A Mountain Loop West Of Nan (rte 4002)

Jurgen

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Oct 23, 2009
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Preamble



The Mae Khaning valley [1], in Nan’s Wiang Sa district [2], is not yet a well-known touring destination. It’s new, well paved roads, are still omitted on regional maps and few writings deal with this western mountain loop (see itinerary note [3])



During my two first forays on Route 4002, along the Mae Khaning [4] river, I did not really complete a loop through Nan’s western mountains; I still enjoyed following the itinerary in a reverse direction, instead of shortcutting the last twenty kilometers, back to the provincial capital. The shorter circle would have added only one hundred kilometers to my odometer, whilst I ended with a hundred forty-five kilometers trip by going back on the same road.


For the time being, I have not yet explored the shortcut sector from Ban Mae Kha Ning [4] to Nan (about twenty kilometers, on Route 4004); local people, however, described this stretch as well paved and easy; while still recommending stopping at the intersections to ask for the precise way.







The Hmong market on Route 1091




Starting in Nan city’s center, the mountain loop follows the enjoyable Route 1091, toward Chiang Muan, for about thirty kilometers. When reaching a small Hmong market, at the road’s left side, it is time for a stopover.


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Along Route 1091, thirty kilometers after Nan, the Hmong market



All sorts of forest products are offered in the small stalls and, if not for shopping, they are well worth a visit, just to snap pictures of the lovely hilltribe people manning the wooden booth.


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A Hmong grandmother selling vegetables



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The lovely smile of a Hmong grandmother



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Another Hmong lady selling seasonal vegetables.



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An amazed smile in front of a foreigner pointing a camera.



Route 4002, the actual trail for the “western mountain loop”, starts there, just on the market’s side. It plunges downhill, toward Ban Pan Pei, the first Hmong village, featuring a large school.


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The beginning of Route 4002 (a main country road)



My interest in Route 4002 dates back a couple of years, when I learned that a Mlabri (Tong Luang forest people) village still existed along this stretch. I had postponed my visit several times and, only recently, during a trip to Nan, remembered the settlement and decided to search for it.


Without precise information, I stopped in the Hmong village, downhill from the market and from the main road’s intersection, to find my way. I was on the right trail, as the Mlabri settlement was just ten kilometres further up, connected to another Hmong village.


The mountainous region, along Route 4002, is part of the wide “Phi Pan Nam Range”, and, somewhere, in these hills, the Mae Khaning river also has its source.


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Hills along Route 4002



The whole itinerary is paved, with few potholes and patches from time to time, but most stretches are in great condition. The traffic is also very low, with, nevertheless, during the corn harvest season, unexpected encounters with big lorries.


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A roadstone, 6 kilometres after the intersection and 9 kilometres before Ban Na Ngew





The Mlabri communauty




About twelve kilometers down Route 4002, a signboard displays the names of the next places, in Thai and English languages. The transliteration is not always coherent and mental adjustments are necessary to confirm the sought direction [4] . “Chum Chon Torng Leang” is the Tong Luang community, a hamlet, Ban Huay-Yuag (Houei Yak) is the next Hmong village and Ban Na-Ngew another village.


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A panel confirming the right direction in an approximate transliteration




Route 4002 does not pass directly through the Mlabri village, and I had missed the settlement by more than ten kilometres when I asked for it in a Yao tribe dwelling. Better informed, I had to drive all the way back, as the place is only fifteen kilometres away from Route 1091 intersection.


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A small road, easy to oversee, climbs to the Tong Luang community.



I am only posting a couple of pictures from this settlement, as the Mlabri people deserve a separate and more comprehensive story, that I will publish later, on GT-Rider.



The “people of the forest”, are an ethnic group called Mlabri, but nicknamed “Tong Luang (Yellow Leaves [5]” in Thailand. They are part of the last people who maintained a hunter-gatherer way of life, a mean of subsistence which predated agricultural and pastoral practices. Their nomadic tradition protected their environment from depletion; they moved their dwellings whenever the banana leaves, used for their housings, changed to a yellow color (this is the origin of their nick name). Now-a-days they are encouraged to leave in a permanent village, this one, with less than three hundred people, being the largest one.


The Mlabri living in this hamlet are mostly working for the Hmong who possess large corn plantations, they own small rice fields and still wander through their familiar forests to gather products, particularly wild honey, that they can trade.



Despite some external aid, the village inhabitants live simply, in houses built with bamboo wood, and, nowadays, corrugated iron roofs.

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A series of “modern” Mlabri houses.




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A Mlabri house mostly build with wood, bamboo and corrugated iron.



During the day, particularly in the corn harvesting season, few people remain in the village. They are mostly the parents of very young kids, or some children back from the school in the next village.


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A Mlabri village pathway.



As I had problems to precisely locate the “Tong Luang” community, I was lucky to meet a Mlabri dweller, on his motorcycle, along the road. I followed him to his place and he gave me with the first information about his village and its people.


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Khun Pod, the gentle Mlabri man who guided me to his village.



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A young Mlabri mother and her child



This Mlabri settlement has no shop and no school. These facilities are provided, a kilometer away, in the next Hmong village. A modern kindergarten was, however, built by the provincial administration. It accepts children between one and a half and six years. Two teachers take care of the thirty kids enrolled, and are busy with all sort of chores, like washing the pupils and their cloth, preparing lunch and providing some basic teachings. Visitors’ contributions are welcome and milk, instant noodles, toothpaste and soap are better values that sugar drinks or candies.


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A Mlabri child in the kindergarten – all pupils are dressed in a blue school shirt.



The next village, economically connected to the Mlabri community, is Houei Yak, a relatively large Hmong settlement. It is also located uphill, away from the road, and can easily be overseen. It features a modern school at its entrance and has two shops where visitors can buy snacks and drinks.


Most of the village houses are, nowadays, built with concrete blocks. There are, however, still several traditional constructions, with bamboo walls and thatched roofs.



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A traditional Hmong house built with bamboos and with a thatched roof.



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Still in use in the Hmong village, a manual corn mill.



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A village shop providing food and drinks for travelers.





Along the mountain loop.




For a couple of kilometers, Route 4002 goes up and down hills, providing an enjoyable ride.




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View toward the Mae Khaning valley as corn has just been harvested.



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Up and downhill, a well paved itinerary.



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The trail no longer cuts through the jungle; no trees but a nice pavement.



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Tone on tone – a yellow gold car and a yellow gold landscape.



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Amazing rollercoasters spruce up the drive.



Twenty seven kilometers down Route 4002, an intersection leads to Ban Houei Lieb and to

Tritarnwittaya school; the junction is illuminated, at night, with a solar panel lamp.




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An intersection illuminated with a solar panel lamp.



The next villages are Ban Pha Pae and Mae Khaning, they seem to be the largest and most important settlements in the valley. A part of the population in of Khmu ethnicity but other tribes live together with them.



The proximity of the Mae Kaning river allows rice fields cultivation, a tender green contrast to the dry hilltops.


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Rice fields are cultivated in the valley, near to the Mae Khaning river.



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Entrance of Ban Tam and Ban Pe Mae Khanning



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Signboard Ban Tam and Ban Pe Mae Khanning



The valley has seven villages which are hosts to six different ethnicities (Hmong, Khmu, Mlabri, Yao, and Northern Thai groups)


Mae Khaning is a larger, mixed ethnicity, village; it is also the regional’s administration’s seat (Tambon Mae Khaning and Oboto). It features a Buddhist temple (wat Mae Khaning) as well as a nearby Christian church.


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Mae Khaning Buddhist temple



The shortcut to Nan starts here. It follows the Na Kham river and, later on, joins Route 4004 to the provincial capital. I did not yet follow this itinerary but local people told me that it is a paved road.


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Mae Kha Ning, the intersectionwith the shortcut to Nan.



After the small hospital in Ban Yap Na Loem, I took the paved communal road (Ro Po Cho Nan) 3046 toward the East. It follows the tiny Loem river, an affluent to the Mae Khaning. About six kilometers later, in Ban Liem, this trail comes to a dead end in the forest.


I was told by “locals” that another itinerary, on a good dirt road, can be followed all the way down to Phrae. It goes straight after Na Loem, but I did not yet follow this trail as I was still interested to take more pictures along Route 4002; I stopped my exploration at that point, and drove back on the same road.


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Ban Liem – a dead end of communal road 3046.



Very little traffic, but in season large trucks with corn my suddenly be encountered in a curve



Cutting up and down through the hills with breathtaking views and late afternoon warm hues illuminating the dry fields, the back trail is still amazing.


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Still enjoyable, the winding way back.




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A stretch full of rollercoasters.



The landscape is mind blowing, particularly in the dry season and after the harvest. Forest on most mountains were cut bold to make place for, short term, more productive crops, particularly corn to feed animals.


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Dry and yellow like a lunar landscape.



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After the corn harvest, hills are left dry and bold



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The afternoon lights illuminate the vegetation.



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Glittering reed in the afternoon light.



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On the return way, fourteen kilometres left to the main road 1091.



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Afternoon landscape in the Mae Khaning hills



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Toward the end of the valley and Route 1091 back to Nan






Notes


[ 1] The Mae Khaning river has its source in the hills along Route 4002 and, later, becomes an affluent of the Sa river which, itself, jumps into the Nan river,


[2] Wiang Sa district of Nan province is relatively large, with 1895 sq. km for a population of 70’000 inhabitants. It borders Laos Xayaboury in the East and extend to the west, to the “Phi Pan Nam Range”. It is cut in the middle by highway 101 and its western part can be reached, from the north, by Route 1091 which connects to Route 4002, my story’s the central thread.



[3] My itinerary on Google map:


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My itinerary along the Mae Khaning valley, on Route 4002. A shortcut before the end of the journey, allows to reach Nan city on Route 4004.





[4] Transliteration of Thai names is not always coherent and precise. Mae Khaning is also written Mae Kha Ning and Mae Ka Ning. The same discrepancies are found in the name of all other villages when sign boards, printed or “Google maps”, are compared.



[5] The origine of the name Mlabri means “people from the forest”, and it is used by this ethnic group to refer to themselves. In Thailand, they are often called “Pee Tong Luang”, meaning spirits of the yellow leaves. This is considered derogatory but “Tong Luang” in reference to their custom to change dwellings, when the used banana leaves became yellow, is acceptable.



[6] A Mlabri story already published on gt-rider:

R1216 Khun Satan The Mlabri
 

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