From the northern capital Chiang Mai to the border to Myanmar and following it southwards. Lonely roads, jungle, Teak plantations and villages of different ethnic minorities. And then finally on our way towards the east of Thailand to ensure that we’ll leave the country within the time limit imposed by our all-beloved Department of Land Transport.
Chiang Mai, 10th December
Entering Chiang Mai, not really an “eye candy”. But an opportunity to take a few pics of incredibly ugly 3rd world architecture.
The town, the center of northern Thailand. The place where you get everything; where you can experience whatever you can or cannot imagine. Huge shopping malls; more than 500 accommodations listed on booking.com; more than 450 bars quoted in tripadvisor: lounge bars, beer bars, girlie bars, wine bars, western bars, cocktail bars, iron bars – you name it you get it. Let’s stop here.
Also a town populated by many foreigners. Of course the odd uncle with his local niece, many Chinese business men and a huge mass of tourists from all over the world – among them visibly many banana-pancake backpackers on their muesli – pancake – flyly diet. To that add a few Thai, and that’s Chiang Mai’s population.
It is also the place with a famous old town – now in December you probably imagine the decorated narrow alleys with the mediaeval houses. Definitely you don’t expect snow in Chiang Mai; but this typical X-Mas feeling. Far wrong. Here old town means ordinary houses with a huge range of offers mainly for tourists, busy streets – not to be used by pedestrians but mainly by cars and motorbikes – and a number of historic temples scattered in the area.
But anyhow, the old town looks definitely slightly better than the suburbs. Anyway we’re not that keen on X-Max spirit in every corner of the streets.
A visit to Wat Phra Singh. Fascinating how it glitters. Especially the golden elephants.
And it’s quite astonishing that they place their wax figure monks into glass cabinets. Whatever, a nice ancient, atmospheric place.
Then it’s time for a change. Chiang Mai is organizing the Design Week. An opportunity for real and wannabee artists to expose their master pieces and to sell some of their ordinary production. So some quite great exhibitions to visit and to admire the multitude of great ideas and even greater design.
Well, Chiang Mai offers more than just Wats, accommodation, bars and tourists. Today there are exactly 1567 restaurants listed on tripadvisor. Good 1s, bad 1s, local 1s, exotic 1s. How to choose considering this offer? We take the chance to go to an excellent 1 serving local bites – at Tamarind’s. And found some really exiting Thai food.
The next day some hills’n’jungle instead of Wats. So a visit to the nearby Mae Sa Waterfalls. A very popular place for the Chiang Maiis to escape the noise and stench of the town and for young couples to escape their parent’s restrictions.
Odd tourists walk in the jungle, observe the water flowing down some 10 waterfalls – and sometimes wonder about Thai parents.
Back to Chiang Mai. After all this jungle we need some more culture. Wat U Mong Thera Jan. A very unique construction. A temple protected by grimm guards, …
We’re not sure if initially the builder of this monument did not want to open a Bangladeshi brick factory before his enlightenment to convert it into this place of worship. Whatever, a quite extraordinary place.
If in Chiang Mai, then you also need to visit the nearby town of Lamphun. Some 60km to the south. On the way we’re stopped by a police check point. The very 1st time since we’ve entered Thailand. The friendly gentleman asks our passport. Of course they’re not with us. Immediately we understand the great chance this situation is offering us: the opportunity to test the value of our beloved Temporary Thai Driving License issued some weeks ago by the DLT. So we take the chance, ask the policeman if a driving license could do it. He nods; we show him Martin’s Swiss license. He looks at it – front’n’back side, then he smiles and tells us same Thailand, gives us back the card and wishes us all the best. So far about the value of DLT’s very special license. Whatever, at least our temporary dlylyc will be a nice souvenir; later on we may use it for nasty northern Asian policemen.
In Lamphun just another temple: Wat Phra That Hariphunchai . Entering the huge complex initially we’re slightly bewildered by quite a number of awesome ladies on a photo shooting session. Quickly we learn more about this exceptional happening. Lamphun organises the world’s only Miss Garlic Contest. And here are the candidates together with the winner of last year. As far as we understand beauty is of course a prime issue. Nevertheless, smell is the 2nd all-important criteria to become Miss Garlic 2016. We wish them all good luck – and their beloved 1s a lot of tolerance.
To the temple.
Back to Chiang Mai. This evening no longer hunting for quality, but for fancy evironment – thus excellent food or fancy place; that’s the question. And we get exactly what we’re looking for – at Hot Chilli’s.
Mae Hong Son, 13th December
Pai: some 30 years ago just a couple of lousy houses along a dirt road; a few Opium dens filled with the guys on the Hippie Trail and some odd locals. Then the hippies started to convert into pancakers.
Of course this development also touched untouched Pai. So it became a huge pancaker center with all infrastructure hippies, backpacker, flashpackers or whoever else may need or not.
Cool figures started to populate the village. Of course all of them absolutely adapted to local customs – only the locals didn’t find their way of life anymore.
Prices in Pai sky rocketed, the village itself degraded to a kind of traveller’s wonderland. Thai authorities had to react. So Thai tourism had to be promoted. Parts of Pai improved considerably. Nowadays resembling to some of these Chinese Disney World villages. Other parts remain pretty unchanged – still in the hands of the backpackers. Both parts strictly separated. And that’s the place we are now. Not backpacker, not Thai tourist but overlander. Somehow strange.
Of course we plan to visit all must-have-seen-sights of Pai. Then have a fat Thai-backpacker dinner and finally dance on the every night’s going-native-party to get totally stoned back to our accommodation early morning.
Unfortunately we have a slightly different problem and reality completely makes our plans change: Prado is full of ants. We’re happy they’re just outside. But time for an intense car spa. So this is the alternative to sightseeing.
Dinner: backpacker food looks so ugly; we go to the odd Thai eatery in the local sector of town.
Party: everybody supposed to party tonight is already so stoned early evening that they have to postpone.
What the hell – it looks like this is beautiful Pai.
The next morning: we’re happy to unravel 1 of Thailand’s big mysteries. We could never understand why the jam served for breakfast is so terrible – seems to be a side product of chemical weaponry. Until we see what it really is used for.
Sorry, it seems we just misused this local delicacy to make this foam they call toast slightly more eatable.
After this important discovery, bye bye Pai. Heading further to the north to Mae Hong Son. Again it’s a long weekend in Thailand. So everybody is on the road. Ignoring all traffic jams we head onwards.
The 1st part still foggy, high up the mountains …
… quite some time on the ridge; great views and lively viewpoints, …
… and even greater views than ever.
Early afternoon in Mae Hong Son. A small town with a scenic lake.
Due to the long week end all accommodation is booked out. So we have to stay quite a distance out of town.
Late afternoon on the hill above the town. A famous place for worship, admiring the view over Mae Hongs Son and getting excited about another odd sunset.
Well, you don’t come to Mae Hong Son because of the town’s beauty or because it’s just on your way.
These people are not really indigenous to Thailand. They’re refugees of the war prone Shan State in Myanmar. In their isolated villages on the other side of the border they were little known by the world.
A rather mysterious tribe with women wearing many brass rings around their neck; adding 1 every year. Thus, the longer the jewellery around their neck the more years the lady promenades on this planet. And the longer the neck seems to be. There are many different rumours giving good or bad explanations on this strange custom. The simple reason that these women never wanted to tell anybody their age – and counting the rings may resolve this huge problem – may be the most probable. If that’s true the Padaung’s custom may equally become very popular with women all over the world.
Whatever. After having taken refuge in miserable villages in Thailand they were discovered by business-minded Thais. Especially around Mae Hong Son. A not very esteemed business-model was established. Tourist’s money against pics of brass ringed Padaungs.
Of course the idea worked well. Many tourists came, paid a lot of money for a lot of pics and some souvenirs. Nowadays, the villages offering this service have a pretty bad reputation. Many describe them as a human zoo with no interaction; where middlemen and service operator make the whole profit.
After having heard all this we’re quite reluctant to visit 1 of these places. Finally we drive to a quite remote 1 next to a refugee camp. The last bit of the road is pretty bad. No chance for the taxis. Arriving there just the village. No entrance fee, no other tourists, of course some Padaung women, some souvenir stands, the houses and that’s it.
We’re told that we may move freely in the village and take picture of whatever odd tourists may fascinate. We had a quite long discussion with a guy explaining a lot about the current situation in Myanmar. Finally, we made some investment in some hand-woven material and a small donation to the village. And off we are.
Happy not to have encountered a zoo.
Mae Sot, 15th December
Enough is enough. We leave Mae Hong Son to follow the Myanmar border southwards. It’s Thailand’s frontier land. In the 80ties of the last millennium the whole area was heavily infiltrated by communist insurgents, dominated by a great number of bandits and by opium smugglers. So nobody would even think about visiting.
Nowadays, of course all has changed to the better – at least somehow. A good road connects with Mae Sot some 500km to the south. Under the influence of a multitude of all kind of American missionaries the communists converted into faithful senior citizens – at least those not having escaped to Myanmar to continue fighting. The bandits got older too; thus mostly retired, dreaming of smoking a pipe of opium on their veranda. And the opium dealers run out of stuff, because farmers restrict themselves to strawberry fields and teak plantations.
We’re on our way to Mae Sariang, a village in the middle of nowhere. Some 4h on the winding road, up’n’down continuously. Most of the way thick jungle or teak plantations on both sides. Even the most awesome views are sometimes hidden by trees. Fortunately some are not.
Then on to Mae Sot. The road still winding. Quite lonely. 1st along Yuam River, …
… on the way up the Tanen Mountains.
We pass thru pretty pristine villages of Karen. In some of them even corrugated roofs are rarely seen.
Then we arrive at an unusual Wat near Doi Mae Ramoeng.
Whatever. There’s this restaurant braaing huge river prawns. Enough reason to have our most expensive dinner in Thailand, ever.
Kamphaeng Peth, 16th December
Today we leave Thailand’s frontier land. We turn away from the border with Myanmar; south-east to Kamphaeng Peth. After the lonely roads in the past few days – what a change. Numerous trucks and many km of road construction – a real pain in the ass.
Early afternoon in Kamphaeng Phet. A town definitely not used to tourists. But the place to visit the left over stones of the ancient Sukothai kingdom. Another UNESCO Heritage Site. Nevertheless, not as impressive as Sukhothai.
After so much culture and old stones the urgent need for an appropriate watering hole. We found one. The beer is cold. Their menu is nicely designed – unfortunately all in Thai and no pics. Language is also strictly Thai. Finally we have to limit our consumption to a couple of beers and go to a restaurant where we can communicate. It’s one with many local customers; they serve Western food without having the slightest idea on how to cook it.
And that’s all about our adventures in this post. More in the next 1. Soon.