Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Year of the Dragon - Take Two

Following on from Monday's post, and as the Chinese New Year is an ongoing celebration for fifteen days, I am going to share with you a few more CNY stories over the next week.

One of our most eventful CNY was a trip with friends to Thailand in the late 1980's, to the so called Golden Triangle. Our first stop was Chiang Mai, where we visited several of the Hill tribes, and were even invited into an Opium den! 

 Scanned in photographs, apologies for quality 

After a couple of days trekking, we got back to the hotel in Chiang Mai, and while we were confirming arrangements for a boat trip between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I spotted a newspaper headline which mentioned that several American tourists had been held up at gunpoint and robbed while on the trip we were proposing to take. More importantly, the boatman, while trying to protect the tourists, had been shot and killed. I went white. I said we had to cancel the river trip immediately. My husband and our friends took a different viewpoint. What safer time to take the trip, there would be policemen everywhere. After quite a discussion, me quite hysterically - we had two children who I didn't wish to be orphaned because of our recklessness - I was talked into taking the boat trip.

The next day, after a sleepless night on my part, we arrived at the boat dock to be met by out boatman and a man with a gun who was to accompany us on the journey. We all boarded the boat and set off on the river. By lunch time, I had calmed down sufficiently to enjoy the scenery, which was breathtaking. Around Chiang Mai it is very hilly and the vegetation quite dense, a perfect backdrop against the bright blue sky. The boat pulled over by a river bank and we were invited to cross a narrow bridge to meet an old monk who lived in a cave. Stomach churning, I crossed the bridge, and did meet a charming monk who shared our lunch and then we were back on the river heading towards Chiang Rai. 

By late afternoon, miles from anywhere, the boat pulled over. There were elephants wandering around in the trees! The boatman motioned for us to get off the boat, which we did (remember the accompanying man with the gun) and we set off along a pathway that led to a tiny village on stilts.  We stopped at one of the huts and were asked to remove our shoes. My heart was in my mouth by this time, I kid you not. Even writing it now makes me shake with disbelief. Up a ladder we climbed and entered a square space. In the middle of the room there was a coffin and about fifteen wailing people squatting on the floor. We were invited to view the coffin, in which lay the boatman who had been killed a few days earlier. We then found out that the man with the gun had not been on board to protect us, the tourists, but was accompanying the other boatman who was taking money from the boat hire company to the dead boatman's family. It is traditional for the company to help the family as the boatmen do not have insurance. We paid our respects to the family, gave them what money we had in our pockets and were invited to share a meal. Leaving the man with the gun behind, we got back on board and the rest of the journey to Chiang Rai was uneventful.

See you back here soon for some more Chinese New Year stories.

1 comment:

Sian said...

What an absolutely amazing story this is! Fascinating stuff. And I love how blogging has allowed you to share your story and the rest of us to learn something about the world and about you