I have been to Phayao many times and this time I saw interesting places that I had not been to before. I never knew about a local celebrity known as Mr. Violin a popular attraction. Mr. Tongporn Soondote originally from Kanchanaburi came to Phayao in the government civil service over 30 years ago. Throughout his career, he taught himself how to play the violin in his spare time. He cannot read music and because he is left handed, he cannot ‘fit’ into an orchestra set up. Instead, he performs for his many regular customers who order Padt Thai noodles every day at lunch time in his family’s shop where his wife and children also work.
As we drove to Pong District, the eastern part of Phayao province through the mountain range there were acres and acres of cornstalks planted near the side of the road and high up on the steep hillsides. Bright pink dragon fruit is largely planted in this area. The staple crops of the area are seasonal fruit and corn.
We stopped at the village of Pa Chin Noy to stop in the OTOP shop managed by Mien tribal housewives. On the shelves were packages of wild Jiaogulan ‘tea’ and embroidered wall hangings. Jiaogulan is best known as traditional Chinese herbal medicine reputed to have powerful antioxidant and adaptogenic effects that increase longevity.
Visitors are greeted here by the Mien elders leading a procession of drums and dancers. Each visitor is presented with a hard boiled egg that was dyed in red dye. It’s all tied up nicely on a string and hung around the neck like a ‘mojo’ representing an auspicious spirit for the wearer in the belief they will be safe during the trip in this area of Phayao province. The spirit drawn to the boiled egg will protect the wearer. Red is the auspicious color of the Mien and red is seen often in their cross-stitching and other garment details.
The women described to us the meaning of the intricate patterns on the lowest cuff of the wide leg trousers they wore. The bottom panel icons were soldiers, weapons and a wall. This signifies protection for the tribe as they migrated through the mountains many years ago. New symbols have been added representing livestock, rice grains and homes that is a common part of their life-style in these days.
We were at the OTOP shop at 1.30 PM and it was very hot and humid at the altitude of 600 msl. The heat seemed to be out of place as we were among the green trees and only a few narrow streets in the rural area. Obviously, we were not at the 1,700 height of the Pu Langga Mountain we had read about in the press release. The mountain is also known for its ‘sea of clouds” amid the panoramic views.
We took a short side trip to a resort of bamboo A-frame cottages. That’s the setting to get away from frenetic city life for sure. Each compact cabin had a small terrace perfect for gazing down into the small faming valley with mountain back drop. While we were there we saw a colorful Mien life prolonging ceremony taking place for a middle aged married couple.
Our knowledgeable guide was Ajarn Kaywin Srisombat who came to this area thirty years ago as the head of the local elementary school. He was proud that there are now 300 students studying in this school offering nursery level to Maw 3 grade. Ajarn Kaywin took us to visit the small museum where the historic “Proclamation to Travel” is displayed in one wall. “Proclamation to Travel” was issued by the last emperor of the Song dynasty. It’s an impressive document to be seen measuring nearly eight feet long encased in a gold tone frame. Though according to Ajarn Kaywin, the travel started out of China 2,700 years ago, this particular document had been copied by hand over 1,000 years ago. The document declares the 12 family names of Sae of the Yao tribe.
The emperor decreed “go out and build sustainable villages wherever appropriate”. His daughters were encouraged to travel abroad to marry men outside of China. Each husband of a royal daughter came into the royal family and the sons in law were also be accepted as royalty. The daughters born of the union of royal couples however would be married and join their husband’s family after a dowry amounting to their body weight in gold was paid in gold bars to the parents.
The museum also contained examples of traps, basketry, instruments, implements and other items that were used in the tribal community.
Only a few minutes later, we drove in the Pu Langga Forest Park for a meeting with the Chief of the Park, Mr. Somchard. We also met the chief of the Bang Kha Royal Project, Mr. Seri. Our group was shown a power point presentation with the history of the area of the park. The park has been welcoming visitors for seven years. At that time the only accommodation was a long single storey building. Completed as of December 2008, are seven comfortable bungalows with toilet/show, pantry and a long room that can accommodate up to 4 twin beds. There are plenty of attractions for guests to fill up a three day stay here. Most years the repeat visitors who previously enjoyed the 4-wheel drive journeys always return. At a height of 1,720 meters, it’s not surprising to know a spot known as “Heaven’s Door’ is so beautiful. We were told we would go there the following day in 4 wheel drive trucks.
Later after the briefing, we had an outdoor dinner with entertainment by the village children playing folk instruments and performing folk dances. There were millions of stars to be seen in the black sky.
The next day we were up early for the drive to a higher camp at 900 msl. We walked up a very steep 200 meters to the view point. Too bad, there were too many clouds to see any distant mountain ranges. Around 8.30 AM we drove in a 4-wheel pick up to Doi Nohm adjacent to Pu Langga mountain. What a drive that was. I felt like I was sitting in a blender. The driver was so very competent. I never worried in the slightest abort sliding off the trail. And what else? Oh yes, another ‘200 meter’ walk in the park The clouds kept blowing around us in the cool and eerie setting. We saw evidence of wildlife not the actual bodies of wild boar or the rabbit population but other types of left-after evidence. Across the path was a worm as large as a snake. Beautiful patches of green velvety moss with dew drops were all around straggly tree trunks.
Khun Somchart pointed out that the majority of people in Thailand blame the hilltribes for destroying the wood forests. However, the hilltribes were aware that a field could only naturally produce one crop per year and so they planted every five years rotating property every year. That way the property could revitalize itself.
Only four of the group was able to see the views from Heaven’s Gate because of the demand of driving the 4-wheel up the mountain where there were no roads. Chief Somchart proved to be very skilled driving in a range of conditions and have the ability to skillfully and successfully negotiate his way out of each tough situation.
About mid day our encounter with Mother Nature came to an end. We stopped in Phayao city to enjoy one of the best cups of hot Capucino I can remember. Then a fond farewell to the peaceful lake and return to Chiang Mai.
Now only a memory is the far eastern mountain ranges of Phayao, the spread of green leaves from tall trees, the crowing stalks of corn, and the friendly Mien people in their colorful attire. Will this promising perspective last until your visit? You better make a visit soon. You can contact the Royal Project Office (053-810765 ext, 104, 108) to make arrangements to Pu Langga. By the way, in January 2010 an international ballooning festival will take place at Pu Langga.
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