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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son

THAILAND | Wednesday, 10 September 2008 | Views [2301]

Tue 2nd Sep – After a bad start to the day with personal stuff getting in the way of enjoying life to its full (stuff happens doesn’t it), visited the flower market on the river ping road in the evening and had some street snacks. Around 60 Baht in total...spring rolls, pork skewers, minced bacon, fruit drink bag for 15 Baht. Off on walkabout afterwards til 2am playing pool at a couple of bars and talked to a local girl with contacts about apartment to rent for 3,500/mth. Also turns out that she can dance, so that’s nice to know.

Had one of those days when my head is full of stuff. At some silly hour couldn’t sleep so went for a Walk along the canal banks. As usual there were many street girls around at that time and got talking to one about life and stuff. A sweet girl...had to pay money to her mother and had no customers. Disappointed when I said I wasn’t going to be one either. Gave her a cuddle. So many on the streets and in the bars that after a while you feel sorry for them and talk to them about their problems and life issues as if they need someone to talk to.

 

 

Wed 3rd Sep – Got dropped at the stop for Chom Thong for 40 Baht. Yellow Sawngthaew departed within 5 minutes and took about an hour to get there. Cost 40 Baht. We were aiming for Doi Inthanon National Park and had read that we should be able to pick up a connection from here. The Sawngthaew dropped us near to the town square/wat. Walked around for a while talking to drivers of cabs, motorbikes and sawngthaews and came to the conclusion that we couldn't get up to doi Inthanon today. Mainly as it was late in the day and secondly, because it was too expensive for just the two of us. Normally, a full sawngthaew would carry 12 people paying 80 baht each, but they wanted to charge us 600 Baht! Not a chance, so looked around at the alternatives to stop here overnight. Could stop at the temple, or at the Smile Guest House, which is where we ended up for 300 Baht a night.

After settling in, off for a walk. First stop a taoist style temple on the main street. Walked off down a side street passing through a lovely quaint area of old wooden houses and friendly folk selling nice little commestibles. Had a few snacks of sticky rice parcels for 5 Baht and glutinous goo and crushed gumph parcels for 5 Baht...whatever it was? Plus cherry tomatoes in little bags for 1 Baht!

Further on into the remote outer village areas and the lovely open space of the paddy fields surmounted by the beautiful backdrop of the Doi Inthanon mountains. Looks like recent activity in fresh planting of rice stalks with a deep carpet of verdant green. Hitched a lift back to town on the back of a pick-up truck that looks to have been returning from working in the fields. Really friendly people who were happy to offer the lift.

Back in town and a visit to the main Wat. Very quiet with no tourists around and only a couple of buddhist monks around, one old guy in ochre robe and a lady in white...very unusual to see both sexes here. The lady was in 'walking meditation' where they concentrate their mind on their walking to dispel any thoughts from their head. Done to a very slow tortoise - paced step. In a corner of the temple complex is a massive Bodhi tree (for the non-buddhists...this was the tree under which Buddha aka prince Siddarta achieved enlightenment). All bodhi trees are supposed to have originated from cuttings taken from the original in Bodghaya in India. The age of this tree was evident from the many dozens of ornate props used to support its branches. Some carved, some painted and some decorated in gilt.

Later went to find something to eat. Not much choice at all, in fact no choice at all. A seven-eleven store opposite the wat and a streetfood stall outside of it. Turned out to serve up a really nice bowl of mixed meat and veg for 25 Baht washed down with some 711 additions. Not much but all that was on offer here.

 

Thu 4th Sep - Up and out for 9am'ish after a strange omlette and coffee at the Smile Guest House. I had been told to aim for the open area outside of the Wat to pick up a yellow Sawngthaew up the mountain to the park. Of course things are never that simple. One place sends you somewhere else and that place sends you back again. Got fed up and had a nice coffee from a van whilst deciding. Typical of Thailand, everywhere you are, you talk to lovely people who are happy to play and have fun. The girl who ran the coffee van was no exception. Whilst trying to barter with drivers the best price had been 300 Baht each to get upto the National Park HQ and we would have to sort ourselves out from there. Luck struck and after a short while a thai girl approached who spoke great english, saying she had been pointed towards us from down the road as she also wanted to go. After about 10 minutes of us talking with the drivers, two thai guys (hotel boys from Bangkok) arrived, so we now had five of us. That changed the situation dramatically and we negotiated a full day's tour for 250 Baht each, and managed to set off at around 10am. What we had learnt in this morning's process is that the sawngthaew have different contracts. Some that go to Mae Chaem go past the park HQ, but are not allowed to stop and let off passengers, but must carry straight through the park. Others are allowed to stop. All are yellow! You can try to reason as much as you like with them...but you are going past the HQ....so why can't you stop? Nobody explains to you and just laughs. Out of dozens of people, only one could explain it to us.

Doi Inthanon is Thailand's highest mountain although it is only 2595m high. The park headquarters are 31km from Chom Thong up a fairly steep climb.

Our first stop was well inside the park at the Wachirathan water falls. To get there triggered off a bit of discussion...the thai people only pay 40 Baht to enter the park....foreigners pay 400 Baht! That's quite a mark-up isn't it? I have to say that I do expect a bit of a difference in local and farang prices, but not that much, so was a little annoyed.

Anyway, the waterfalls were nice and the day a real beauty, so soon got on with it, and forgot about the rip-off. It was only 200 Baht a year or so ago though. Prices have gone up a lot in Thailand. Around the waterfalls are a lovely trail through a nice shaded forest out of the strong heat of the day.

Next stop was the Doi Inthanon peak. A lovely climb to the top on a smooth road and then out for a walk. The highest point in Thailand is marked by a wooden signboard and pretty flower display, ideal for everyone who queues up for their photo. Close-by was a lovely nature trail through a beautiful wooden pathed trail. Sphagnum moss and lichens growing over everything...vines and creepers inter-mingling with the trees and many varieties of ferns. Flitting from one resting spot to another where many wonderful colouful birds...sun birds, wood peckers...tranquility and beauty in a magic setting.

Onwards to the 'Great Holy Relic Pagoda' which stands atop another prominent peak. Actually two angular modern pagodas, one that looks completely new and not accessible due to the work in progress. One that we climbed up to was superb. Modern inside with murals painted around the ceiling and stone carvings on the wall. The outside was surrounded with excellent stone carvings too and the whole thing set amidst pretty gardens.

After breaking for some lunch, onwards to another waterfall even prettier than the first. I think it was called Siriphum, but not sure. Anyway, the bridged gardens at the entrance were very fairytale like and full of wonderful atmospheric planting schemes, making for superb photography. The climb upto the waterfall was magical. The lighting was perfect today and the dappled shade amongst the waterfall laced dells was cool and magic. Ferns of numerous varieties unfurling their new fronds with clusters of spores underneath, make good subjects as do the many tiny orchids growing wild in amongst mosses hanging from banches. Just what you come to this park for.

Final stop on our way out of the park was to check out the accommodation options in case we wanted to stay overnight. Tents if they would have let us hire one, which they wouldn't at this time of year, were 275 Baht (sleeping bag and blankets extra), and bungalows 1000 Baht per night. Decided not to stay, and head back to town with the others.

Back in town for about 4pm'ish and sat thinking about our options...stay in the temple overnight and move tomorrow, or move on. Decided to move on towards Mae Sariang, as Chom Thong didn't capture our interest for another night's stay. Found out where to catch the bus, although the information that a red bus left at 5pm was wrong as we had already missed it. Next bus would have actually been 9pm, so weren't going to wait for that. Instead, we got on a blue local bus opposite the police station that seem to leave every half hour to Hod. Sat in a great air-conditioned little café talking to the owner whilst waiting for the bus, which only cost 20 Baht for the hour journey.

In Hod the bus to Mae Sariang wouldn't arrive here until 9pm tonight and arrive get to Mae Sariang at 1pm in the morning. No way were we doing that, so stopped over night in a hotel. Not many here to choose from, so didn't take long to sort out.

A nice street meal in the evening with a couple of beers on route 108. This town is a quiet place in the evenings and seems a good base to do the local parks from, but will still move on from here tomorrow. An odd guy approached us on the way back to the hotel after our meal, doing some odd motions with his hands and body...we obviously attracted either the local psycho or just a guy who throught foreigners like weeirdos!

 

Fri 5th Sep - Breakfast at 7am so that we could get the 8am bus to Mae Sariang. Well that was the theory. Went to the place where we had been told to get the bus. One person said 8am and others said 9am, so we arrived at 7:40am and sat there waiting. Sawngthaew drivers were going that way and wanted 90 Baht, but preferred to wait for the bus. 8am came and went and no red bus. At 8:30 the only westerner we had seen here appeared and said we could get the bus here, but better to go to the bus station about 100m away. First we had been told there was a bus station hidden away, so walked there. The real bus wasn't going to arrive until around 9am and would stop where we had been waiting if there was space left! A guy appeared who told us the price (75 Baht), and was nice and helpful. At 9:15 the 8am bus arrived. Actually, the bus left Chiang Mai at 5am and arrives randomly. As it turned out, the bus was almost full and we were shoe-horned into the remaining two seats at the back corner of the bus, which left 10 minutes later and didn't stop where we had been waiting earlier, so good job we moved! Shortly after getting on the bus I had cut my head on a ceiling fan and the conductor ran off and appeared with some tiger balm, the thai cure-all and smoothed some onto my head, which made me leap into the air as it stung even more than the cut itself.

The road to Mae Sariang is almost a continous climb, through beautiful forested areas and distant cloud topped mountains. Part way up and it started raining. The bus started leaking rain down my neck and if I moved, the rain came in another direction instead. Then I noticed the seats were crawling with ants, so wasn't too pleased and stood up instead. Now, thai buses are meant for short people, so over the next hour got attacked by the roof bars. By the end of the journey I was ready to get off, complete with a few newly acquired headscars.

Mae Sariang is a really nice place and from the bus station only a short walk to many accommodation options. After checking out a handful of places we ended up at the Riverside Guest House for 350 Baht a night. Loads of bars and restaurants nearby, so straight out for a late lunch on the bank of the river Salawin watching water buffalo swimming lazily along.

Another pleasant walk later on after a siesta in what must be the noisiest guesthouse in town! Might have to move on somewhere else tomorrow?

Later in the evening there was a birthday party downstairs. Turned out to be the owner. A few of the family were a bit merry with drink and so a few slurred songs erupted. A fairly low key party that finished at 11 o'clock when they went home.

 

Sat 6th Sep - Had to resort to earplugs last night due to road noise, and eventually managed to get a fair night's sleep. After breakfast hired bikes from the North west guest house across the road for 50 Baht a day. No need for a map of this area as it is simple enough to navigate without. Plenty of nice villages within easy access. The first heading north was an OTOP Karen village (One Tambon One Project). Traditional wooden stilt houses but fairly quiet. It's saturday and maybe they're off elsewhere. A gentle cycle around the peaceful outlying areas, with palm trees poking their heads above the low-lying rice paddy fields, laced with the brown waters of the irrigation streams. Not too hot today, so nice to saunter along at a lazy pace. At one point we stopped to watch a herd of goats and cows meander past, wood and brass bells chiming away as they lollop along. The young shepherds were real local kids with wide brimmed hats, wellington boots and real cheeky demeanour.

Stopped off at an outdoor keep fit area overlooking a wonderful view of the paddy fields. A bit neglected these days but would have been beautiful in its heyday.

After lunch at a rustic shack-like restaurant by the riverbank, we carried on eastwards towards a gold sitting buddha on a distant hill. No idea what it is called but it was hard work getting there. Must be getting unfit I guess? On nearing the place we could hear beat music getting louder. The surprise was that they had the largest speaker stacks I had seen for a while. Suitable for a decent rock concert! One of the old monks made conversation with us as we were recovering from the journey. Wasn't clear what was going on but looked like it was a meeting or focal point for the youth of the area. Maybe they want buddhism to be more funky and with it?

At the top of the site was the gold sitting buddha we had seen from afar. A small pagoda was perfectly located to sit under and admire the view across the valley. Returned the bikes back to town and felt wiped out, so relaxed the rest of the afternoon. Started throwing it down later but had to go out to eat. Felt like some treats, so stopped at a couple of street sellers. Thailand, especially in northern provinces have some great rice based deserts. Dozens of varieties available using combinations of sticky rice, tapioca or similar for 5 Baht a piece wrapped in banana leaves. Yummy washed down with some wine. The restaurant we eat at was more like someone's home, like many here...surrounded by their hobbies and general domestic stuff. Makes you feel part of the family.

 

Sun 7th Sep - Had decided to head north to Mae Hong Son today. Buses leave at 10:30 and noon plus later times, so that gave a nice casual start to the day. Good breakfast at our favourite hangout at Sawaddee retaurant and a brief chat with an american guy who has been travelling for 8yrs in search of somewhere to live..I feel like that! Then off to the bus station. The bus heading towards Chiang Mai arrived and left at 10:30 and our's soon followed, departing at 11am. Whilst waiting we watched a guy who had set up stall making little perspex encased momentos. His home made portable workbench was perfect for his needs and it was interesting to see him in action, something he looks to have been doing for decades. Fortunately, the bus wasn't too full and managed to get a good seat eventually. It seems odd when the seats on a bus are randomly positioned with no set legroom...some long, some short, some so short almost nobody can fit in. 106 Baht for the 4 hour or so journey (about 140km). After a really heavy and prolonged downpour last night, the sky is really clear and fresh today, perfect for the journey. Next time I come on this journey, I reckon it will be in a car or on a motorbike as there are many places that would be perfect for a stop along the way.

The bus stopped at Khun Yuam for lunch. A nice place which is a possible stop for a few days trekking, but that might be for the future. Had a great meal for 20 Baht. Got to the new bus station in Mae Hong Son at around 3pm.  A couple of kilometres south of the town centre, so not far to walk although there were enough motorbikes waiting for transport.

 

We had an idea from the guidebook and conversations that we wanted to head for the lake on the eastern side of the centre. Didn’t take long to find something as plenty to choose from although all a bit worn. The Johnkhum Guest House at 300 Baht a night in a wendy style house was a nice change from the other places around and part of it Overlooks the lake. Settled in and then walkabout followed by dinner at Sunflower café, which had live music playing.

 

Mon 8th Sep – The lake where we are staying is in a prime position in the town with a wonderful setting. To one side is the Wat Chong Klang temple and monastery which is quite attractive from afar but doesn’t bear much close inspection as it is a little worse for age. It does have a nice little museum inside which shows some relics brought in from Burma in 1857.

In town there are a few nice cafes and restaurants which are a bit quiet at this time of year, so you don’t have any problem getting a seat or fast service.

 

 

Tue 9th Sep -  Wanted to do some exploring today without paying for an organized tour. Picked up an automatic motorbike for 180 Baht from PA motors, opposite the lake. They provided a simple map of the area which turned out to be a bit unreliable, so a bit of interpretation required. Wanted to visit one of the long neck Karen villages away from the main tourist circuit, so aimed for one near the Burmese mountains. The Karen Longneck village was a fairly long ride from the main route 108 north/south road, but part way over there was a sign to follow for the village. The dodgy part of the journey started when the road fizzled out and became a dirt track. For Victoria’s first time riding a motorbike in a long time, she did very well. A tough start to learn on. The dirt road became riddled with muddy pools and deep tracks of mud to get stuck in. The fun carried on when we reached a fast flowing river and had to ride through it. At one stage we didn’t think it was worth the risk as many bikes that passed where trail bikes or 4-wheel drive vehicles, but decided to give it a go and it was actually easier than it looked, and washed some of the mud off the bike.

The entrance to the Baan Mai Naisoi ‘Temporary Shelter Area’ longneck village was also the location of the beginning of a locals only Burma border crossing, a further 10km along a narrow dirt track. A little bamboo hut had a couple of guys with a register for anyone wanting to pass. The village I think was part of a group of refugee villages around the area, and this particular one was called section 4.

 

The village we visited was actually two adjacent villages, occupied by the Kayah Ka longneck Buddhist people and the Kayah Ko catholic people. Both groups seem to be part of the Padaung group of people, but not sure what the relationship is? When I visit one of these villages there is always that ethical question...they get an education for themselves and their children....but were they enticed here originally for commercial reasons? They no longer have to work like they did in Burma and the women sit around and talk...the men are off elsewhere. Some women do go into town. In this particular location, the village is shared being a sort of refugee camp with long neck and long ears. Many women wear ornate necklaces made from foreign coins and keys… a symbol of the west. One old woman came out and sat on her verandah. She was very typical with red mouth...derived from the constant chewing of betel nut/paste in leaf. She offered us some, but we declined as I have tried it before and it doesn’t appeal.

Carried on Into the school which was set out into organized classrooms labeled standard 1 to 6. Everyday between 9am to 11am they learn languages english, burmese, kareni as well as  mathematics and start from 6yrs old. To one side of the school was what I guess to be a burial ground, with tall poles carrying houses on top. A bit overgrown so didn’t look to have been any recent additions!

I felt more uncomfortable walking around this place more than most previous visits as, to me it was a glorified shop. The people don’t have a normal life anymore. The merchandise they all sell is the same and made elsewhere, although they will say it is made by themselves. It certainly isn’t. There may be some needlecrafts mixed in with the mass produced stuff they try to sell. You do feel sorry as very few people will buy anything and as it is low season, they must be frustrated by sitting around all day and not selling anything. They do have the time to talk with us and are all very friendly. What they did show us was a document produced from some research about the effects on their necks with the brass rings. Many stories abound about this. The document seemed fairly detailed and was adamant that the effects of the coils was not detrimental to their health should they later decide to remove them. In fact, many do choose to do so and there was one girl with them removed. Her neck was maybe half as long again as a normal neck and tapered to match the shape of her previously worn rings. She was suffering no ill effects. If fact the evidence shows that the ribcage, being like a hinge from the main sternum, will eventually return to normal after a number of years. When the rings are in place, the ribs are pushed down to upto a 45 degree angle, as shown on x-rays that were in the report.

After leaving the village and a more confident return journey along the dodgy access road, we stopped for lunch at a nice rustic village hut in Baan na sa. Visiting the toilet in that place was an experience wort remembering. Pays to hold your nose, but you can’t help but warm to their simple lifestyle….nothing posh here!  One of the walls though was covered in the boxing from a widescreen television!

Next stop Fish cave. This was a beautiful place and not what we expected. Yes, A bit touristy at the entrance with souvenir stalls and eateries, but once in to the main park…pretty bridges set amongst forest and streams, with elephant creeper hung between the trees. A lovely old moss-covered water-wheel adjacent to the fast flowing river and masses of fish in the pond in front of the small cave which gives the site its name, although the cave itself is fairly small with a couple of nice statues and a shrine. Only two other foreigners around so enjoyed the peace and quiet to ourselves.

 

Wed 10th Sep – Had to return the bikes at 11am so wanted to make use of them this morning. Above Mae Hong Son is Wat Doi Kong Mu temple. A great vantage point and from where to view the surrounding area. To the west of the center is the Airport with its landing strip that must have one of the prettiest approaches around, nestled in amongst a gorgeous valley. It would also be worth going up there late in the evening to have coffee and watch the sunset. The main complex is the best for the view of the area although there is a higher place where there is a temple and a tall slender standing Buddha.

After returning the motorbikes, did some checking around on options for some trekking in the area and settled on using Jod from the Sun flower café. Many options but he was good in working out our requirements and could speak good English, Will be setting off tomorrow morning on either a two or three day trek with one or two homestays depending on how things go as we progress.

 

At around noon announcements began over the public tannoy. Had no idea what they meant until the Guest House owner told us they were spraying the area against mosquitos and we had to vacate at around 1pm for 5 minutes or so. This is where lack of language can be a problem!

As if on queue, the sky let loose and it poured. We had to eat so went off to the Crossroads restaurant for a meal…the rains increased to deluge proportions and the thunder and lightening set in too. Coincident with this, the guys doing the mosquito spraying were doing their rounds of the restaurants and streets spraying into drains and plants. The restaurant filled with smoke and had to run to escape. The timing was critical as shortly afterwards the rain got even heavier. Considering what they were spraying, all they had on was a flimsy surgical mask. Obviously, their health didn’t seem to be too much of an issue! IT does make you wonder the effectiveness of this type of campaign. Not sure it has much effect at all, but at least they are trying.

 

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