Our homestay, organised through Mirror, allows us to stay with local Thai's in their villages. We eat the same food, sleep in similar beds, help cook and genuinely experience life as it is in a hilltribe.
MORNING NUMBER 1
Our morning started with a trip into Chiang Rai to see the Emerald Buddha complex - including Wat Phra Kaew, Phra Chedi, Phra Ubosot, Ho Phra Yoke, Hong Luang Saengkaew. Hong Luang Saengkaew, a minature museum filled with century old relics was my favourite building in the complex.
From here we took a songthaew to a local village where we rode elephants through the streets and into the river. The elephants were beautiful and oh so huge! It was an amazing yet not quite comfortable experience. The only draw back of the experience was that our "driver" used his whip and hook when it wasn't needed and was being unnecessarily cruel to our elephant. (I have been told since that while there are some fantastic elephant tours and safaris, there are also many who treat the elephants in a way that many westerners and animal lovers would find cruel and inhumane)
We visited a waterfall near Jalae village, snacked on some amazing sticky rice and chicken before making out way up the steep hills to the village of Yafu. The house I stayed in was beautiful - a wooden hut where we cook, eat and sleep in the same room. The family sleeps in a little room next door. The floor is made of bamboo strips and you can see the ground and the animals wandering beneath. It is considerably cool considering how hot it is outside.
Our family are semi-welcoming. They don't speak any english but luckily enough we have one of the interns staying with us and she attempts to translate for us. Translating can even be difficult for Thai's, particularly when in hilltribe villages. Each hilltribe usually has its own dialect that differs somewhat from the Thai that is spoken in the cities.
We were lucky enough to arrive at Yafu on the day that they celebrate Chinese New Year and hence got to participate in the Lahu celebrations. Lahu members dressed in traditional clothing played the drums and danced around a sacrificial area decorated in coloured paper and supporting a pigs head for sacrifice.
MORNING NUMBER 2
We had breakfast with our host family an then said 'Aroingna' and 'Abudja' (delicious and goodbye) before continuing our trek through the mountains to the village of Banapa.
The 4.5km walk was through forest an along the edges of the mountains. The track was thin, tedious and at times a bit slippery but it was the most beautiful walk I've ever been on.
A short walk from the Banapa village took us to our lunch spot, where we were cooked rice, meat and eggs. The eggs were boiled in logs of bamboo (filled with water) placed over the fire, while the rice was wrapped in huge banana leaves.
Banapa would have to be my favourite village so far, particularly because of where I was staying. The lady and her family are so adorably lovely - she gave us bananas, showed us the handicrafts she had made, and pictures of her family and her friends. She had a daughter and the girl next door also spent a lot of time with us. The girls spoke a little english however all our communication with the mother was through gestures and signs. She was was amazingly happy and constantly trying to convey some kind of story or message to us. We had dinner with the three of them and then they dressed us for the Akha ceremony that we would take part in. The Akha traditional costumes are so intricate with beads and feathers and have so many layers, and the girls dressed us with such perfection and pride. By the time i was fully dressed I was wearing the most beautiful beaded head cover, a skirt, jacket, bag, shell belt and shin covers.
We danced around a fire (well really the dance steps are more like walking in time), and even though the dancing wasn't quite as spectacular as that of the Lahu village, it was much more friendly.
MORNING NUMBER 3
I attempted to be up on time this morning so that I could help with breakfast preparations - little did I know that they began at about 5:30 in the morning so everything was ready by the time I got there. Our family have been so lovely and I was really disappointed to be leaving. They gave each of us an Akha wristband and some bananas before leaving and some small plastic flowers for our hair.
Staying in the villages, particularly Banapa, has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.