In Thailand we are pushing north for Chaing Rai. We stop and visit this Indigo Dye Works, a family run enterprise that has lifted this old craft from obscurity. At one time everyone wore Indigo dyed work clothes and it became unpopular as a working class clothing. The woman below, Yellow, revived this old craft using the batik process for fancier items. She supports 3 families with her cottage industry.
Demonstrating, she mixes the leaves and stems of the indigo plant in water, then mixes in lime-ash, dips a piece of cloth in the mixture, and in a matter of minutes, the cloth hits the oxygen and turns from a pale green to a beautiful, deep blue.
We watched the workers dip iron molds into a vat of wax and stamp the cloth. Many beautiful patterns find their way onto table cloths, jackets, shirts, scarves, handbags and just about anything you can make with cloth. I might mention that these many stops in our travels are arranged to educate us and to provide a “Happy Room” stop since we don’t always have convenient roadside rests.
The batik process allows the dye to cover the cloth everywhere the wax is not. The wax is cooled and then chips off the material.
old stove-top iron was in her workshop and I photographed it. Several of us discussed among ourselves the marvelous antiques still in use in places we’ve visited, like the old sewing machines in the market. If they only knew how much someone in the states would pay for one of their old machines, they would sell them and we’d be poorer for the transaction.
Mason was interested in buying a sword to bring home. Panu stopped at this rudimentary roadside blacksmith shop.
Here is a sample of an amazing array of farm tools they produce. And, he did find a sword after the drivers pulled his luggage from the bottom of the bus to see what would fit in it.
Our next stop was a more glamorus place. This woman gave us a tea tasting. She cooled the little clay baby she is pouring the tea over and he peed on everyone within range much to our surprise as we howled with laughter. Here Panu bought a bamboo tray of deep fried worms to try. They were surprisingly good, a snack something like popcorn that you could munch by the handful. Not everyone tried them, but later on the bus, when Panu stopped and bought a cake and some fruit, Roberta and I agreed the worms were better tasting than the cake. They were grubs, not angle worms.
After lunch we loaded into songtaew (trucks) for a hillly drive to visit the indigenous Akha people who wear elaborate, colorful costumes for our visit. They wear their costumes for festivals and celebrations. This woman’s teeth are stained by the betel nut leaves they chew.
We wandered the village and watched them at work and leisure. Some men were making sticky rice in an outdoor tub, a very muscular task. In front of another thatched hut, men were butchering what looked like a wild pig. Children run around with the chickens, dogs and cats and play happily as all children do. They are probably unaware that they are poor since their village is quite remote. Fruits and foodstuffs dry on the rooves, they have little gardens between huts and clothing hangs on the lines. Old men watch the village activities from their hammock or chair.
A simple life style, but it wasn’t always so. We are close to the Golden Triangle. Many of the hill tribes were induced by drug lords to grow opium. Not that they benefited much from the trade. The government established programs for them to benefit from legal crops and tourism, a safer alternative. The women danced for us with their children on their backs. Some of the mothers appeared to be 15 years old, children themselves.
OAT supports several indiginous tribes. Government efforts to halt the slash and burn of the jungle have been pretty successful. But, tourism has its problems too. The Karen tribe are called long necks because they begin putting brass rings on the necks which eventually stretches their neck, yes, but it breaks their shoulder bones and cripples these women. From this tribe of great beauty, children were often sold into prostitution. That has been halted but tourism is so popular that the tribe has begun putting brass rings on young girls to earn money from tourists. OAT has polled travellers such as we about supporting the people or not supporting the people because they are exploiting their children. Without exception all of us agreed we should not visit the Karen because it resulted in exploitation of children.
The history of these various peoples was explained to us in detail. The Lishu, we will meet later at the Elephant Camp.
Our hotel today is a couple kilometers from an Opium Museum as we are at a beautiful hotel in the Golden Triangle.