The Final Leg Begins
For the first time in Asia we were crossing a land border all by ourselves. Now it's not that difficult, but at every single land crossing we've been on a bus of some sort and the driver has always taken everyones passports and helped us across. This time was different because it was only the Mekong River that separated Laos and Thailand. As we crossed the river to the Thai border on a narrow river boat, the scenery behind us surely was beautiful and we felt sad as we left such a spectacular and wonderful country, but what was infront of us was the last leg of another truelly incredible adventure.
There was a considerable lack of passport secruity when entering Thailand. So the overall feeling was extremely relaxed. We were trying to head to a place called, 'Mae Salong'. Suposedly a completely Chinese populated part of Thailand, and we couldn't afford to go to China, so it was a must on our list to do in Northern Thailand. The scenery isn't unlike Laos, with its rolling mountains, blue skies and smiley people.
It is increasingly hard to travel to destinations without going with a 'legit' bus 'company' , a tour group or package deals. However for the first time since I can't remember when, we travelled the entire day completely by local means. A boat across the Mekong, tuk tuk to bus station, local (by that I mean 30-40 people crammed on a tiny metallic bus) transport to 'Chiang Rai'. Then another local bus to 'Ban Pasang'... then for the first time in asia we hitched a ride with a local trukkie for dirt cheap. It was a complete success of travel and we enjoyed every bit knowing in a month we would be sat on the London Underground.
Mae Salong reminded us of the 'Cameron Highlands' in Malaysia. Its green lush rolling hills, sometimes mountains, and tea! Not normal black tea though, this was specifically Chinese green tea. Mae Salong was full of tea shops selling ceramic tea sets and vacuumed packets of all types of green tea. After we had refilled with some food we decided to climb up 700 tiny steps to get to a temple on a hill for sunset. We quickly realised, that if you don't keep your body active all the time, it starts to go stiff and sludgy. Climbing stairs was a wake up for me and Daniel, so on our stay here we decided to conduct a 4 hour trip to warm us back into keeping fit. Also upon arrival we realised our sunset plan was flawed. The sun was over the other side of the hill! So without a hint of hesitation Daniel was off. He went so fast I lost him as I power walked up the steep and winding road, muttering to myself, "this better be worth it!" I must have looked out of practice because a couple in a nice shiney car asked if I wanted a lift. Haha oh dear. Well to cut the hill and sunset story short we made it in time and it was spectacular. Me and Dannyboy sitting on the bank watching the sun set over the mountains. All I could hear was the birds chirping their final song, and all Daniel could hear was his Titinus (a high pitched frequency noise ringing in his ears!) Apart from that it was truelly a beautiful, romantic and impressive sunset! After Daniel's burst of enthusiasm after getting up the hill, he was on a downer, a 'come down' if that best describes it. His limbs were aching and he wasn't sure if he was going to throw up or pass out, thankfull he did neither. He claimed it was the 'low oxygen levels' because we were about 1,500 ft up on a hill, that had been the reason for making him weak. Not because of the fact that he'd waisted all of his energy running up the hill like a school boy :)
We decided to wake up extra early to catch the 6am to 7am morning market. The lonely planet describes it as being, 'interesting' which was not even close. So off the mark once again, this market was so UN-interesting we walked up and down it (basically 4 locals selling veggies on the floor) and then we went back to our guesthouse and back to bed! It was rubbish for tourists but I imagine very resourceful and much needed for the locals.
When we re-awoke at 10am we decided to rent a motorbike and bike to the nearest 'long neck' hill tribe. The long neck's actually derive from Burma, they are considered foreigners in Thailand and the Thai government actually consider them as aliens! A bit harsh I think but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The concept of the tribe being called long necks is because from the age of 5 they start wrapping 1 brass ring at a time around their necks. Eventually the rings begin to stretch their necks to considerable lengths, and once it is started it cannot be undone. Unfortunately the tradition of neck stretching and the long neck tribe itself was going into relapse. Until, the traveller started to show interest in the custom and would pay good money to see it. Sadly due to this they are more like freak shows than actual village visits to see locals going about their daily lives. Now the long necks weave scarfs everyday and sit while tourists in their hundreds pay to see the magic. So your probably asking yourself, "well why did you visit them then?" Well, I answer with, "to see for ourselves". You see on documentaries they go to an 'undisturbed' village and they film the 'way of life!' Well envision ourselves as the undercover documentary workers going to see a disturbed village and the lack of a village way of life they really lead. We had heard rumours and we knew it would be extra touristy because it wasn't mentioned in the Lonely Planet (they tend to advise against visiting remote villages to give them money, as it acts against their agricultural way of life).