Saturday, October 21, 2006

Anybody who has been to Thailand knows about the frog ladies at the markets. For the past week we've been wondering who actually buys the little wooden frogs. The women who sell them stroke them with a wooden dowl which makes a frog like sound. Last night we arrived in Chiang Mai and went to the night market where I couldn't resist buying one. Aaron soon followed.

I thought I had made a post about our 4 day car trip through Northern Thailand, however, the post must have been lost. We rented a jeep-like vehicle in Chiang Mai and took a 4 day/3 night trip through Pai, Mae Hong Son, and Mae Chaem. The vehicle allowed us to stop wherever we wanted.. it was great cruising by the standard mini-bus stops where all of the tourists eat and finding other street markets with some great food.

The entire drive weaved its way through mountains with waterfalls and hot springs. We visited the tallest waterfall in the Chiang Mai Province that was over 100 meters tall. We had the waterfalls all to ourselves as there wasn't a single person around.

Pai was a major let-down. I heard great things but I didn't see much I liked. It was full of western tourists, western style restaurants, and hippies. The food was bland, the bars were no different than what you find back home, and the live music we heard was awful. There were few street stalls which made it tough to eat since we basically live off street stalls (the food there is much better than the restaurants) We got out of Pai early the next day and drove to Mae Hong Son. My previous posts talk about our time there.

The road trip was great. We saw a lot of stuff you can't see taking mini-buses or packaged tours. Next time I'd like to take a motorcycle instead.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The power went out in Mae Chang and the total darkness was great for some long exposure shots. I took this single exposure shot of Aaron using a 60 second exposure and a headlamp. He used a headlamp to "paint" himself into the picture, then shut if off and move to a different spot and repeat the process. The image is a single exposure shots that was not edited at all.

Shortly after nightfall we arrived in the small village of Mae Chaem. Mae Chaem doesn't see many westerners as it isn't mentioned in any of the main guide books. We stopped by this restaurant where they only served one item, table bbq. Shortly after this woman set up the bbq some young kids came to our table and taught us how to cook the food. We had bbq'd pork, liver, fish, and vegetables. The outside rim of the bbq is made to hold broth for cooking the vegetables. The locals were very happy to see us and they offered us some beer and asked about where we were from. One man asked for my email address as he said he would like to practice his English. He said he wants to e-mail me everyday... I just laughed.

We turned off the main road we had planned to follow back to Chiang Mai in search of adventure. Neither of our guidebooks had anything about this road so we figured it would be a lot of fun. The scenery was incredible as we slowly made our way through small mountain villages and past truckloads of farmers. The farmers often cheered and yelled at us with huge smiles on their faces. We learned that very few tourists ever travel through this area. It was a great experience.

There are groves of bamboo like this one all over. It is amazing how tall it can grow and how strong it is. Bamboo scaffolding is a common site in the city and in the remote villages.

The beauty of having a car is that you can stop anywhere you want. We stopped at the home and restaurant of Mr. Songvit Siangarom on the road from Mae Hong Son to Mae Chaem. He is a retired banker who wanted to escape the city life in Bangkok and now lives here with his wife. His wife cooked us a wonderful lunch and Mr. Siangarom showed us his garden and guesthouse he was building. He was also very proud of his guest book with signatures from all over the world.
Here you go Lisa.. It appears to be a cell phone tower (although I'm not sure) in the Karen people's village.

We visited Karen Hill Tribe near Mae Hong Son. It was hardly a "hill tribe" and very touristed (although we were literally the only tourists there), however, it was very interesting. The Karen people are also known as the "Long-neck" or "Giraffe tribe".

The Karen people of Thailand are refugees from Myanmar and have no civil rights in Thailand. They are not a "recognized hill tribe". They rely 100% on tourism.

They welcome visitors to their village where they sell crafts that they make. The brass rings that appear to stretch their necks actually weigh down the collar bone and rib cage making their neck appear longer. There are not any known health consequences of doing so.

We arrived in Mae Hong Son Wednesday evening with little knowledge of what we would find. What we found was a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and a lake surrounded by a night market. We strolled the night market food stalls (as usual) and had a beer at a local disco.

Our guesthouse view was of the lake where the night market was. This picture is of Aaron checking out the scene the following morning from our guesthouse balcony.

Mae Hong Son gets its fair share of travellers, although far less than Pai (about 100 km away). We were there during low season and there we didn't see many other travellers. (maybe a couple) This is a great time to travel in Northern Thailand. The rainy season seems to be over and very few travellers are around. (with the exception of Pai) The roads are nicely paved, although very steep and full of sharp curves. 100 km can easily take 4 hours to travel.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

We made a visit to the "Fish Cave" in the Mae Hong Son Province on our way to Mae Hong Son from Pai. The "Fish Cave" is a cave with a stream flowing out of it (it flows under a mountain and out the cave) where hundreds of large Carp fish swim furiously trying to get into the cave. It is a phenomenon that nobody seems to understand.. Our guidebook said nobody knows why and the information around the park offered no answers either.

The top photo is looking down into the stream inside the cave. It difficult to make out the fish but I can assure you they are there.

The bottom photo is of Aaron checking out the fish downstream from the cave about 200 meters.

Our Suzuki doesn't have a lot of power but it does get us where we need to go.. Driving on the left is a lot of fun, the only hard part is navigating when many of the road signs are in Thai.

This picture is from the same mountain village I previously posted about.

We turned off the main highway on an unmarked road and found ourselves in this beautiful mountain village. The villagers smiled at us and welcomed us in to their town for a look around. The top picture shows a rice patty just on the edge of the village. We took a walk along it and found these boys swimming in the irrigation stream. They loved having us take their photo and show them the image on our camera.

Driving through the mountains between Pai and Mae Hong Son was breathtaking. The steep road winds its way through the jungle made up of bamboo and teak trees. In this photograph we had pulled over atop one of the highest mountain passes on the highway. The cool air was a refreshing change from the hot humid air in the valleys.

In the morning we woke up to the strangest site outside our bungalow. Five excavators made their way slowly up the river using their buckets as a stabalizer. They were widening the river as recent flash flooding had taken a toll on the bank of the river.

Chiang Mai was an amazing city. The markets were fantastic. This market is the Sunday Night Market and it was incredible. It seemed to go on forever and the food was great. There were loads of crafts, artwork, and food made in the region. There were barely any foreigners which was wonderful.

It is difficult to follow the tourist path without eating the tourist "Westernized-Thai food" and finding goods that are made solely for tourists.. Chiang Mai is a great town to get away from that. We found markets outside of the main tourist areas where we were the only westerners around. Nobody spoke English and none of the signs were in English. This is where we found the best Thai food we've had. It was a great experience.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

It's difficult to make out Aaron on the left of this picture.. but I had to share it with you as it is the best part of train travel. This is the "disco car" as we called it... they serve beer, food, and fantastic music with an amazing light show.

Aaron and I took an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Our 2nd class a/c sleeper was quite comfortable. The two seats we are sitting in here fold in to make the lower bunk while an upper bunk folds down from above.

Trains are a great way to travel in Thailand. They are reliable, affordable, and relatively nice. (If not nice, at least they are much more fun than a bus) Just don't arrive in the boarding area too early. The diesel engines pump out a lot of exhaust.

Here the sky-train track wraps its way through Bangkok near the traffic-congested Siam Square. There is a walkway below the skytrain which is quite useful if you want a breather from the crowded sidewalks below.

Aaron arrived on Friday the 13th and we’ve made the most of our time so far. We explored Bangkok via the sky-train the subway. The subway is the nicest and cleanest mass transit train I have ever been on. It is fast, efficient, and easy to use. The only drawback is that there is only one line. It offers connecting service to the sky-train which is also a very nice system. There are two sky-train lines and between the two systems you can travel around Bangkok to almost anywhere you want to go. This method of travel is much better than taxi or tuk-tuk. While taxis are nice, air conditioned, and incredibly cheap… they’re prone to sitting in giant traffic jams that make LA driving look like Eastern Montana.

Aaron and I have spent most of our time wandering through markets and eating almost anything we see. We generally buy some food, talk about how good it was, then go buy some different food. This was one street stall we decided to pass. This man was selling various bugs but the scorpions attracted the most attention. In this picture he is handling a live scorpion that will soon have the same fate as the fried scorpions below.

*I previously reported that these scorpions were "cockroaches". I don't know why I typed that.. As little as I know about eating bugs I did in fact know what these were.

I felt like we were "Lost in Translation" as we walked through the MBK shopping complex in Bangkok. We strolled by a series of karaoke pods where people of all ages pay money to sing along to their favorite songs. It was pretty funny watching people sing their hearts out while none of the sound escapes the booth.