Thoed Thai, the yellow flowers and 2014 Shan New Year

Discussion in 'Northern Thailand - Road Trip Reports' started by Jurgen, Dec 8, 2014.

  1. Jurgen

    Jurgen Ol'Timer

    Exerpt: Luck, more than programming, brought me to Thoed Thai, just in time for the 2014 Shan New Year. A week after the Mexican sunflowers festival, the region was one of Northern Thailand’s most attractive touring destinations.

    Thoed Thai, the yellow flowers and 2014 Shan New Year.


    New year in November? It might not be a very ‘Gregorian’ way to count the flow of time, but following a moon cycle, instead of the sun, is quite frequent in Asia. It is well known that the ‘flexible’ Chinese New Year never falls on the first of January, and visitors to Thailand might have experienced the water throwing ‘Pimai’ – of Khmer origin - on April 13th. It is, however, less notorious, that branches of the Tai ethnic group, celebrate on the first month of their own lunar calendar.

    Shan people (Tai Yai) are member of this family. They are indigenous to northeast Burma (the Shan States), where they lived once in an independent kingdom (Muang Mao). Over the years, due to political pressure, many have migrated to Thailand; the village of Thoed Thai, for instance, has received a sizable number of this population, which makes it an enjoyable and unique place to observe and participate in a Shan New Year.

    Saturday, 22 November 2014, was the first day of the first lunar month, year 2109, of the Shans. The parade to celebrate it, is organized on the eve evening and the festivities last three days.

    From Chiangmai, Route 118 leads to Chiangrai in less than 200 kilometers, adding another 60 (winding) kilometers, around Mae Chang and, straight up north-west to the Burmese border, leads to one of Thailand’s “last frontier”. This year, by serendipity more than planning, I arrived in Thoed Thai just in time to savor the Shan's first lunar month festivities..

    I checked in, as always, in the Rimtaan Guest House, a favorite GT-Rider dwelling belonging to Khun John, who, in addition of being a friendly host is a mine of regional and historic knowledge [4 - information about John on GT-Rider]

    (For information about lodging in Thoed Thai, see the following GT-Rider thread:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/33172-Thoed-Thai-Accomodation)


    Rimtaan's Bungalow #3, down near the river has just been enlarged (my shack for this stay)

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    Arriving at noon, I had time to visit local points of interest, recalling my former trips to this remote village [3].

    Up the hill, in the city’s centre, I stopped at Wat Kam Ka Kao, a traditional Shan style temple, renovated, in prosperous times, with Khun Sa’s good deeds

    Interior views an evening picture of the Shan temple

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    Down and up again, my next destination was a Khun Sa’s former camp compound, now a small museum and a tourist attraction. There, I could not resist, like most visitors, to snap a selfy with the Golden Triangle’s warlord (Khun Sa’s dummy in a room of his former camp)

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    When speaking with locals, remembrance of a generous benefactor is usually more highlighted than than Khun Sa’s common image as “Prince of Darkness”.

    The “old camp” museum provides a handy history lesson and, during my visit, kids from the local school, under the guidance of their teachers, flocked the compound with the assignment to gather information.

    Kids from local school gathering information

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    Map of Mong Tai (Shan State) with pictures of the different local ethnies

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    In February 1982, pressurized by the American DEA, general Prem launched an attack on Khun Sa’s fortified camp. After some indecisive battles, air attacks and bombings finally threw the warlord and its army out of their den, over the border to their original homeland. They resettled to Homong, north of Mae Hong Son.

    A bombshell is exhibited at the old camp museum, it is now completely rusty, and the date, formerly painted on it, has disappeared (it is now on a wooden board, at its basis)

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    For most people, Khun Sa was ‘humanity’s greatest enemy’, as an American ambassador called him (extract from an interview with Khun Sa by Tiziano Terzani [1]).

    The caption above his picture, in Sop Ruak’s “House of Opium”, might, however, draw the question to another level. It asks: “Opium king or freedom fighter?”. This is, maybe, not the dilemma’s best formulation, as he could well be, at a certain extend, both of these.

    After reading documents about colonial times, the Indo-China conflicts and, in particular, McCoy’s [2] excellent research titled “The Politics of Heroin – CIA complicity in the Global Drug Trade”, it is easy to visualize a gigantic boomerang effect, starting from the Anglo-Chinese opium wars, through the French and American financing of more or less covert operation in South-East Asia.

    Khun Sa had inherited a well prepared trade and argued that this was the only possible funding for his endeavor to liberate the Shan states. Half Chinese, he was not always credible as the Kuomintang presence in Mong Tai was an argument for Burma to deny this independence.

    At around four o’clock in the afternoon, people, in traditional dresses, began to assemble at the old market place, on the northern village rim. This multi-ethnic environment, with performers standing relatively still and the late afternoon light provide good opportunities to put smiles in the boxes. It is one of the best and easiest photographic moment of the whole venue.

    First and foremost, I could not resist having a ‘selfy’ taken with Shan kids and a Kinnara bird dancer

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    Waiting for the venue to start

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    In line for the procession

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    An Akha group arriving

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    Ready to go

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    Some performers

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    Waiting along the road to join the parade

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    To span the time, from the parade’s preparation till the actual procession, I was lucky to get a seat, just opposite the procession’s destination; it’s a small coffee with an espresso machine, a nice den for some light ‘Farang style’ breakfast the next mornings.

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    At six o’clock, as the remaining daylight was just a glow, the parade arrived at its destination: the playing field.

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    After the usual official opening presentations and public announcements, people, from various local ethnies, performed on a multicolored lighted podium. The evening celebration was for the eve of the ‘Shan New Year 2109’, whose first day fall on Saturday, November 22, 2014 CE

    Shan group on stage:

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    Shan Kinara bird dancer

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    Shan sword dance:

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    Shan dance performance

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    Shan deer dance

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    Chinese songs, dances and dancers

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    My favorite bamboo percussion dances – Akha people on stage

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    Thank you ‘wai’ (salute) to the audience

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    If your abode is near to the center, you can forget about a deep nap during that night; the whole village echoes the sounds of music and crackers till the early hours.

    Despite a somewhat agitated night, I was up early to visit the colorful and ethnically diverse local market. Along the road, I crossed monks already walking for their alms, a peaceful sight to begin a happy day.

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    The local diversity is reflected in the market’s vendors, customers and products.

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    Even in remote mountain places, fish stock is part of the diet and sold in the market.

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    With diplomacy, tact and smiles language, it is usually possible to take even close up pictures in the market.

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    At seven thirty, it was time to stop at the small restaurant patronized the evening before. Toasts, eggs and café were my frugal morning “Farang style” indulgences. For a more lavish treat, additional items could be brought in from the neighboring market or from the brand new “7-Eleven”.

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    Just in case… bikers, might remember that a small mechanic shop is located on the other road’s rim, opposite of the café.

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    References to other eateries and cafés in Thoed Thai are listed in the following GT-Rider thread:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/39928-Thoed-Thai-Restaurants

    Thoed Thai’s Shan New Year celebration is an attractive venue in itself and, this time, it came just one week later than the colorful tribal “Mexican sunflowers festival” (Dok Bua Tong)

    More information from GT-Rider website:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/tour-options/chiang-rai/cei-activities/festivals/doi-hua-mae-kham

    The road from Thoed Thai to Huai Mae Kham, the border town where the flower fields are located, is paved, with the usual mountain trail potholes and bad weather wearings.

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    Hilltribe dwellings are located along the boundaries with Burma; their inhabitants assemble for an annual flower festival, which was held a week before my visit.
    For a region’s overview, I followed the unpaved, narrow, forest trail leading to “Doi Hua Mae Kham National Forest Park” (Hua Mae Kham view point). A four-wheel drive is the safest choice to climb this dirt road, even so, I crossed a small car on its way uphill, without knowing if it made it to the top. As for me, for a change, I had left the Versys in the stall and travelled with my small ‘Caribean’.

    The distance to cover from the village is about three kilometers, the last two being of rocky red earth, with a shallow water crossing.

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    The gorgeous panoramic and colorful view, from the ‘flowers national park’, is well worth the drive up a twisting road. The spectacle might not be as grandiose as in Mae Hong Son province, but compensates with a rewarding quietness, a loneliness parted with few other visitors.

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    After driving back to Thoed Thai, and, for once, not stopping at the interesting Hua Mae Kham temple, it was already ‘late lunch’ time. The eateries choice is still limited in this remote village, but I enjoyed a small familial ‘Tam Sang’ (order made food) place (no picture), just across the road of a newly established café, ideal to perfect the local meal with a black espresso (while checking the latest news through a wifi connection); it is called ‘You and Me’ (Toer & Chan).

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    During my former trips, I had enjoyed visits to Wat Phra Song Chai Rattana Palang Paen Din, a new temple on a hill featuring a huge bronze Buddha. I wanted to recollect my previous feelings and enjoy again its peaceful twilight atmosphere. Unfortunately, maybe because time had embellished my memories, I could not be enchanted anymore; for me the place lacked its former magic.

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    A noodle dinner in the small central coffee shop, a drift through the festivities place, with performers still on stage but most people attracted by the multitude of stalls selling food, fancy merchandise or just offering games, and it was time for me to call it a day.

    Early again, the next morning I visited the market again, swallowed a light ‘eggs and toast’ breakfast, and bid farewell to charming Thoed Thai, promising to myself to be back very soon.

    Route 3051 to Sam Yaek and Route 1234 are enjoyable drifts; I made a first stop, just before Mae Salong, to admire the panorama of Oolong tea terraces covering the hills; this culture having replaced the former red colored poppy fields.

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    More information about Oolong tea and Mae Salong generally, can be found on GT-Rider’s website:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/tour-options/chiang-rai/doi-mae-salong-information/doi-mae-salong-activities/oolong-tea

    When passing through the region, I never miss a visit uphill, to Phra Boromathat Chedi; from this temple, a ravishing and wide open view embrace a large part of the horizon, plunging down over the city, the tea plantations and following the meandering road.

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    Before leaving Santikhiri – yes, this is actually Mae Salong’s official new name – I stopped at the market place. That day, the 'Kuang Meng Mae Sai Foundation', a well known charity organization distributed merchandise for local hilltribe people.

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    Akha lady waiting in line

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    Khmu (Lua) man waiting in line

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    Symbolically, the organizers asked me to give a helping hand and to distribute some of the packages to the assembled hilltribe people. In total, there were 400 beneficiaries, each one getting the equivalent of 500 Thai Bath of merchandise, rice, canned food, salt and a blanket.

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    Notes:

    [1] A Fortune-Teller Told me
    Tiziano Terziani , Harpers Collins 1997

    [2] The Politics of Heroin
    CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade
    Alfred W. McCoy, Revised Edition 2003
    Covering information, including the Golden Triangle region, till 2002

    [3] References to my former North-Thailand trips (including Thoed Thai):
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35578-Around-North-Thailand-%96-A-New-Golden-Triangle?highlight=Thoed%20thai
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/34587-%93An-Unbroken-Circle%94-1-Upper-North-Thailand?highlight=unbroken%20circle

    [4]Rimtaan – John:
    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35637-Rim-Taan-Guesthouse-a-Shan-Tai-Lue-wedding?highlight=Thoed+thai

    [5]Information about Thoed Thai (formerly Hin Taek), the Shan New Year and sunflower festival in Huai Mae Kham. Various stories about Thoed Thai’s New Years celebration have been published on GT-Rider.

    http://www.gt-rider.com/tour-options/chiang-rai/thoed-thai

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/33819-Shan-New-Year-2011-Thoed-Thai

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/39933-Thai-New-Year-amp-a-Shan-Blessing-Spirit-Cleansing

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/39453-A-fun-time-on-the-road-for-Destination-Thailand

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35511-2011-Sunflower-amp-Hill-Tribe-Festival-Hua-Mae-Kham

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35534-A-visit-to-the-2011-Sunflower-Festival-at-Hua-Mae-Kham

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/35554-Shan-New-Year-25-November-2011-Thoed-Thai

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ban_Hin_Taek

    [6] Information about Khun Sa:

    http://www.gt-rider.com/tour-options/chiang-rai/thoed-thai/khun-sa-opium-warlord

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/28175-quot-Prince-of-Death-quot-Road-Trip-Khun-Sa-Memorial

    http://www.gt-rider.com/thailand-motorcycle-forum/showthread.php/34817-ON-THE-TRAIL-OF-A-quot-MULE-quot-A-Drug-Run-Through-The-Golden-Triangle

    http://www.economist.com/node/10097596
     
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  3. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    Jurgen
    That is a beauty. You really lucked out with the Shan New Year, but missed the Sunflower & Hill Tribe Festival - I remember we talked about them before you set off.

    True to Chopard form you have some captivating photos. I particularly like these

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    that show the ethnic variety you always get in Thoed Thai.
    Thoed Thai is one of my favourite traditional towns to visit in North Thailand, & should be on anyone's list of places to stay over night if you want a genuine cultural experience of old traditional Thai life at it's best.

    I note too on the new bungalow at Rim Taan - is John doing the Rim Taan GH up again? I think they got hit with another flash flood again this year.

    Thanks for that touch of Chopard magic on GTR once more. Much appreciated.
     
  4. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Can only wholeheartedly agree with David about the 'Chopard Magic' & that Thoed Thai is 'traditional Thai life at its best'.

    Having travelled this area extensively, & at times with David, at times with you yourself Jurgen, it intrigues me that I still recognise the faces of some of the older hill-tribe folk in particular the Akha.

    A wonderfully written, fully researched report accompanied by outstanding photography. Your trademark, Jurgen, but nonetheless well done & many thanks for giving us all a glimpse into & better understanding of the culture in this captivating corner of northern Thailand.
     
  5. lipmeng

    lipmeng Ol'Timer

    It was an amazing pics with quality information of the beautiful Shan festival. I have been enjoying very much of "seeing through the lens of Chopard" as every posting of his report especially those of Laos sections that enables me to do the trip on my own.

    Thanks again for the wonderful pics and info.
     
  6. Franz

    Franz Ol'Timer

    Beautiful colourful fotos, informative report as always by you !! Must admit you have 'the eye' for making protrait fotos, not everyones skill !! Keep them coming, these festivals are what makes the North so lively !! Cheers, Franz
     

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