Saturday, January 07, 2012

Mae Salong

January 14, 2010

We met a former Thai Air Force officer in a song taa-ou that took us to the bus. The bus, a rickety affair, dropped us at the T-junction in Ban Basang. There were a few song taa-ou there, but none would move until they got 8 passengers. We waited 30 minutes, but no one else showed up. We tried to haggle a price for a private ride, but they pulled out a piece of paper (English only, of course) claiming that they had 'set rates.' I walked to the street to hitch a ride, and the rates became unset immediately.

The road weaved and wound as it climbed to a ridgeline, following it through villages and small towns. In Mae Salong, we grabbed a bungalow and had lunch. From our table, I noted the Thai flags running up the main street, a reminder of who was in charge here, despite the overt Chinese feel. I'd noted similar flags on the border towns of Chian Saen and Mae Sai. There sems to be a strong nationalistic streak running through the Thai gut. In Laos, I rarely saw any flags, subverting the usual chest thumping at which socialist states are so adept. The flags waving throughout Thailand were a constant reminder of whose soil you were on.

We followed the ridge out to the marketplace. Akha and Risa were decked out in their finest, selling silver and textiles, not a word of English pushed past their teeth black with betel. The town's Chinese residents sold tea in more permanent shops standing behind them.

We walked up a road to the tomb of an old KMT general who had led his defeated band here in 1949. The trail became overgrown and laden with leaves, so i grabbed a large stick and tapped the path like a blind man, hoping to scare any poisonous critters away. The trail became paved again at a series of bungalows that were quite the thing 20 years ago. The style of the buildings and the grounds were quite Chinese. The trail led to a set of 718 steps that led to a temple. We arrived sweaty and out of breath at the top to find a young man teasing a dog. Not viciously, but causing it to yelp and snarl. I stared at the man, and he made a gesture with his hand like, "What? Go away!" I said, "You know, that dog is smarter than you, man," which made a woman sitting nearby laugh. We had a short stand-off, Miki and I calling him an idiot, and him glaring, but at least he stopped harassing the dog. Miki and I went into the temple, then heard another yelp. Back outside, I wanted to get the dog away from him, but saw that he wasn't making any contact with the animal, who was now asleep at his feet. Nothing I could do about that.

The view from atop the temple was incredible, with the town stretching away down the ridge, rows of tea climbing the sides. It was Chinese as touted, but was lacking in trash and squat squares of concrete. If only all China could match this. It was more like North Vietnam to me. On the way down we found a smiley, chatty monk sweeping the front walk to his temple with a three meter bamboo broom. Five minutes with him restore my faith in humanity.

We read the afternoon away on the porch of our bungalow, then walked the ridgetop main road through town. Midway down he road was a teahouse, Chinese in look, but made of dark teak, lit by candles. The entire back wall was open to reveal houses on the opposite hillside behind. A wonderful place to read awhile and soak up the view, but unfortunately, closing for the night. Our eventual destination was the Mae Salong Villa and dinner. We sat on the veranda, eating Yunnanese food recommended by the owner. the meal was good if pricey, and tainted somewhat by the owner checking on us every five minutes. Hardly her fault, since we were the only customers at that early hour. Below us, the valley and the villages hanging on the mountainscape disappeared into night...

On the turntable: Blue Oyster Cult, "On your Feet or on Your Knees"

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