10.02.2013 - 14.02.2013
We left Chiang Mai a few days ago for the three hour mini bus ride to Pai. Rumors that Pai is the Khao San Road of the north are true. Although much smaller, the place was packed with young backpackers of all stripes. It was definetly a young peoples party scene. So called walking street, which still had traffic, was chock full of shops, street vendors, restaurants and bars. At night it was wall to wall people, and was beastly hot during the day.
We met a nice Taiwanese couple at our hotel, and the next day we set off with them to find a waterfall described in one of our guidebooks. It turned out to be considerably further than we thought, but the hike, along side of, and in and out of a leafy stream, was shaded and quite enjoyable.
At one point we came to a deeper pool in the stream where we could immerse ourselves in the water. It was pure bliss in the steamy heat of the jungle.
Cooler now, we walked for another hour until we came across a local couple. They had been to the falls the day before, and were back out on the trail looking for an expensive par of sunglasses. They said it was still another two hours to the falls, and running low on water, we decided not to continue. On the return, we passed several other hikers, also low on water, but they continued on, somewhat foolishly in our opinion. Eventually we met up with the couple from Taiwan, who were slower hikers. We all stopped for a beer just outside town, at the rather funky Ing Doi Bungalows. Sitting next to us was a young couple from the Bay area.
We left Pai the next morning, and none too soon in our opinion. Mae Hong Son, close to the to Burmese border, was another three hour ride on the road with a thousand curves. Although no longer off the beaten track, the locals here outnumber the tourists, and so it is a fairly low key place. Unfortunately, it was beastly hot, which came as somewhat of a surprise as this was still supposed to be the cool time of year. During the afternoons, it was just too hot to do much of anything, and we just held up in our room with the ac cranked. It was also difficult to get around because of the shortage of tuk tuks. It renewed our interest in learning how to drive a motorbike, which are cheap to rent, unlike a car.
Not far from the center of town, and a few blocks from our hotel, there is a lake. It is a nice place to stroll at night, and relatively quiet, with few motorbikes. There is a pleasant night market nearby, as well as street food and several good restaurants.
On one side, there is an old Wat, lit up like a Christmas tree with multicolored lights. On one night there was a festival, and the monks appeared to be launching fiery lanterns into the night sky.
Mask on the grounds of the Wat
In the relative cool of the morning mist, we climbed up to another Wat high on a hill overlooking the town.
Little girl on Wat stairs
Yesterday we went up into the nearby mountains in a four wheel drive vehicle. It was on a narrow track, paved in some spots, dirt in others. After an hour or two we pulled into Ban Huai Hee, a Karenni village tucked away in the hills. Nary a tourist in sight, we had our driver negotiate with the headman to hire a guide to take us on a hike through the jungle. Soon thereafter we started on a four hour trek to another village, Ban Nam Hoo, where our driver would wait for us. It was easy at first, more like a nature walk, but then things got progressively steeper.
Our guide, Umon, pointed out various plants, although he spoke not one word of English. At a certain point his cell phone rang. It seems it was time for his podcast. And so, as we walked along the trail as he listened to music and glanced at the pictures on his smart phone. It seems as if the damn things are everywhere, and even in this remote place there was service.
As we reached the top of the pass after a gain of 2-3000 vertical feet, it was quite steep indeed.
On the way down we had to carefully pick our way amidst the lose rock. We descended to another isolated village where I took pics of the women weaving. Everyone seemed quite friendly.
I walked up to the small christian church. Obviously the missionaries had beaten us here. As promised, our driver was waiting, and then took us on the long hot ride back to Mae Hong Son.
Today we hopped a minibus back to Pai, and are staying just out of town in a little enclave known as Lychee Bungalows. It is run by an extremely personable Israeli and her Thai husband. We spent most of the day chatting with her and her British friend. It was an easy day after yesterdays strenuous hike, and a more relaxed place to stay than the center of hectic Pai.