|Somboon is all smiles at his Little Home.|
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Somboon, a soldier of good fortune ...
Everyone who meets Somboon Iamvitayakun walks away with the impression that his is about the happiest most radiant face they've ever seen. And his smile is even bigger today as he just became a grandfather for first time.
But life wasn't always so good to him. Born beside border of Myanmar and Thailand near Doi Tung in 1956, his life of adventure started just 4 months later when his father, a 3-star gunner with the exiled Chinese Kuo Min Tang army, was posted back to the border of Myanmar/China. Little Somboon witnessed the KMT fighting daily against the Burmese. "We need to move, move, move everyday, cannot stay same place everyday. Bombs and big guns. After four-and-a-half years we lose," he says matter of factly in his gentle voice.
So back to Doi Tung it was."Doi Tung only have temple before. Poppy and opium is there." In a political move deemed better for Thailand, the runaway army was repositioned closer to the border which was then right at Mae Salong. "We move to Mae Salong in 1963, about 4000 soldiers but only 16 families." Among the 16 families was a young Chinese girl, Patcharee, who caught his eye. They would marry many years later.
"Hill tribe people put many many poppy, but KMT did not grow it -- we provided security from Shan State to Thailand for many European and Hong Kong people before Khun Sa," he says of the army's dubious dealings with the drug lord. "We stopped security in 1972 then Khun Sa get bigger, bigger, bigger making heroin. Before Khun Sa and us were family, but after 1972 we fighting against Khun Sa."
That year his father died fighting at Pha Thang near Pu Chi Fah. "He was a one-star general."
Somboon was already following in his father's footsteps as a gunner. "Fighting against Thai communist and Burmese soldier in Phu Chi Fa and sometimes helping Chinese family in Burma get to Thailand to Mae Salong. Fight communist in jungle, but Burmese in the city."
In 1982 the KMT army were given Thai citizenship by the King as way of thanks for services rendered. "In my heart now I am Thai," he says tapping his chest.
Nothing much has apparently changed in delightful Mae Salong apart from the road being sealed in 1990, and four hotels -- including Somboon's Little Home Guest House (www.maesalonglittlehome.com) -- sprouting in the past 4 years. Tourists are increasingly finding their way into these hills to enjoy to cool air, the tea plantations, and the quirky Chinese frontier town feel of this town.
"I like it here, the people are so warm and friendly. Not so busy, it's an easy life. No pollution and not so hot. It's like my hometown now."
Somboon's Top 5 Thailand travel picks:
1/ 3 Pagoda Pass, Kanchanaburi. "I like Kanchanaburi, the Japan military history, the railway." He walked through 3 Pagoda Pass to Burma. "I would love to interview them and find out how they died."
2/ Biglok gold mine, Kanchanaburi. "You can see old mining machine that British left there."
3/ Pla Salawin restaurant, Chiang Mai. "On the left hand side of the road from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon (before Jom Tong). There are so many restaurants in Chiang Mai but I like this one. I like their fish menu, it's fantastic, pla moo tord and pla kang lueuk.'
4/ Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai province. "I always have dinner with my wife at Little Home, but go to hilltribe village and tea plantations, and the temple on top of the hill, Phra Sri Nakharin."
5/ Doi Pha Thang, Chiang Rai province: "It’s higher than Pu Chi Fah. A big view of Mekong. River Not so very beautiful jungle but you can see the old stuff from the war, holes from the bomb, bunkers and trenches."