Humanitarian Tourism Adventure in Mae Hong Son

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Mae Hong Son is a lovely far away land in the midst of mountains on Thailand’s North West Frontier. Mae Hong Son, or Mae Sarieng to be more specific has the reputation of being one of the Thailand’s most romantic cities. During the coming of the cold weather, appeared a miracle in the form of the magical mist and the sweet scent of fresh flowers – wild orchids (e.g. Dendrobium Scabrilingue), roses, the Maxican Sunflower Weed (known as the queen of flowers) - blossoms and alive with birds and butterflies everywhere. It seems too good to be true.

 

Driving on a long and winding road to Mae Sarieng, one would get used to many twists and turns, sheer cliff, deep gorges and the fire burning out a forest array up to the top of the mountain. At night, it looked like a flow of fire from the summit crater. All of these were strangers to us but it was a truly unique experience.

Mae Sarieng is 723 kms away from Bangkok, populated by the most colorful and enchanting tribesmen (mainly Karen) combined with migrant workers, foreign tourists, army troops, businessmen, Buddhist monks and laymen. Mae Sarieng was a once flourishing and advanced society and presently being a world renowned tourist resort. 


           


There are several monasteries (Prathat) housing Buddhist civilization and spectacular tourism resources. Among many is Wat Prathat Jomthong, the most sacred monasteries stood among Pluang trees on a quiet hill. Its hilltop offers a grand view of Mae Sarieng city within the sight of other four most sacred monasteries (Prathat See Jom). As twilight was falling, we drunk in the sight of a magnificent gold sunset against a backdrop of mountains, then undertook a spiritual journey to find an inner peace under the night skies.

 

Strangely enough, Mae Sarieng city is thriving but Sob Moei, its sister city is the poorer quarters of any Mae Hong Son cities. In the last decade, Sob Moei remained out of sight due to the perpetual warfare along Thai-Burma border and the perilous state of the road. It was the innocent who suffered most. As a result, the indigenous people up in the mountains were being left out but by some miracle still survived.



        


 

Little lamps were being lit in 2008 by a team of Buddhist monks led by Venerable Phra Akkarakitt Dhammasaro from Wat Rajasitharam in Bangkok. Phra Akkarakitt launched a year-rounded resource mobilization campaign with an ultimate goal to “bring the indigenous people back to life”. The resources were mobilized from different temples across the country, then piled up and sent to these people in a big lot prior to a brief visit. It included cloths, blankets, stationary, medical supplies, instant noodles and dry food, tools and toys, funding etc.




         
 



In February 2009 marked a turning point, Phra Akkarakitt assembled a team of 5 monks from different provinces including Phra Nutthanit Sumano from Watyaichaimongkol and other 6 people from different walks of life, then struck off for Mae Sarieng offering true hands of helps to those needy people. They are marginalized, disabled, and vulnerable people living in the most remote place on earth. A little trip paved the way for a very daring innovation of humanitarian.

 

The humanitarian tourism adventure practically started from Mae Sam Lab, the little hill town beyond the outskirt of Sob Moei. At the base of those mountains from Mae Sam Lab is the famous Salawin river, shining in the Mae Sarieng Sun but its top is another story. A 6-hour road trip with limited seats and tons of stuff was not really easy. A road was one way only for most of the way while the hill heaves upward. Although the road is barely better (compare to a walking track in the day before the road was developed in January 2009) but still an incredibly rough, dusty, steep and narrow route that winds along the steep mountain walls thousands of feet from the bottom. It was truly a breathtaking.



       
 



The last blink before sunset, we finally reached Toh Heir village. Toh Heir lies on the top of a big mountain, 34 kilometers away from Mae Sam Lab which means a one day walk or a 6 hours drive. These make Toh Heir become natural-and-culture scenery with Karen traditional culture, natural beauty and a large biodiversity out of the enormous Sob Moei skies. At its entrance lies a stable landing spot for the helicopter, the only vehicle available before 2009 for the Border Patrol Police.  There are 300 hill folks living in squalid reed huts with shortage of water supply and no electricity. The indigenous Karen Sakol who lives there – most dressed in Karen traditional style clothes – gathered around and greeted us warmly. The smiles were especially given to the monks who would give them a spiritual stress relief and moral support through pray and blessings. The monks also bring them sacks of salt, food, clothes and shoes for the children, and other supplies to ease their hardscrabble life on the high and remote mountain.


      

       

      


         

It was interesting to find that children followed the practice of meditation and Buddhist teaching with enthusiasm in hope that the meditation slowly freed them from fears and immeasurable sorrows. Moreover, the distribution of scholarships and calendars with a photo of Kruba Insom, the most respectable Priest of Sobmei means a lot to children for it seemed to be the first gift that they have ever had. The look in kind brown eyes of those monks showed their genuinely cared when found the cloths are too “old” to wear it. The clothing stuff that we brought along would have been very useful for them. A lovely noodle party for children seemed to be a pleased surprise. Most of tribesmen and children have tried it for the first time. We learned one important lesson of love with the beginning of a wonderful friendship and all we remember was a wonderful sense of happiness. 



       



In the next sunny morning, mist in the lost valley was truly a paradise. We were eager to visit other villages: Baan Mae Top Nae, Pukum, Pukum Noi and Boonlaeh Noi. We found that apart from beautiful scenery of the hillsides greener and leafy, the skin disease was quite common due to the poverty and the sanitation problem. In the presence of the monks and visitors, it gave them hope and encouragement to fight for a darker movement of life. 



         


           
 

          


The mission is completed with a better understanding on the value of humanity and the kind of those days remains clear and bright in our mind…


                                                            

Venerable Phra Akkarakitt Dhammasaro,
Venerable Phra Maha Nutthanit Sumano,
and
Montra Leoseng

  

References

Phra Akkarakitt’s website http://akkarakitt.exteen.com/20090301/episode-vii  and http://akkarakitt.exteen.com/20090302/episode-vii

Phra Maha Nutthanit’s website http://blog.mahaoath.com/page-3 (6 Episodes in Thai)

Photos
Please visit Phra Maha Nutthanit Sumano’s website http://dhamweb.exteen.com/20090325/entry

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu; Weldone,

Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu; Weldone, Ajarn! It is beautifully and nicely narrated your  humanatarian Tourism Adventure which is full of pitty for those people in those remote areas. Indeed, it is great service of yours to work for our own human family and examplery for all of us. I would say you and those venerables are symbol of torch lightening its brightness to those people who are living in dark movement of life.We bless you and hope from you to continue your services for the good and benefits of humanity.

With Metta

Ankaching Marma(BA)

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