We spent the morning with Pra Parinya at Wat Pacumcon. Pra Parinya was formerly an agricultural extension officer, based in Bangkok. He became a monk 19 years ago. At the invitation of local villagers he moved to Saraburi Province 16 years ago. He bought waste land from the villagers, previously used to grow corn but no longer fertile. Since this time he has planted thousands of trees, using local species, to create a small forest and local microclimate. Pra Parinya is dedicated to a high spiritual life, but also sees the need to help the local villagers. He is leading by example, planting forest to provide cooler local temperatures (within the forest canopy) and to help protect water. He is concerned that there won’t be enough water in the future. His focus is conscious change, demonstrating by example what can be done locally.
After this visit we returned to Bangkok, for a well earned rest at Phranakorn-Nornlen Hotel.
Our last day by the Mekong river. We drove from Tamila Guest House to visit two community forestry projects. Both projects are along the Mae Ing river, a tributary of the Mekong, and are initiatives of local villagers. The first visit, hosted by Mr Somkid Chantima and others from the village committee, was completely on the fly. We were almost running to keep up with them to get footage as they walked and talked about their forest.
The next visit was at a more manageable pace. This was further up the Mae Ing river to Ngam Muang village. We were hosted by Uncle Tanom Outtama, president of the people’s network for the Mae Ing river and Mr Somkiat Khuenchiangsa, coordinator of the Mekong-Lanna Natural Resource and Culture Conservation network. They began their river protection work 10 years ago and now have 15 villages who are members of the river protection network. There is less water now, they said, so they have to protect the environment more. They have had great success in this regard.
From Ngam Muang village we drove back to Chiang Rai for an early dinner and then to catch a flight back to Bangkok. We arrived in Bangkok just after 8pm. Our principal host in Thailand, Khun Tuenjai, met us there and we drove north to a small monastery, Wat Pacumcon.
We must give a very big thankyou to Mr Watchara Lewpongsawat and his wife, owners of Tam-Mi-La Guest House and Bungalow at Chiang Khong, who sponsored our stay by the Mekong with accommodation. We are very grateful for your warmth and hospitality.
Our day began on the Mekong river. We passed some of the rocks that local people have fought to protect from being blasted by the Chinese government to create a river channel for larger boats. Then we came to a very beautiful place, to meet with Uncle Sao Rawangsee, a wise man (aged 77) of the river. We began to interview Uncle Sao when suddenly he noticed that he had caught a fish on one of his lines. That was the end of the interview. Lena and I grabbed the camera and microphone and rushed down to the river, into his little fishing boat and out to where the fish was. Uncle Sao is widely respected as a wise man of the river and many people come to stay with him. He said that last year he saw the biggest flood ever. He doesn’t believe that we can make things cooler because too many factories are being built along the river. He is not afraid of anything. Whenever he goes onto the river he says a blessing of thanks to the Mekong. He says that people who don’t do this are cursed by a river spirit (known as the Nakha, which is half fish and half snake) and lose their spirit.
Our time with Uncle Sao was too short, but long enough to hear and film some of his words of wisdom. From there we traveled to Huay Sa village, where a Lahu community lives. We spent time there listening to their music and singing, as they were celebrating the last day of their New Year celebration.
Lena’s 18th birthday today and we were all up to watch the sunrise and then a very nice birthday breakfast. We packed up our gear and filmed an interview with two village leaders, Sala Aja Ayesang, a farmer and Bhu Mee Ayesang, farmer and leader of the women’s group at Pakha Sukjai. They both talked about how they had come there from Myanmar 30 years ago and all there was, was the grass and the sound of wind in the grass. Since then they have planted forest all around the village. Climate change is not something easily translated from English to Thai and then to the Akha language. However, these people carry wisdom about their local environment and the interplay between forest cover and water. They requested that everyone in the world plant at least one tree for every day of their life. They also talked about the problem of on-going conflict in Myanmar, and the necessity to manage the entire watershed of the area, beyond political boundaries. Water is everything, but it is not enough just to plant trees in northern Thailand, because the water that lies under the ground crosses country boundaries. They also talked about the importance of holding to traditional knowledge.
This was the end of our short stay with the mountain people of the north of Thailand. We traveled back down to the lowland area to meet with Mr Plaek Techaboon. He was a teacher at an agricultural college, but resigned three years ago to work on his family land. Mr Techaboon is now dedicated to education about sustainable living, through creation of a living model for local sustainability. Our time here was too short, after arriving late and then needing to depart for Chiang Khong, by the Mekong river.
We ended the day celebrating Lena’s birthday with the Chiang Khong Conservation Group. It was a great evening, with our hosts bringing out their instruments and playing some Thai folk songs.
The next morning there were more people singing and dancing, including children from the village. Many were dressed in their very colourful traditional costumes.
We went off to the side of the on-going festivities to interview two village leaders, Mr Ja Hair and Ja Nae Nae, one of the female elders in the village. They both talked about how the weather is hotter now, the need to plant trees and protect water, the value of traditional housing which is cooler, and the importance of educating the children.
Later on we traveled to Pakha Sukjai, an Akha village and also where the Hill Area Development Foundation has facilities. We spent time walking around the village and then had a spontaneous interview with Ah Nor Jeu Beng Eh Khu, the oldest person (89 years) in the village. He talked about the interconnections in life, that sometime soon he will be going to live in the forest with his ancestors, that everything lives and dies.
We then filmed people coming back to the village from their days work and watched a quite spectacular sunset. That night we joined Ah Jew Beng Eh Khu, a village volunteer for HADF in Pakha Sukjai village, sitting on a large mat in his family house and sharing a very nice meal.