Hill tribe of smiles – Doi Ang Khang

Four of us sat at the back of the Ute. Hat, scarf, multiple layers which included pyjamas (don’t judge, I didn’t expect to head to the north of Thailand!) and we’re off. The air is misty and damp from the recent rain fall. We are all incredibly excited screaming ‘road trip’ from the top of our lungs. I am back to being 14 and on a school trip, all packed and ready for an adventure of the unknown. We are off to stay in the mountains.

From Fang it takes around 45 minute of incessant climbing to get to our destination. We climb further and further until the clouds are literally below us. The air is so fresh and clean, it hurts my lungs. It is also unbearably cold, with my knuckles turning white as I cling on to the bars, holding myself up with the wind blowing directly into my face. However it does not dampen the mood and merely adds to the anticipation of each bend in the road and the feeling of pure freedom that emanates from each of us. We comment in awe at the vast forest and intimidating mountains that seem to be endless in the distance. One, behind another, all different sizes creates such a breath-taking image.

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We arrive at the local village, Doi Angkhang, fairly fresh-faced from the open air journey. Taking in my surroundings and popping my ears from the pressure of being so high in the mountains, I take a deep breath.

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There is a small mud road, with shacks that line either side. I spot roosters and chickens that are chasing each other through the mud, clucking wildly. Pigs run and squeal beside us and the dog’s eye us suspiciously, their fur matted with the mud that has become slippery and thick with the recent torrential rain fall. The families watch us, watch them. Any eye contact brings massive smiles that fill their faces and radiates such warmth that is makes my heart ache. It makes me think of how important a smile is and that it’s just the best universal ‘language’. It’s easy to do, doesn’t cost a thing and can make such a difference to other people’s day, as well as your own. I thought that if I were to smile at anyone like that in the UK, they would either quickly divert their eyes, embarrassed by such a brazen act, or move away from you immediately, positive that you are obviously unstable. I am free to smile here, and I take advantage of this, smiling at everything.

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We are welcomed into our host’s home. Taking off our shoes (always in Thailand when stepping into someone’s home) we walk into what will be our place to stay for the next few nights. The floor is decorated with a few rugs here and there and I note there is a TV in the corner. Other than that it is completely bare. The host’s mother is sat on the floor smiling and taking in the sight of the new Farangs. We place our things into the corner before setting off to explore the village. We pass many locals in their traditional tribal dress. There is a small shop that sells various meats and vegetables. Children are running everywhere, eyeing us with curiosity and shyness. Their clothes are thick with mud as they jump into the puddles. I look at a group that are playing with marbles on the wooden porch, laughing and giggling, absorbed in the game. I am taken back to being a child again and how hours can be lost, just playing with figurines, cards or even Pogs(remember Pogs?) Why is it when you get older you just seem to lose that ‘fun’? Responsibly, that’s what you may think but that’s rubbish. I can’t say I have a lot of responsibility now, but I could not sit on the floor with figurines and play ‘school’ (what I used to do when I was a kid) for hours on end. I did try it and after 5 minutes though ‘what a ridiculous waste of time’ and quickly placed the toys back in their box to gather dust.

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I watch as three children around 5 years of age, have a cardboard box, split it into three, makes holes in the top and put them on so they are worn on the their hips. With sticks they then start drumming. Your very own self-made band. Amazing. We continue walking 5 minutes and arrive at the Burma border. Two soldiers guard the road and my friend squeals in delight at how handsome they are, running over for a photo opportunity. I also get involved as it would be rude not too! (Any excuse) Childishly I then couldn’t help putting one foot in and one foot out. ‘Burma, Thailand, Burma, Thailand’. All four of us proceed to do this little dance, not once ashamed of our childishness.

Around 6pm we make our way back to our hosts home where we eat dinner, crossed legged on the floor. The food is out of this world delicious. All home cooked by the hosts sister-in-law. There is a home-made chilli, lime and coriander sauce, chicken soup with big chunks of chicken, spicy pork which had been cooked in bamboo and roasted on the fire, various vegetables, fried with tasty secret recipe sauces and plenty of rice. It was a feast. After dinner it was straight to bed. All four of us sleeping on mattresses on the floor, listening to the rain outside.

The next day we crossed the border into Burma for the small market. I could not control myself, coming away with heaps of handmade scarfs made by the village people. Fisherman’s pants, bags, scarfs, jewellery, honey and other suspicious potions and animal heads were there to buy.

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After throwing baht left right and centre, we made our way to another local village for lunch. After filling our stomachs with glass noodles, rice and chicken we make our way to the flower garden. 50 baht entry and we were in to explore the fields of poppies, rows of roses and many other exotic, breath-taking plants that stood to attention. After we were satisfied with taking in so many colours and natural beauty we made our way back to our host’s home to again eat home-made food and drink rice wine that had us deep in philosophical conversations around the bonfire.

Next day after waiting for 4 hours for the torrential rain to subside we made our way back to the temple. Hearts full of the warmth of the hill tribe people and the kindness we experienced.

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