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Lisu Adventure in Baan Thatorn, Chiang Mai


Article contributed by: All Thailand Experiences

After reading the article "Bed and Breakfast, Lisu Style" in the July issue of Welcome to Chiangmai & Chiangrai I became very curious about Asa's Guest Home located in Baan Thatorn. I have been trekking before and wanted to go again, but I was looking for something different. At Asa's, I found what I wanted.

I left Chiangmai on the 9 am bus from the Chang Puak bus station bound for Thatorn. Once in Thatorn, I walked along the main road, a short 200 meters or so north of the town to a songthaew stop. I was asked politely where I wanted to go and said the Lisu village. I was told that the songthaews departed every thirty minutes and we would be leaving in ten minutes. The trip would take an hour and a half.

The passengers of the vehicle were colorfully dressed Akha, Karen, Lisu, and Lahu tribal men, women and children. I rode on the top with other passengers, surrounded by baskets of various goods, and two school boys.

The driver was cautiously slow which made the views of the surrounding fields and mountains fantastic.

We made a right turn off the main road and the boys proudly told me that we were going to their village -- Baan Mai Mork Jaam. This was an extra treat since the songthaews go there only when they have enough passing passengers to go off of the main route. We traveled a couple of kilometers up a mountain side making the view from the top superb. We were looking down at the boys' Chinese style village combined with a beautiful Burmese style temple and the Mae Kok River snaking through the valley. After dropping the boys and other people off, we started down a dirt road winding through rice and vegetable fields. This was a delightful sight since many different ethnic hilltribes were working side by side in their colorful costumes. Some were planting rice and others were behind water buffaloes ploughing the muddy ground. The men were waving and shouting hello while the girls smiled and giggled. Compared to the modern city life I had just experienced, I felt as if I had just stepped back in the past in this unique place.

When we were back on the main road, I definitely wanted to return to that little village of Baan Mai Mork Jaam. It would be some other time as my plans were to go to Asa's home. But it turned out Asa's home was only a few kilometers away.

I was left off at the corner to the Lisu village. After paying the songthaew driver ten Baht, I was greeted by a motorbike taxi driver. He knew I wanted to go to Asa's Guest Home. He said that the 1,500 meter ride to his front door would be 20 Baht. When I agreed, he put my large backpack in the cradle between his legs. I hopped on the back and away we went up the hill through lynchee orchards while sighting the colorful Lisu women walking back to their homes. Their hoes were rested on their shoulders and baskets slung on their backs were filled with vegetables.

Upon arrival I was greeted with a warm smile.

"Hello, my name is Asa. May I ask you your name?"

His wife followed quickly with a refreshing cold washcloth and handed it to me saying "My name is Wheepah, please come and sit down out of the hot sun".

There was a couple from England who had arrived about an hour before myself. They were looking at a photo album and recommendation letters from visitors who had been in the jungle with Asa's family. We talked together and decided we would do a one night jungle trek with visits to a few primitive villages together.
That afternoon we were shown around the Lisu village. Later during that evening I had a wonderful dinner while Asa's father played a Lisu musical instrument which he had made by hand.

The next morning we left his house with three guides -- Asa's two brothers and uncle. They all spoke English but were somewhat shy at first. During the first couple of hours, we walked uphill while witnessing tribal people working in their corn fields on almost vertical slopes. We stopped often to take a drink of water and rest under the shade while admiring the view down below.
We then came upon a stream that lead into a dense jungle. Our guides began harvesting herbs, spices, and wild vegetables. They told us what they were called in Lisu and all the medical benefits of eating jungle plants. They also gathered wild fruits, berries, bamboo shoots, and banana flowers. By the time we reached a waterfall for lunch, we were already half full from tasting the delicious wild fruits and berries. We rested a while cooling off under the waterfall. Many colorful birds and butterflies were enjoying the fresh water as we much as we were and they didn't seem to mind our intrusion into their territory.

From here we left the stream and cut our way through the jungle to a plateau on top of the mountain. We were told to stop while one guide proceeded on his own. He came back in a few minutes. Then we followed him to where he was pointing at animal tracks in the soft ground. We had to move on quietly. We hid behind a tree and saw dirt flying high into the air from a hole in the ground. Our guides raced to the hole and an awful scream was heard with the words "come here quick!"

We ran to the hole and our guides had a huge wild hog pinned to the ground squealing loudly. They tied a rope around one hind leg and pulled it away from the hole. They pinned it to the ground again and released the rope and the hog vanished into the brush. We were told the hog was digging for roots to eat and if it saw us first it might attack.

I asked why they didn't kill it for eating. I was told that they raised pigs and did not like to harm jungle animals. They also said the very poor tribal people hunt them because they need the food, and so they leave the animals for the less fortunate.

We came up with another stream and started down a waterfall where we made camp. Our guides began building two huts out of bamboo and banana leaves. Rice was wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed inside the bamboo. Water was brought from a nearby spring in hollow bamboo tubes. All the vegetables from the jungle, along with those brought with us were then loaded into the bamboo tubes and placed on the campfire. A live chicken that the guides brought with was prepared then put on skewers and placed near the fire. Cups, glasses, bowls, spoons, chopsticks, and all cooking utensils were handmade out of bamboo in front of our eyes.

We showered under the waterfall while our guides made an altar for the jungle spirits to discourage them from entering our camp. After a delicious dinner, we fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle.

We awoke to a delicious breakfast. We then followed the stream downhill and out of the jungle. As soon as we left, an Akha village lay before us nestled in a mountain canyon. We stopped there for lunch and visited with the Akha people for an hour or so before moving on to visit a small Karen village. We finally returned to Asa's around three in the afternoon.

We were all very tired but still buzzing from the experience. The evening was quiet as everyone was writing in their journals about the great time we had in the jungle. After a refreshing shower we had another wonderful dinner. The comfortable bed in our own rooms were inviting. Sleep came easily and the next morning came early as we ate breakfast and said our good byes.

This is an adventure I would gladly do again and again. For those who say "been there, done that" I bet you haven't done this one yet.