Thailand Part 2 River deep mountain high
For a taste of life out in the sticks, a company called Asian Oasis runs all-inclusive two, three or four-day packages that include a stay in a country lodge and a range of activities, from trekking round hill tribe villages, to Thai cookery courses. I opt for the three-day Soft Adventure trip, which takes in two locations and shoehorns in no fewer than seven activities.
What is different about Asian Oasis is that their accommodation and programmes are developed in full co-operation with the local community. My first night is spent at Lisu Lodge, in the Mae Taeng area about an hour’s drive north of Chiang Mai. All the staff are recruited from the local Lisu village, and paid a wage equivalent to workers in Chiang Mai, and tribal elders are in on every new development that might affect the community they’re responsible for. There’s also a profit-sharing scheme and homes in the village benefit from solar power the company generates. One young girl who pops up in the bar, then in reception, can speak five languages: Lisu, Chinese (where her tribe originated), English, German and, of course, Thai. We visit the local village and meet the â€œshamanâ€ who carries out a consultation using some chicken bones, while we’re drinking bamboo cups of his wife’s bitter green tea.
The Lodge grounds are lush with an adjacent farm in development that aims to make the Lodge and possibly the village self-sufficient in rice, eggs from its chickens and many other necessities. Asian Oasis has also introduced the village to recycling and energy saving lighting.
Fortunately the environmentally responsible efforts don’t get in the way of luxury and the bed in my room is fabulously swathed in muslin. We eat, and are later entertained by children from the local school, in a large shaded deck area.
The second place we stay, Khum Lanna, is a masterpiece of teak and bamboo that could have been lifted straight out of The King And I. Over the three days I rack up an impressive list of â€œtouristyâ€ activities: a bumpy ride in an ox cart; an elephant show and ride; a trip down the river Ping on a bamboo raft; a lesson in how to cook Thai green curry; and a full Thai body massage with a herbal wheatgerm compress.
One particular highlight is a bike ride to a local market, setting off before sunrise so that we see dawn break over the rice fields we pass along the way. At the market there are plates of fresh locusts and bales of locally grown tobacco for sale. Luckily we have beautifully packed lunches with banana-leaf parcels of sticky rice and chicken.