I have always been drawn to the idea of living a simple village life, away from the hustle and bustle of a city. During my trip to Chiang Mai, I made arrangements to visit one of the villages there with an included homestay. Travelling into the village felt like going back home to me, the highlight of my Chiang Mai trip. And I have to say I wasn't disappointed at all.
I travelled from a small town named Fang by 4-wheel drive into the village up in the mountains. The road up the steep slopes of the mountains were treacherous but exhilarating at the same time. I know I was in the good hands of the driver and was just ending the ride – bumps and all. The windows of the vehicle were wounded down and the fresh mountain air blew in my face. I could not stop smiling at how much I was enjoying the ride.
When we arrive into the village, I was shown around the area and the children from the village were very excited by the arrival of visitors and was shyly following us around. I managed get them warmed up to me for a photo opportunity.
I was brought to a home of one villager who specialises in making a local snack made out of glutinous wheat. This is a dish that is only made during special occasions and I was happy to have the chance to taste it. My guide jokingly asked me whether have I brought charcoal pills along just in case my stomach is not used to their food.
After the demonstration, because it was getting dark already, I was shown to my guest house, and I LOVE it! It is one of the most basic, and rustic accommodation I have ever stayed in. It does not get anymore authentic than this. I love the open concept and the village kids were running in and our of the house as they please because they are excited they have guests. One little girl even carried her small puppy in. These are memories that still melts my heart just by thinking about it.
After I have freshen up, I was brought to an adjoining house to have my dinner. Dinner was prepared by the home owner and it was super tasty. Home cooked meals are still the best. The house smelled of smoke because of the fireplace they have in the middle of the home. This is to deter insects from entering the home as well as to preserve their food items such as meat as there is no refrigerator in the village.
Just as I finish my dinner, I heard quite a bit of commotion outside the house. I went out to have a look and realise that the locals have prepared a dance around a fireplace to welcome me! I was asked to join them in the fun and oh boy, those are some difficult moves to manoeuvre. They perform this dance only when there are guests in the village and it is also the time where the children get to learn the moves from the elders. It was a nice way to end my night in the village.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast prepared by the home owner, I was shown how the villagers go about their daily chores such as tea leave picking. This village used to grow opium and sell it for a living. However, when opium became illegalised, the villagers are left at wits end and one by one they left the village to seek jobs at the city. Seeing how this will jeopardise the existence of the village, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej introduced white tea leaves to the villagers and ask them to grow it to sustain a living. The King's love and consideration for his people is the very reason why his people respected and loved him back.
It was a fun experience combing through the tea bushes, finding the right leaves to pick. After that, I was taught how to massage the leaves so that the moisture of the leaves can be removed and the fragrance brought out. The leaves were then left to be sun dried. During rainy seasons, the leaves will be dried using a fryer though it is not as ideal because the leaves will retain a smoky scent.
Through this experience, I learned that there is a lot of backbreaking work to be done just to earn a small income for their family's livelihood, and I have a newfound respect for the people.
The warm hospitality of the villagers and the innocent smiles of the children there warmed my heart. This is the feeling I was in search for and I am glad to have found it here. It felt like homecoming indeed.