Monsoon Afternoon Among the Karen
Visiting a Karen Tribe, Thailand
We drove two hours, deep into the jungle, of northern Thailand to visit the Karen Tribe. The roads were unpaved. Potholes deep and full of water. It was monsoon season and the periodic rains were heavy. We watched out the window thick jungle passed by and occasionally saw water buffalo sitting in small ponds. Our guide, Anan, explained a bit about the tribe we were about to visit. It was his own tribe; when not working for the tour company, he farms rice.
We chose this organization because they ensure the tribes benefit from tourism, working at the local level, allowing visitors to interact in an ethical and responsible manner with the tribes. Anan and a driver picked us up at our hotel in the morning and gave us an in-depth explanation of the different tribes and their way of life. Using a 4x4, we made our way up north for what felt like forever.
Bamboo Huts and Monsoon Rains
As we approached the Karen village, the first thing the kids noticed was the animals living under the homes raised up on bamboo stilts. Each family had buffalo, pigs, and chickens right under their living quarters. Motorcycles were parked in the same area as the animals.
We were taken into the home of one of the village elders and shown the sleeping quarters and the living area. It was a very basic two-room home, with bamboo walls, woven mats on the floor, and a thatched roof above. The roof was high and gave the impression of a larger room. As we're about to leave, the monsoon rains kicked in with fierce winds and a downpour. The dirt from the paths turned into fast flowing streams of mud. It was apparent the rains were there for a bit and we were stuck in the hut to wait out the weather. We sat in silence as the kids looked out the holes in the walls, watching the rains drive the mud throughout the walkway. The Karen elder offered us honey in a cup.
Through Anan, he explained that he had harvested it himself. The honey poured like syrup and tasted of fresh flowers from the jungle. I had never tasted honey like it and wished I could bottle it with a never-ending supply to bring home. The Karen elder then showed us how to eat fermented tea leaves, by putting salt on top of the leaf then chewing it for a bit to elicit the bitter taste before swallowing. We sat on the woven mats listening to the rains hit the thatched roof in complete silence for a bit. Anan quietly spoke with the elder and the kids continued to watch the animals go about their business. The moment was so relaxing; nothing to take away our attention, just silence and the consistent patter of rain hitting the roof.
Once the rains let up, we traveled along the village’s dirty (and now mud) path a bit more, learning about their way of life, saw their rice patties as strolled up the dirt roads. The village received electricity about two years before our visit. Most of the time, it didn’t work. The village was filled with non-descript dogs, running in and out of huts, keeping watch of homes. One puppy followed us, looking for a bit of attention, but we warned our kids that most dogs are not vaccinated in Thailand and rabies is an issue in the country.
We walked a bit more learning about the farming village when our kids decided they needed the bathroom. They were shown the “outhouse.” There, they discovered a squat toilet for the first time and using a bucket of water to flush the toilet. While they talked about it for a while, there was a lesson: that not all homes have “modern” conveniences we take for granted, like plumbing and electricity.
We piled back into the van, threw our daypack on the floor, much like One Bag Vagabond Adventure One 50L pack and headed out on the unpaved, water-filled pothole road. The same one we came drove on to begin our adventure. We had learned a lot this day. It was the bamboo huts, the mud floors, the women with heavy rings stretching their necks and the squat toilets that made the kids appreciate that not everyone lives with the conveniences of the modern world, nor does everyone want to live with the modern conveniences.
With new memories, experiences, new tastes, and an appreciation for how traditions are kept among tribal Thailand, we drove back to Chiang Mai. Our adventure will stay with us throughout our lives, having opened our eyes to other cultures and traditions. Through it, our children have gained a better appreciation of our global society and the world we share.
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I have been an avid traveler since a young child, exploring the world by myself and now with my family. I am an Individual mom, and wife when not running after three little dependents and a fat Labrador. I do work, but traveling, writing and raising three is my best work. I love to learn about new cultures, food and now try to bring that information to others in order to encourage them to embrace what the world has to offer. Life is short-fill it with family travel and adventures you will not regret it. It is a wonderful time. Oh, we are also baseball obsessed, not sure how that snuck into our lives.