When we met up with my sister in Chiang Mai and she told us all the things she had done and was going to do in Thailand, Deirdre and I looked at each other and realised we had done sod all here.
Despite being in the country for as many days as we had months, Emily had already taken a Thai cooking class, made friends with elephants, raved under a full moon and recovered on a spiritual retreat, and was about to trek part of the way to the Laos border. On other parts of her trip she had hiked up a glacier and jumped off high things. We had discovered smoothies.
Unlike other trips we have taken our time in Thailand was less about the journey and more about place. We had come to Chiang Mai to settle awhile, to learn the rhythm of city life in the north of Thailand and had so far been content to ignore the sights we had seen ten years previously. Instead we popped down to the shops, ate locally and generally enjoyed the life we would at home in Turkey: except here it was warmer and cheaper and we knew where to find good cheese.
Nonetheless, after four months, it would soon be time to move on and make our way slowly to Singapore for our flights to the UK. We had plans in place to visit Sukhothai, say a last goodbye to Bangkok, volunteer in Kanchanaburi, discover Hua Hin, and, after passing through it three times, finally stop and see something of Kuala Lumpur.
But before that it was finally time to do something in Thailand that didn’t involve just sitting about drinking cold ones. We wanted adventure. Not the sort of adventure my siblings enjoy, throwing themselves off things and the like. No, we wanted soft adventure and Asian Oasis had just thing for us with their three day/two night Lisu Lodge and Khum Lanna Soft Adventure tour.
It had everything we wanted in a tour: fine accommodation, ox cart rides and food. It also had a couple of things we initially weren’t so sure about, such as exercise and making our own dinner, but what the hell we thought: we’ll give that a go too. There would also be an elephant trek and white water rafting, so off we went into the countryside to cram into three days some of the things we had so far missed out doing.
We were both absurdly looking forward to the ox cart ride, the slowest and most uncomfortable form of transport humanity has so far devised. With hindsight I’m not sure why, especially considering the other activities planned for our small group. It was as exciting as you would imagine trundling along at walking pace would be, but a good introduction to Baan Ton Lung, the Lisu village in which we were staying. The plodding hour was strangely memorable in a way that perhaps the passing quad bike riders that roared through interrupting the peace wouldn’t have appreciated.
Lisu Lodge and Baan Ton Lung Village
After getting to know the village from behind an ox pair, time was taken to shove the first of several huge meals into our faces, each prepared and served by staff recruited from the Lisu tribe. None of the staff working at Lisu Lodge had any previous training in the hospitality industry.
Employment opportunities are one of the benefits to the local Lisu residents of hosting tourists in their village. When the idea of building Lisu Lodge was first floated 15 years ago the villagers were invited to decide if they wanted it in their community. Since then some of the profits have been ploughed back into the locality so everyone benefits, regardless of whether or not they are directly involved in the running of the lodge.
Most Lisu live in China, with significant numbers in Burma, but in the early 20th century groups migrated to northern Thailand where they are now thought to number around 55,000. Practising slash and burn agriculture, the Lisu moved around the hills until encouraged to settle down by the Thai government. Baan Ton Lung was originally settled 30 years by four founding families and has since grown to 300 households.
The majority of the Lisu are Animists – believing in spirits and practising ancestor worship, but the village has a Buddhist temple and missionaries converted some to Christianity, including our guide Sunny; who attributes some of his head start in this position to his English language upbringing in the household of an American missionary.
Our Soft Adventure trip is just one part of Asian Oasis‘s portfolio focused around rural tourism, environmental balance and community development. In the evening we learnt the philosophy of Asian Oasis from Rachet Wapeetha, the lodge’s Development Manager. We had unknowingly and briefly met earlier in the day when returning from visiting the village shaman – who, according to Lisu custom, is unable to eat dog meat or garlic, or venture under clothes lines – and the herb garden, where villagers grow plants for their medicinal properties.
Taking the back way home through the paddy fields surrounding the lodge, we passed and waved to who we thought was a villager tending his crop only to later discover it was Mr Rachet, cultivating his passion for rice. I’m very tempted to add a smiley face here – what is not to like about management content standing knee deep in the rice field that provided the staple for our meals?
This is a two part article. More next week…
Some images provided courtesy of Murat Gunyar.
Disclaimer: Our stay at Lisu Lodge was provided courtesy of Asian Oasis.