A Day Alone at Doi Angkhang

Something I’ve been holding onto for a long time… (Jerry wasn’t on this trip, so photos are courtesy of my unprofessional eye.)

Doi Angkhang sunset

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.

Toting wood

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 roof

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.

Burmaborder

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).

Noodles

Noodle lunch

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 plants

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.

3 thoughts on “A Day Alone at Doi Angkhang

  1. I’ve been on a tour of blogs about Thailand (using Technorati as my search engine) and yours is best. Hands down. You are enjoying Thailand the way it should be… away from the tourists, out among the people and the countryside.

    I spent a year in Thailand in 1973-74 and it was one of the best years of my life (still!). Glad to hear a bowl of soup is still only a few baht…

    Thanks.

  2. Maninas, thanks for visiting and reading. Many pleasant walks to you!

    Allan, many thanks for such high praises. I hope you’ll return for more cheap soup and stories of the countryside. I’m in India right now, enjoying the chaos of Kolkata but hoping to escape the crowds soon for parts farther north.

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