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From Bangkok to Pai,….

From Bangkok to Pai,....

1 p.m. 'Hakke Hakke Tuf Tuf'

Photography & text: John Baggen

1 p.m. 'Hakke Hakke Tuf Tuf'

On the program is Thailand. We always have a motto during our travels. “Where the tourist goes left, we go right.” So we don’t go to the white beaches in the south, nor do we want to drink cocktails in Phuket. Our destination is northern Pai. As a photographer, you look for images in the capillaries of society, often still unknown to us. For that, we will go on a jungle trek to a Hill Tripe Village on the border with Myanmar in the far north of Thailand.

Air travel is always a “thingy. For a jungle trek, you cannot bring all the equipment. Look critically in the camera cases and think carefully about what goes with you and what doesn’t. You’d rather leave two pairs of pants at home to be able to bring one extra lens. Packed and packed, we fly from Amsterdam to Bangkok. There we spent the night to take the train to Chiang Mai a day later.

It becomes...
'Kedeng kedeng kedeng kedeng oe oe oe!!!'

We eat another serving of Pad Thai, a delicious noodle dish with egg and peanuts. After all, you don’t know what to expect on the train. The scheduled departure time is 18:10 and we are expected to arrive in Chiang Mai tomorrow morning around 7:00. It does say in the headline this article ‘Hakke Hakke Tuf Tuf’ but it ends up being more ‘Kedeng kedeng kedeng kedeng oe oe!!!’ What an impressive journey and what a different world.

In the Netherlands, I believe 7,012 km of track surround 7,012 km of fencing. “That’s for safety, otherwise people will walk on the tracks.” It almost makes me laugh as I look out the window of the train. We would have little trouble fishing laundry off the wire in passing houses. The train really runs right through the neighborhood and right in front of the door. We gradually exchange the urban landscape for more spacious views after an hour. We pass one village after another. By the way, the door of the train is just open. That gives some coolness. It just ended up being 35 degrees. This temperature is beautifully combined with a humidity that makes you feel like you are swimming in a fishbowl. Especially if you can sit comfortably in the doorway with legs outboard, it is wonderful to feel the wind between your toes. Try to imagine this between Den Bosch and Utrecht?

The restoration wagon,... a 'Star Restaurant' on wheels

It begins to dusk a bit and suddenly we smell the scent of Thai cuisine. When we investigate, the next carriage turns out to be and actual restaurant. Our surprise reaches a peak when we face the menu. A written polonaise of the most delicious dishes. Last but not least, they also served a cool pint. The dining car was a “star restaurant” on wheels that has yet to be discovered by the Guide Michelin.

Making contact with fellow travelers goes like clockwork. Everyone is like-minded but also like-minded. So in no time we are playing cards with three students from Berlin and a girl from Canada. At the table across from us sits a couple from Italy talking to a boy from Denmark, and they tell about their trip through the Andes. All on the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. In a word…. awesome!!!

But 762 turns over 128 kilometers

In Chiang Mai, we look for a place to sleep. Fit as a fiddle, we found ourselves waiting for Jim the next morning. He is our guide for the next few days. Our belongings are loaded into the jeep. The road to Pai is an adventure though. It is also known as “The 762 curves road. We did not count them. That is, somewhere at 90 we lost count and there may well have been a few more or less.

Fortunately, Jim very ably lapped the car over this winding mountain road. With sailor’s legs, we step out 2.5 hours later at a spot at the edge of the forest. At the bottom of a narrow mountain path, in a large pool of water, an elephant is bathing. A young elephant stands watching. Our guide thought we would enjoy this. They were not elephants living in complete freedom but rather in their habitat.

A man was busy scrubbing the elephant’s back in the water. We were asked if we wanted to help out. Then let’s play tourist anyway. It was impossible to resist touching such an imposing animal. Very surreal to suddenly be standing in the water with rolled-up pant legs and scrubbing an elephant’s back with a brush the size of a broom. We are not yet completely rid of this tourist attraction. What we don’t know yet is that our elephant is being prepared for a trip through the jungle with us on its neck. Dear me, how high you are then. Quietly and thoughtfully, the elephant begins to walk uphill. The path is barely one meter wide and the elephant is really much wider. It’s giant excitement but also fat enjoyment. After an hour, this adventure is over. Jim had it right after all. The elephant was not a tourist attraction but our transfer from civilization to the edge of the jungle.

A brisk walk in the woods?

From here begins the journey we ultimately came for. Our backpack on, and cameras at the ready on the way to the Hill Tribe Village. When the path goes downhill, we really need a stick to lean on. We don’t walk, we slither and slide from tree to tree and steeply downhill. This is really different from a brisk walk in the woods. Out of breath, exhausted and soaking wet with sweat, we rested for a few hours later.

Jim seems by no means tired and tells us all about jungle life. Beetles, spiders and other insects go their way imperturbably. Jim chops a bite out of the bark of a tree with a machete. We taste the white sap flowing from the tree. This tastes like pure paracetamol, and that’s right. Jim explains that when people are in pain somewhere they take some of this fluid as a painkiller. The jungle turns out to be one big pharmacy.

Hey ho, let's go,

Hey ho, let’s go, says Jim. He reassures us. The next part of the hike we don’t have to walk down steeply. From now on, it’s only uphill. My goodness, what a journey. Our legs seem to have lost all their strength. Completely wrecked, we arrive by evening at a bamboo hut on stilts. On an open fire, food simmers in a kettle. Gratefully, we accept the meal. No idea what we are eating but this “gallows meal” tastes better than anything else. After dinner, we fall asleep in the cabin dead tired on our mat. Sawing beetles, screaming gibbons and two snoring Limburgers, make the sounds for that night in the jungle in Thailand.

Early the next morning we sit by the fire with a mug of coffee. Fit, but frankly, with a lot of sore muscles. Day two’s stage is shorter and less demanding. We walk past huge rice fields. The light falls exceptionally beautifully. It looks like a silk cloth swirling on the wind across the landscape. We take the time to photograph. In the distance, we see some huts. The Hill Tripe Village, we are here! The suffering is rewarded.

People clean vegetables, work in their flower gardens, children run after each other and mothers do laundry. An elderly couple sits contentedly on the sidewalk in front of their home and a sweet little old lady sits behind her loom. The beautiful light gives everyday things a special glow. Our appropriate restraint allows us to photograph undisturbed.

Again, we feel privileged to be included in the daily scenes. We take shots of the friendly old couple sitting contentedly on the sidewalk in front of their home. The woman sitting weaving is already half an inch further along in weaving her beautiful piece of royal blue fabric.

We really gave up but met beautiful people. Photographer’s eye has become terribly spoiled. Right now, we know that a wealth of beautiful images will travel home with us. At home in the studio, it will take many hours before a photo is approved to show to anyone who wants to enjoy our trip through Thailand.