Prince of Death Road Trip-Khun Sa Memorial

SilverhawkUSA

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Mar 15, 2003
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Chiang Mai –Thoed Thai
November 7,2007
Route: 107-1089-3051

David Unkovich, Honda Africa Twin 750
David Early, Suzuki DR650

Photos by:GT_Rider / Silver Hawk



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Khun Sa died in Burma on 26 October 2007. If you don’t know who Khun Sa is, then you are missing out on many of the legends and mystique of traveling the Golden Triangle. To many he was known as a freedom fighter trying to establish a home state for the Shan, fighting for freedom from the Burmese. For others he was called the Prince of Death or the Prince of Darkness. A ruthless war lord who controlled the opium production in Northern Thailand and the Shan and Wa area’s of Burma. He had a standing army of 20,000 men and a one million dollar price on his head from the U.S. Government/D.E.A. An internet search will bring up many fascinating stories.

He was cremated in Rangoon but the Thai village of Thoed Thai scheduled a memorial service for him on Nov 8 and 9. Thoed Thai was one of his former strongholds and his residence for many years.

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Kung Sa country

Davidfl and I had a leisurely ride up Rte 107 to Thatong and then cut over to Doi Mae Salong. Thoed Thai is about a 40 minute ride north towards the Burmese border.

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We had made reservations at the Rimtaan guest house which was located on the river, in the center of town and great clean bungalows for 300baht. There are also some rooms with two double beds for 400baht.

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We arrived on the evening of the 7th and went up to Kung Sa’s residence where they were making preparations for the following days. This also is the location of the Khun Sa Museum which is open to the public and contains a small amount of memorabilia. I am told that the Thai government would not allow anything more elaborate.

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We were greeted by mostly smiling faces and for the rest of the weekend we were treated like VIP’s. As it turned out we were the only westerners present. We were told a couple others stopped by on the 8th but didn’t return.

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Even an Elvis impersonator.

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On the 8th the local residents came up in small numbers and everyone paid their respects. We had met a fine gentleman who was the principal of the Junior High School and one of the organizers. He made sure we well taken care of and comfortable. He insisted that we be the first to sign the provided guest books and write a message to Khun Sa. Anyone that knows my past profession must laugh at the irony that I am the first to sign Khun Sa’s memorial ledger.

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The women made sure that we were well fed with food provided to all guests. If you know how any Thai festivity usually goes, we found it rather strange how this was kept as a very somber and respectful gathering and NO alcohol of any type was on the premises. The drink of choice was hot tea.

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They were very well organized and even sold VCD’s of Khun Sa’s life and history and a slide presentation ran throughout the day. 100’s of photo were set up in the normally vacant museum areas.

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Although we tried to look inconspicuous (as if we could) we had as many photographers taking photos of us as they did of the ceremony. Many people spoke at the ceremony and translations to Thai was provided by the school girls. One can only guess at the background of some of the guests. We were asked to deliver a eulogy in English but we both passed on that one!

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Owner of Rimtaan GH, “Johnnie” speaks several languages.

It was also explained to us that being Buddhist, the people must remember the good someone had done. They explained that Khun Sa had built the first paved roads into the area. He built the first school and a new well equipped hospital. He built modern infrastructure to handle water supply and electricity. Thoed Thai would not exist as it does today without him. Freedom Fighter or Prince of Darkness? Definitely depends on how you look at it.

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We awoke early each day in time to make the morning market which seemed to finish about 7:30AM. I have no idea what time they started. It was pretty chilly and the fog settled in overnight and just started to clear as the market was underway.

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We found a lady that made great Lao style coffee which I love and we stopped there both mornings.

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A young Tai Lai girl took an interest in me and was QUITE friendly. She followed me all around the market and said she had never seen a “farang” before (I’ve heard that one before). I had to tell her that there could not be a wedding until they got ADSL in her village.

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Davidfl and I spent the rest of the day exploring the roads leading north to the Myranmar border. Mostly paved, and the sections that weren’t, were currently under construction. It was beautiful scenery without a cloud in the sky.

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Possibly not the best choice of spelling.

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It was also good to see Davidfl handling the AT on these roads again with out any trouble.

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David is not shy about right out with the people and taking “in your face photos”, but he gets some great shots sometimes.

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I give him full credit for this one.

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But I get lucky sometimes.

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Roadside pork sellers.

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All in all, a very good road trip and whatever your feelings towards Khun Sa, it is a part history and we can say we were part of it. That’s my kind of road trip!

3 November 2007 20:41
Khun Sa
Opium-trafficking 'Prince of Death'
Published: 01 November 2007
Chang Shi-fu (Khun Sa), guerrilla leader and drugs baron: born 17 February 1933; died Rangoon 26 October 2007.
He called himself a freedom fighter and, for more than four decades, Khun Sa headed a ruthless guerrilla army which he said he was using to win autonomy for Burma's Shan people.
Others were not so convinced. Around the world, drugs agents termed him the "Prince of Death", saying that he and the drugs organisation he ran from deep inside the jungles of South-east Asia were responsible for murder, assassinations and bribery. At one point, officials in Washington estimated that 60 per cent of the heroin being sold on the streets of the United States came from opium refined in the area under his control.
For years his area of operation was the so-called Golden Triangle, that remote part of the jungle where the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos meet. His hideout – a virtual autonomous kingdom – was equipped with satellite televisions, schools and surface-to-air missiles. "They say I have horns and fangs. Actually, I am a king without a crown," he once boasted to a reporter.
Khun Sa had not always sided with the Shan, one of Burma's many indigenous peoples. In the early 1960s he formed a militia that was loyal to the Burmese government and received money and equipment for fighting against the Shan rebels. Before long he fell into conflict with the government and served time in a Burmese jail.
When he was released in 1974 he returned to drug smuggling, renamed his militia the Shan United Army and began using the outfit to fight against the government again. He claimed he was doing so in the cause of Shan independence but Khun Sa was able to use his position to create leverage along the Thailand-Burma border and rapidly he became one of the most important players in the drugs trafficking business there.
He claimed that he was only involved in the drugs business to further the cause of the Shan and on one occasion he offered to sell his entire opium haul to the US government in exchange for money to start economic development in the impoverished Shan areas. "My people grow opium," he said. "And they are not doing it for fun. They do it because they need to buy rice to eat and clothes to wear."
He was born Chang Shi-fu in north-east Burma in 1933 to a Chinese father and a Shan mother, later adopting the name Khun Sa. In his younger years he served with the Kuomintang of China but left to form his own army made up of a few hundred men. Though he had received little education he learned military tactics, as well as the business of opium dealing, from his time with the Kuomintang, the remnants of which had been beaten by the Maoist forces and were holed-up in Burma.
In the mid-1990s it appears that Khun Sa fell out with other Shan leaders and again it became necessary for him to switch allegiances. Though the US had offered a $2m reward for his capture, the former warlord was able to make a deal with his one-time allies in the Burmese regime and opted to move out of the jungle and enjoy a life of relative ease and seclusion in Rangoon.
Andrew Buncombe
http://news.independent.co.uk/people/ob ... 115504.ece
Edit:Spelling[/quote]
 

Ian Bungy

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Sep 19, 2006
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Well Done Dave. Very informative and either Great Planning or a Stroke of Luck to be Present for the Khun Sa Memorial Service. As you say regardless of our Views it is all etched in History as one Day we all will be! Top Stuff, Great Scenery and a Great Ride by the looks.
 

Franz

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Jun 28, 2007
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David, amazing pictures !!!! Great report too !!!! Oh, how I would love to make a tour with you, but until now I'm still limited to drive to work with both bikes and to go to Pattaya to do some shopping.
Just now I am in the process of buying a small condo at Riverside, still have to renovate it but hopefully everything is done before end of the year. Mid-December I will send my XJ750Seca per truck to CNX as I haven't got the time to ride it up myself. But plan to stay in CNX then from 23rd Dec 08 until 4th or 5th Jan 08. I'm looking forward to some excellent drinks&food and some good rides with you and other northeners.....cheers, Franz
 

DavidFL

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Indeed the weather & scenery was & is perfect on this trip. Absolutely stunning scenery.

Silverhawk's also probably right about in your face photos sometimes, but it's a lot of fun if approached in the right manner. I love this one snapped in the morning market.
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And the one below of the lovely Shan ladies enjoying their evening meal.
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There was absolutely no resentment about us taking photos, & we were asked to sit down & enjoy the meal with them.

BELOW
This old guy, no doubt one of Khun Sa's mates, delivering his eulogy was incredible. He could hardly walk & had to be assisted onto the stage. Yet he spoke without any prepared speech, in one the sharpest high pitched voices I have ever heard. We did not know what he was saying, but there was no doubt he knew his subject & commanded tremendous respect & power.
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DavidFL

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Still catching up, sorry.

The two side trips we did up to the Burma border were N-w of Thoed Thai.

1. Hua Mae Kham, a huge mixed hill tribe village & as far out as you can get in that extreme N-W "ear" that sticks out. For the record the asphalt / concrete runs out at Lao Liu village, after that it's steep winding dirt, ok in the dry but not something I’d enjoy in the wet.

2. Phayaprai. A short 4 kms side road off R4032, the Huay Mo road.
This side trip is good for Akha villages & if you're ever in the area check it out.
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The steep swooping asphalt road here is unreal!!

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We also saw a nice looking trail for Big ‘n Tall & the dirt gang to explore. This one is east of R4032. Check out the pic above.

There’s also an amazing looking trail that goes east from the army checkpoint at Pha Ji La. It looks like it ends up right atop a really steep mountain, & deserves exploration too!
We also got a tip in Phayaprai, that there was a dirt loop link up to Pang Ma Han, on the Hua Mae Kham road. So there’s yet another one to be checked out.

If you’re ever in the Doi Mae Salong area & don’t want to stop in DMS because it is too early, then head for Thoed Thai & Khun Sa’s old base.
Stay at the Rim Taan, one of the “hidden gem” guesthouses tucked away in North Thailand. Eat at the Ting Ting restaurant, right next door. The food is superb & amazingingly it is one of the cleanest restaurants I have ever been in up-country.
Plus the Thai Yai / Shan people of TT are super friendly.

Thoed Thai is the place to go in the heart of Golden Triangle.

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Check out the Khun Sa photo collection in his old residence & you will see snaps of American senators / politicians, plus numerous journos, who all visited & consulted the once drug king of the Golden Triangle.
 

daewoo

Ol'Timer
Dec 6, 2005
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Great report Silverhawk...

Love the photos,
Love the story,
Love the background,
Love the gray area created by a drug lord creating a community...

Well done,

Cheers,
Daewoo
 

Rhodie

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Mar 5, 2006
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Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the "General" as he liked to be called.

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It had taken a lot of time to set up.
His supporters outside Burma clung faithfully to the fiction that he was fighting for a free Shan State.
Therefore they facilitated my trip. His men in the field had other ideas.

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Through dense jungle, and up mountainous mountain paths that were his opium trail.

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Finally, after two sweaty, leach ridden days I reached the first outpost of his headquarters in Homong.

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My reception was distinctly chilly.
The General was allegedly away fighting the Wa in a poppy turf war.
"Great I'm game - let's go."
"Not possible."

So in the week I was kept waiting, I got to to know the modest town of Homong well.

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Misty mornings - everybody had to be up at 6am and in bed by 10pm.

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There was no signs of riches or largess.
The General's quarters at the other end of town by a lake, was out of bounds.
One day a Landcruiser turned up with a General from a neighbouring State
dropping by to play golf with his nibs on his 9-hole jungle golf course!

Meanwhile I was entertained by the Dancing Troupe
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Meditated at the temple
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Visited the school
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No where was there any sign of resources commensurate to the many millions that were allegedly being made.
In the local hospital the Doctor was making his own still to compensate for his miserly monthly stipend of $1.50 per month.

Impressed by the troops undergoing training
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Each of these kids[ the youngest were around 10 years old] had to carve his own wooden rifle for training.

There were some real ones for range work
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But training was taken seriously and well organised
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Those who sampled their own product and had gained a habit - were given the "cold turkey" treatment under armed guard.
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This was considered an enlightened approach.
In previous times, they were just shot.
You don't steal the company's merchandise!

When I met the General he was still offering to end poppy cultivation in return for outside [read US] support & recognition.
He claimed that he only taxed production and was not in the refining business.
In BKK the DEA were not impressed,
"You can always tell when he is lying - his lips move".
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Branding was important the General's own brand No 4
guaranteed premium quality.

The little that BKK's finest found were very slim pickings
that had "fallen off the back of a very big lorry".
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Not long after I met him, the General made firm his already burgeoning business relationship with the Rangoon regime,
and retired to the Burmese capital under the protection of the very people he had sworn to fight against.
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Leaving the Shan people in the lurch again.
His recent passing left many Shan nationalists with bittersweet memories of what could & maybe should of been.
 

Joko

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Dec 10, 2006
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What an eye opening report! Well done gentlemen! This kind of road trip is up my street...But more often than not, I merely get to read the reports.

Thanks for sharing!

joko
 

Peter Hooper

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Aug 3, 2004
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A most interesting report DFL, S’H and Rhodie, great photos too.
I agree with you that we are not in a position to judge his life or motives and I don’t blame the local people for trying to gain some capital from his presence there. Even though he doesn’t seem to have funnelled any of his ill gotten gains into the local community, maybe now they can gain something from his infamy by becoming a tourist attraction. I would certainly be interested in going there and the story makes it all the more enticing. A bit like Pol Pot’s memorial just South of here. He was evil but the locals may now gain something from his infamy.
 

SilverhawkUSA

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Peter Hooper wrote: A most interesting report DFL, S’H and Rhodie, great photos too.
I agree with you that we are not in a position to judge his life or motives and I don’t blame the local people for trying to gain some capital from his presence there. Even though he doesn’t seem to have funnelled any of his ill gotten gains into the local community, maybe now they can gain something from his infamy by becoming a tourist attraction. I would certainly be interested in going there and the story makes it all the more enticing. A bit like Pol Pot’s memorial just South of here. He was evil but the locals may now gain something from his infamy.
Not quite true Peter. If you go back and look at my original post we were told the reason for the memorial was............

It was also explained to us that being Buddhist, the people must remember the good someone had done. They explained that Khun Sa had built the first paved roads into the area. He built the first school and a new well equipped hospital. He built modern infrastructure to handle water supply and electricity. Thoed Thai would not exist as it does today without him. Freedom Fighter or Prince of Darkness? Definitely depends on how you look at it.
This may of course be revisionist history but that is what they are currently saying. According to Davidfl he was told there were some plans of building and making this area more of an tourist attraction, but the locals are against it and want to maintain their current status. Perhaps he can elaborate on this.
 

DavidFL

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Rhodie
More brilliant photos & report from you.

Now just back in Thoed Thai & Thai New Year, & had a great time. Some pix & a brief report are to follow.

Got a message from the Rim Taan ghouse on Thoed Thai for the 2 Japanese riders who went there (claiming they were friends of David) - you left your book(s?) behind & they are holding them for you. If they are of importance leave a message here & I can get them to you.
 

carson

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Jan 29, 2007
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The pictures, stories, I have been spell bound reading every word!

Knowing Silverhawks’ past, what a twist in his life it must have been for him to be there.

What a great post!
 

cdrw

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Oct 6, 2006
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And this viewer, too, thanks you for the fine pix and informative dialog.

"He built the first school and a new well equipped hospital. He built modern infrastructure to handle water supply and electricity. Thoed Thai would not exist as it does today without him"

No different than the old mafiosa druglords. Support and provide for the local people and in turn they will help protect you
 

Rhodie

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Mar 5, 2006
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Interesting Postscript

Mark Rossi pointed out that the packaging as shown above appears in
the new film American Gangster.
The film is also accurate in saying that they were dealing with the KMT.
KS initially operated within the KMT's sphere of influence until he had
enough money & men to go it alone.
Small but significant points that are rarely retained on celluloid.
Good movie by the way. [/u]
 

DavidFL

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Davidfl wrote: Rhodie
More brilliant photos & report from you.

Now just back in Thoed Thai & Thai New Year, & had a great time. Some pix & a brief report are to follow.

Got a message from the Rim Taan ghouse on Thoed Thai for the 2 Japanese riders who went there (claiming they were friends of David) - you left your book(s?) behind & they are holding them for you. If they are of importance leave a message here & I can get them to you.

Aha. "Stuck" in Vientiane waiting to fix the AT's latest electrical problems, so here are those pix from Shan New Year...
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DavidFL

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8th March 2009

A few new additions & improvements to the Khun Sa HQs museum in Thoed Thai.

A statue of "The General" in his meeting room.
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Another of him riding his horse at camp HQs.
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Plus a few bits & pieces in his old camp bedroom
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Another plug for John's Rim Taan Guesthouse in Thoed Thai. An absolute gem of a place in a beautiful setting alongside the Mae Kham "river."
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For all you GT Riders out there, you can't claim to have done the North unless you've visited Khun Sa's old camp HQs & Thoed Thai. The road there is asphalt, and a real beauty - very steep, swooping - one of the best little motorbike rides in the North.
Check it out sometime - you won't be disappointed with the ride or the history.

Thoed Thai / Rim Taan / Khun Sa's Museum are all on the GT Rider Golden Triangle loop map - so no excuses for missing them.

You can also get fuel late at night at the Mr Mini Pump in Thoed Thai!
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feejer

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Feb 16, 2007
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Makes me sick I rode right through Thoed Thai and missed this. Saw the sign for Rimtaan and everything, but was getting dark and wanted to get to Mae Sai before nightfall. Oh well, the "must see" list for next time keeps getting bigger. And that's a good thing.
 

DavidFL

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Friday 31st July 2009

A GT Rider return to Thoed Thai to assist the Shan & Khun Sa Museum

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A photographic collage of Rhodie's photos taken at Khun Sa's HQs in 92.

more coming...
 

DavidFL

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Back again..the official GT Rider presentation

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Below Left: John owner of Rim Taan guesthouse & Right "Kudun?" Khun Sa's ex Cultural Minister & now Museum Curator.
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Getting the Khun Sa run down from Kudun & John
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With the late "general" in his dining room.
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A resting place for Rhodie's Khun Sa photo collage under Khun Sa's watchful eye
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A very pleased Kudun & John
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Many important Khun Sa possesions went missing when his camp was attacked & overrun by the Thai troops in the 1982 battle to force him out of Thailand.
In 2005 a flood in Thoed Thai swept away many possessions being gathered for the museum in Kudun's house.
Many of Rhodies' photos were on display in the museum as copies from various magazine articles. John & Kudun never knew where the originals came from, or who took them; so they were extremely thrilled to get some souvenir of the founder of their village Thoed Thai, especially when it was coming from the original photographer!

The items of clothing on display in Khun Sa's bedroom are real pieces actually worn by Khun Sa, both John & Kudun assure us.
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Thoed Thai is almost a lost / forgotten “kingdom” in North Thailand & the Shan there would like people to visit their town & see the history there. Khun Sa was arguably the one who created the Golden Triangle that millions of tourists have come to see. His history & legacy in Thoed Thai should not be forgotten. It is why many people are still attracted to the place, so if you want claim you’ve been to the Golden Triangle go to Thoed Thai, spend a night at John’s Rim Taan Guesthouse & visit the Khun Sa museum. Wear a GT Rider shirt & you will be warmly welcomed!

Where is Thoed Thai - it's on the GT Rider Golden Triangle guide map grid 2D. :wink:
 

SilverhawkUSA

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Although my photo does not do justice to Rhodie's work, here is a closeup of his nicely done collage. There were some extremely happy faces from the folks who saw it in Thoed Thai.

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The people of Thoed Thai have created a very warm and welcoming community and would like to promote eco tourism in the area without baseing it soley on the Khun Sa legacy.

I am going to intentionally do a double post here for the sake of continuity with what Davidfl has said, and show another of the varied attractions in the area.

This is a copy of my recent post on Thailasse's, Where Is This Stupa Located....

Date: July 30, 2009

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I decided to do it the hard way and ride from the Golden Horse Temple to Wat Hua Mae Kham............

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Don't believe that one huh?

Anyway,

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The monk says that he now lives here alone. He states that other monks that have tried to live here don't like all his chickens and dogs. He rides the horse daily down to the village to collect rice and food.

He told us of having to pay 1,600 baht to buy one of his dogs from some people who were going to eat it.

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He seemed to truly enjoy having our company and kept talking and telling us stories. I guess you get that way living alone on top of a mountain. We gave him a donation that he said he would use to buy feed for his horse and he seemed happy.

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I have to admit that due to other committments I had to drive my truck on this trip. It was definately "4 wheel drive only" during the rainy season.

Thanks Thailasse for your information.

**If you go, after turning off the main road and following the trail, you come to a Y fork. Go left! To the right looked the more traveled route but led to some deserted farm and the trail was barely wide enough for the truck. I had to reverse for some distance back up the trail before I could turn around.
Scan through the above info in it's entirety and put Thoed Thai on your list of places to go.........