I was humming and harring about where to go to after spending about 2 1/2 weeks in Chiang Mai, I’d like to be more accurate but there were some very boozy nights (shame on you Chang beer), and I can’t. Anyway, Karen was off home to New Zealand with her brand new sparkling white smile – dentistry is very good and very cheap at the Grace Clinic (not the cheapest in Chiang Mai but it is in comparison to EVERYWHERE else – check out reviews on Trip Advisor). So I googled it, as I do everything, and decided to do the Mae Hong Son loop. Now I’ve read in various place how bad the local buses are compared to the touristy air conditioned ones – this is actually correct. But it does depend on what your scale of enjoyment is. I love the local buses, because you rattle along with the locals, and monks in the back seat, and get a fantastic view of the scenery going past at approx 25km per hour – sometimes less, less often, more. We actually booked an air conditioned bus – it’s just that they have a rather loose interpretation of air conditioned. The windows are open, there are rotating fans every few seats that may or may not work, and the back and front doors are left open. There was no lack of breeze, but make sure you stow your stuff carefully because as you jerk around corners and through gears, if it rolls or slides out the door, it’s pretty much tough shit. Cost from Chiang Mai 170 Baht each. We arrived at Mae Sariang – there was quite a rush, apparently we were the 2nd and 3rd tourist to arrive, that day. There wasn’t a rush – in Mae Sariang there never is – I don’t know if they even have a word for it. We found a really nice riverside room for 500 Baht per night, TV, En suite, Air Con (the proper kind with a machine that blows cold air and stuff), a fridge and, OMG, a soft bed (The Good View Guesthouse – 3 minute walk from bus terminal, most of them are, just head for the river). We rented bicycles, we were going to rent scooters but that just seemed a little fast paced, and who would want to miss cycling up Mt Everest in the hot sun to see a temple? That would be me. Hills don’t look as bad as they really are until you start to walk or cycle up them, I ended up doing both. And then I just stopped, and sweated, and puffed, and I ask you, what better time for a photo shoot from James? A scooter with two local lads passed me three times, laughing, I was starting to get suspicious, but all my remaining energy was being spent on staying alive. We stayed for two nights just because it was so lovely and chilled, and being off demon Chang beer drink we were teetotal. No, just kidding, of course we weren’t, we drank the local whiskey, Hong Thong instead. At home. In a quiet, non drunken way. Then on to Mae Hong Son, another rattling, slow “air con” bus for five hours through the spectacular Northern Thailand scenery – 105 Baht each. We arrived at the bus terminal which is about 1 km out of town, took a Tuk Tuk (the only one we saw in 3 days there) to the Friend Guesthouse, set just back from the lake (it’s called a lake, it’s not, it’s a large pond). Large room with En Suite and fan 300 Baht a night – but as in all places we’ve been, there’s a huge choice of accommodation – we tend to just stay if we’re happy with first place we come to. Because we can trash a room in about ten minutes, and it’s less hassle not to move. This is a slow town, great for learning or practicing scooter riding if you’re not very confident, me, I’ve done rush hour in Chiang Mai round the city and I’m good to go (couple of funny stories there, but we’ll it leave at: both Karen and I are alive and unscathed). Mae Hong Son is a little cooler than Chiang Mai but still scorching in the sun during the day. Day 1 we hired scooters, cheap as chips and by far the best way to get and about to explore. We headed out to a National Park (100 Baht to get in) to see the cave fish pond – a spring comes out from rocks to form a natural pool which is full of some type of carp. They are considered sacred so no-one fishes there – a really pleasant spot and fun feeding the fish. The pool empties into a small deep creek, the water’s cool, clean and clear, so I whipped my gear off and jumped in – as you do. On the main road out there is a coffee shop, James had a Cappuccino slushy and I had an iced Cappuccino – heavenly on a hot day – go there. Day 2 we (I) thought we’d go exploring to find a reservoir I’d found on Google – as always, it looked very straight forward on the map. Then we found the correct place on the map. Then we found three conflicting sets of directions on how to get there, so fully armed with misinformation we set off (on a scooter each – so much better up hills). Beautiful countryside, lots of small villages, quite a few wrong turns and then we found sheep. Seriously, we looked at each other in wonderment, got off the bikes and just stood and watched the sheep, and listened to them baa, and took photos. In New Zealand I never look at sheep, I don’t even notice sheep,I never listen to them and I certainly would not be wasting any battery power taking photos, why would you, they are everywhere. So go figure. Back on the correct road we arrived at a small village with the reservoir behind it – absolutely blissfull, quiet, clean and picturesque – and a fantastic day out seeing the countryside and villages. We were starving and found the one and only roadside food place, their English was as good as our Thai so neither of us could understand a word the other was saying. We heard “flied lice” and nodded eagerly. Sure enough, chicken fried rice it was! Day 3 was spent in and around the city, we saw a large army presence on one of the main streets, a typical market, then realised, to our horror, that we hadn’t been to any temples. I know. What were we thinking. Clearly, it was temple time. It’s easy to spot Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (easier in fact, than trying to say it) because it’s on a hill, at the top of a zig zag path & stairs. We went searching for the road – there wasn’t one – so we parked at the bottom and made the climb in the searing midday heat – always, without a doubt the best time to climb huge hills. On the second to last set of steps we found, you guessed it, The Road. Shit. Great view from the top and some lovey Shan architecture. Next we were off to Pai, another local bus, another 5 hours, more spectacular scenery. Pai is a delightful, small town teeming with tourists & ex Pats (the Americans are always the loudest, the most hippy looking and the most opinionated – in my limited experience). First day there we hired a scooter (we are now in complete denial of the fact that our travel insurance does not cover us for any scootering accidents) but found it had a completely bald tyre so took it back to get it fixed – we were told to return the next morning. We returned the next morning & it was chaos. A nice gentleman took our scooter away to get the tyre changed, but after waiting some time I asked when it would be ready, he said “too busy”, just take that one. What wonderful service, great fat tyres and a full tank of gas – we were off. Well we thrashed that little scooter, took it dirt bike riding into the back of beyond, nearly killed it up an unending hill which just kept getting steeper (we’d missed the waterfall about 10km back) and all in all were very impressed by this little bike. We returned to the hire place because James had left his cap on the other one and were bemused to be greeted by everyone waving & laughing and generally quite a festive atmosphere. One of the young workers came out and started examining the scooter whilst saying “buy bike, buy bike”. I said, “yeah mate, you really should, it’s an awesome little bike” and then it dawned on us he was actually saying “my bike, my bike”. We’d stolen his bike. I told the owner that we were terribly sorry but the older gent who was here told us to take it, “Oh” she said, waving her arms around, “that old drunk whiskey man and he not work here”. Oops. After an in depth examination of the scooter he pointed at a scratch and asked if we’d had an accident. Well, we may have been responsible for bottoming out several times on ruts, destroying the suspension and possibly nearly cooking the engine, but we were not responsible for the scratch! We gave him 50 Baht for the petrol we’d used, which he refused at first, then we trotted off to feel guilty. We felt guilty enough to go back and give him 500 Baht more – even though it wasn’t our fault. But in reality it’s $20 to us and probably at least a week or two wages for him. As we walked away we got a phone call – WTF? Nobody calls us because we don’t know anybody, but it turns out our Irish mate Win (who we’d met in Chiang Mai) had spotted us going past so we met her, at a pub, of course, Irish & Kiwis, hellooooo! That was an unexpected pleasure, and after a catch up we decided to meet the next day for some more scootering, legally, on the one we had actually hired. We got a scooter (for 100 Baht each), decided against helmets, and zapped around the corner back to our room where James & I managed to park in an orderly fashion. Win on the other hand, thought she would test the integrity of the brick wall to the side – the brick wall won, as brick walls versus scooter and rider tend to do. Scraped and shaken she declared she was fine so we set off again. James & I took off at a leisurely controlled pace. Win on the other hand, gunned the accelerator and screamed off down the street with smoking tyres and skid marks. Very shortly after this we reconsidered our previous stance on helmets and went and got some. Happily that was mostly the end of Win channelling her inner Evil Knievel and she did not kill or further maim herself for the rest of the day. In fact, pretty competent after a whole day’s scootering – well done Win XXX. We also found another great bar (go on, pretend to be shocked) which had an amatuer fire dancing night, well as you can imagine that turned out to be quite funny and scary at the same time. As Win was sitting closer to them than me, I was at the ready with my whiskey just in case I needed to douse her in a hurry – there were quite a few mishaps with burning pieces of wood – but our favourite was when one of them caught his hair on fire – in a lovely fluid movement he put it out with his hand but really started to panic when the large fabric sign hanging over the bamboo wall started to go up. What it wrong to laugh so loudly? I think not. Our least favourite was the girl with fire things stuck to her wrist who then just danced around with fire things stuck to her wrist – the only talent involved was not igniting her hair – although as Win did mention “I’d ah paid to see thut”, so would’ve I. Perhaps a pole next time? After overstaying at all of our destinations we ran ourselves short of time for Chiang Rai so decided just to spend last few days in Chiang Mai. Again we took the local bus – it was an hour late, quite packed, and on the way it rained – inside the bus as well as out. I got drenched, but to make the journey better, we met some lovely people and they got drenched too.
PHOTOS MAE SARIANG
PHOTOS MAE HONG SON