With my friend Sam, I took a three day motorcycle trip to Phrae. It’s about five hours east of Chiang Mai, past Lampang and then up into the hills. Once you get into the mountains it’s fresh and cool, and the scenery compensates for the long haul. Phrae was once the center of Teak logging in Thailand. Teak is a magnificent wood with which to build houses and furniture. It’s heavy, insect resistant, and grows straight as an arrow. It’s also largely missing, as Thailand has lost 85% of its forests since World War II. They’ve replanted a lot, but teak takes a long time to grow.
When we got to the mountains northeast of Lampang, we were looking for someplace to rest and came across a coffee shop that was largely hidden from the highway. It looked like a dark recess in the trees. The owner had built a delightful tree house in addition to his main buildings, the coffee house itself and a little church. That’s right, church, as in Christian Pentecostal place of worship. His name is Chestha Suwannasa, and he credits his conversion experience with saving him from a life of dissipation. He also fancies himself an artist, and was busy working on a large canvas when we arrived. The canvases have titles like “The Last Judgment.”
When we got to Phrae, we toured one of several nineteenth century mansions that were made, of course, of teak. The largest had belonged to the governor of the region, and the opulence of the upstairs was in great contrast to the basement, which was used as a prison and a place of torture. I could not imagine relaxing at home knowing there were people being tortured in my basement, but heck, maybe that’s just me. Guess I don’t have thick enough skin to be a provincial governor in 19th century Indochina.