When we booked our trip to Tee Sor Lu falls, the biggest waterfall in Thailand and sixth biggest in the world, we opted for a tougher 2-day trek that would involve more hiking each day, but take a whole day off of the total. For the single night of this trip, we were to stay in a Karen Village. Although we originally had mixed feelings about this, as we did not want to feel like we were treating the villagers as some sort of exhibit, it wound up being a very positive experience.
When we arrived in the village, we were immediately approached by loads of kids hoping we would play with them. We fell for the puppy-dog faced trap, which I am sure the Karen kids are used to. We put our bags down on the floor of our home for the night, an all-bamboo hut where we would sleep on the floor under mosquito nets. We headed over to a group of girls all waving at us and yelling “sawadee ka!!”-hello in Thai. First, they wanted us to take pictures of them and then show them the pictures on my camera screen. After that they all crowded around Allie tugging on her shirt and reaching up to her arms trying to get her to pick them up and spin them around. After a few rounds of this game we took a seat, at which point a paper airplane appeared but was quickly ripped in half by the girls not taking turns. Allie and I both have a good amount of experience working with little kids, it’s how we both financed our trips, but man it is a lot harder when you don’t speak the same language!
The entire village probably consisted of no more than 20 small bamboo huts, each housing very large families that share one large bamboo floor together. These families are Burmese immigrants, or the successive generation, that have left Burma (aka Myanmar) for their own safety. They are happy with very little, as we saw by the excitement of the children when the entire family we stayed with (at least 6 young kids) all gathered around a small, circa-late-90s television set and watched a very static broadcast of some goofy Thai cartoon powered by their house’s single solar cell.
After a big dinner, we sat back and drank “happy water,” the local banana moonshine, and our host even rolled us some local tobacco. I am not a smoker, but it was really nice just laying back and blowing smoke with a good buzz going. Allie and I walked out to the middle of the village for a bit and sat under some incredible stars too. I saw quite a few shooters!
Our night stay in the Karen village was a very humbling and pure experience. It did not feel like some tourist attraction, but instead like we were supporting and experiencing a form of life rarely seen in the world today. It is sometimes hard to believe that there are children in the world still being brought up this way. And even though they certainly are poor, their smiles, along with those of their families, showed a wealth that many of the richest people in the world will likely never know.