After a terribly long, hot spell with a thick wedge of social strife that kept parts of Bangkok on edge and the media churning, I’m happy to be submitting a new blog entry. For all those who might have been planning a trip to Thailand, I’d like to allay anyone’s fear of traveling to this beautiful country. It’s perfectly safe.

While the recent loss of lives in Bangkok is a tragedy that cannot be measured and the loss of property not insignificant but repairable, the political ruckus should be viewed more properly as something akin to an ancient Greek drama between those relatively few Olympiads–Titans and Demigods–who are always enmeshed in one intrigue after another, struggling to protect their turf, while we hoi poloi simply go about business as usual.

The international media has been as guilty as anyone of promoting struggles that simply do not exist to the extent portrayed. The gap between the rich and poor exist here as it does in every other country. But Thailand’s poor and lower middle-class fare much better than most developing countries and, in fact, in regards to access to food and medical care, the poorest here are  probably better off than the poorest in the United States. This is not say, of course, that there are not huge inequities and class divisions that often seem insurmountable, but the battles we have recently seen here are not so much about class struggle as they were about power struggles.

View from Doi Chang

a profusion of exotic flowers everywhere.

My young protégé, Chang lek, his family and I decided to head north to see if the landscape and its inhabitants had been leveled by disappointment from the recent political outcome. Chang Lek, by the way, is from the Akha hill tribe and is a remarkable young artist who has moved directly into contemporary abstraction without any of the cultural influences that are ever prevalent  here.

a Pineapple crop planted by Chang lek and his uncles near Mae Suay.

We went first toward his village near Doi Chang (elephant mountain), weaving ever higher into the rich coffee farms that lie enshrouded in clouds. Doi Chang is inhabited mostly by Lisu and Akha hill tribes.

Early morning from an Akha village near Chiang Rai.

From here, we meandered on up to Mae Sai at the most northern edge of Thailand that borders Myanmar (Burma)and then headed east toward Chiang Saen, the port city of the Golden Triangle where one can see Burma, Thailand and Laos while having tea on the edge of the Mekong River. Chiang Saan is the birthplace of King Mengrai, founder of the Lanna Kingdom.

view of the Mekong River from Chiang Saen.

We then took a diagonal, zig-zagging journey back down through the heartland of the upper northeastern part of the country.

rice fields at the end of the day.

We stopped in the small city of Phayao, situated on the edge of Lake Phayao in the valley of the Ing River; it was originally founded in 1096. For its small size it seems remarkably progressive and extraordinarily clean. The citizens take much pride in keeping it litter-free.

There is an expansive promenade that edges the lake where the people gather and socialize. An ancient city lies submerged just off the shore and the community is currently in the process of building an earthen barrier around it from which the water will pumped out and the old city reclaimed.

promenade on Lake Phayao.

part of the ancient city recovered from Lake Phayao

islands of lotus, Lake Phayoa.

All in all, we found no disappointment; especially  for us. It was a lovely journey. One main reason for the trip was to gather information about some upcoming tours we’ll be promoting during the winter months. These will include, of course, wonderful elephant experiences further south coupled with several days into the hilltribe country. Chang Lek speaks English, Thai, Akha, a smattering of Lisu and Lahu.  This endeavor will be officially announced in a later blog and adjunct to my web site.  By the way, Chang Lek is the official Mr. Congenial for the fascinating elephant tours offered by Jami Sieber and will continue his work with her on those as well as the ones we’ll be offering.

Chang Lek with daughter Gam (front) and  his friend Paan.

Stay tuned….. panom, Galen