Gordon: We booked a night at the Phu Lang Ka resort only because it was the sole accommodation we could find at a convenient distance from where we stayed the previous night. The few comments on the internet were not encouraging: “time has not been kind to this resort”, “costs 50 percent more than comparable resorts”, and “difficult to find staff to provide food or other services”. As a result we were unsurprised when we were shown a basic room that cost $24, which is indeed 50 percent more than we would expect to pay. The employees of the resort were also less interactive than is typical. We grumbled a bit between ourselves, but acknowledged that at least the location, high on a ridge, was beautiful.
After a nice bowl of Tom Yum soup, the only item on the menu, we had a look at the articles for sale in the dirt floored shop/office. There were some fine embroidered items on offer, and Ruth purchased a small bag for her camera. She asked the young woman in the office what group made the craft items, and we were told that they are “Yao”. Ruth asked if the young woman was Yao, and she smiled broadly and said she was. She went to the back of the office and returned with a coffee table book on the Yao written in English. The young woman was pleased to allow us to borrow the book for a few hours.
The book informed us that Yao are any of a number of related groups found in southern China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. They are an ancient people who lived in southern China until a couple of hundred years ago, when they were pushed further south. The Yao are called Mien by the Thai. They are skilled artisans in embroidery and we admired examples of their work in the book.
I got up as soon as it was light the following morning, expecting some nice views for sunrise. The resort was already active, with a number of the guests up and taking photographs. The view was breathtaking, with limestone pinnacles poking up out of the ground fog in the valley below. Ruth and I spent the next hour taking far too many pictures.
Afterwards, while we were having breakfast (a tasty chicken and rice soup) a distinguished gentleman and two young women wearing traditional dress came out and unrolled a lengthy scroll with paintings and text written in Chinese characters. The gentleman lectured at length, referring frequently to the scroll. The other Thai tourists rushed forward to take pictures, as the cultural minority groups are as unusual and fascinating for them as they are for us. I should note that we were the only farang at the resort, and in fact we have not seen another foreigner for several days.
While the gentleman was delivering his lecture, an older pair of women, also dressed in traditional attire, sold herbs and other items from a table. Ruth had a pleasant exchange with them, trying their mountain tea and learning about the healing properties of various bark, sticks and roots. The whole conversation was conducted with hand jestures.
By the time we left the resort we realized that Phu Lang Ka had actually been one of our more memorable experiences, for both its scenic beauty and the opportunity to have some contact with the Yao culture.
Ruth: Gordon said I was so svelte and the next thing I knew I was in my granny gear cycling up another brutally steep road in the mountains. I am so vain. Most of the rest of our two days cycling highway 1148 was spent either laboriously grinding up or screaming down endless hills. My right thumb feels sprained from all the down shifting. It was stunningly, but very challenging. These strenuous roads the only way to access some of the traditional communities in the mountains.
We stopped to visit a cave at a small town and found ourselves surrounded by local men who wanted to look at our bikes and squeeze Gord’s thighs. It turned out they were gathered for a cremation ceremony, which we were invited to attend. We were given seats in the front row and treated like honoured guests. Unfortunately cremation ceremonies take several hours and we still had 50 km of snakes and ladder roads to complete, so we had to excuse ourselves before the actual burning of the body.