's a good place to share my Thailand pictures. Do go to Thailand! It's a wonderful place and their economy can use the boost from tourism after the tsunami.
First stop, the market! Here's where my guide and I went to get supplies for our trek in the mountains. I'd seen fried pig faces for sale in Seoul, but this was my first time to see fresh pig faces. Another stall was selling various innards. Different strokes for different folks.
To the right, some delicate snow-white mushrooms that made my mouth water. To the left, some sort of wasp nest, from the looks of it, with live wriggling larvae. I'm guessing they're an acquired taste. But then, I was drooling over the fungus.
On the mountain top with Lek, my guide. I was the only tourist in my group, so I had Lek all to myself.
How's this for some gorgeous landscape? By the end of the first half hour of tooling around northern Thailand in the back of an open trek-tour truck, I was in love. And I fell more in love each passing hour.
Here's one of the tourist lodgings at the village where we stayed. Our tourist lodge, to be specific. I'd feared that there'd be a "human zoo" element to visiting the Hill Tribes, but there was none of that on this hike. The folks in the village were just ordinary folks living a simple life in an isolated area, who'd noticed that they could forge a mutually beneficial relationship with tour guides and tourists, and decided to take advantage of the situation. They built lodges for the tourists, offered drinks and a few souvenirs for sale, and otherwise behaved like anybody else who happens to live in a town that tourists pass through.
Here you can see that the sleeping quarters are clean, comfortable, spacious, well-aired, and complete with mosquito netting. I had the room to myself, since Lek had his own private room just off his private kitchen area.
Here is Lek in his kitchen, with one of the local guys who helped him. The stoves appear to have been clay buckets once, and are painted with bright scenes under the soot. The floor is soft and comfortable, because it's made of split bamboo. They simply split the bamboo open and lay it flat, then tack it down over a row of bamboo support slats. I'm guessing that they have to replace it fairly often because it gets burned by coals that fall out of the stove.
Lek's regular job is as a chef in his brother-in-law's restaurant. So I had my own private chef!
And here I am on the porch of our lodge, enjoying the dinner Lek cooked for me. Rice, curried chicken and potatoes (yum!), sweet and sour chicken and veggies (yum!), tofu and veggie omelette (yum!) and half a pineapple (yum!). Pineapples were selling for 15 bhat each (about 30 US cents) in the market. And these were the northern Thai pineapples -- very sweet and juicy, without the tartness or acidic aftertaste of the southern pineapples.
The folks in the village were having a party that night, because one of their own had just won an election. Each family has a solar cell that charges up a battery all day. They use it for light at night -- and evidently to operate a CD player, because the music was going until the juice started to conk out. Then they switched to singing. But it was a pleasant sound to fall asleep to. I slept like the dead, comfortable and cozy.
By the way, the toilets are flush toilets; you just flush them with a bowl of water you bail from a large tub of water kept handy. They were squat toilets in little outhouses. I've been trying to research exactly how sanitation made its way through the mountains; I suspect the royal family's efforts to help the rural folks to thrive played a part. The running water and flush toilets system depended on hoses and cisterns, and was primitive, but very effective. All I'd want to do is add a solar water heater for showers, and a bamboo floor for a shower area.
This was a very pleasant, clean, friendly place where nobody got in anybody's face. I want to go back.