Barb and Ben Dietrich, who live on a family farm in southern Ontario, Canada, retired from their jobs, rented out the land on their farm to others, and set off for 3 months in Southeast Asia. Over the next few issues we will follow them through their letters home.
We have been travelling for over 3 weeks now and there have been so many new and crazy experiences.
We started in Bangkok, which has approximately 12 million people. I will confess it was quite a culture shock! The dirt, garbage, poverty were shocking. Motorbikes are their main transportation as they are cheaper and much quicker to get around and horns honk non-stop but nobody seems to get too concerned. You never see road rage – which seems crazy when there appears to be so much chaos.
Markets are very popular – during the day and at night – but not once did the vendors hassle us as we walked around. The sex trade is big here and there are certain areas where you can go and see go-go girls out on the streets flaunting their stuff and trying to get picked by some wealthy man. It is not uncommon to see older men walking around with these beautiful women that they have bought for their pleasure. Many men walk the streets trying to get you to go to their bars; they will often ask you if you would like to play ping-pong. We googled “ping-pong” the next day and it is a type of sex game – that is all I need to say!
The temples are huge and are everywhere. The architecture is amazing with their slanted roofs and glittering glass and gold paint.
After Bangkok we went to see the floating market and the famous Bridge over the River Kwai where over 100,000 men died building the “Death Railway” to connect Burma to Thailand during WWII.
Then we flew north to Chiang Mai. First we took a half-day cooking class and I was referred to as the boring one as I didn’t want to use the hot chili peppers in my cooking. Then we hired a private guide to take us on a 2-day jungle trek to a hill tribe village and what an adventure it was. Our first stop was a visit to a village where the women wear brass rings on their necks and their necks look very stretched. But we found out that this is not the case – it is their shoulders that are pushed down, which condenses their rib cages. This ritual started many years ago because women were being attacked by wild animals and not able to defend themselves so they started wearing brass rings.
The next part of our tour was a trek to the hill tribe village. It was a good 3-hour trek almost straight up in the jungle in 35-degree heat. It was a really hard climb but we eventually made it. It was an authentic village, nothing staged. We stayed in a hut with another man and his child and our guide; we had our own sleeping room – just blankets on the ground. Our guide explained that the village was completely self sufficient with hunting, raising pigs and chickens, and growing all of their own vegetables. The children do not go to school. They live with just the basics – no furniture in their huts, which are made out of bamboo. But the biggest surprise was that they all had cell phones. How crazy is that!
Our supper was cooked over an open fire in the one small room they called their kitchen. How they don’t burn down the house is amazing. Our guide moved the fire out onto the porch and he played his guitar and explained more about the tribe and how there is still such a problem with opium among the people. The biggest observation we made was that these people were not malnourished and were quite happy with their lifestyle, maybe because they really don’t know anything different. We didn’t sleep much – between the hard floor, roosters crowing, cats meowing, and even gun shots going off, it was a long night.
Our guide made us breakfast and we started the trek down. It was very steep in places and hard on the old knees. We stopped at a beautiful waterfall where we had lunch. Then we rode an elephant for an hour, went white-water-river rafting in some pretty wild rapids, and finished up our tour with a peaceful ride on a bamboo raft. It was an amazing tour!
Pia is often referred to as the “hippy” town – very laid back from the crazy big cities we have visited. We had a little cottage on its own so we decided to take an extra day here to get our breath and rent some bicycles to see the countryside.
We went north of Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen to the Golden Triangle where three countries meet and you can see all three: Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
We are loving the experience of travelling in such a different part of the world! The culture here is truly amazing and almost every day brings something new.
Next stop Laos
Follow Barb and Ben’s journey: A classic travel itinerary for Southeast Asia
Barb’s letters are reprinted with permission and the content has been condensed and edited
Photo credits Barb and Ben Dietrich
© Riding the buses 2014