by Reinhard Hohler, Chiang Mai
Under the theme “Human Rights” Professor Paul Chambers from Naresuan University in Phitsanulok conducted another fieldtrip from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle. Six American female students, one of them from the Hmong ethnicity, took valuable notes from the vast knowledge of the professor in political science during the 4-day trip, which went along the following program:
Day 1: Starting at 13.00 on July 2, the route took along National Highway No.107 from Chiang Mai via Mae Rim to Chiang Dao, where the students could see the high mountain front of Doi Chiang Dao. On the way to Chai Prakan, we passed a Hmong Village and took a right turn some 10km short of reaching the town of Fang. There still can be seen the oldest oil field of Northern Thailand, while the scenic road took some 60 km to reach the crossroads with National Highway No.118 at Mae Suai, where Akha and Lisu villages abound. It took another hour to reach our first destination Chiang Rai at 17.00, where we stayed at the centrally located B2 Hotel. From there it was only a short walk to the lively night bazaar area to have a local dinner.
Day 2: We early checked out from the hotel at 8.00 to visit two non-governmental organizations in the morning, namely the Mirror Foundation and The freedom Story. We learned at the 25 years old “Mirror Foundation” that there are some 2,586,089 people in Thailand living without citizenship – mostly hill tribes and political refugees. Without any documentation just like an important birth certificate, people get registered with either a white, pink or blue card. Human trafficking is rampant so that the Strengthening Human Rights Project was created to help these people. For further information, please go to: www.tobethai.org
In the town office from “The freedom Story” we realized that we all live in a global village, where the secret to freedom is courage. Alarming was the number of 60,000 children in Thailand, who are exploited for sex. Actually it is poverty that makes some 425,500 people risky to fall into the traps of human trafficking. People get trafficked mainly to the Middle East, Malaysia and Japan. Some 22% of prostitutes never had a finished school education, while 9.9% never attended school. To give scholarships is just one way to help. Counseling and a sustainable development in agriculture and handicraft production are other ways to prevent trafficking. It is worth knowing that prostitution in Thailand is illegal, but not much to do against it. For further information, please go to: www.thefreedomstory.org
From Chiang Rai we continued to Doi Mae Salong through the mountains that we reached at 13.00. We had a special Yunnanese lunch at General Tuan’s Restaurant at km 895 counted from Bangkok. In the afternoon we visited the Nationalist Chinese Army Regiment Memorial Museum and heard the story of the lost “Kuomintang” army, after Mao Zedong had his victory over Chiang Kai-Shek in 1949.
Also, we had the chance to visit the tomb of General Tuan, who had died in 1980 by heart attack. Actually the Kuomintang came via the Burmese Shan State and then used by the Thai Government to fight against the Communist insurgency, which was headed by the Hmong near the Lao border in 1965. At that time Doi Mae Salong was used as center of opium production. Another KMT General, General Li (who died 2000), had his headquarters in Tham Ngob – also near today’s Myanmar border in Chiang Mai Province. Since 1991, tea came as a substitute for opium and with the support of Taiwanese experts help was given in agriculture production, tea and livestock producing, road construction and water resource management, educational guidance, hygienic and medical promotion, handicraft skill training for women, social and financial aid for the poor as well as housing rebuild for the homeless. At 17.00 we checked in at the Baan See See Mountain View Guesthouse and had an optional dinner at the Shinsane Guesthouse & Bungalow, which was the first guesthouse at Mae Salong since 1970.
Day 3: After checkout at our guesthouse at 8.30, we continued in Mae Salong to visit the 101 Tea Plantation. Owned by an Akha entrepreneur, the tea plantation was founded some 20 years ago and it was there that we could taste different tea varieties and learned about the tea production process from picking tea leaves, fermentation and drying the final products. The benefit of drinking tea is overwhelmingly healthy against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Further on, we continued on a winding road to Ban Thoed Thai, the former Ban Hin Taek, which we reached at 10.00. Luckily, there was a Shan memorial festival for Khun Sa, who is revered as a freedom fighter as well as a drug king. We had the chance to see his old camp site and inspected his former living room and bed room. Also, we got an overview of the history of the Shan people inside the attached museum. Actually, Khun Sa is seen as the “George Washington” of the Shan State. Was the festival planned therefore on July 4th, the Independence Day for the USA?
Leaving the mountains of Northern Thailand behind, we drove to the Mekong River Valley at the Golden Triangle, where we had a buffet lunch in a local restaurant at 13.00. In the afternoon, we visited the modern museum of the Hall of Opium, which was created by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage. The highlight of the day came, when we had a boat trip on the Mekong River to visit Don Sao Island, where is a nearby casino and big border market on the Lao side of the Golden Triangle. After that we drove to Mae Sai, where we had our last overnight at the Piyaporn Place Hotel.
Day 4: After a breakfast at the hotel, the students had the chance to visit Myanmar’s Tachileik across the border from Mae Sai or visit the local Doi Wao market in Mae Sai, which offers a lot of local products such as fruits, vegetables, meats, clothes, shoes and imported articles from China. At 12.00 we checked out from the Piyaporn Place Hotel and drove to Chiang Rai and then on National Road No.118 via Mae Suai and Wiang Pa Pao back to Chiang Mai, which we reached at 17.00. Needless to say all the students were happy to have made such an eventful and informative study trip.