Thailand Travel Journal: the North-West

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

> Rain in Chiang Mai

01-02-2008 Cats & Dogs. Cats AND Dogs. Whatever the right spelling is: it's pooring with rain. The weather perfectly reflects our mood, as we haven't slept at all last night. Apparently our guesthouse is situated right next to an entertainment area, one of those where the athmosphere gets better by the hour and so does the noise. That's why we start this day by finding a better place to sleep and as soon as we found one we stay inside to work on our website and take a nap.
By the end of the afternoon we buy some new shirts at Kad Suan Kaew Shopping Mall: 4 floors of good designer clothes for budget prices. In no time we found what we came for and we interpret the great succes of this mission as a good sign. That's why we take a tuktuk to the Nightbazaar, to find a tea spoon (see Treelo-assignments). Too late we notice we probably left our luck in the back of the tuktuk, as even after 2 hours of tracking... no tea spoons. We eat something and just when we're about to return "home" we see, in the very back of a little stall, some tea spoons. What a disappointment when we take a closer look. These tea spoons probably don't survive a bit of stirring in a hot cup of tea, so eventually we don't purchase anything.

Flower Parade02-02-2008 Like it's never been gone, it's back again: the sunshine. As soon as we go out we're surprised by some sort of flower-parade-Thai-style. Carriages, decorated with thousands of flowers and some Thai beauties, drive in a long line through the city, amidst bands and other musical acts. We watch all this for a while, before we move on to the two prettiest temples in town. Both Wat Chedi Luang and de Wat Phra Singh are covered with scaffolds, but still there is enough beauty left to see. We finish the day off in the National Museum, with a stop at Wat Jet Yot on our way home and try some good food at the night market afterwards.

> Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

03-02-2008 We move again today, as the club next to our room has been causing noise nuisance untill 5 a.m. We're kind of done now with Chiang Mai, a busy, noisy city of which we don't understand why everybody is so enthusiastic. At least we're not getting very happy here and we decide to move on to a more quiet place, to Pai.
Today we already escape the city for a while, to Doi Suthep, a nearby mountain with a beautiful temple. The Thai have various rituals, which they all seriously perform here. They circle the stupa while praying for example, with some wonderful flowers clasped in their hands.Wat Doi Suthep There's also the possibility to exchange a note into 1 Baht coins, to donate a coin in every metal bowl, or to refill the lighted oil lamps with a huge spoon of oil. A monk in one of the annexes is handing out bracelets "for a long life". People are crawling towards him on theur knees. Well, we just don't travel too many Thai busses in the future, so we expect to have a long life guerantee already. So, later that afternoon, we head to the station to buy traintickets to Bangkok for 10 days from now, as we have plans to end up on one of those pretty Thai islands, which means we have maximum 10 days left here in the North.
We don't have to feel bored at the sunday market in town. Among tons of souvenirs we search for a teaspoon. The variety of products is amazing, but still no sign of any teaspoons. After a long search and some inquiries we end up at a tiny stall at the back and out of a plastic bag there's a box is taken, containing... a teaspoon... and a fork. Treelo has the strange feeling this will be his last chance, so after some serious haggling this set ends up in our backpack.

> Pai

04-02-2008 Slightly greenish and a bit unsteady we leave the bus, after the trip from Chiang Mai to Pai. We've had them in all possible varieties, the bends. Hairpins, descending, ascending, even some real loopings. But we're here and what a peaceful oasis it is here.
Wat Mae YenWe go for a walk to the nearest hill in this wonderful valley, surrounded by hills of thick jungle and bamboo forrest, to ascend the few hundred stairs to Wat Mae Yen. From the temple you have an excellent view over Pai and the entire valley. As we look around a bit more in this temple complex we find a bulletin board with a poster and photos to collect warm clothes for the people in a remote and very poor village. We had no idea of villages like this still existing in Thailand, but in the hills near the Burmese border poverty is still a problem.
We ask one of the monks whether our help would be appreciated, but the village is too remote and hard to reach for us. However, there's an area, near Burma, where people own practically nothing and kids often are not able to go to school. The schools have only few materials to work with. They definately can use some help. We spend the rest of the afternoon arranging transport, accommodation and a list of what we find necessary buying. We do all this in consultation with an Australian guy,School materials also the owner of the guesthouse where we'll be staying, who lives at the last piece of paved road leading to the village and whose name and phone number we randomly got. With some guidance and assistence, in the early evening, we finally find a store where we can buy good books and pens, exercise books and other school supplies. After some serious shopping by Peter and Yvonne some products in the store are sold out (unfortunately there are just 5 nice books for older kids), but someone tells us there's a similar store in another part of the village, so we decide to plunder all those books there tomorrow. Now we first visit some of the stalls in the night market, as we're starving after this busy day. We don't get disappointed, there are many small, but sooo delicious morsels to try here.Pancake StallWe're somewhat surprised by the many burkas and black headkerchiefs in the streets here and in the pancake stall there's quite an extraordinary couple with their baby. (see photo) There are also many Lisu women from surrounding villages, in their colorful terry costumes.

05-02-2008 After a quiet night of sleep in a good and giant bed, at last, we head to the store for some more school supplies. We find some great books for older kids and fantastic posters, like the ones with the English alphabet and illustrations with the Thai letters as well, clocks for beginners and advanced students and much more. We buy some brackets as well and finally feel like Treelo needs to be a bit more economical.
Peter on a motorbikeOn a motorbike we explore the area, with its Lisu and Kuomintang villages and around noon we consume the lunch our backpack contains, sitting at a waterfall. We take an exit here and follow a dirt road there, untill we can't go any further on our bikes and we continue on foot. We follow a stream which we need to cross several times and the vegetation is getting thicker and thicker. Frequently we see giant trees, or some very special ones with wokkel-shaped branches. As we forgot to leave breadcrumbs on our path we don't go too far and an hour later we head back to our guesthouse in that golden it's-very-late-in-the-afternoon-light.

> The far North-West of Thailand

06-02-2008 Thailand is Asia is Thailand and there's always a way to get stuff from A to B. So far we never even worried we have, besides our 2 daypacks and 2 (even heavier) backpacks, 2 boxes with schoolbooks and other materials ánd a tube with posters to carry with us. We are just about to start worrying about this when the boxes are already on the back of the motorbike of the guesthouse owner to take them to the bus station. So thát's Thailand and that's why we fell in love with this country yet.
Thailand as well: a man at the bus station tells us with a poker face we can't travel by bus today, as it's Chinese newyear and, according to him, half the Chinese population is coming this way from Chiang Mai. Meaning there's no more room for us in the bus, but fortunately he is the owner of a minivan and he just asks us 6 times the going bus rate to take us with him. Well... we know Thailand now and Thailand knows us, so Yvonne assumes those Chinese are so tiny, they can sit on her lap if they please and we calmly wait for that one seat that is probably left for us in the bus.
We're happy to even discover two perfect seats (of course no sign of a single Chinese) and that's quite okay with those mountainous roads here.

Peter on the motorbike-taxi Elvis and Yvonne

As we arrive in Soppong some 90 minutes later there's an immediate solution for our transport problem for the last 9 bus- and songthaew-less kilometers. A man and his friend offer us their motorbike-taxis. Peter has some serious doubts, since his former experiences on motorbikes in mountainous areas are not all that good, but Yvonne thinks it's allright to give it a try. However, both of us do wonder how 4 people, 2 full daypacks, 2 (loaded) backpacks, 2 boxes with schoolbooks and other stuuf ánd a tube with posters can be carried by 2 almost disintegrating motorbikes. The Thai men apparently don't see a problem and after our repeatedly "slowly, slowly" in combination with matching sign language and a bit of fitting and measuring it works. Except some holes and a single steep slope the road is pretty much okay and we enjoy the fantastic karst landscapes surrounding us.
Our guesthouse is situated at one of those amazing spots and our accommodation for the next couple of days is one of the bamboo huts on the terrain, with views over the surrounding woodsand the stream in the valley. Right in our backyard buffalows are scrubbing the trees and cows are grazing, while local kids play with sand and water at the stream. The guesthouse owner solves our last transport problem, as he happens to go to the village of "our" school in his 4WD. Do we want to come along?! Well, love to!
The rest of the afternoon we explore the area (nature everywhere), Peter helps a local lady picking banana flowers from a tree and we see how a car, stuck in the middle of a river, gets pulled out.

Handing all the supplies to the director07-02-2008 Fog patches are still between the hills when we're jolting in the back of a truck, following a more than bumpy road. As we passed a temporary bridge crossing the river we're heading steep upwards for several minutes. When we're at the top we see Ban Muang Phaem waiting for us down in the valley. A bit later we get off at the school and 3 teachers and the headmaster are called, the latter apparently has his own house on the school grounds. We officially hand the supplies over to the headmaster, but as the boxes are put on the floor 2 of the teachers dig into them immediately, with some of the students watching. Especially the interesting reading books are much appreciated. We're welcome to take a look in and around the school and a bit later we're present at the opening ceremony of the day, with the flag being raised, the national anthem being sung and several songs and dances being performed. During the entire ceremony, which lasts around 20 minutes (and that's excluding the way too long speach of the headmaster) the kids are at attention in neat lines.

Curious teachers and children Opening ceremony at school

Everybody knows exactly what to do when and the teachers don't even have to encourage a single kid or do anything. We're impressed! Like every day, by the end the headmaster asks whether all children brushed their teeth this morning and he even checks the mouths of the youngest ones, to see whether it's clean. One little boy shouts he's forgotten to brush and already runs to his cup and toothbrush to do it here and now. A bit later even some of the bigger ones are brushing. All 65 of them have a toothbrush here at school, Brushing teeth at schoolas the dentist is only visiting once in every 2 years.
Today happens to be sports day, so while all children are playing their sports, the extremely enthusiastic headmaster shows us his school on the inside. Obviously he's very proud of what he's doing here, of what he got from former donations and what school is committed to. In poor English he tells us the school has a major task in the village and he's the one leading all of the meetings and activities.
After this tour through the school we say goodbye and we face a brisk walk back to our guesthouse. First we pass the village where the women are eager to sell some of their well woven shawls. It's late in the afternoon when we get back to the Cave Lodge and we're glad to dive into bed in the early evening.

> Black Lahu and Lisu

08-02-2008 After a quick migration of 9 kilometers to market town Soppong, a bit closer to civilization and a great base to explore the two villages we'd like to visit today, we'd first like to go to Black-Lahu village Ban Bo Krai. The Lahu are Tibetan people living in the North of Thailand. It's 1 o'clock, so we're right on time to catch the noon-bus, which takes us in fifteen minutes over extremely steep roads to the right trackway. We follow the path, walking, through an amazing landscape, untill we reach some bamboo pendulums full of symbols, hanging over the path and telling us we approach a village where the inhabitants are still animists. Peter with grannyWe're there! The people have to adjust to our white noses, but sometimes we're cautiously greeted. In the center of the village we see a tiny store, at a Lahu-granny's home. We buy some drinks and when we sit on the stool in front of her house the silver bracelets, forged by grandpa, come out of the box.
We stroll a bit more through the village and take a look in the tiny vilage school. Back at the main road we only see traffic heading in the opposite direction, but a market sales woman tells us there's a bus coming in fifteen minutes. Lucky us, as there are only 5 buses a day. We're just about to sit down in the shade when a car is coming, in our direction, and we're allowed to hop on. We have loads of space in the back of the truck, much more comfortable than in the fully packed bus on our way over here.
After a short break back in Soppong we walk to Ban Nong Tong, a Lisu village in the neighbourhood. The Lisu are, just like the Lahu and Akha, originally Tibetan people. After a short, but steep climb we see their colorful costumes amidst their houses. Lisu NewyearWe also hear music and we see people dancing, as the Chinese-, and so the Lisu-, newyear is celebrated. This festival lasts 3 days and all inhabitants are wearing their best clothes. So what we see is wonderfully decorated people, dancing in the chief's yard. Soon we're offered food and drinks. It's all really delicious and not much later we're even dancing side by side with those special people. We're not very good at it, but what the..., as long as you're enjoying. At twilight we return from a tiring day, full of impressions, to our bungalow.

> On to Mae Hong Son

09-02-2008 We say goodbye to our hostess, who got too much voice and too little ears, and just need to cross the road to the busstop. By the time we start wondering whether the bus will be too late because of not full yet, or too late because of too full, or it will not be here at all because of a defect we see the orange monster approaching in the distance. We're getting ready for our famous tactics: Yvonne dives into the bus with the light luggage to secure 2 good seats and Peter lifts the heavy luggage into the bus to claim his confiscated chair right after that. It seems to work... again, so we have the last 2 seats next to each other.
Bus to Mae Hong Son The landscape to Mae Hong Son is spectacular and so is the road to it. Soon people start to turn pale again and it'getting more quiet by the kilometer, but the bus is way too full to hand out bags for vomiting. Luckily everyone keeps well untill the next bus station, where an 8 year old boy hobbles outside, to puge right at the door.

10-02-2008 We visit the most important attractions of Mae Hong Son and as these are limited to no less then 2 temples and an overcrowded fishing pont we have some time left to relax as well.

> Border with Birma

11-02-2008 After seeing the local roads from the bus on our way over here we've had some serious doubts, but we've decided to go out on our motrobikes today anyway. In the area that we'd like to see there's not much traffic and a bus isn't going at all, so this is the only way to get there. The first kilometers are just a bit hilly, but eventually we're facing truely steep and curvy roads. When the turns are getting even tighter and the road connecting them is getting even steeper, it's too hard too continue. Peter hasn't forgotten about his crash either so we park our pink Hello-Kitty-model and the boring, blue boy's bike on the roadside. On foot we inspect the coming bends and slopes, but we decide it's just the best to turn around and go back... untill... a 4WD comes our way. We raise our tumbs and after some more sign language and pointing on the map we're allowed to climb in the back. We end up among cylinders with gas, bags of white powder to make paint and jerrycans of petrol, untill we stop 5 kilometers further on at some roadworks, to unload all of it. To our big surprise our driver even takes us the final 10 kilometers, with an empty truck, to our destination. He ignores the money we offer him and quickly he turns around, in the direction where he came from.
We find ourselves in the last village on the mountainroad we were following and right at the border with Burma/Myanmar. Literally translated Ban Rak Thai means: village that loves Thailand. That's the name the Kuomintang gave it over 30 years ago, when they settled here. The history of this area is one of rebellion, heavy fights and opium cultivation and -abuse, just like around Mae Salong. Now that peace has returned it's possible to do a border "tour" on the hinnies of mister Jatta, a Chinese at heart. As soon as we had all kinds of delicious Chinese tea from his wife, and he himself caught the hinnies, we're off. We're surprised to find a sign at the border, with an (unmanned?!) gatehouse and a fence with a wicket, while a hundred metres further one can enter Myanmar without any obstructions.
Peter and Yvonne on their HinniesWe follow the path on our mules to the top of a hill, where we enter the Kuomintang/Thai armycamp. At first we think it's something of a tourist thing. How is it possible to simply open the gate and enter an army camp, even when you are thé mister Jatta from the village-which-loves-Thailand himself. But this turns out to ne the true border patrol. Some boys in an army uniform are sitting here all day long, smoking (probably the cigarettes mister Jatta brings for them) and staring in the direction of the Burmese camp on top of the next hill. Sometimes they wave at the boys of the Shan camp (Thai group) on the hill on the other side who are staring to Burmna as well. What a strange place this is. They are watching Burma, and Burma is watching back. But nobody truely does something. In the camp there's a hut to sleep in, one for cooking and one with maps of the area, while you can also see the trenches which are used by the Kuomintang to defend themselves.
Back at mama Jatta's we eat something and soon we find a songthaew driving down to collect some schoolkids and offering us to come along. We get back to our motorbikes and in an hour or so we drive back to Mae Hong Son.

> All the way back to Bangkok

12-02-2008 It's no punishment to go back the same way we arrived a couple of days ago. In 4 hours we see the most breathtaking views through our window, between Mae Hong Son and Pai.

13-02-2008 So for today there's just the ride back to Chiang Mai left, where we catch the night train to Bangkok at 3 p.m., a trip of almost 16 hours.

Chiang Mai flowerfestival Thailand video

The Chiang Mai flowerfestival Thailand video will show here

Chinese new year Lisu tribe Thailand video

The Chinese new year Lisu tribe Thailand video will show here

Click on the films up here to look around at the flower parade in Chiang Mai and at the Lisu Newyear Festival, almost live.

Bonusmaterial for the real fans: Yvonne found the golden snitch, well-known to Harry Potter readers, at Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son. Unfortunately we need to disappoint you with the news that the real snitch is not golden, but brown. What a fibber J.K. Rowling is.

Yvonne on her Broom The Golden Snitch

> More Info

Also check our Thailand info page, where you can find a lot of information about Thailand and come see our North-Western 1 photos and North-Western 2 photos.