Well, technically, this was my third visit to a Hill Tribe considering I had been trekking twice. This was the first time I visited Jui's family in the Doi Inthanon National Park.
Jui is my friend who I met on my first trek. He is from the Karen Hill Tribe and grew up in the Doi Inthanon area in an original Karen House. A whole world and perhaps a century or two away from my comfortable upbringing in England. I dare say, this was the biggest culture shock by far on my travels. But this shock and fear of the unknown started on the journey up the mountain. I hired a motorbike and Jui drove as I was a bit sketchy on it to say the least. We drove out of the city towards the mountains then, the bit I wasn't expecting was the long, steep-uphill, slippery, sharp-cornered, off-road part of the journey. Wow, was I scared.
Then we arrived to the house, sometime later after visiting a friend of his in a neighbouring village to buy moonshine rice whiskey. The house is made of wood and bamboo. All on stilts with storage underneath and free chickens running around. The fire-pit for cooking is on this level too, which amazes me. They also have a toilet/shower block outside, a water tank which collects water from a mountain spring and a solar panel - but these are pretty new editions. The school in the village only starting using solar energy around 7 years ago. And these new editions only came from volunteers and donations. A real sobering realisation (until I had some of that rice whiskey - Oh My that stuff is strong).
At first the house and village wasn't at all a real shock because I had trekked through a Lahu village, with Jui, and a Karen Village too - so I kind of knew what to expect. Trekking only takes you to the village in the afternoon, you eat, talk to other tourists in English, love the cold shower after walking up the mountain, sleep, wake up, eat then carry on trekking. You don't get to stick around and soak it up. After a few more hours in the village the 'culture shock' started to creep up on me. The thought that my friend, who is younger than me, grew up in such conditions. My heart broke so many times.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my time and loved the happy people but at first it was tough. I longed for a hot shower and better than basic electricity. I look back now and think how silly my own thoughts were at this time. The more time I spend up there, the easier it is. Well, normal to me now - normal being such a personal thing, Jui finds it tough spending too much time in Chiang Mai. Normal is subjective.
We headed back to Chiang Mai after two nights. On the day I left Jui's lovely mother gave me a Karen shirt, hand-made by herself. I was blown away with the hospitality they showed me and this was the icing on the cake. I love it and wear it with pride.