Something I’ve been holding onto for a long time… (Jerry wasn’t on this trip, so photos are courtesy of my unprofessional eye.)
Sunset at Doi Angkhang
I’m in the far northern hills of Thailand, near the border with Burma’s Shan State. This land goes up and down, in steep terrain that villagers climb by foot or mule. For miles, there are no cars, no spewing motos, no sounds of the city. There are almost no people.
I give myself this day, an entire day to explore these mountains alone. Sometimes we need that. Sometimes we need the magic of solitary travel to fuel our soul.
I go up the hill, and buffalo come down, eyeing me warily as we pass. Their bells clank, and the young ones hurry after the adults. Their master is a smiling young hilltribe man who asks where I’m going. He walks as most villagers do, many with baskets of firewood hoisted on backs, with sacks strapped to foreheads. They walk in flip-flops or thin tennis shoes, up and down these hills without much effort, as though the Earth to them were flat.
Villagers toting firewood
When I crest a near-vertical hill and meet an empty crossroad, I turn left toward the border. A hundred meters on, two women gather in the street with a dog and a buffalo herd. The women weave bracelets as they walk and talk. Suddenly, a roar of dirt bikes come racing our way, zooming past the gathering in a dusty swirl: young Thai men on an offroad adventure. A young buffalo scampers into the weeds, but the dog pays no mind and neither do the women. It’s as though two worlds collide in an instant — but neither world notices the other.
Cat on a hot grass roof
Not much happens in the borderside village of Nor Lae a few kilometers farther, where women weave scarves and blankets for the few visitors who pass through. The people look at me, seemingly surprised but happy. Kids return my sawasdee kha with a solemn wai.
The Burmese border at Doi Angkhang. That’s it: just a few trees, just a small fence across a patch of no-man’s land. And just a few bored soldiers who wave from their post across the way.
I stop for noodles at the only resataurant. I know it will be good, and indeed it’s the best soup I’ve had in a while. A mountain broth with chicken and chili and tomato with fresh shaved cabbage and fried young garlic. The noodles — like spaghetti but made from rice. The place is dirty, the chopsticks and spoons covered in bits of chili. So dirty, I wonder about my stomach. A chicken has pooped on the floor near my feet. But that soup is so good, despite the world working against it. The woman in charge sells battered fried chicken and bags of pickled cabbage from a cluttered counter. I sit awhile, watching a young mother in the doorway with her baby dressed in bright tribal attire. When I get up to leave, I’m charged a whopping 10 baht (27 cents at the time).
Yes, sometimes we need these days to ourselves. Some days we need to walk alone. And so I continue from there, backtracking up the road, then turning down a dirt offshoot leading to more villages. I continue up high to a viewpoint. I trek even farther, up a rocky path to a clearing near a military tent obscured by trees. And there, I see birds of the brightest turquoise with thin black masks across the eyes. They flitter in the air over an undulating panorama.
Tea growing on the hillside
By late afternoon, after seven hours of walking (have I told you how much I like to walk?), I return to the Doi Angkhang lodge. My toes are sore, the tips white with the start of calluses. My tendons ache to the touch, and the soles of my feet feel beaten — but never better. I drink a Singha and relish this day alone.