I know its quite unlike me, but at 7am we left our hotel for Chiang Rai, which is in the Golden Triangle (Thailand, Laos, Burma). Prior to and during the Vietnam war this was the center of opium production. Since then the King of Thailand has set up a project to switch local Thai farmers from growing Opium to other cash crops to end the addiction among local farmers. We stopped here for lunch and had a look round the local market. The area is rife with beggars and pick-pockets we were told, but to be fair people looked desperately poor and if anything a little upset they were being prevented from capitalising on Thailands tourism.
Following lunch in Chiang Rai we drove for over 3hrs, mostly on the wrong side of the road with daring overtaking on many blind uphill bends! Our new destination was the hill-tribes which practiced long-neck & long-ears using copper (formerly gold) bands and earings. This was disturbing given the weight of the copper bands that the local girls had to bear. Our TAT adviser left Chiang Rai for Bangkok at the age of 12 for the chance to pursue an alternate lifestyle in Bangkok…but at least she was given a choice. Now she’s encouraging the practice through tourism, which seems a little hypocritical!
Largely feeling sorry for the young local girls, we bought several scarfs, pipes and cigs made from local tobacco leaves and teak wood cuttings – (these smoked much like ordinary cigs to my surprise). I will no doubt save a few for you to try on my return!!!