Day 6 – Myawadee

2pm, took a motorbike taxi to the THai Myanmar border. Tourists can cross over to Myanmar and visit the town as long as they have their passport. The Myanmar immigrations will keep the passport and you have to return to Thailand by 5pm latest. I have 3 hours.

On the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, met this ‘volunteer translator’ Thong Li, who speaks very good English. He offered to take me around. Basically Myawadee the town is very different from Thailand. Streets dusty, broken sidewalks. Lots of temples. I visited 3, in depth, since the guide was there. Explained all to me. In detail. See pics. 2nd temple even had porridge at communal gathering in the temple with the people. Got introed to the head monk. Pretty much was very lucky, brought me to market and bought some stuff as well. Actually lots more happened, but spent too long now on this PC. maybe will elaborate later.

Went back cross border, Mae Sot, had dinner at Indian place, chat with this fella who was jailed trying to illegally immgrate to Malaysia…

Yawn. Sorry. Goodnite all. Tomorrow its 1st bus out to chiangmai. Just see pics for more details lah. Damn tired, already halfway down to Bangkok…

http://www.imagestation.com/album/?id=2120739519

Day 6 – Down far south to Mae Sot

Early at 5.30 am, I dropped my key at the front desk, everyones sleeping, and rushed to take the songthaew (those 2 row pickups) to Mae Sot. Its a 6 hour ride south, on hills. No coaches go down, probably no tourists too. Starting from Mae Sariang, Im getting mistaken for thai more and more. Prob they see much less foreigners down here. Flemming the danish guy went separate ways, we said bye. He’s going up to Chiang Mai then Laos. Me, I’m off to Mae Sot. Took breakfast of coffee and 2 halfboiled eggs. The two eggs were a real bad idea. In the Songthaew, which was terribly cold, because of the wind, bumpy, motion sickness and I keep feeling the 2 eggs coming up. But the trip itself, in 6 hours, passed throught the countryside, and lots of people boarded on and off. Met a lot of villagers close up that way. Reached Mae Sot at about 2pm. Got really lost trying to orientate myself. Plus this far south, no signs were in English, and even fewer spoke the language. Mostly Thais come to tour here, from Bangkok etc. And its low season. The stupid unupdated map in Lonely Planet didnt help either. After hunting for the tourist police without success, found a guesthouse which appeared on the map. Orientated myself, dumped stuff in hotel. Then set off for Myanmar. It was 2pm.

Day 5 – To Mae Sariang

I need more time. 2pm after the village visit, rushed to take bus to Mae Sariang, thats like 4 hours south. Flemming had tons of stuff/souvenirs in his pack. Mailed home at the post office. Some screw up or what, maybe they couldnt understand him, we nearly missed the 2 o clock bus. Havent eaten anything whole day except for peanuts from the morning market. Not sure if I will go back Chiangmai after this or travel more. Reached Mae Sariang in evening. Uneventful, beside border police checking for refugees. Stayed at a very cosy guesthouse by the river. Needed sleep, cos decided to go even further south to Mae Sot. This far down in Mae Sariang, number of foreigners very much less. Guesthouse even offered us 120baht ($5), instead of normal 150. We felt that we were ripping them off, we paid 140 baht each for 2 rooms.

Day 5 – Longnecked Karen

Day 5, woke up about 6.30, went down to the morning market. Local crowd. Took in the smells and sights, nice. Early at 8 oclock, set off for Longnecked Karen village. Again got a good deal, planning everything ourselves. The agency charged 1000baht/pax, we went with Flemming’s guesthouse person and got 500baht/pax, which include the 250baht village entry fee.

The longnecked village Nai Soi was primarily catered to tourists. Fled from Myanmar and settled in Thailand. We arrived like just when the villagers were setting up their handicrafts. Since we were the only 2, plus one Taiwanese chap who was on the bus last night, we had a lot of time on the village. The agency gave us one hour at the village. We spent 2.5 hours there. Talked to the villages for a bit. Took photos. Went to their school. (You have to see the photos). Learnt that their primary source of income is the tourist flow. They dont do agriculture, they depend on tourists to sustain them. A bit exploitative, to gawk at them like tourists do, but its like their way out of a poor life. The 250baht entrance fee goes to buy necessities for the families. The school was amazing. Lots of kids from nearby villages attend the school. You see really cute 4 year old kids from the tribes. Just see the photos. As we were travelling back to town, passed by 15 van-loads of tourists (not exaggerating) going to the village. Lucky us. Avoided crowd again.

Day 4 – To Mae Hong Son

Waited in Soppong for the next bus out to Mae Hong Son. This time the bus was full as hell… Had to stand all the way for 2.5 hours. There were hill tribe people, bunch of army guys, pregnant women, one angmoh (flemming), and a whole bunch of others. Amazing how they could squeeze so many people. Nothing exciting, just that one part up a steep slope, the landslide made the road slippery. We weren’t sure what was going on. People had to get off and walk up the slope so that bus is lighter when going up. Suprisingly, the pregnant women and the tribespeople with kids all walked up. The army guys and us (we had no idea whats happening) all stayed as bus went up. Oh yeah, along the way lots of roadworks, recovery from floods.

Reached Mae Hong Son, decided to go up to Temple on Hill. Doi something its called. Took motorbike taxi. Few people there, lucky again. Traveled with the Danish guy whole day. Nice chap. Took some photos, can see entire Mae Hong Son from up there, plus the surrounding valley. Halfway through, 2 van-fuls of Israeli tourists came along and crowded the place. Went down, we had dinner at some nice restauranty place.

Which leads me to this PC now. Next day itenary : We wake up really early and visit the Longnecked village, those people with rings. Going very early to avoid the tourist crowd. hahah. Nite

Day 4 – Off to See Caves

Right, day 4. I’m done with Pai, time to go to Mae Hong Son, down the provincial capital. 9 o clock bus ride. Up and down mountains again. This time bus was almost empty. Met this Danish guy Flemming on the bus, who just finished his pilot training and taking his ‘graduation’ trip. He’s dropping midway in Soppong, to see some great limestone caves, Tham Lot. Decided to go too since Im not in a hurry to go anywhere…

Soppong, reached in 1.5 hours. Small village on the highway (no 7-Eleven), took a motorbike taxi out into the limestone park. Needed a guide carrying gas lamp to go in. Bloody gigantic limestone cave. See pics. Sure beats all those previous ones Ive seen (stong? blah. hahaha). All in all, there were 3 caves, one big one. A 2nd doll cave across the underground river, and a 3rd reachable only using bamboo rafts.

Sadly, only Cave 1 was opened today. Cos of the flood, guide said water level was one head taller than me last month, the underground bridge was washed away. Even now, rafts needed to be used at entrance area, when previously one can just walk in.
So we were the only 3 in the cave, Flemming, guide and me. with one gas lamp. Pretty exclusive, got to see a lot.

On our way down, motorbike taxi! saw a whole bunch of tourists in 4 wheel drives coming up to the caves. Imagine 40 people with gas lamps in the caves. We were so lucky.

Day 3 – The Waterfall that wasnt

On way back, passed by sign that said Mae Yen Waterfall. Followed a dirt trail in, thinking I’d visit the falls. Passed by plenty of padi fields, then started to go in between the hills. Road started to get really muddy…After 30+ minutes of aching thighs and submerged tires, ready to give up. When along comes this fella on a dirt bike, happily going over the trail like nothing. I was dying the last 30 or so minutes… So this South African opium smoking guy on the bike offers to recce up ahead for me. Revved away.. Came back 5 minutes later. Said its a rip off nothing ahead but a dam. I carried on though, reached a small hut, then the bike trail ends had to go by foot. Since my thighs are gone, decided to turn back instead. Learnt later from the guesthouse person that its a 3 hour trek in by foot.. Doh.

That afternoon was spent relaxing, bargained for stuff. Went for a Northern Thai Massage (there is a difference!) at the Lonely Planet recommended place: Pai Traditional Thai Massage. Owner even had a cert from Northern Thailand School of Natural Medicine. This SA guy met on the street gave a flyer to see him play at the Walk In Bar. Went there for a bit then left. Need sleep, exhausting morning.

Day 3 – Cycling Out To Nowhere

Woke up early next morning. Realised the Kaye guy is one of the guesthouse owner’s boyfriend (blah). Rented a bicycle. Early 8 am, went out to do a 10km bike ride out into the country to see Tapai hot springs. Did it in 1 over hour, up and down hilly roads. Dammnit, next time I have to learn to ride a motorbike. Anyone else wants to learn when i get back home pls send tell! Killer bicycle ride, up and down slopes. Reached the hotsprings half dead. Still have return trip…

Interlude : Things I have learnt
1) Just say “Kap” if u dont understand anything anyone says.
2) 7 eleven is the best thing to happen to backpackers everywhere.
3) You can tell a town is big is there is a 7-eleven.

Reached the hotsprings. The one good thing about travelling without itenary is that you get to places when the tourist crowd hasnt reached. It was totally empty. Either that or it was really low season (after floods and all that) that no tourists travel around the region. Well, I was the ONLY person in the entire park, went up to the source of the hot spring, this pool where hot water bubbled out at the top of the stream. HOT water (see pic, 80C, hoho.)

So there I was taking pics, then sat down to eat packet breakfast of fried chicken and sticky rice, then these 5 guys came up the slope into view. One look can tell : Singaporeans! Hahaham, amazing, one empty park and who should come along, 2 old retired? Singaporean couples and their Thai guide!!

Chatted with them abit, Florence, Alice and their husbands (lost their names). Their big adventure, took a chartered van from Mae Hong Son to tour then place, paying guide and all that. I think I saved a bomb cycling there. Met more farmers and villagers along the way too… So took some photos with them, then cycled back. Took twice the time to reach back, cos had to push bike up slope now. Kaoz.

Day 2 – Wandering in Pai

Decided to shower, then look around town a bit. People here from everywhere, lots of angmohs ‘farangs’ who somehow know each other. Yeah been here that long. Lots of hill tribe colourfully dressed women, thai army guys, thai locals, muslims in headdresses. Practically a mish mash of people. Dreadlocked hippy types, families, you name it, you have it.

Buildings. Lots of guesthouse, residential are thatched huts, businesses offering Hill Tribe treks, elephant rides, bungee jumps, ATVs, river bamboo rafting. Then you have the local shops, selling groceries. Tribe women selling handicraft, the english bed and breakfast joint, the german bar, a jazz cafe (open mic nite that day). Mish mash. One 7-eleven. But very peaceful. No wonder, these people stay here.

Oh yeah, place was flooded just last month. Quite badly, lots of the guesthouses across the river (the Aframe huts) all washed away. Looks pretty bad. Some areas still not recovered, like bridge not fixed.

Evening market. About 5 oclock till 7, the entire main road (yeah that ONE) gets cordoned off and stallowners roll the wares. Frog legs, chicken, fruits, veges.

Dinner time, late dinner at this Muslimhome selling pita and bread. I thought I had it tough looking for food : There was this Jewish couple who kept asking me questions whether the meat and the vege is separated during cooking. Plus which direction the sun rises from. Tough man…

Night time, sleep.

Day 2 – Chiangmai to Pai

Day 2. Took a Tuktuk down to Arcade bus station, to catch the local 9am aircon bus to Pai. 4 hour bus ride (longer, it drizzled again like last night), up and down winding mountain slopes. Pai is located in a valley.

Bus occupants, 4 backpackers from Germany, touring Asia. Some hill tribe women. Some locals. And the fella sitting beside me: Israeli guy, bicycle parked on top of coach, been in ChiangMai past year, has a place at the bottom of mountain just on outskirts of ChiangMai. Today he is off to Pai to learn from his “Body Worker” Thai master, meditation and breathing techniques. That kind of new age thing.

Chatted with the Germans a bit. Made up mind to better learn more phrases than Sawadikap and Kwap Phon Kap to survive next few days…

Stopped after 2.5 hours. Break. Toilet. Relieve motion sickness. Too winding, the roads. Reached Pai about 3 or so. Israeli seatmate Ryan recommended Good Life guesthouse, so off i go to search for it.

First time on Pai street, walked down the main street. Map says turn left and junction. I walked on and passed by REALLY tiny road. Nah, can’t be that on the map. Went on. Realised after 15 minutes I walked 200 metres ahead where i shouldnt. This town is tiny…Found Good Life guesthouse, looks like a converted local house. 2 floor 3 rooms for guests. There’s me, later that night met Kaye, German guy who just bought a 2nd hand motorbike and rode from Chiang Mai. Plus Paul, English guy who lives here!

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