Tuesday, June 14, 2016



Place: Mae Hong Son
Time: September 1993


In the beginning of my visits to AsiaI really loved the bus journeys. However, they could be painful at times. I had hardly slept the night before as the fan in the room was much too noisy. My Thai artist friends had celebrated a birthday with a lot of alcohol. I suffered terrible headaches. I had planned to leave Chiang Mai on that day. It was time to continue my trip through Thailand. I had chosen to go to Mae Hong Son, the westernmost province of Thailand. My way would go over Pai through the mountains. It should take 8 hours to the province (Changwat) at the Burmese border. The only bus that went in daytime was without air condition. On the day before it was more important for me to experience the life of the people in the mountains. I did not want to go at night. In daytime there I hoped to see much more about the ordinary people in Thailand's North. The impressions on this tour compensated all the pain of my hangover. It was gratifying to see all the different hill tribes. It was amazing to see how they got all their shoppings and small animals such as chicken and ducks on the bus. The tour went through beautiful landscape. Sometimes, it was a bit eerie as the bus crept up the mountain slopes with the abyss directly on the right side. Although, I had to get used to the dangers that are always connected with taking a bus through mountainous landscape, the ride to Pai had shown me a lot of Thailand's beauty.

I strongly believe that there are moments in you life that strange things can happen to you to show you some kind of direction. We had to change the bus in Pai. Sometimes, those ordinary buses face some kind of mechanical trouble as they are usually very old. A couple of hours later, I suddenly realized that I had left my trekking shoes behind. This was bad as my main purpose to go to Mae Hong Son was to explore the famous trekking opportunities. I hoped that it would still be possible to go on a tour through the jungle. I was not sure if there was the chance that I got my shoes back again. Thais are genuinely honest people. But how could I know that? I was new in the country. I think it is pretty normal to loose the cool on a first visit to a foreign country. Travel books don't help you in these cases. They love to paint the worst scenario. Disaster just sells better than peace. I had read in these books that the hilltribes were extremely poor. My boots must have been of enormous value. They cost more than the average monthly earnings of most families here. I did not see a chance of getting them back. I contacted the bus company as soon as I had arrived in Mae Hong Son. Surprisingly, some honest person had found them. I could pick them up in Chiang Mai. This event had shown me that I should not be too pessimistic in Thailand. The event directed  me back to Chiang Mai, maybe there was once again something more connected with.


Trekking tours have been for a long time the attraction of North Thailand but many people do not think that easily about the consequences. The nice guest house where I took a room offered some of these tours. They promised to go across the Burmese border, visiting guerilla camps of the Shan army and watching amazing animals. These tours were praised as absolute outdoor experience. The tour guide implied that we could smoke opium and ganja, shoot rifles or machine guns and visit some hilltribe villages. Any tour going through the jungle of Thailand is disturbing the nature. On the other side if you want to go deep enough into the forest then you will need a tour. It is much too dangerous to go alone. The most tours that claim to support eco tourism use this tag only to get more customers.  Otherwise you got to ask yourself why the equipment includes food which is wrapped into plastic packaging. Particularly, in country like Thailand these tours could get all the food fresh from the market. It is pretty shocking if you go on a trekking tour and see all the plastic rubbish thrown into the bushes. These tours lead to hilltribe communities. Those have hardly heard of recycling. They still live in balance with nature. The forest has given them for centuries food and building materials. They would never come onto the idea that there are freaks running around who do not care about the environment. So, if they see you throwing away plastic into their woods then they do not come automatically to the conclusion that this is bad. Who would be that crazy to destroy own living space? Tourists are seen by them as strangers, as superior beings with much better equipment. So, they will also start behaving as they have seen by these actual intruders. Therefor, I can only ask you to be considerate when you go on such a tour. Do not throw garbage away. It is even better if you insist that the food is fresh and does not come from the supermarket. Whatever you do on such a tour try to behave conscious about the environment. Try to be smart in your actions so that mother nature just does not have to suffer any bad consequences from your visit.

It is essential to be well equipped on trekking tours this includes particularly the shoes. Some trekking tours are completely different from ordinary walking in the forest, then good shoes are very important. The temptation to go on a tour was for me too tempting, so I needed good shoes. There should be hilltribe rubber shoes on the market which were pretty cheap. I found these shoes quickly and initially they did not seem to be too bad. I could imagine walking in them a couple of days. A South African suggested that I should wear them in the night before. He meant that it would help to widen them out. This sounded too crazy for me. Who sleeps with shoes?  I thought I was well equipped now with these sandals and waited eagerly for the next day.

Always try to get in advance as many information as possible if you go on an adventure, otherwise you might run into something you aren't prepared for. The tour should go over three days and two nights in the jungle. First, the paths were quite okay and we could make good progress. After a rain shower, that we spent in a soldier hut, we continued our tour. Now the underground got less pleasant, sticky and muddy and all of us got stuck at times. I had not realised that the rainy season had started heavily in the mountains. As my feet continued slipping out off my shoes, they got more and more tortured through the scratching at the hard back heel. Slowly but steadily, the  skin of my heels peeled off, split, cracked and then dissolved. Well yeah, the shoes were new and maybe I should have really worn them in the night. A few hours passed by, now my back heels did not have any skin anymore. Naked flesh rubbed against the rubber. In the afternoon, the first spots started to bleed. The flesh got too damaged and laid open in ruins. I tried to keep the destruction of my back heels under control. Handkerchiefs between shoes and my skin helped only temporarily. Iwas only half-conscious  as we arrived at the night camp. I fell down. I was exhausted. My feet killed me. Only opium and ganja together with the moonshine whiskey helped me that I could sleep. My preparation had been far from being at least essential. The information that I clearly lacked was about the qulity of the shoes.

Adapt to the circumstances, even if they are sometimes extremely strange. The following morning, one of the soldiers had a splendid idea and cut out the heels of the shoes. It helped me to make the walking bearable for the first hours. At one stage, we crossed into Myanmar. We were very careful as the soldiers had warned us of Shan rebels. The tour guide was armed and we were accompanied by two soldiers with army rifles. Two or three times the guide told us to stop and take cover. One time we could see a guerilla patrol moving through bushes. No hostile group seemed to care. Maybe the incidences were planned as a part of the trek. They had at least a dramatic effect. We did not see any fighting. sometimes, we heard riffle fire in the distance. We encountered one patrol. Our escort, the soldiers, told us to wait for them. They approached the troop and negotiated with them. Then, they came back and told us to continue walking. These events made the tour exciting. It was still weird because all looked like being acted from the participants. However, better to follow the tour guide than making any mistake out of stupidity or arrogance.

If you meet the residents of the jungle, please consider your actions. It is not amusing for any thinking person if people are treated similar to animals. In the afternoon, we came to a village of some hilltribe people. The other tourists behaved in my eyes ridiculous. They must have mistake the jungle with a zoo. I don't know, maybe they were only stupid and thought really that the hilltribe people were animals. Particularly, we had not seen any species of wild life yet. Of course, everybody else was taking pictures. They did not care that the guide told us the people did not like it. They had paid for the tour and so they thought they had the right to make some snapshots. The tourists just did not have any respect. This was far not the worst. Most of the foreign visitors had brought sweets. The guesthouse owner had even motivated them previously. Then, they started throwing sweets into the groups of children. They loved it to make pictures of the fighting kids. Probably back at home they would tell their friends 'look how wild they are, aren't they cute?' Some of the smaller boys had never seen candy before.  They put it with the paper into their mouths. Of course they spit out the paper. 'Isn't he cute, the poor guy, I would like to take one home. They need to get civilized.' Fuck no, they did not need to get used to modernization, they were happy, you stupid cow! Now I really hated my feet. If I had been fit, I would have told those brain dead walkers off! I was one of them, as I could not protect these guys. I felt like I watch watching open abuse and was helpless. Other boys started to cry because they did not get any of the sweets. They were too weak. Now some of the male holiday makers made their typical macho speeches 'Get used to it boy! I thought you were into survival of the fittest in this jungle!' Oh boy, I would like to be able to kick your ass! I was disgusted! I felt sorry for the hilltribe people. I had been stupid enough to support this. My money had helped to finance this tour. I would never go on a trekking tour again. At least not with a group of stupid tourists who want to show the dominance of the white race. They had no understanding for the basics of life. At home they were nothing. Here they could pretend to be superior to the natives.I was happy as we continued our way. It was far better to getting tortured through own stupidity, not having the right footwear, than having helplessly to watch people being too thick to be aware of their discriminating actions.

It is certainly interesting of going to the limit, challenges can help to progress in life but still it is not the smartest thing to accept every task. I was still not in good mood and physical condition. This tour had developed into complete torment.  I pushed myself into a delirium to neglect the suffering. I smoke increasingly more ganja and opium. It disconnected my mind from my body. That was the plan. It worked for the most time. The agony of my feet would not be the only thing to cause me distress. The second evening we had frog meat. It should be a delicatessen. It was not for me. I do not know if it was enhanced by the drugs and the alcohol but after the meal, I was only vomiting. Later in Thailand, I tried this food on two more occasions.  Both times I experienced the same. I can only advise you to be careful about strange food even if the locals praise  it. i dare to state a theory. Western civilization has made us too weak to live in real coexistence with nature anymore. So, we cannot enjoy all the pleasure of it as food as well. Amazingly, we do not get sick from chemicals in food. On the other side natural food can cause us problems. This can show us that a way back to nature is more complicated than some treehuggers believe to be. The obstacles on my way through the jungle caused by my pain and also now the food became tasks that challenged me a lot.

The tour raised many questions in me, most importantly it shaped my view for the hilltribe people. It had shown me how little so called modern people comprehend about the local people of the forest. Many Western people think that everything is there only for their pleasure. I am very skeptical that the trekk helped the hilltribe people in any instance. The tour raised also the question if those people should really be re-educated and replace in their economy drugs with cash crops. Isn't that only our perception?  Particularly in the modern environment, now more than twenty years later, the usage of ganja becomes an interesting question. Modern medicine is starting to develop a tolerance to it. There are medical facts about the plant that can't be denied anymore. We should be more tolerant to the way of life of other people. We have committed in modern societies so many crimes against nature that we maybe should have more respect. The indigenous people have lived for ages in perfect harmony with nature. Only because we believe to have the right to judge, it does not mean that our assessment has to be perfectly correct.

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