Hi Holidayers! Michele here….
For the past 5 days, we have been in a small town in northwestern Thailand named Pai, not too far from the Myanmar (Burma) border. We didn’t actually plan to stay here this long but a couple of things happened that extended our stay. We arrived in Pai on December 24th and immediately went to a guesthouse recommended by a woman in our Chiang Mai cooking class – good thing because we later learned there is a serious shortage of accomodations in Pai. In fact, we actually paid to keep our room while we were treking in the mountains (see story below) for fear we wouldn’t find a place when we got back. We are very fortunate since the room is reasonably priced ($7.25), clean, and had a bathroom.
Pai is a small town that is lined with internet cafes, guesthouses, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and clothing stores (where hilltribe people from the north sell their handicrafts). The town sits at the base of some beautiful hills covered with vegetation and it is also along a river. Here is a picture of me standing on a bridge at the edge of the town (yes, it was cloudy and rained a lot in Pai):
I will say the one problem with Pai is that it is overrun with farang (foreigners), especially now that it is holiday time. Even though we farang are invading this little town, the northern Thai people here are hospitible and always smiling.
We came to Pai, in part so that we could go trekking in the northern Thai mountains and visit some of the hilltribe villages. Turns out we had a bit of trouble organizing a trek. Most of the trekking operators want a group of 4 people to commit to going before they will go into the mountains. We decided on the 24th that we would check the morning of December 25th at several of the places to see if any people had signed up for a 2 day, 1 night trek beginning on December 26th. No one had. Hmm..o.k., so we decided we would put our names down with one of the trekking companies and on the night of the 25th, we would check back to see if: a) anyone had signed on to go with us, or b) two other people had signed up with another company (and then we could go with them). One problem might have been that it rained on December 24th and 25th, which would make most people hesitant to sign up for mountain trekking.
Meanwhile….on Christmas Eve we wandered down a small street that was having a street party. Each of the 7 or so shops was doing something special for Christmas eve. For example, one place had simple games (e.g., throw rings over bottles, throw a ball at cans), another had discounts off wine and beer, another was offering balloons to kids. Later , there were a few fireworks but the rain really put a damper on the night.
On Christmas Day we started the day off right by going to a coffee house that sold Thai style coffee. Thai coffee is made with sweetened condensed milk on the bottom and strong, thick coffee on the top. Drinking this will give even the most experienced coffee drinker a buzz from all the caffeine and sugar. Later it rained…and rained…and rained. At night I got a massage (1 hour for $5), we called our parents (aren’t we nice?!) and checked with our treking company. No one had signed up to join us but there was a young man there looking for a group to join. We told him our dilema and the three of us decided we would go on a trek together and pay the price for four people. We also opted to take a public bus instead of a private car to save more money. We set out the next morning on what looked like a 1950′s school bus. The public buses here are definitely designed for the small Thai people. Most Westerners cannot fit on the seats and Mike and Matt (our new found trekking friend) had their legs sticking out into the aisle.
We were dropped off on the side of the road and our guide, Ting, said, “O.k., this is where we start!” Mike and Matt were both not feeling well and since it had rained the two previous days, it was quite humid. When the sun came out it started to get really steamy. Some of the treking was on a trail and some of it wasn’t. There were times when our guide was using his machete to cut a path for us though the bamboo and teak forest. I did mention that Matt wasn’t feeling well, right? It wasn’t long after we started our two day trek that Matt began vomitting. And then he vomitted more and more and more. Poor guy. He was really sick.
Several hours later we arrived at Pa Mo No, a hill tribe village that actually only had one Lahu family living there. Ting explained to us that the rangers in this area were corrupt government officials and had told the other families that they had to leave the village or pay him. The one family remaining lived in a one room house. The house was elevated by wooden stilts with pigs and chickens living underneath. Like everywhere in Thailand, we took off our shoes before entering the house to eat lunch. We ate a lunch that Ting had bought at the Pai market in the morning but that was being carried by our alcoholic porter. The porter carried our food and his rice whisky and openly admitted to being an alcoholic.
The lunch consisted of mango and sugar cane juice poured over sticky rice, wrapped in a banana leaf and sticky rice and vegetables (also wrapped in a banana leaf). The woman of the household made tea by drying moist tea leaves over a fire in the room. There is a spot on the bamboo and banana leaf floor where concrete has been poured and this is where the fires are made. After she made us tea, she smoked the typical cigarette here in Northern Thailand – a dried banana leaf filled with tobacco.
During the lunch Matt started throwing up again (outside the house). Ting paid the man of the house to walk Matt to the road where we started trekking several hours earlier so Matt could flag down a bus going back to Pai. (Note: We did see Matt after our trek was over and he said he was still not feeling well two days later.) After lunch we said, “Kop Kun Kaw” (Michele) and “Kop Kun Krup” (Mike), meaning Thank You in Thai. Although they understood us, the hill tribe people primarily use their own tribal language.
After walking another few hours past cows and water buffalos, through rice fields, streams, and lush hills, we arrived at Pa Mo Nee, another village where Lahu people lived. This village had approximately 40 houses that were the same style as the one we ate lunch in. It was here that we spent the night with a Lahu family. Mike and I ate dinner there and then slept on the bamboo and leaf woven floor. It didn’t get below 60 degrees at night so we didn’t have a problem staying warm (although the floor was not exactly the most comfortable bed). An interesting thing about this house (which Mike and I determined was the “richest” house in the village) was that it had a solar panel outside the house. At night, we discovered this house was one of only two that actually had a light. Below is a picture of the family we stayed with and their house:
The next morning we left on our second day of treking and after about 3 hours, we arrived at Moung Pam, where the White Karen people live. The religion of both the Karen and Lahu hill tribe people is animism mixed with Buddhism and Christianity. Animistic belief systems hold that the spirit survives physical death. The spirit is believed to pass to another world and the soul must journey to the spirit world without becoming lost and thus wandering as a ghost. Animism also includes is the belief that objects and ideas including animals, tools, and natural phenomena (rain, sun, wind) have or are expressions of people’s living spirits.
In addition to the 3 hours of treking through the jungle/forest, we also put on our sandles and walked up a river for a while before we rode an elephant and went rafting on a homemade bamboo raft. Here is a picture of Mike and the elephant we rode:
We had a little adventure when the bamboo raft picked up speed and crashed into something (I can’t remember what) and Mike went into the river. We ended our day with more hiking, then catching a ride in a pickup truck to the public bus stop in the nearby town.
Today (December 29th) we took a comfortable mini bus ($4 each) from Pai to Chiang Mai. If we had planned ahead we would be taking a flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Luang Prabang, Laos. However, we didn’t know what we were doing (in terms of traveling) until the last minute and when we went to book the Chiang Mai-Luang Prabang flight, they were all sold out until after New Year’s. So, tomorrow morning (Fri, December 30th) we are taking a flight to Bangkok and a few hours later, we’ll hop on a flight to Luang Prabang. At least that’s the plan!
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Tags: Category #20: Thailand