Journey to the old tea trees
How it all began. The start.
The journey began in November 2013 in northern Thailand, Mae Hong Son province, when Jenia Melnikov, my friend and colleague, and I decided to get some good quality raw materials for producing our own sheng pu-erhs preferably from the old trees. We planned our trip to the Thai tea mecca, the mountain Mae Salong, village Santikhiri in the neighbouring province of Chiang Rai. We knew exactly that the big-leaf Assamica grows there. At the same time we had information that there is an old Chinese refugee somewhere in the surrounding villages, who knows where the old tea trees grow. We didnâ€™t know where to look for this Chinese, only the approximate location where it made sense to make inquiries. A couple of days we were getting ready, developing a route, buying some appropriate clothing. According to the plan we were going to visit 5 tea villages during 7-10 days.
We started from Chiang Mai (on motorcycles), the first stop on our trip was supposed to be Chiang Rai (N km away), the largest city and the last bastion of civilization before entering the serpentine leading into the mountains and forests. In Chiang Rai we were planning to stock up our provisions, replenish fresh water and feed the horses. :)
After the first hour of driving it started to rain, then turning into a heavy downpour. We had another 50 km to go, when something interesting happened. This event has completely changed our whole route, and brought a good flow, or good luck, which settled in our pockets and backpacks.
We noticed a sign and a turn to the village of Doi Chang, which we planned to visit at the very end of the trip, according to our plan and approved route. The village was 25 km away, while Chiang Rai was 50. On one hand, we wanted to get to the plantations as soon as possible, and on the other - we did not know if there was a guest house. And we needed to dry your clothes urgently.
After all, we ventured to change the plan. Turning to the west, we started on the new route from minor to major points. We had a good map of north Thailand beforehand.
After 10 minutes, this landscape opened infront of us:
After passing a little more, we stopped on the bridge and had another photo session. It was then I began to regret that we donâ€™t have a good camera - just a simple little digital camera and iPhone.
View from the Bridge.
After the next turn and a sign, promising a warm guesthouse in small village in just 9 kilometers, the â€śnoirâ€ť style road began. You know, like a prelude to the main event from Hitchcock or Lynch. Twilight, fog - not yet thick but noticeable - mixed with drizzle. A sort of "Sleepy Hollow." Concrete road began to spin up the steep serpentine. On its edges, with rare trees (for some reason they seemed neatly cropped, which added the mystery to the scene), the panorama of the valley emerged. More precisely, it could only be guessed through the fog. We were driving on a flat narrow edge of a giant concrete screw, screwing into the sky on our motorcycles. I swear I was expecting to see a huge medieval castle at the top, but it never happened .. Instead, the descent began slowly. It meant we have crossed another mountain pass. The road got quite bad, forest thickened and hung in arches, the jungle started to conquer the road. Dusk was falling and we had about 10 minutes until it would get dark. But then, finally, some houses appeared. And soon, in complete darkness, we arrived to a small hotel.
By some miracle the girl-manager at the reception could speak English. It turned out that we were the first visitors in this newly opened guesthouse. I wonder where we would spend the night if we left home a couple of days earlier â€¦ Well, we were two of the three first visitors. In the hallway, we are faced with young Thai man, who came there at the same time.
By the way, Doi Chang is not a tea, its a coffee village and their coffee is very popular in Thailand, and even beyond. So when we went downstairs we were offered coffee, of course. I almost mechanically replied that it would be better to drink tea at such late time. We had our own teaware and were not particularly worried about having tea or not. But the girl said "okayâ€ť.
They made tea using water from the coffee machine, so it turned to taste like coffee, of course. But we were still interested and asked to show it in a dry form.
The tea appeared strange. Assamica, large leaves, roasted in the style of burnt peanuts. Neither before nor after this point we have seen such a barbaric tea roasting. The outer parts of the leaves were burned to ashes. I shook my shoulders - what can I say... We asked where tea is from, she said that her brother has a plantation nearby. It was clear, that we are going to continue our way into the next, more tea village on the next day. I went to fuel the tank of my bike and when I came back my friend Jenia looked at me strangely and excitedly. He hurriedly said: "She just said that here, in the jungle, the 1000 years old tea trees are growing and tomorrow morning we will be able to see them."