The other night, after the X Factor results, I flicked over Planet Word with Stephen Fry. He was somewhere in Thailand, with a hill tribe. He was talking about the fact that they didn’t have a written language. I realised that it was the Akha tribe he was talking about. The same Akha tribe that we stayed with in Northern Thailand. When I say stayed with, I mean we stayed in a guest house in an Akha village, run by Akha tribespeople. That’s when it hit me. Quite how much cool stuff we did. We stayed in a place that Stephen Fry made a documentary about. That’s actually pretty amazing.
We arrived in a bumpy pick up truck from the northern town of Chiang Rai, up the dusty winding track through the jungle, the truck straining noisily to make it up the steepest hills. The village clung precariously to the edge of the steepest hill, a raggedy collection of bamboo houses on stilts with stunning views of lush green jungle, fishing ponds and lychee orchards.
Our home for the few days we were there, was a small hut with it’s own, slightly rickety, bamboo deck and an outdoor bathroom. As in a bath, outdoors. We will forever remember the tokay lizard that lived in the roof space, so called because of the earsplitting TOK KAY sound it made, shocking us into wakefulness at regular intervals throughout the night. We tried yelling at it, but it was unmoved.
We loved listening to the guesthouse manager, Tao, and his stories of Akha life in Burma and Thailand. We learnt about the Akha language, that was written on a buffalo skin which got left out in the rain and thus lost. And how it has no past or future tense, but it does have a word which means ‘to hold the hand of a dying person’.
We swam in the local waterfall, visited the local school and bought birthday candles for Steve at the local shop.
We talked insects and practised our French with a French entomologist who was searching for a new species of stag beetle. If he found one, he was going to name it after his long-suffering wife, who spent every single holiday searching for bugs.
We hired guides and went for a long walk in the jungle. They taught us how to cook Akha omelettes in a bamboo tube on the fire, and how to dam the river to trap tiny prawns. They made the children bamboo machetes and fed them bush tucker.
It was a fantastic four days in a beautiful, fascinating, friendly place. We were sad to leave, apart from the lizard.
And do you know what? I could say that about most of the places we visited. We did some very cool stuff.