Tag Archives: Thailand

The Hill Tribes that Wanted to Be Governed?

Recently I’ve been reading through some reports created by Americans in the 1960s as they tried to help the Royal Thai Government incorporate “hill tribes” into the nation of Thailand. These Americans were primarily trying to prevent small isolated villages from radicalizing and joining broader communist movements taking place across Southeast Asia.

The Art of Not Being GovernedMany of these report contain interviews with members of the hill tribes, and they have really got me thinking about how upland peoples interact with the state. In his book The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, James C. Scott makes a number of argument demonstrating that hill tribes throughout history, more often than not, have attempted to evade the state and have actively worked to exist outside of the nation. But, these interviews tend to suggest that a number of upland peoples in Northern Thailand in the 1960s wanted to be more deeply embedded within the nation. They wanted to be governed.


It seems that almost all groups were aware that being born within geographical borders of the Thai nation-state, or geo-body if you prefer, created a certain set of rights and responsibilities based on their nationality. They particularly wanted the educational opportunities that they observed in lowland communities. However, many were confused by what appeared to be a racial and civilizational bias toward being racially Thai. They also found it disheartening that the only Thai officials they meet with any regularity were military boarder police.

Final Report Hill Tribes the Target Audience Supplement to Final Report 1969

This desire to be further incorporated into the state, particularly the desire to be educated by the Thai government, really flies in the face of Scott’s work. Moreover, it make me wonder why these incorporation programs by both the American and Thai governments turned out so poorly. Were these reports a sort of wish fulfilment by Thai and American researchers, or were these desires to be at least at some level smoothly incorporated into the state simply ignored?

Wednesday 31st July Mae Salong (Santikhiri), Thailand

Mae Salong, Tea, Chinese, ThailandMae Salong may be my favorite place in Thailand. Not only does it grow and produce wonderful oolong teas in the Taiwanese style, but it is also filled with funky modern history and is more than twenty degrees colder than Bangkok or even neighboring Chiang Rai.

Chinese, door, village, tea, Mae Salong, Thailand

This northern town was founded in the mountains outside Chiang Rai and near the border with Burma by semi-retired/post-civil war KMT (Kuomintang or Guomindang or Nationalist Army or 中國國民黨 you take your pick). These Chinese soldiers and their families fought in Southern China during the civil war that followed World War II. As the tides of war change and the Nationalists saw their positions fading, many escaped, retreated, and regrouped in Northern Burma and continued to fight despite the victory of the communists in the capital and Mao’s proclamation of the Communist Chinese state in October 1949.

Mae Salong, Thailand, Chinese, tomb, graveThese Nationalist soldiers did not fare much better in Burma than they had in Southern China and were forced to relocate again, this time choosing Northern Thailand. Here they built a community of (primarily) yunnanese-speaking, tea-drinking, high-mountain-living folk. Also they tended to smuggle opium across the border on donkeys, but that is only natural. What are borders for if not illicit exchanges? Many of the old nationalist soldiers are buried in elaborate tombs around the many little valleys.

rain, Mae Salong, Thailand

These days, most of the illegality is gone, but the cold, Chinese community, and tea remain. Laurel and I spent multiple days enjoying the cold, if a little rainy, weather with cup after cup of nice hot tea. I also bought about four kilos/nine pounds of tea to bring home. Mae Salong, tea, production, Thailand

tea, Mae Salong, Thailand, production

tea, drinking, Mae Salong, Thailand

Thailand, Mae Salong, tea, bag, oolong

We also hiked around up and down a bunch of hills and valleys and even saw some giant walking sticks.walking stick, Thailand, Mae Salong

It was fun trying to talk to people in a mix of Thai and Chinese. At times I was pretty unsuccessful, but that is part of the fun, right? Actually I was surprised by how well my Thai stood up despite the heavy accents.

valleys, Mae Salong, Thailand, viewThe most amazing part of visiting this city may be the views. Mae Salong sits almost a thousand meters higher than Chiang Rai and the long and winding ride up to the top has some amazing lookouts. The city itself is thin and straddles the ridgeline. I really haven’t been to a place like it before. If you happen to be reading this deciding whether or not to go, I cannot recommend it enough.

Thursday 27th June Bangkok, Thailand

Well, I finished the language program in the north and now I am heading down to Bangkok to start phase two of my time here in Thailand. Now comes the research, Ph.D. work, and general “getting it on” that might eventually end in my getting a degree and a job. Or at least that is what I like to tell myself.Train, Thailand, Chiang Mai, Bangkok

The train ride back to Bangkok was fun as the night trains usually are. I made some friends and even managed to get a little sleep.

When I arrived in Bangkok I headed over to an apartment building that a friend of mine used to live in and rented a room for a couple of months. It is in a little neighborhood close to the Surasak Sky Train stop. It is quite and pleasant with both a large wat and mosque nearby. pool, swimming, roof, Thailand, Bangkok, Saint ViewThe building is also pretty nice. There is even a roof top swimming pool. I went out last night and there was no one there but me. Pretty awesome really.

An American Woman Dating Thai Men in 1950s Thailand

I recently found an interesting article in the 24 July 1952 Siam Rath Weekly Review about a young white American woman attempting to date in 1950s Thailand. Identified only as “ingénue,” she talks about how hard it is to find a man as an intelligent and witty woman. Despite being told “lurid stories of their evil ways” brought on by the hot climate, the writer still sees Thai men as good potential love matches.

Thai, Thailand, men, women, dating, date, 1950s

She tells us that although “young Siamese men seem eager enough” when they first meet her, they quickly become incredibly nervous and find an excuse to leave the conversation only to “grin sheepishly across the room” for the rest of the evening.

Thai, Thailand, man, women, dat, dating

On the other hand, many of the older men she meets at parties and social events are the “I’m-old-enough-to be your father” types and expected her to act as a little girl with few opinions.

In the end, the author finds that both young and older men want to be flattered and feed as if they were “mentally deficient and had an insatiable appetite.” Not a pretty picture.