Author Archives: KhunChin Tan

Dai Minorities in China 中国的傣族

Before I continue my travel tales to 西双版纳 XiShuangBanNa, it will be good to understand a bit on the Dai minorities in China

Dai is one of the 56 moniroties in China and they mostly reside in Yunnan Province. Although they are officially recognized as a single people by the Chinese state, these Tai people form several distinct cultural and linguistic groups. Most Dai people are living near Myanmar, Thailand (although separated by Myanmar and Laos), and Vietnam (Map).

Dai Lue ไทลื้อ(SipSongPanNa Dai)
Dai Lue culturally is close to Northen Thailand in the area that used to be part of Lanna kingdom. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dai_people

Tai Lue in Thailand
In Thailand there are Tai Lue in many provinces of the upper regions of Northern Thailand; these provinces are:
-Chiang Rai: Mae Sai, Chiang Khong and Chiang Saen districts (a portion fled to Chiang Rung at the outbreak of the Ayuthian-Burman War)
-Chiang Mai: Samoeng and Doi Saket districts
-Nan: Tha Wang Pha, Pua, Chiang Klang and Thung Chang districts (the greatest number, fleeing from the Saiyaburi and Sipsongpanna regions)
-Phayao: Chiang Muan and Chiang Kham districts (many in number)
-Lampang: Mueang Lampang and Mae Tha districts
-Lamphun: Mueang Lamphun and Ban Thi districts

The seat of Thai Lue autonomous county is on Jinghong (景洪)or Chiang Rung. Chiang Rai, Chiang Rung (China), Chiangtung (Kengtung in Myanmar) used to be 3 very important cities during the rule of King Mengrai the great of Lanna kingdom. Lanna means million (Lan) padi fields (Na). Mekong river is known in China as LanCang 澜沧 which means million (Lan) Chang (elephant).

I have attended a Cultural show in JingHong entitled “a night at Lancang river” and I will write about it later.

Dai Nue or Northern Dai ไทยเหนือ
This Dai people live in the autonomous county of “DeHong Dai people and JingPo people (JingPo is known as Kachin in Myanmar)” 德宏傣族景颇族自治州”. The language is a variant of Dai Language.

There is a International border crossing into Myanmar near Ruili 瑞丽 town. The Ruili River is one of the three major tributaries of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar.

Dai Dam or Black Dai ไทดำ
Dai Dam lives the Yuanjiang Hani, Yi, and Dai Autonomous County Autonomous County (Yuánjiāng Hānízú Yízú Dǎizú Zìzhìxiàn 元江哈尼族彝族傣族自治县), of which Yuanjiang is the capital. YuanJiang known as Red River (HongHe 红河) in Vietnam and passes through Hanoi (meaning “city” inside river) into Gulf of Tonkin.

Other Dai
Other groups of Dai people scattered in China are Dǎibēng, Dǎiduān ไทขาว, Dǎiyǎ ไทหย่า, and Dǎiyǒu.

Note:
While every effort is made to ensure that accuracy of the information, the writer should not be held accountable for secondary information sources which need further research and verifications.

Songkran in Xi Shuang Ban Na – MengLa 云南西双版纳勐腊

After chatted with a Dai lady who worked in the Casino and hailed from JingHong, we realized that we have made a big mistake of coming too early. The SipSongPanNa Dai minorities celebrate SongKran for 3 days from 13 to 15 April with one activities for each day – (1) Boat race, (2) water splashing and (3) GanPai (trading of goods in market).

Day 3: 10 April 2007 Morning – Boten磨丁 (LA) > Mohan莫憨 (CN) > MengLa勐腊 (CN)

Rising early, we had breakfast at the same Fujian Eating shop. The young couple is already working and serving piping hot noodles. Do they ever sleep?

Negotiated with a Van driver (30 RMB)to take us from the Hotel instead of going on a Songthiaw (3 RMB each) from the main road, saving us the hassle of pulling along our luggage passing through buddy walkways. Considering that he has to stop to allow us to take phoo of the miles stone, it is worth the money. I have taken 3 photos the contrast the environs of the China and Laos immigrations.

Laos Side Chinese Side

Those who has travelled from Sadao (TH) to Bukit Kayu Hitam (MY) will notice the same differences. Similarly, from Johor Bahru (MY) to Singapore (SG).

The Chinese Immigration was rather surprised to see Chinese Malaysian able to speak Mandarin passing through this checkpoint. I gave one key chain with KL Twin tower backdrop to them as souvenir so that they will remember Malaixiya (Malaysia).

For readers residing outside Thailand, you can see my video clip on Chinese Immigration Officers in the morning flag rising ceremony (2:30 mins)in

There are freelance money changer around in Mohan. USD is at 7.6 to a RMB. As there are nothing in Mohan except some shop selling cheap Chinese goods, we hop on a bus to take us to MengLa. There is no direct bus to JingHong.

The 20 odd seater bus moved as soon as the bus is filled as I have read from other Internet resources. Barely moving for 6 KM, the muddy road become inpassable due to a vehicle being caught in the mud. Compounded by some queue cutting, the situation become intensely uncontrollable. We were stucked for at least one hour before the stalled vehicle was rescued and the traffic move again.

Road to MengLa becomes impassable due to heavy rain

Chatting with fellow passenger while waiting for the traffic to be cleared, we found out that it may be a good idea to stay one night at MengLa. The trip to Mengla took about 2.5 hours and we arrived just in time for lunch. We left our luggage at the bus station to go for lunch and look for suitable lodging.

MengLa Town
MengLa has one long main road.

Stay
LongPa Guest House at 60 RMB for 2 and 80 RMB for 3 persons. The guest house is clean and service is just OK. LongPa has another guest house in JingHong, our next stop.

龙八LongPa Guest Guest Poster about Water Festival Promotion Sales

Eat
Lunch at a Thai restaurant serving not-so-authetic Thai food. The restaurant is darked and the food served will put the owner out of business if it operates in Thailand.

There were not much choice in MengLa for food. Chinese food here is not what you will expect in KL, Singapore or HongKong, the southern Chinese cuisine. Dinner at one Chinese restaurant and left with much disappointment.

At Thai Restraurant Local crossing street

Do
There weren’t much to see and do in MengLa. The oad is wide and pedestrian-friendly. Shops typical Chinese goods and clothings. I heard there is one Malaysian-ownd hotel but we did not try to located it.

3 of us has foot massage and another 2 had a whole body (thai or some other variations) massage. For foot massage, we are really pampered a group of teenager or ladies/guys in their early tweenty. Although not as painful (or effective?) as what we experienced in Thailand, the process is very elaborate and took up a lot of time and towels. I felt a bit of guilt seeing so much towels and waters wasted in the process.

When finished, we dropped by to see how our 2 friends are doing with the massage. They too are about to finish and the comments are that although the masseurs are small size, they are quite skillful and powerful.

Foot Massage Chinese Massage

Observation
Chinese central government has left XiShuangBanNa (SipSongPanNa)autonomous province relatively alone with little interferance. Families are allowed to have more than one child during the one-child policy period. I guess Central Government see no harm in having a bigger Dai population in YunNan.

Seeing a long leash and out of reach of BeiJing, some Han Chinese from other nearby provinces are moving into XSBN to make their fortune. Activities prohibited in Beijing are done in the open here. We can see people playing Mahjong (gambling) in the open air area, massage shops (prostitutes) lined a section of the the main street. With the 2 vices, I am sure corruption will be rampant. There are a lot of young people dressed in party outfits. It will be tough to observe the 5 Buddhist precepts with some many distractions!

It appears that XSBN is booming economically and socially?

Note: All photos have been duely uploaded.

Songkran in SipSongPanNa – Day 02 Afternoon

From the official unescap.org website, we are able to find this resource that give an introduction to the Asian Highway. www.unescap.org/ttdw/Publications/TIS_pubs/pub_2303/intro%20ah.pdf

Asian Highway (AH) 3 will have the following route:
Ulan-Ude – Kyahta – Altanbulag – Darkhan – Ulaanbaatar – Nalayh – Choir – Saynshand – Zamin-Uud –Erenhot – Beijing – Tanggu
Shanghai – Hangzhou – Nanchang – Xiangtan – Guiyang – Kunming – Jinghong (– Daluo – Mongla – Kyaing Tong) – Mohan – Boten – Nateuy – Houayxay – Chiang Khong – Chiang Rai.

AH3 will connect to AH2 to Kuala Lumpur /Singapore via Thailand. AH3 will enable the flow of goods, people, and capitals. But it will bring along the hastening of destruction of environments, the flow dieseases (Aids, SARS, etc), and the disruption of traditional ways of life, the polution of culture, and of course vices.

9 April 2007 Afternoon Luang Namtha > Boten

Ride to border town of Boten is a breeze, with fresh air and good tarred road. The moment we reach Boten, we know we are virtually in China. Beside the Laos scripts along with Chinese scripts on the sign board and the Loatian Song Thiaw drivers, there are not much to tell that this is still Laos. Everthing things seem to be imported from China, even the construction workers. Chinese can virtually walk in and out with border pass. I guess with money, a lot of things are possible.

Road from Luang Namtha to boten

There are so much developments here for the vice industries. What is illegal in China becomes legal across the border. The same modus operandi are found in Golden Triangle (Myanmar), Poipet (Cambodia), Victoria Point (kwathong, Myanmar) for the Thais. And for the Malaysian, some cross over to Sadao in South Thailand for illegal gambling. More Casino is coming up besides the one currently in operations now. Someone pointed out to us that one area is ear-marked for red-light district.

View of Boten

Stay
The first thing to do is to get a place to stay overnight and the option we have is only one hotel that house the casino as well. The cost is 2000 bahts. The staff insist on twice the room rate as deposit payable in RMB, not USD or Credit cards. This shows how much the Chinese trust the Chinese. To save cost, we got one delux room for 5 big men. The staffs seem do not mind as long as you can live with it. I guess many people don’t need a bed as most will be on the table gambling away.

The Hotel and Casino

Eat
We have the same food for lunch and breakfast on the next day! South East Asian Chinese are more used to Southern Chinese food which are less oily and salty. We had Chinese noodle with herbal soup at 5 RMB that is the closest food that we are used to eat back home. The shop is owned by Southern Chinese from FuJian (Hokkien).

The shop operates from the morning to wee hours. The couple who own and operate the shope told us that they slept at 2:00AM and woke up again at 6:00AM. The Chinse will become an economic giant at the rate these people are going.

Eating shops selling noodle with herbal soup

For dinner, it is steam boat porridge and some fried vegetables. Dinners are noisy, smoke and toast and spit a lot without regards for others dinners who are doing the same anyway. Most customers are construction and Casino workers from 4 corners of China. This is China at it worst. So much money are wasted on drinks and in smokes. Chinese also have the bad habit of wasting food, a sign of financial capabilities?

Do
There are 8-10 casinos (hall) within one physical building rented out to different companies who are responsible for their own Profit and Loss. We managed to change our USD for 7.5RMB to a USD which is a bit low compared with 7.6 we could get in the street in SopSongPanNa (XiShuangBanNa). Most casinos only play one type of game which is Baccarat. One player ante 120,000 RMB in one game (a 10-year salary for the Casino worker!)

Well, we chipped in 200 RMB each and get one of us to play roulette and lost all in the end. There is only one American Roulette table in the main hall.

Couldn’t cope with the smoke (and the losses), we call it a day.

Songkran in SipSongPanNa – Day 02 Morning

The idea of traveling to China by land is an appealing adventure that I normally dreamt of embarking after seeing programs on Discovery, National Geographic or Chinese Phoenix TV channels. Although much has been written or shown or shown on TV, the information is rather limited, even on my Lonely Planet “SEA on a shoe string 2006e”. Information on Internet is quite out-dated. Now it is time to take the plunge, and my only regret is that we don’t have enough time.

Day 02 – Chiang Khong (TH) > Huay Xay (LAos) > Luang Namtha (LA) > Boten (LA)

Waking up early before breakfast buffet is read, we took a morning walk and head for the market. Markets and Temples are really the 2 common places you find Thai people congregate. We brought and ate some deliciously looking cakes or Kanom and head back to hotel for breakfast. A van picked us from the Hotel and head for Chiang Khong Immigration after we had our breakfast.

Immigration clearance is quite a breeze except that we were asked to pay 5 bahts by Thai Immigration for departure. A long tail boat took us across the Mekong for bahts each. Big luggage carried by porter will attract another x bahts per piece. Unlike my previous trip to Vientiane in Laos, Malaysian does not need Visa to visit Laos.

Chiang Khong Immigration Long Tailed Boat for River Crossing
Long tailed board arrived at Laos Laos Immigration

By the time we cleared the immigration, the van driver is already there waiting for us. We have on previous night, arranged for 5-seater van to send us to Luang Namtha. My perceived tough 9-hour trip turned out to be bearable compared to road trip in China which is more challenging.

Barely 30 minutes into Laos, I felt as though we have been transported to another world all together. Time has moved without Laos. We are “trapped in a time warp” and travel backward in time. Take for example this gas station, the meter is used in the 60-70’s, and I am seeing it operational right in front of my eyes.

Gas Pump of 70’s Made in China Fire Extinguisher

Thainess in Laos
I could converse easily with the driver and people in the gas station with Thai. The Laos could understand Thai and the driver even listen to Thai song along the whole journey.

Asia highway #3 connecting Kunming in China to Thailand expected to complete in 2006 is still under construction, with many sections still un-surfaced. Although known as Highway, it has only a single carriageway on each side and winds according to the shape of the mountain. I have not found a section that is straightened. Perhaps it all boils down to cost as building bridges to straighten the road is really costly.

Asian Highway 3

Laos being land-lock is a poor country and so are the people. You can see straw huts and other bear basic dwellings along the highway. Padi, vegetable and fruits farming can be seen throughout the journey. Water melon seems to be in season now.

It took us 5 hours to reach Luang Namtha (LNT) by car, the capital town of Namtha province, instead of 9 hours by van as posted in one Internet site. Roughly the size of Chiang Khong, LNT is very dusty, just like Vientiane. I guess if the country cannot afford good tarred road, dust will always be a problem. The bus station is just next to the market. There you can find many depilated buses, vans and cars – the newer one are mostly made in China. Economically, Laos is heavily dependent on China. Many shop owners hailed that many far-away provinces in China. Chinese are traditionally risk takers and as long as there are economic opportunities, they will go wherever the place may be.

Bus Station Made in China Vehicle

I guess Laos government is taking a “laissez faire, laissez aller, laissez passer” (let do, let go, let pass) approach to Chinese citizen. A sort of hate-love relationship – you hate them running around your house but at the same time you need their investment.

Money changer Shops run by Chinese Chinese

LNT economic is bad according to one of the shop keepers. There is no purchasing power as most people are dependant on agriculture that is not doing well. Some shoppers are comtemplating going home.

Walking around LNT is like going back to my childhood days in Penang in Malaysia, a sort of déjà vu. The Market is very dirty and muddy. Chicken kept in rattan cage waiting to be bought and slaughtered.
House flies are everywhere.

Chicken and Seller Goldsmith

What amazed me most is that I found a silver belt similar to the one that my mother used to wear in LNT – that treasure piece has been misplaced and my wife has been trying hard to locate it.

Silver belts Silver belts

Our original plan was to stay a night in LNT but since we have arrived early and there is not much to see and do, the team decided to stay a night in the border town of Boten (磨丁) after hearing that there is a better hotel and casino facilities there. Some Internet stated some fearful warning like “*DON’T* stay at the hotel/guesthouse directly diagonal from the bus station on the corner.. really convenient place for catching early morning buses yes, but they had bed bugs)”.

Songkran in SipSongPanNa – Day 01

Sunday, 8 April 2007 Kuala Lumpur – Chiang Mai – Chiang Khong

The chief stewardess proudly announced that flight AK896 arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule arrival time after the plane touched down on Chiang Mai international airport. With the new fleet of Airbus, it is not surprising that the captain is able to catch up the lost time and repeat his feat every time.

60 days in 6 months
Although we have intentionally hand-carried our luggage so that we don’t have to wait for our luggage, we were still held back in the immigration department. I was shown a regulation card written in English by the immigration that foreigners are allowed to stay in Thailand for 60 days within a period of 6 months. It took awhile for the immigration to count how many days I have been in Thailand for the past 6 months. (Malaysians do not need Visa to visit all ASEAN countries except Myanmar. But it seems that a new regulation must have added or old regulation strictly enforced to limit the stays in the Kingdom)

A ride on SongThiaw (2-row-bench pick up van) to Nam Khong travel near Tapae Gate costs us 100 bahts, a good deal considering that if we were to take taxi, we will need 2 taxis and that will cost us many times more.

Lost & Found
My team mate Lai only realized that he has left his packback on the SongThiaw some 10 minutes after the SongThiaw has left. Although I have earlier get the SongThiaw driver to speak with Nam Khong staff for direction, the calls were made to the fixed line and there was no ways to find out the telephone number of the SongThiaw driver. Lai’s beg contained some medications and personal items that totaled up to 2,000 bahts.

We had lunch in a cozy restaurant next door while waiting for the driver to show up. I took Lai to a Erugstore to buy his medications after lunch. On our return from Drugstore, Nam Khong’s Ms. Pui showed us Lai’s beg which were returned by the driver. We felt sorry for not leaving some cash and a thank-you message for the driver should he return. There is no way to thank him; except that we hope he get his merits paid many folds in future. It’s nice to stay in predominantly Buddhist country.

The chances of having your beg left in a taxi returned is almost zero in Kuala Lumpur – it only happened in dreams and occasional news in newspaper. Barely 2 weeks ago, my wife’s handbag containing hand phone, cash and credit cards was snatched in Kuala Lumpur.

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Lunch at Chiang Mai while waiting for Van

To Chiang Khong
There are 2 vans to Chiang Khong today. I got a seat next to driver which is good and bad. Good is that I am taking video and I got unobstructed view of the journey. Bad is that you will get a lot more sun and heat. As expected you get a lot of farangss for the trip.

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2 Vans heading to Chiang Khong

The vans stopped twice along the route to Chiang Khong. Once at a souvenir and coffee shop where we can also witness the cracking of cashew nuts

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Cashew Nut Tree. Every nuts is openned by hand. Sadhu to the worker.

and another time at Khuntan, about 40 KM from Chiang Khong.

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Stop @ Khuntan

We experienced occasional splashing of water along the road. Once, the water came in through the window opening – apparently, the air-conditioning was far from cool and one farang open the window slightly.

Stay
On arrival at Chiang Khong town, we checked into Nam Khong Riverside Hotel (600 bahts for 2, and 800 for 3 with breakfast cheap) instead of Nam Khong Guest at 50 bahts per head. The hotel is really value for money. Our rooms have a good vista of the Mekong River and Huay Xay across the river in Laos.

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Nam Khong Riverside Hotel

Eat & Do
After dinner at the Hotel Restaurant, we head for a foot massage opposite the hotel which I experienced one of the worst foot massages I ever had.

Chiang Khong is already sleeping by 9:00 PM. I really enjoy the cool air and the quietness and serenity which I seldom had in Kuala Lumpur. This is what life should be.