HOT INFO On The Road

Ben van den Anker
SE Asia: REPORT #9
Motorbike repair shops.....

Oct 8, Y2K Chiang Mai, Thailand

The night bus brings Janne and me comfortably to Chiang Mai. At about six in the morning the first monks in their orange clothes can be seen on the streets as they collect their food from the people in town. It looks like a picture in motion out of one of the many travel guide books. Hiring the motorbikes isn't much of a problem, they don't ask for a driving license, cash money is what is required. We underestimate the distance to Pai a little bit, water buffaloes, cows, dogs and chicken on the road forces us to drive carefully. In Pai we visited the local motorbike repair shop for the first time, due to improper maintenance of my bike the shop has to replace some parts.

A couple in a bar sells "moonshine" whiskey for 5 baht a glass, needless to say that we immediately feet at home. A man who has been a soldier for over 15 years tells us about his life. The Thai army locate poppy fields by satellite, drops the soldiers by helicopter to destroy it later. They made rarely arrests, he didn't thought that it was a dangerous job as they had far more "firepower" than the farmers. For hilltribe people this means that their primary means of livelihood is being destroyed. The famous opium warlord Khun Sa was forced to flee over the border to Myanmar a long time ago, new warlords take over the power now. Myanmar remains till this day the largest producer of opium in the world. The American DEA (Drugs Enforcement Agency) has an office in Chiang Mai and financially contributes to the Thai army rangers for their battle against the opium production. We see many of the mountain rangers on our way, driving horseback with big M16 machine guns.

On the way to Pai we see the first Lisu hill tribe people, they originate from Tibet and live presently mainly in Thailand and Yunnan. Premarital sex is said to be common among the Lisu, in all other Asian countries they'd expect you to marry before that. Their multicolored tunics are amazing, it's like visiting another world. The road to the longneck tribe is difficult and sometimes hard to find, crossing a river on the motorbike and balancing on rocks is not relaxing. These people look beautiful, because of
their necks they're often referred to as "Giraffe people". A girl assures me that the metal rings around her neck don't hurt her, make up can be seen now too. So slowly they get to appreciate things of the "civilized world". It is said that the Shan people from Myanmar use the longneck tribe for exploitation. Many of the hill tribe people continue to cross borders, especially the Karen migrate en masse to Thailand, fleeing Burmese government persecution.

In the afternoon we drive over a good road to Mae Aw, while we wonder which road to choose at the one junction in town, a friendly old Chinese man asks if he could help us. He explains a little about the Ko Ming Tang . After the 1949 Chinese revolution they fled to Myanmar because they didn't want to live in a communist country, in the sixties they gained their official refugee status from the Thai government. "In China we had only one meal a day, this is far better!" Most people in town speak Yunnanese, they cultivate tea now. A Thai crop-substitution plan worked out well as most of them abandoned the opium trade. Shan refugees from Myanmar now continue to settle down in the area. The high altitude, the remoteness of the area makes it a wonderful town. This doesn't feel like Thailand, Chinese characters are the only ones that can be seen here.

In Mae Hong Son we visit the motorbike shop again, Janne lost his keys and we found out that's surprisingly easy to steal a bike without keys, even a padlock can be broken in not even one minute. In the evening the people celebrate the end of the rainy season, for us it must have been a kind of
rain dance. We left the next morning in rainy weather.

I can see Janne in my mirror, the next moment he disappears. I shut off my engine and can't hear the sound of his bike. As I drive back he stands at the side of the road, bloody all over his leg and arm, not able to speak that much. The motorbike lookes like a wreck, he feels like it. One moment of not paying attention to the road lead to driving to the side of the road. In Pai they advise him to visit the hospital of Chiang Mai and not the one in Pai, "bad hospital!". He wants them to check out his knee as he limps badly. I walk and Janne limps to the moonshine bar, as it is made of herbs this must be good for his knee we thought, and if it weren't, it wouldn't harm us neither. Not surprisingly we went to the repair shop again, if we would have hired the bikes for one month, there wouldn't be one original part on them I fear.

In Chiang Mai Janne's knee turned out to be in better condition, he allready left for Bangkok. I haven't figured out what to do in the next twelve days, I'm thinking about writing a guidebook for motorbike repair shops in northern Thailand. After that Myanmar is on the programm......

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