Fish bacon: dried and salted fish stored over the fire, at our host Sae’s house, in Baan Pratumeant. The fish is then quickly fried in oil and the end result is what I like to call fish bacon. Though it was about twice as salty, it was crispy, crunchy and fatty just like bacon.
The villages had very,very limited electricity (a few solar panels here and there). Electricity is on its way; the majority of the power poles were laid out next to the drilled holes and a few hundred meters of line had been strung from the small town about 8 km down the mountain. For now, candles are the main light source after the sun sets at around 6 pm. Dinner was cooked over a wood fire and we dined on boiled rice with pork seasoned with dried fern.
We decided to ditch the motorbike and hike around the hill from Baan Pratumeant to Baan Boosokey where we would stay the next two nights. This is the petrol station in Baan Pratumeant and behind it, Sae’s kitchen and an unoccupied house that overlook the village.
We set out through the rice fields and within minutes it was raining.
We took shelter in an elephant camp, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, across the river, just as it started to pour. This camp is owned by another friend, Kan. While we waited for the rain to let up we taught some of his staff how to play our favorite card game, Speed.
Kan soon arrived with his tour group and invited me to join in the elephant feeding. So here I am feeding a 10 month old elephant.
Only after the bananas run out will the elephant eat the grass. Notice that there are no chains on these elephant. They are allowed to to roam the jungle, but I am curious how the owner keeps them on his property, especially because there is another elephant camp just down the hill.
Off we went again and soon we were in Baan Boosokey. Most of the households own a pig. It was either tied up beneath the house or to a nearby tree. At this house the chickens each had a handwoven bamboo basket to sleep in at night above the pig sty.
We popped in to visit this family and borrowed their kitchen to cook lunch.
Outside her house hand woven skirts and shirts hung out to dry.
We saw this boy darting around on the path ahead of us. Suddenly he stopped, took aim and launched a small rock into the air with his slingshot. Success! As soon as I snapped this picture he was off again, quickly scanning the trees around us, in search of his next target. This boy wears a traditional woven bag.
His friend was happy to show off his catch and his grandmother was even happier. She grinned broadly, with an upside down tobacco pipe clenched between her teeth, when he presented this small bird to her. This boy wears a traditional woven shirt.
This is one of the few places we have needed sweatshirts. We were at about 1,000 m and the mountain air was cool and misty after the rain.
The view from our host, Surachai’s, house. At night, on the horizon, we could see a faint glow from the lights in Chiang Mai
Surachai and friend chopping green beans for dinner. To clean up, one panel of the bamboo floor was lifted slightly and any spilt food was swept into the opening, dropping down below the house for the chickens.
Drinking rice whiskey and smoking hand rolled cigarettes is popular in this village. Here Poteeklan smokes tobacco wrapped in a bamboo leaf. He added a small amount of crushed dry tamarind shell to help keep the cigarette lit.
Unbeknownst to me, Tee had asked for a chicken to be killed for dinner so early on in the dinner preparations a young man, Pau, walked up with a live chicken, got the nod of approval, and soon after the chicken was being blackened over the fire.
Pau asked if we would like to visit his house while we waited for the chicken to cook. I jumped at the opportunity because staying at Surachai’s meant many more glasses of rice whiskey being passed my way (it is considered rude to decline). This is a view of Surachai’s house as we climbed up the hill to the road.
When I said yes, I didn’t know that this meant eating another dinner as well. At Pau’s we had rice with pork and fish before returning to eat stewed chicken over rice with green beans. Here Pau burns pine kindling on top of a metal box to illuminate the room.
“I hear a snake eating a frog.” The first time Tee said this, in Pai, I didn’t really take him seriously. Now I know better. This time we both stopped and listened again before tracking the sound up a small lane to a bamboo shelter. Underneath a lychee tree we could see the grass moving and then a snake came into view. A young boy called out after hearing our voices. Tee told him about the snake and the boy grabbed a hoe and hacked the snake in two. The frog jumped away to freedom. No, the boy wasn’t trying to save the frog, but was protecting his family from a poisonous snake. While I looked at the snake, Tee wandered off and found a new kind of fruit to try. It was the size of a small mango, tasted like uncooked pumpkin and had the texture of a hard boiled egg yolk. The owner said that the tree is not native to Thailand and is from China. Any guesses?
The next day we walked the long way back to Baan Pratumeant, coming full circle, to grab the motorbike. My flip flops had so much mud on the bottom of them that they felt like they weighed about 5 lbs each and were dragging on the ground with each step.
I love the bright green rice fields. So far I have seen mountain, black, sticky and “regular” rice fields and I am curious to see if rice is grown year round.
Our last night we stayed with Poteeklan and Tanklanmo. On their porch sat a bamboo cage housing a dove that they were fattening up on rice.
Tanklanmo chopping pork for dinner. She considers Tee one of her sons and it was fun to watch them joke around with each other.
For dinner we had boiled rice with pork and bamboo as well as fried pig skin and copious amount of rice whiskey. I decided to see if there was a polite way to decline the whiskey so I kept my glass full until the end of the night to avoid having to drink so much and my avoidance tactic worked.
In the morning we had stewed chicken with rice and fresh greens. Though I didn’t ask for it Tanklanmo made me a far less spicy stewed chicken dish. I also was excited to find that my bowl contained 4 egg yolks of differing sizes from inside the chicken. They had soaked up a bunch of the tasty broth and were my favorite part of the meal.
As we were leaving Tanklanmo gave me a traditional handwoven Karen skirt and shirt that she made. I gave her a huge hug, the only way I knew how to truly express, through the language gap, my appreciation for this amazing gift. Want to learn the Karen phrase for thank you very much?
Visiting the Karen villages gave me some real insight into Tee’s culture and I look forward to visiting his village in December. Traveling with Tee especially in northern Thailand (and Laos to some extent) is like holding the key to a secret society and I appreciate the depth he brings to my experiences.