old Tai Lue woman sitting in front of her house weaving silk.
Caravan tours have always sounded so romantic, and I have
wanted to be part of such a journey. So when a caravan through the
Thai-Laos-China route from Chiang Mai city to Kunming was arranged by Chiang
Mai Tourism Business Association (CMTBA) in cooperation with the Tourism
Authority of Thailand (TAT) Northern office Zone 1, I booked my place.
The distance was 2,955 kilometers along a route called
Khun Man Kong Lu. Khun means Kunming, Manku means Bangkok in Chinese, and
Kong Lu means the road. It is a road of cooperation because both Thailand
and China built and developed their own road sections but in part of Laos,
the road was divided into three and Thailand, Laos and China each built a
Journey’s beginning for the Chiang Mai-Kunming caravan
was the Three King’s Monument. Our first stop was in Chiang Rai to make
merit at the King Mengrai Monument before traveling on to Chiang Khong
district with navigation provided by tourist police. Customs procedures at
Huay Sai were fast and efficient, as the CMTBA had prepared the way. The
brief free time we had after the long ride was spent visiting the evening
market in Huay Sai. Then an auspicious rice ceremony was organized by Lao
officials to bring us luck on the 2,844 kilometers left in front of us,
followed by Wanthong, Huay Sai district director of TAT, who outlined future
cooperation on tourism projects between Laos and Thailand.
Day two was early rising, and the checking of radio
communications in all the cars, essential on a route with conditions where
adjectives like rough and dusty are a compliment and where deep ravines are
part of the scenery. Our Lao guide warned us repeatedly about road
conditions that resembled those in remoter parts of Thailand 30 years ago.
For a distance of 123 kilometers we drove on Construction
Street, a road being built with Thai assistance. The way sloped and wound
along the hillside and there were machines working all the way to Viang Phu
Kha. That day we had it all, the dust, the mud that looked like creamy
chocolate, and the creeks.
A surprise awaited us when we arrived at 8 pm that night,
in Boh Han in China, to be told that the local electricity system closed
daily at 8 p.m. On top of that we were informed by members of a Malaysian
caravan group that our aim for day three, to reach Kunming, was definitely
not possible due to the road conditions over the 717 km distance.
Day three was more surprises and not pleasant ones. One
car broke down, giving us a huge delay, there was an accident on the road
obstructing the way, and the roads had a steep cliff plunging down on one
side and the mountains rising up on the other, with the passing trucks
giving us near heart attacks on several occasions. Not even the wooden
houses of Tai Lue communities and the many Chinese villages with plants so
fresh and houses which reminded many of us of stories we had heard from
parents and grandparents helped.
The forced delays made stops impossible and also the
visit to the Poo Eor rubber and tea plantations had to be cancelled, even
though we had looked forward to this treat as Poo Eor tea could be said to
be the best Chinese tea.
At 8 p.m. we still had 400 km to reach our night quarters
but when this road is finished, the driving time will be reduced by 40
percent. With encouragement on the frequent foggy stretches, we reached
Kunming at 3 a.m. We had made it!
Luckily, day four was dedicated to sightseeing and we had
an organized bus tour around Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan. It was a
soothing experience after the adventurous drive the day before. We visited
Jew Chiang Cave and Sue Lin Rock Park. On the way, we also saw the historic
railway, that was constructed by the French in 1904, from Kunming to Vietnam
to transfer coal, tin and goods to Vietnam.
Jew Chiang Cave is decorated with different lights, there
is a waterfall inside and blind fish, sightless from having evolved in the
Sue Lin Rock Park was a UNESCO World Heritage site with fantastic rocks
and chasms. It was a highlight of the trip and eased our minds enough to
prepare us for the long trip back to Chiang Mai.
kilometers we drove on Construction Street which is built with Thai
conditions were so muddy (we called it melting chocolate) that team members
needed to give it all their attention.
Rock Park is a UNESCO natural world heritage site which made the trip
worthwhile by itself.
navigator, caravan controller and mechanic, Khun Anusorn, had much to do
during the trip.
Mail’s Anchana Kosawantana receiving Poo Eor tea, which is supposed to be
the best Chinese tea from Mr. Li Sing You, Director of Tourism Authority of
Chiang Cave is as romantic as it is breathtaking in nature.
in front of the Three King’s monument with Thongchai Wongrianthong, Chiang
Mai provincial vice governor and Junnapong Saranak, director of Northern TAT
and his wife.