June in Thailand: Trekking in Karen Country

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After the first village, we headed into Karen country proper, passing through jungle tracks well-known by the locals. Here Jare and Kiat pointed out a tree that was used as a lookout to survey the surrounding environment. Having checked in with the village headman and knowing the local news of the area, there was no need to climb the tree to check things out. Anyway, we were already well forewarned that the weather for the area was set to be very wet and to be prepared for our parade to be rained upon.

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Already, the clouds were starting to roll into the valley. We walked up and down the green, green slopes, some of which were terraced to grow rice.

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Trekking involved tramping up dry slopes in the secondary forest before it started raining and when it started raining, trying not to slide back down the same, now muddy, slopes. After a hairy moment where Kiat had to push and prop me up to stop me from sliding down a good few metres,  Jare cut each of us a bamboo walking stick. By now the skies started to intermittently open on us and there were only a few moments where it was lovely enough to take photos.

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We had to climb over a few hills to get to the next village to spend the night and the view from the top down into the valleys were nothing short of beautiful. One highlight of the trek was the view: the fabulous panorama of the valley below, complete with the sight of two rivers merging into the Salawin River, clouds blowing past us as we trudged on.

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There were plenty of buffalo about. I’m still not sure whether they were wild or loosely belonged to a particular village.

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Downslopes were harder, especially in the mud when it started raining again. The good thing is that we had plastic ponchos that stopped our bums from getting too dirty. The bad thing was that the poncho also made it more slippery when we fell . One funny moment came when Tom slipped and fell on his bum, sliding forward so fast that he managed to kick me off my feet too, resulting in two people whizzing downhill. Jare and Kiat were very amused by my shriek of surprise and subsequent whingeing. At least it got us down the hill slightly faster.

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Occasionally, we halted for a break and sometimes there were little rest huts along the way. These were built for villagers to take a break from the day’s labour in the fields.

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We were very thankful to chance across one when the rain got especially heavy, and we huddled damply and very humidly there till the rain eased off.

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Still, being out in nature had its charm, especially when the clouds parted slightly…

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… and when they revealed the incredibly verdant hill range below.

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Despite the rough going and difficult terrain, we made it up there in one piece and were overjoyed to cover the last stretch that stood between us and bed.

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June in Thailand: Doing Good the Muddy Way

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My computer is finally fixed and I bring you yet another instalment of my Southeast Asian jaunt, now a good two years ago. This time, I spent a month in Thailand doing only land activities. I started in Bangkok and bunked in with Dee. The weekend I arrived, she had a company charity activity to which she very kindly invited me. It was a trip to the swampy river delta south of Bangkok to replant mangroves.

It started off with a briefing that went right over my head since it was in Thai, but there was a sign in English that basically said don’t stand up in the longtail boat or you’ll fall over.

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We headed down the very muddy distributory of the Chao Phraya with the offboard motor chugging away.

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Soon we pulled out of the hamlet of shacks lining the muddy stream and ended up in the mangrove area. The prop roots stuck out from the mud, forming a rather odd sort of undergrowth.

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We soon spied the monkeys emerging from the mangrove trees.

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They were all rather bedraggled from the mud and were lured out by the combs of bananas brought by the boatman. Odd, because I thought we were there to regrow the mangroves, not feed the monkeys living in them!

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The monkeys were quite aggressive, baring their teeth and fighting each other for the fruit. I was quite glad that we kept our distance. Sometimes the bananas fell into the edge of the stream, but this hardly deterred the monkeys at all. One of them simply washed off the excess mud and then gobbled up the delicacy.

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Soon we ran out of bananas and headed out into the delta proper. Here, the stream disappeared. It merged into the mud and we were doing nothing but float over it.

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It wasn’t until we saw the other boat in the distance that we realised exactly how much mud we were into. The propeller spattered mud high in the air as it travelled across the area.

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It wasn’t quite your usual seaside scenery, but was nonetheless rather impressive.

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The beautiful clouds and vast expanse of mud-sea was surprisingly lovely.

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We passed by some mussel farms. Now I know why bad mussels are full of muddy grit.

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There were also oyster farms, which I’m glad to report supplied mainly to oyster sauce factories and weren’t meant for direct consumption.

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Before long, we stopped at an attap house and retired there from the heat of the day.

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We hadn’t done any work yet but were treated to a very sumptuous local meal, featuring plenty of fish and yes, mussels. The food was as amazing as expected…

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… and we soon fell asleep in anticipation of our hard labour ahead.

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After the siesta, it was time to get muddy.

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Don’t ask me why everyone else got right into the mud and started flinging the stuff everywhere. It wasn’t that we really were required to get into the mud. What we did was to get shuttled out to the nursery of mangrove saplings out here and tie each sapling to a little bamboo support. Each person got about 20 bits of string and was shuttled out by one of the locals on a little wooden board.

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It was quite amusing that we came this far just to tie a few pieces of string round some saplings, but I guess we brought some money to the local economy and encouraged them to conserve their mangroves. The subsequent mudskiing (it’s exactly what it sounds like) was a lot more fun. Too bad that for obvious reasons I have no pictures to show for it.

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It was a lovely day out just hanging with Dee and her colleagues. While not a particular authentic experience, it was nice to see what Bangkokites got up to when they wanted to make a little difference to their part of the world.

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August in China: Hakka Tulou

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One of the highlights of my trip in South China were the tulou (literally: earth apartments) in the Hakka region of southern Fujian. Here the Hakka tribes migrating down from the north some hundreds of years ago sought shelter in these tall structures made from mud and corn starch. These characteristic circular structures dotted the verdant terraced valleys, making very unique scenery.

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One rumour goes that during the Cold War, US recon planes reported these structures as missile silos!

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Getting in a little closer, it’s hard to imagine how these charming structure could have any remotely military functions.

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Some of these tulou have rather impressive front doors which are kept open all day to let the breeze in.

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On a fine day like the one I was there, the unique curved roof makes a lovely juxtaposition against white cloud and blue sky.

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Some tulou have a double circle structure. The smaller building inside is used as a temple for ancestral worship.

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Next instalment I’ll tell you more about what happens inside the tulou. Now I leave you with what happens when visitors enter: they get served local green tea and chat with the locals.

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