A Travellerspoint blog


Thaton to Chiang Rai

On the return trip to Tathon, we happened to be accompanied by a Russian, Jewish couple who emigrated to Australia some 18 years ago. This was their first real trip abroad, after being encouraged to hit the road by their British son in law. Also on the songthaew, was another emigre to Australia, this one from China. We traded stories with him about the 60's demonstrations against the Vietnam war, both in his adopted country and in ours. He is 70 and was quite active in the antiwar movement in Australia. Sitting next to him was another Chinese man who had travelled overland for a month starting in Kunming. He spoke only Mandarin, and unfacetiously said to the Chinese/Australian gentlemen that if it wasn't for the Party, he would never have been able to travel. Perhaps he worked for the party. It was, you might say, quite a multicultural ride. After returning to our guest house by the river, we waited until the sun was descending before starting out on a walk to then near by Wat, at the top of a steep hill. There was a small road to get there, but not having wheels, we hoofed it up the many sets of stairs. On the way, we passed this statue of the Buddha.


And this one at the top.


Below us, the town and the river valley were part of the panoramic view.



This was a handheld shot of the guest house path, as night came on quickly, as it does in the tropics.


In the morning, we left on the long tailed boat ride for Chaing Rai. A Dutch couple our age, who were staying at our guesthouse and biking for a month were also on the boat, and then we stopped to pick up Travis, a young American who was on the road for more than a year. He had been all over South America, Indonesia and many parts of Asia , as well as New Zealand. How coud he take this much time we asked. He had his own business repairing various technical machines (not computers) which he had started at age 20. Now at 32, he was taking off some time and letting his partners manage the business. Pretty impressive. The ride was quite enjoyable, with green hills all around, and even some rapids in the bony river.


We passed several large and small dredging operations, and stopped in a Lisu village where they stared at us and we stared at them. They even had a picture station set up with a cutout figure of a hill tribe couple. We couldn't resist the ridiculousness of it, but they then demanded 40 baht for the priviledge. A bit like Disneyland.


After four hours or so, we arrived in Chaing Rai, which is pleasant enough, if somewhat on the nondescript side. While there are plenty of farang, the place does not feel like a tourist town.

The clock tower, on the other hand, is impresssive, particualrly at sunset.


We went Wat hopping, first to Wat Rong Khun, the white temple outside of town. Everyone raves about this new place, and it is a big tourist attraction for Thai and Farang alike. It is a bit too rococo for my taste, though some of the artwork is interesting.




My favorite was in the in town, Wat Jet Yot. About a 100 years older it is a much simplier affair , but the enormous gold cement Buddha is both imposing and calming at the same town.


Temple painting

In this Wat I met a Hungarian. We talked politics, in a not particularly Wat like conversation, but intriguing nonetheless. He is a nuclear scientist who spent two years working on Long Island.

Then it was back to the center of town for the best Tom Yam that we had in Thailand. It was from a tiny shop, really a street stall, whose prorietor seemed especially pleased that we liked his soup, which practically exploded with flavor and spice. We shall probably return for the same thing for dinner, along with some tasty baozi, Chinese steamed buns, though they don't call them that here.


Posted by jonshapiro 11:21 Archived in Thailand Tagged buildings people food cities_postcards Comments (1)

Mae Salong

We left Pai for Tathon on the following day. Because of the length of the ride, our plan was to spend one night there and then go on to Mae Salong, before returning to Tathon in order to take a riverboat ride to Chiang Rai. We spent the first two hours on a minibus talking to two Thai nursing students, one of whom said she was wanted to go into psychiatric nursing. Her English name is Nice, and she certainly was. She seemed very interested in hearing about our work, our travels, and our daughters.

When we arrived at a crossroads about an hour from Chaing Mai, we got out and waited for the bus to Tathon. Not much later, an interesting Canadian family stoppd to wait for the same bus. Kirk, Denise, and their two boys, 9 and 11, are traveling the world for nine months. He is a principal and she, a guidance counselor. Both on are on sabbatical at 80% pay. They live in the country in Ontario, and it was not long before we realized we had a great deal in common. We exchanged various travel stories, including their recent excursion to Egypt with the boys. Despite the political turmoil, they felt safe as tourists, though they didn't appreciate all the touts. Their favorite experience so far was a safari in Tanzania. The hour wait passed quickly, and athough the "chicken bus" ride to Fang and Tathon was long and hot, we spent much of it talking with Kirk, who regaled us with stories of the three years he spent teaching in an Inuit village in the Canadian arctic. He loved it all he said, despite the winter darkness, and still has some friends among the villagers. He told us about some of the old men "going for their walk," in which they just walked off onto the ice and never came back, because they felt as though they were of no more use to their community. It happens less often now that the Inuit govern themselves with less interference from the government. He also told us about a night he spent stranded on the ice because of a whiteout. He and his companions managed to build an igloo to protect themselves from the minus 40 temps and 60 mph winds. They didn't take into account the rising tide, and they came close to being swept out to sea as the bottom foot of their igloo filled with seawater in the middle of the night. When he was living there in the mid 90's, they were icebound for eight to nine months. Now, it is more like four.

We arrived in the late afternoon, and after a short walked opted for an early dinner at the guest house riverside restaurant. The next morning, we said our goodbyes, and headed off to Mae Salong by songthaew. Our hotel was a few kilometers out of town, but luckily we were able to telephone the owner from another guesthouse in the center. He was willing to pick us up, and it so happened that this guesthouse was owned by his brother, so he knew just where it was.

Local woman with cell phone

The Maesalong Mountain Home is set in a Shangri La like setting, surrounded by green mountains and tea plantations.




With their geometric rows of tea plants, they form a beautiful mosaic of patterns on the steep hillsides.


Thirty to forty years ago, most of these hills were planted with opium and not tea. It makes sense, as it is very near to the Golden Triangle. There are small Akha villages scattered amongst the hills, and the border with Burma is visible in the distance.

Our host, Sanjit, is the youngest son of a Yunnanese father. Like many people here, his father was part of the Koumintang army, which escaped Mao's advancing troops by fleeing into the mountains of Chiang Rai Province. In fact, there are so many people here from Yunnan, that Mae Salong is known as the Chinese village. Thanks to his older brother, Sanjit was educated in Taiwan, where he spent some 22 years. Eventually he returned to his birthplace.

The main street of Mai Salong is full of Chinese tea shops and restaurants. It has a KMT museum which, naturally enough, was paid for by a wealthy Taiwanese. To read the history in the museum (in English as well as Chinese and Thai), you might think the KMT would have won the war, were in not for those dastardly Burmese, who joined forces with Mao's army to help defeat them. There were also several statements about the government of Taiwan providing the Chinese community in Thailand with a great deal of humanitarian aide and military assistance. This was disputed by Sanjit's older brother, who said the people living in Mai Salong were dirt poor for years, and got little help from anyone. He ought to know. After being conscripted by the Thais into what remained of the KMT army, he spent 28 years fighting the Burmese, the Laotians, and God knows who else. However, this allowed his other siblings to lead a better life. Now he is doing fine, as the proud owner of the Little Home Guesthouse, as well as a small organic tea farm.

He also brews as a mean oolong.

While staying in our simple, but lovely hotel, we hiked over to a nearby plantation.


Guarded by a couple of giant lions, one of which is still under construction, the place also had several campy looking, and enormous concrete teapots.




On another day we made our way down through the steep tea rows to the river below.



And then spent an hour wading in the stream, before a local cow herder showed up. His regal looking cows looked better fed then he did.


In the heat of mid afternoon, we hiked back up, and then enjoyed a couple of much needed beers with a small group of bright, young, Australians. They had just come over on their motorbikes to enjoy the view, and it wasn't long before we had the place mostly to ourselves. A few hours later, Jeffrey, from Long Guyland, showed up. A committed expat, more or less by default, he has taught English in Korea for the past 17 years. He doesn't work too hard though, about nine hours per week. Prior to this he was heavily involved with Yogi Desai at Kripalu and other yoga centers, not far from our home in upstate New York. He was a friendly guy, but a bit too new agey for me. He actually has a red diaper background, similar to mine, and it is even possible that some of his relatives knew my parents, although he is about 15 years younger. Small world indeed.

View From Patio of Mae Salong Mountain Home

Posted by jonshapiro 13:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Mae Hong Son

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.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:49 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Chiang Mai Continued

We have kept quite busy in Chiang Mai. Each of us did a day long course. I chose to do a Thai cooking class on an organic farm outside of town. It was quite professional. Each of us had our own cooking station, and we prepared 6 or 8 dishes. By the end of the day we were all tired and stuffed. They gave us a little cookbook, and I hope to be able to reproduce some of the meals for my friends upon our return.

Your's truely bending down on the left

Meanwhile Nanette took a jewelry class, and made a very classy silver pendant for a necklace.

Pendant in process

We also took a tuk tuk out to Umong Wat, on the outskirts of town. With its subterranean tunnels, many trees, and Buddha heads, the place had a very peaceful atmosphere.





Today we journeyed to an elephant show, about 45 minutes away. Nanette was keen to see it and thought it was enjoyable, though I thought it was a bit on the hokey side. Well, I have to admit that they were cute.





We came back to our apartment after that to hang out at the pool, and listen to music on my phone, through tiny, but amazingly good travel speakers. Ahh, the wonders of technology.

Everyday we have taken to having a beer and watching the sunsets from our terrace. What could be better?




Today is Chinese New Year and we thought we go into chinatown to see what was going on. At this point though, it seems as though it is not worth the effort . Another hard day of relaxation.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:52 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Chiang Mai

View from my terrace at Chiang Mai Apartments, overlooking Doi Sup Mountain and monastery.


We arrived in Chiang Mai two days ago. A bit of hassle getting from the airport to meet Derek, our landlord at the apartment. We were told we had to wait an hour for a taxi, but eventually managed to find a tuk-tuk on a street outside the airport. Not sure why the wait was so long. The apartment is quite nice, located in a residential section across from the train station. However, it is a hefty walk into town, and the tuk tuks sometimes demand too much money. Derek is quite a character. An expat Irishmen, he'll talk your ear off, is quite obese, and has traveled all over, including Leh, where he plans to return this summer. How he manages at that altitude, with all the extra weight he is carrying, is a question.

Yesterday we reached Nyi Nyi and ate lunch together. He was the monk we had met in Mandalay three years ago, who we tried, but failed to help him get to the US. He was desperate to leave Burma at the time, as this was before anything had changed for the better in that beleaguered country. He managed to sneak across the border to Thailand, as so many Burmese have done, and ended up in Chiang Mai because he had a friend here. Looking nothing like the monk he was, he is a handsome young man, neatly dressed, who works as a receptionist at Le... Massage. He is much more upbeat and mature than when we knew him in Burma, and despite the improvement in things in his own country, has no desire to return. The owner of Le... seems to be a savvy business woman who has taken a liking to him, and so he has a lot of responsibility considering he is just a receptionist. The fact that his English has improved considerably is no doubt an important factor, as several of the masseuses and masseurs are Burmese, and don't speak English. He does the translating since almost all the customers are English speakers. It may not be too long before he is managing the place. What he hopes to do at some point, is return to Burma and get a passport. Then he can get a legal visa for Thailand and enroll in a Thai high school where he can study the language. Although not a certainty, this may enable him to live here on a permanent basis. It is really wonderful to seem him so happy. He feels there are some real opportunities for him to make some money, to continue studying, and to make a life for himself in Chiang Mai.


We stppped into his spa last night hoping to meet his boss, but she had already left. We did get great oil massages with two people who he picked out for us, also Burmese. There is a large, and mostly illegal Burmese community here, and I'm sure they are often paid less and treated badly, just like Mexicans in the US. Luckily for Nyi Nyi, he seems to have found a place for himself where this is not the case.

Tomorrow, he wants to take us out to dinner now that he is working.

Nanette and Nyi Nyi

It was a bit strange to be drinking beer, and more than one, with our former monk

Posted by jonshapiro 13:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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