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With the Lisu People in Northern Thailand

A Hike in the Mountain Forest


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In 1982 a young Lisu guided me to an opium plantation, high up in the mountains near the Burmese border. His name was Abbae, some called him Nenepha.

He showed me an opium field. It was just harvest time. We reached the field on a hidden path.

Abbae with his gun

Northbound, high up into the mountains.
Well, it was not really peaceful at that time. [1982]

Mountains in the neighbourhood of the Thai-Burmese border

View back to the South from a height of perhaps 900 m [1982]

Opium plantage at the Thai-Burmese border

The bright transverse hillside is the opium field
(sorry for the bad quality of the image) [1982]

white poppy
capsule just cut
the juice can be collected

From white poppy to raw opium [1982]

poppy in harvest season

Just when the petals fall down the capsule will be scarified. Later they collect the juice, the raw opium.

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At that time Abepha's wife Avuma had given birth to a daughter and I had the opportunity to take part in a ceremony. Since then I am looked up as a family friend. Abepha was a brother-in-law of Abbae, who is dead meanwhile.

Abepha smith at work

smith Abepha forging [2008]

Since then I visited Abepha several times. During the interim period we have no contact. Therefore my visits are absolutely unexpected to the family and I never know how I'll find them.

Abepha and his wife have six daughters and two sons. He is a skilful craftsman, who can forge iron as well as use a trowel to erect a house. He owns a rice field, lychee trees and once I saw a lot of freshly digged out ginger in his house. He is always busy, when I arrive.

So I disturb him always in his daily activities. If he has no time for me, I tell him that I'll be off for a walk and stroll around the village and the surroundings.

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In all these years I did not succeed to refinding the path up into the mountain forest to that opium field. No, I did not think that nowadays they still plant poppy, but that route upwards was so beautiful!

In March 2008 I tried again and finally found the entrance to that route.

Lychee tree in blossom

Lychee tree in blossom ...

Lychee-tree with fruit

... and with (unripe) fruits

pumpkin blossom

What is that? Beautiful but someway threatening

On the ground I saw yellow-red blossoms which someway looked dangerous. Toxic? Later I learned that they were harmless pumpkin blossoms.


The scenery was full of blossoms,
but often only to be discovered on a second glance.

Finally I found the way up into the mountains

way up

way upwards

steeply upwards

now the path is very steep

slash and burn

slash and burn

water tap

water tap

On the crest of the foothill, near a shelter, I decided: upwards! The path was really steep.

I got scruples, because I had no water with me. But I remembered that there were fountains up in the mountains. Indeed, on the next crest there was, well, no fountain but a water tap. I got my drink.

There was one of the many regions of slash and burn. Hill tribes use this way of field preparation since the old days. After some years of using the field it will become jungle again and another place is burnt. But nowadays the population has grown too much, the fields are used too intensively and cannot recover. - In addition there is much erosion because of the steep slopes.

Forward! Again up along a crest and later up in a high valley. The path was very narrow and at last I could not make it out any more.

narrow path upon the crest

narrow path upon the crest

narrow path

narrow path



By the way, it is rather silent in the forest. No monkeys cry, as there are no monkeys. Sometimes you may hear a bird singing. Far away a muzzleloader will bang. – The vegetation is a perfect dream! Click the images! The large one too!

seed vessel
leaves and seed?
hiddeen blossoms
the blue blossom!
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this is the point of return

too narrow for me

No way forward,
I had to turn back !

look for the orchid

look for the orchid, double click!

Suddenly I saw it: An Orchid !
No, it is not comparable to those in a flower shop. In the jungle you must be very lucky to find an orchid. Double click the right image and look for it where the arrow is.

Orchid and ant

Orchid and ant

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Lisu Ban Lao Tha in the valley

Lisu Ban Lao Tha in the valley

When I came back after more than five hours, there was a flurry of excitement. Abepha had missed me and had searched for me in the region and in neighbouring villages.

Yes, he was right. If I would have had an accident on my excursion, it would have been difficult to find me, if at all. It was not correct in doing so and I apologised.

But in the same moment I knew: If I'd ever have the possibility for such a hike again, I'd do it! ALONE !

button videoclip

2:46 min 

He or she, who will experience the gasps of the hiker, some bird calls, the flit-away of a bird, is invited to look at the videoclip.

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