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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

Mae Hong Son back to Chiang Mai via a bit of a disaster!!

THAILAND | Friday, 19 September 2008 | Views [1280]

Thu 11th Sep - We set off today on a three day trek organised through the Sunflower café in conjunction with Mae Hong Son (MHS) Travel. Our guide Jod/ aka George met us at the café after breakfast and we set off on the road north west. Jod proved to be a superb guide with excellent knowledge, and didn't stop talking to the point of information overload. Lucky to have made this choice. He has been a guide for so long now that he has a high profile position within the guide services system here. He was also instrumental in setting up a co-operative joined by all of the local guides. They contribute a monthly amount from which loans can be taken at very low interest rate. The funds also go towards helping the needs of the tribes people, all part of the support network for the remote communities who would otherwise be isolated from their homeland. The support is obviously in everyone's interest including the tourists who visit these communities. At the age of 24 he spent a year as a buddhist monk and is married with two sons aged 3 and 8. He has already decided and agreed with his wife that he will retire at 60 years of age into a life as a buddhist monk. It is interesting to understand the belief sytems that give a country its character. Many parents here will ask any prospective boy interested in their daughter if they have spent any time as a monk. The reason being that it gives them a grounding in selflessness and dedication to being trustworthy and honorable in how they treat their partners.

What I hadn't realised was the vast numbers of hilltribe groups spread throughout the border areas, mainly of burmese origin and in a form of self exile to escape the problems they suffered under the auspices of the burmese army. Around 22 ethnic groups exist with over 2 million people, predominantly Shan and Karenni. The Padaung /long-neck people we had recently visited is actually the burmese name for what are referred to as Karen in Thailand. The long neck or unfortunately named 'giraffe-neck' people are from the Kayah tribe and of the buddhist belief system, whereas the long-ear people are from the Kayo tribe and of catholic belief.

 

We had a great day with just the three of us and visited a few villages, predominantly Shan. Another village was occupied by the Pao (pronounced pa ow). Although the people look similar, some of the differences are in their housing style.

Early in the day way visited a lovely waterfall and the Pang-Tong summer palace but concentrated mainly on the conservation area. This included a guide around the orchid development and propagation area where local people are learning about how to establish threatened species back into their natural forest environments. Riding in the back of the pick-up truck we also saw the 'Barking' deer or Muntjack that are under conservation. A stop at a local school canteen to pick up some tasty snacks of deep fried sweet potato and noodle been parcels coered in coconut...yummm.

A few hours trek to visit a nice old Shan farm and stopped for tea. The last stop of the day was at Rhum Thai village, our home for the evening. The village is under a new wave of development with many families constructing large numbers of bamboo huts for tourists. The problem is that they are latching onto the hope of setting crazy prices for staying and making lots of money. The reality is that most won't agree to paying 500 Baht a night for a hut with external shared facilities. Jod is trying to persuade them that 200 Baht is a more reasonable rate but this is meeting with resistance. I think that they are getting greedy for their slice of the tourist pot!

We didn't actually stay in the village but in the government run huts opposite the lake. A beautiful location with wonderful view and our own tribe of ants to keep us company! This section was actually controlled by the army, responsible for monitoring the section of border with Myanmar, a short way along the track. The problem was that it is currently unsafe for us to go all the way to the border, so we were advised on the limits of where we were able to walk.

With a few hours of daylight left until dinnertime, we set off on a walk around the lake accompanied by the rather playful collie the soldiers kept as a pet, that I warmed to easily. The water was perfectly still and mirror-like and the forest lush with dense growth and occasional flowers. The dog tried to follow but got stuck on a dilapidated bridge we hd to cross, so I built it a little bridge for it to climb over. Must be soft!

Back at the huts after the walk and time for a swim from a rickety pontoon outside our hut. The lake was lovely and just what was needed after a long day. No electricity tonight, so dinner by candlelight. A nice spread of local vegetables and rice. No alcohol, only water then retire for the night to listen to the cicadas making their buzz-saw sound all night mixed with birds and other nocturnal sounds.

 

Fri 12th Sep - We had the option to return to MHS this morning if we wanted, or if the weather deteriorated. As it turned out, the weather was beautiful so we decided to carry on to another trek down south. First though, we went for a close up of the thai-burmese border from as close as we were allowed to go. This is were we learnt about the 'Private Armies'. The border is patrolled by Thai, Burmese and private armies. The privately patrolled sections can only be deduced to exist for illegal means...I must state that this is not only my belief! They are funded privately and that money, or a majority of it, can only come from the illegal passage of drugs and also illegal immigrants into Thailand...How else could they exist?....answers on a postcard!

Further south to the drop-off point for our trek and met two girls who were to join us, a 32 year old dutch girl and her 61 year old mother, currently residing in Portugal. Unfortunately, the mother wasn't too well, something that was to cause her trouble later. We were informed that the route involved maybe a five or six hour walk through jungle and water and stocked with water supplies, set off. The route soon descended into thick jungle and plodding through the water, we soon ended up a little worse for wears. The humidity was extreme and the bugs out in numbers. Bamboo forest inter-mingled with lovely swathes of flowers in amongst the vegetation made for a magic trek...then the rain started...and increased to deluge proportions with us walking uphill against the flow of the reddish-brown mud coming towards us. Soaking wet as if we had just stood fully clothed in a shower and looking rather bedraggled, we arrived at our homestay for the night. A Shan village of three houses with no electricity. Sliping and sliding uphill we must have looked a mess. Straight off with our drenched clothes which halved our weight and into slightly damp clothes from my bag, we sat inside the wooden hut by a fire to dry out whilst a meal was being prepared. The home was occupied by an old couple, Mima (50 wife) and Yami (60 something) and their two sons who were on a short visit from the next village where they work. As typical of hill folk, their mouths and teeth were red from the constant chewing of betalnut. This is a form of mild narcotic which is mixed with a paste and other additives to give it a less bitter flavour and chewed in the side of the cheek.

Dinner was a concoction of vegetables chicken and rice with bamboo shoots, washed down with water and rice whisky...yummee! After dinner out came the 3-stringed Sibut, a long-necked instrument made from a hollowed gourd covered in snakeskin and hardwood neck and steel strings (two tuned the same pitch and the third higher). I joined in for some great ethnic sounding rhythms around the fire with Yami and the boys, all amid a darkened atmosphere of smoke. Outside the door the constant chirping of birds and noises from the pigs and chickens...pure magic!

Mima and Yami have been around here for 30 years and seem to be one of themany people not wanted by either country. Being originally from Burma then leaving for thailand then pushed back into Burma and finally returning to Thailand they are probably too old to move again, so live their simple remote life mainly on their own. People like us don't come along that often. The last visit being a few months ago. We deliberately chose to come to a less visited area, whereas most tourists go to what I would call the hilltribe shopping malls!

 

Sat 13th Sep - After a restless night on a hard matted platform and a tough pillow made from rice and regular disturbances through the night from cow bells and forest noises, woke to the sight of thick cloud outside the door. The toilet was a short trek down the muddy bank and through the pigs and chickens, dodging the piles of slimy dung along the way...good start to the day! A shower if you wanted one was from water flowing through a pipe into a bucket from the hills. Wanted to stay dry so didn't bother. Said goodbye to our hosts and set off dry downhill. About half an hour into the walk and the rains started again. This time more troublesome as walking downhill through mud is slippery and a few accidents along the way. Soaked through to the skin again and many aerial obstacles to clear to cross gaps such as tightrope walking along trees and branches made for some great fun. We made it to our finishing point for the trek by noon and greeted by coincidence at a place we had recently stopped for lunch when we hired motorbikes. A welcome bowl of spicy noodles with meat and vegetables and then back to Mae Hong Son by pickup truck.

The pleasure in a warm shower and fresh clothes cannot be underestimated after the sort of trek we had been on!

I have picked up a small fungal skin infection caused by the constant exposure to humid conditions, so had to get some ointment from the pharmacy in town. Hopefully should only take a few days to clear.

A nice meal of green curry pasta washed down with wine at the crossroads was a nice evening treat before crashing out into a deep sleep. Zzzzz…….

 

Sun 14th Sep - Clothes returned washed and dry and then checked out of the excellent Jongkum Guest House. The girl who runs it Dao has been a lovely host and makes the best coffee in town. Breakfast at our favourite haunt, the Sunflower café. The manager of the Sunflower dropped us at the bus station which was a lovely gesture. We hadn't really decided where to go next as our visa finishes on 16th September, so have to cross the border into Myanmar for the day then back into Thailand for another month. That gives us a couple of days or so to get to Mae Sai, the most northern town in Thailand and on the Myanmar border. After looking at the options, decided to go to Pai, a few hours east of here. 80 Baht on the normal Bus leaving every hour on the half hour or minibus for 150 Baht on the hour. Chose the normal bus and left at 12:30.

The four hour trip to Pai was nice, through similar terrain we have been in recently. Fairly heavy rain made for slow going, with only one stop at Soppong on the way for lunch.

Pai is a small place and it didn't take long to find somewhere nice to stay adjacent to the river, at the Riverside Guest House for 300 Baht. It also doesn’t take long to walk around. I think we had completed a loop of the town in about half an hour. Plenty of bars and places to eat and a nice feel to it. One of the main objectives was to find out a plan to get to the border at Mae Sai to extend our visas. Turns out that we have to go back to Chiang Mai as there are no services running from here due to it being low season and not enough numbers. Spent the evening at a Mexican restaurant followed by cocktails at a bar on the main road which included talking to one of the local thai chefs ‘Tee’.

 

Mon 15th Sep - Would be nice to stop here for a day but haven't got the time. Have to cross the border into Myanmar tomorrow before it closes at 4pm, so need to get to Chiang Mai today and then catch an early bus to Mae Sai in the morning.

The buses leave often enough but fancied a minibus for a change, although it costs more at 150 Baht compared with 80 Baht for the ordinary bus. Departed exactly on time at 10am and not long into the journey the rains started. The route was very attractive with winding roads and many hairpin bends. It was a change to not be jostled around in an old bus that leaked! Arrived at the Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai at 1pm and headed straight for the ticket counter for Mae Sai. A bus would leave at 1:30pm (177 Baht) but a more luxury one would leave at 2pm costing 375 Baht. Didn't mind the extra cost as it would give us more time to have some lunch and break the journey seeing as we had just been on the minibus for 3 hours. Plenty of cafes around so had a nice lunch before boarding. Our bus, V402 was a real improvement from any others I had taken in Thailand...plush leather reclining seats with a foot rest, hostess service with water and cake, video (in thai). Don't want to get used to this as i prefer the more rugged public buses as they are more interesting...an occasional treat is good though.

Riverside Guest House for 200 Baht overlooking Myanmar across the fast flowing river

Full moon celebrations with fireworks and a bonfire on far hill

 

Tue 16th Sep - Disastrous start to the day. Had planned to cross into Myanmar early but couldn't find my credit cards when I was sorting out my luggage. Stripped everything out and no luck, so had to backtrack to think when I had last seen them. Had also an imperative need to renew my visa today so decided to make a fast trip across the border to Myanmar and back again.

Exiting Thailand is simple enough with passport control in front of the main arch on the main street. After leaving the Thailand immigration building, a pathway then leads across the bridge towards the Myanmar immigration post by a fancy blue archway marked 'Union of Myanmar'. A very friendly guy helped us through the options available. Whatever option is chosen costs 500 Baht of $10 ( cheaper to pay in US dollars). Option 1 is a 1 day single trip permit. Your passport is retained and you are issued with a temporary brown permit. Your photo is taken by a PC camera and they retain a copy of this as well as one being imprinted on the temporary permit. Option 2 is to have this extended free of charge for 2 weeks at the information office. Whatever you do, you are only allowed to visit the town of Tachilek, which is the first town on the Myanmar side, and two other towns of Mong La and Kengtung. One interesting thing I noticed as soon as I crossed the border was that Thailand drive on the Left, whereas Myanmar drive on the right. They cross over on the bridge between the two!

 

Didn’t spend long on Tachilek. As soon as you walk across the border, the beggars approach as well as sellers offering cigarettes, Viagra, and other tablets that I didn’t want to even think about. Drug smuggling is a serious offence in both countries and not something you even want to think about….stay well clear of anything in tablet form or even cigarette form. A flock of tour touts almost run at us offering the same tour around a couple of wats, long-neck tribe village and another local monument which turns out to be just around the corner!. Decided to go it alone and head for a short walk around the town with lunch in a café, followed by walking around the backstreet market stalls. On first impressions it is a bit more rough and ready than the Thailand side. It is a poorer country, so this is no surprise. As I was in a hurry to get back to Thailand to sort my card business out, I left Victoria to look around the town by herself, whilst I went back across the border on my own.

 

Re-entering Thailand is an interesting process. Firstly, you go into the foreigner door of the Myanmar immigration building and return your temporary brown permit, in exchange for your passport which has been stamped with the exit date. Then walk along the pathway to the Thailand immigration office. There are options here depending on what type of visa you require. For most foreigners, you are given a standard 30 days from date of entry as normal. You can enter Thailand three times in a 6 month period from the date of the first entry. That is 90 days per 6 months or 180 days per year if running continuously. This would mean a lot of hassle to do this every month. The better way is to get a tourist visa, which is 60 days when obtained at an embassy outside of Thailand. This can then be extended for a further month by crossing any of the borders with Thailand. Alternatively, if you sign up for a course, this will usually entitle you to a stay up to a year, depending on justification.

 

 

After entering Thailand again and now having a new visa until 15th October, I went straight to the Police hut adjacent to the bridge to fill in Tourist complaint form for loss of credit cards. This was fun with the language barrier, but got it sorted slowly and then off to police station on the back of a police motorbike to fill the form and get my incident reference form. Was fun trying to communicate what had happened to them with hardly any English and them filling the forms in thai. What my insurance company would make of it would be interesting? They would need an interpreter to do anything with it!

 

Next step was to get on the internet to contact the card companies and cancel the credit cards and request a re-issue of replacement new ones. Unfortunately, they will only dispatch to my registered UK address, so will have to arrange for them to be couriered to Thailand when they arrive there within the next 7 to 10 days. With one stressful morning under my belt, it was time for a beer and sit down before deciding what to do next. That was easy and made a decision to get the next bus to Chiang Rai, leaving almost every half an hour with the last bus at 6:30pm

Took a really swanky bus that was going to Bangkok and only cost 60 Baht. Took about 1 hour including 3 police search stops for drugs. This is a regular feature of travel up in this area apparently as drugs are a major industry. On arrival in Chaing Rai Bus station, only took about 5 minutes walk to the Orchid Guest House by Wat Jet Yod. Brand new rooms with free internet and coffee for 350 Baht.

 

Showered and refreshed and off to the night bazaar, which I remembered from my visit in january.  A real buzz to the place with two live music stages playing traditional music ans also small solo performers. The larger of the stage areas is surrounded by a choice of eateries, so treated myself to a nice hotpot and a wine cooler whilst listening to some nice thai solo guitarists.

A low stress end to a rather stressful day!

 

Wed 17th Sep – When I last came to Chiang Rai in January, I visited an amazing temple at Wat Rong Khun about 15km south of Chiang Rai. At that time it was due to be under construction for at least another year, So I wanted to visit it again to see how it was developing. Many ways of getting there. Last time I hired a bicycle and nearly destroyed myself as the temperature was nearly 40 degrees. No way I was doing that again! A Sawngthaew costs about 300 Baht return, A moto about 160 Baht and the public bus about 40 Baht….Guess which one wins! The bus set off from the bus station about 5 minutes after we got there, so just enough time to pick up some nice bamboo sticky rice snacks. For 10 Baht you get these bamboo sticks filled with flavoured sticky rice. To eat, you peel the outside away and then pull out chunks of the inner food. Yummeee.

The Wat is stunning and has changed a lot since January. The most amazing aspect of it, apart from it being a fairytale ‘Silver palace’ also know as the ‘White temple’ and constructed in white with silver mirrored finishing touches, is the mural on the back wall of the temple. It relates in pictorial form world conflicts and world events such as the destruction of the New York Twin Towers, the struggle between the US and Osama Bin Laden and also many aspects of modern and future science fiction ideas.

The main behind its design – Chalermchai Kositpipat, Was born in Rong Khun but his parentsd moved out into the nearby town to find work when he was 10 years old. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in thai art, he followed his heart and dedicated his life to creating some amazing work. He even went to the UK and designed Wat Buddhapadipa, which was financed by the thai government in London. At 42 years of age he returned to build this marvel of artistry, funded mainly by himself so that nobody could claim any influence in its design or build. Upto the end of 2007 it had cost him 200 million baht! Its construction will probably never cease looking at what has been achieved so far and what is left to complete. The site is an icon for people from all over Thailand and is one of its most famous landmarks.

Opposite the White temple is an amazing contrasting building that looks like a hotel but in dazzling gold, complete with dragon finials and is just stunning against the clear blue sky. To the rear of the site are the construction workshops where some of the 3-dimensional objects are manufactured. It highlights the skill of the workers. Many are formed on the floor using wire frames and cement/plaster and then bonded together to make the final shape. Inlaid with mirror glass, and then final cementing before being installed within the temple complex.

As an aside, Chalermchai Kositpipat is also responsible for the design of the new clock tower in Chiang Rai. His work is quite identifiable once you have seen the white temple.

After a nice meal under the shaded arcade section, time to return to town, but this time waved down a shared Sawngthaew on route 1 that only cost 20 Baht each.

Back to the Night Bazaar in the evening and a nice meal while watching the live cultural entertainment on the main stage. It is quite funny in a way, as they all mime...so badly it is amusing. While walking back we decided to drop in to the funky Teepee Bar, run by a crazy thai guy Mister Tuu. A long haired heavy metal fan, he has owned the place for 16 years and has filled the place with lots of memorabilia from his travels. Loads of guitars although he doesn't play at all, he just likes people to drop by and play, so I obliged for a while. Bicycles hung from the ceiling, rock posters on the walls and a heavy metal atmosphere with skulls and skeletons hanging around and random stuff everywhere. Sitting on raised platforms with tables made from chicken cages, lends itself to great place to finish an evening. Got talking to some people on work placements here whilst we played games and shared an alcohol bucket. At the next table where a bunch of students wearing wigs and having fun.

 

Thu 18th Sep - Time to move on this morning, so had breakfast...oddly enough you get marmalade with your toast here, which they don't seem to offer anywhere else in Thailand...a small taste of being back in the uk...simple pleasures!

Things have been an emotional rollercoaster lately as Victoria and I will part company tomorrow. Something that has been a difficult thing to impose. I need some time on my own to relax and do some writing and personal stuff and she will go off and do some stuff on her own down south.

On the bus to Chiang Mai at 11:45 for 191 Baht taking 3 hours. As usual, hopped oo a hared Sawngthaew to Tha Pae gate….this is getting to be a familiar route now! Ended up staying at the Chiang Mai House guest House. 550Baht a night including a swimming pool. Very comfortable rooms although a bit more expensive than I would normally pay, but a treat for our last stop before Victoria departs.

 

In the evening I went to look at an apartment to rent for when I come back for a long stay, maybe early next year but not sure. For now I am just getting a feel for what the costs are and what you get for your money plus the areas of Chiang Mai I would be happy to live in.

 

Fri 19th Sep – After Victoria headed off for the bus station, I had to sort somewhere comfortable to stay for a while. As luck had it, a guy pulled up alongside of me and gave me a business card for his place around the corner. As it turned out, that was lucky timing as the Boonmee Guest House turned out to be a great place. A 100 year old original thai teak house in the downtown area and run by Florence and her brother Sam, for 250 Baht a night and with free wi-fi. A lovely courtyard garden area and places to relax. Just what I needed.

A bit of catching up to do and then off to find a guitar shop, which didn’t take long and a bit of research to decide if I should buy one or not, then off to the dentist to book myself in for some work.  Prices here are cheap and there are three dentists within easy walking distance that open seven days a week. Fillings, plates, teeth whitening, the works if you need it. Will check out what I will have done when I go on Monday afternoon.

 

That’s it for now folks…….

 

 

 

 

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