A few days in a Lahu village (a hill tribe village) near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Try to imagine it: stilt houses made of wood and bamboo, beautiful lush green mountains, chickens and pigs around the streets, an interesting culture and friendly people. How is it to live there?
It’s incredible how fast we can get used to our comfort zone.
I traveled for 11 months in different countries, with limited commodities, adapting to all kind of situations. After that I spent 3 months at home. When the road called me again, I felt excited about the new trip but also nervous, uneasy, like I had forgotten how to travel.
Fortunately when I arrived at the airport in Barcelona I felt comfortable. Happy. I was traveling again, yes!
So it turns out that traveling is like riding a bicycle: once you learn it, you never forget.
And this was a long journey. It took me two flights to reach Bangkok. Then the skytrain, metro and a local city bus to reach the bus station to take the night bus to Chiang Mai. In Chiang Mai I walked 4 km to another bus station, took a local bus, and got off at a market on the road where a taxi picked me up to my final destination.
In total, almost 48 hours of travel non-stop! But it was worth.
Where did I go? To Huey Naam Rin, a Lahu village (a hill tribe village) in northern Thailand.
Huey Naam Rin is located in the mountains, surrounded by lush green forests. My first impression of the village was a flashback: it reminded me a lot of Huay Bo, the off the beaten path village I visited in northern Laos a bit more than a year ago.
I have very good memories from Huay Bo so I instantly knew I would love the Lahu village.
A part from a couple of main streets, the houses seem to have been built randomly, without any order. They are stilt constructions made of wood and bamboo with a metallic roof, and the lower part of the house can be used for everything: for storage, for drying the clothes, or for keeping the animals.
The animals… I cannot imagine the village without the animals! There were chickens, pigs and dogs walking freely in the streets, like a big farm. They were very friendly and talkative and used to wake up very early. I could hear them as early as 4:00 am, even before the sunrise! Which, of course, motivated me to go to sleep early and wake up early as well.
The houses usually have a common area which is open, that is, without a roof or walls; and around this platform there are one or several rooms. Of course there is no heating so it was a bit cold in the night when the temperature dropped to around 6-7ºC. On the other hand days were warm (24-25ºC) so it was pleasant to go around.
These wooden houses have no bathroom. Instead, there are several communal ones made of concrete. Inside them there is a squat toilet and one or two big containers with water. This water is used to “flush the toilet”, wash clothes or take a shower.
There is a lot of street life in the Lahu village: adults cutting wood or kids playing are a common sight. People in the village all know each other and help each other when necessary. For example, to build a new house for a family. If help is needed an announcement is made through a loudspeaker. I used to hear several announcements per day, but I don’t know if the loudspeaker had other uses since I couldn’t understand the language.
Life in the village is very simple but there is electricity network, TV antennas and a lot of scooters. There is no internet but there is a very good phone signal so it’s possible to access internet using a local SIM card with a data plan. There were also a couple of cafeterias and a small shop.
The inhabitant of the village are Lahu people. They were originally from Tibet and Southwest China and emigrated to northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Nomadic in the past, they finally settled down in villages and are nowadays sedentary, making a living from agriculture and farming.
Their native language is Lahu and most of them don’t speak Thai (nor English, of course). I learned one word, the most useful one: “davaioooo”, pronounced like this, with a long “ooooo” at the end (meaning “hello”). With that and a smile communication was possible!
In the village there was also a “circle” for ceremonies. The ceremonies are done to wish good luck to the villagers who, for example, get married (or buy a new scooter!). I couldn’t learn much about the ceremonies but I saw one one night. It was a small one, with few people and traditional music.
The massage school and my life in the village
By now you might be wondering, how did I find the Lahu village? Well, I got there because there is a Thai massage school. A friend of mine was taking the course and I was allowed to stay as a guest.
The Thai massage school was founded by Asokananda. He was a native German who is said to be the leading western teacher of Traditional Thai Yoga massage. He had been a buddhist monk, and taught Thai massage, yoga and Vipassana meditation for more than 15 years. He passed away on 2005.
Following his teachings Thai massage is taught in the school from a buddhist spiritual point of view. Thai massage is not a simple massage, it is also about the exchange of energy, the relation that is created between the person giving the the one receiving the massage.
The students had extra classes of meditation and tai chi. Morning meditation started at 5:30am (before sunrise), tai chi classes took place at 6:30am and evening meditation right after dinner. As a guest, I was allowed to join them and I always did in the evenings and sometimes in the morning (5:30am is very early for me! but the animals certainly helped me woke up on time).
Meals were provided by the school three times a day, consisting on vegetarian rice-based dishes. I was afraid it might be monotonous but I actually enjoyed a lot the food. Breakfast was rice with papaya and cooked pumpkin, that I topped with sesame. Lunch and dinner consisted on different vegetables with rice, and exceptionally sometimes we got noodles!
Accommodation was provided by the families in the village. I stayed in one wooden stilt hut where I also worked while everyone else was in the massage course.
I’m writing this from Chiang Mai, where I came after the days I spent in the Lahu village. It feels so good to be on the road again. And I cannot imagine a better place to have started this trip: beautiful and quiet, with an interesting culture and friendly people.
GOOD TO KNOW
- Huey Naam Rin (the Lahu village) is about 2 hours from Chiang Mai in direction to Chiang Rai.
- The Thai massage school is called Sunshine network (I didn’t take the course but payed for my stay as a guest).
- Visiting the Lahu village: it’s possible to visit the village without taking part in the Thai massage course. Some information and a contact form can be found in asokananda.com.
- How to get to the Lahu village: the Thai massage school arranges transport from Chiang Mai the day before courses start and the day the courses finish. If you want to go on different dates they will provide you the directions.
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