It is strange returning to Mae La Luang after six weeks away. I can’t believe so little time has passed since I was here, and how different the landscape looks.
Fire has ravaged the woodland, blackened scars adorn the landscape that was once luscious green. The sky is smoky from more fires that burn and there are signs on the roadside warning of the firerisk. Fields in the valley that used to be so green they looked unreal are now just bare earth, baked pale from the strong sun.
As I sat on the minivan on my way looking out at the changed view, I found myself wondering what else had changed? What would it be like to return to a place in which I had such an intense experience?
As soon as I arrived though, my mind was put at rest as I was greeted by smiles and laughter the moment I stepped from the bus. The only cafe in the village, owned by one of my Headmasters and his sisters, is just outside the bust stop. Everybody there gave me big hugs and it was just so good to see everyone!
Cru Aew, my friend from Pretom school, soon arrived and whisked me away to her home for the evening. We paid a quick visit to Sinuan and the kids but returned to Aew’s house for dinner. She invited a new “farang” English teacher, Behu (Thai nickname for Bethany), from the Peace Corps. She is far better prepared than I, with 3 months of training and learning Thai already under her belt. However, she will need it, as she is staying for two years! Unlike me she will be paid a wage (the same as a Thai teacher) and will have her own home. Even so, I have a lot of respect for her.
It was nice to meet her, and even better, our Thai is at a similar level so we could help each other out. No doubt when I next see her age will be miles ahead of me, as I am leaving Thailand and she staying in the village. However, for this evening it was wonderful, we could chat together with Thai people in Thai and have a lot of fun! 🙂
My second day was fun filled and action packed! I had breakfast (of small, fried fish that you dipped in chilli and ate whole, curry, soup and rice) with Cru Aew and her husband. Thai people love to look after guests and today was no different. Cru Aew, kindly, insisted she do my laundry for me, so I duly handed over the few clothes I want wearing and had brought with me and then headed up the road to Sinuan’s. Though living at Sinuan’s had, sometimes, been hard work (complete with small children and a bar), as soon as I arrived it felt like coming home and I totally relaxed.
Sinuan took me and Namsup (her 6 year old grandson) to the river and we spent the morning playing in the water. It was so hot outside the water was unbelievably refreshing. The village had built bamboo platforms with thatched roofs on the water for Songkran (Thai New Year and Water Festival) and when I wasn’t in the water I was relaxing in one of those. Namsup on the other hand, being a 6 year old did no relaxing at all, but tried desperately to catch fish for tea. Unfortunately he was armed only with a blunt sick of bamboo with which to try to spear the tiny fish. Needless to say he was unsuccessful, but he had a lot of fun!
About 1pm Sinuan arrived on her motorbike to pick us up telling us to hurry…I wasn’t sure why until I arrived back at her house to find Cru Om waiting for me there. Though she speaks virtually no English, Cru Om became one of my other good friends in the village and I was so happy to see her.
Living in the village taught me to relinquish control of my time and go with the flow. Who knew what would happen next? It was no different this time. Sinuan, Lipo and Om all tried to explain to me that I was going to “fan”. Now the word “fan” means boyfriend/girlfriend so when they were explaining that I couldn’t touch and we were going deep underground I was left totally confused.
After much acting and describing it finally clicked, Om was taking me to the nearby crystal caves, which you are not allowed to touch because it damages the quartz inside! Turns out “fan”, with a different tone, also means cave!
Having just been playing in the water, I was soaked to the skin. My spare clothes were all at Cru Aew’s drying and as I’d had no idea I was going anywhere that afternoon, I ended up climbing into Om’s car still dripping. Luckily she didn’t mind and it was so hot (44 degrees Celsius) it was actually refreshing.
We stopped on route for coffee, which ended up being my lunch and then picked up Cru Or, another teacher and friend from Hoi Ku Pah, before making our way to the caves.
The caves were beautiful, pure white quartz covered the walls inside, but what really made it was the company. We had so much fin together.
After the caves we went for food at a small restaurant in Mae La Luang set on the riverside. Cru Ming and Behu joined us which was lovely. We ate sitting on the river, on another little bamboo raft. It was beautiful.
The day was rounded off back at Sinuan’s. We drank beer together and stayed up late into the night drinking and talking. It was a brilliant day!
The following morning I woke up feeling a little worse for wear. But I finally spent some proper time with Sinuan and family, just relaxing in their home before getting the bus back to Chiang Mai at 2.30pm.
I spent just two nights back in the village, and I wished I had more time. I know I will go back to see them again, I have built strong relationships there and, though I don’t think I could stay for two years, I definitely want to return.