Ride to Um Phang

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, December 3, 2006

We set out for Um Phang from Sukhothai at about 9 a.m.  First it was a tuk-tuk ride to the bus station.  The minivan to Mae Sot (the gateway to Um Phang) was full, so we had to take a bus to Tak, which is about half way there.  From there we caught a mini-bus (our third form a transportation that day) to Mae Sot.  We arrived at about 2:00 p.m, but the next songthaew (a truck) heading to Um Phang didn't leave until 3:30.  So we caught a very full songthaew to Um Phang and spent the next five hours winding our way through the mountains to our remote destination.  Lindsey gets motion sickness, so the ride was a bit brutal for her despite having taken Dramamine.  The curves don't bother me, but much of the road for the last couple of hours isn't paved.  So it was a bumpy and jostling ride sitting on a narrow bench in the back of a truck.  It was like riding a mechanical bull for 4 hours.  Which is impressive, because my previous record was 4 seconds.  It was unpleasant.
We sped around blind corners and made razor sharp turns.  But the vehicle was packed so full of people that it kept us from being dislodged from our seats and flying out of the open tailgate and into the dark abyss of the jungle.  The wind picked up after the sunset and it cooled off considerably.  The night was damp and cold and we finally arrived in Um Phang well after 8 p.m.  It only took us a dozen hours to travel the 200 miles from Sukhothai.
We arrived and found that the city was having a festival.  I assume it was to celebrate our arrival.  We walked toward what we hoped was our guesthouse and had to battle our way through crowds of Thais who looked mesmerized by our existence.  I noticed a large boxing ring set up in one of the plazas.  I was hoping it was a permanent structure used to settle local disputes and drunken arguments, but it turns out that it was only in place for a few days because Muay Thai boxing was part of the festival.
A very lovely woman saw us wandering aimlessly with our giant packs sticking up above the crowd.  We looked like two lost donkeys in a sea of revelers.  She asked us where we were staying and was kind enough to give us a ride.  The woman at the guesthouse informed us that there was only one room left and it was reserved.  We told her that was us who made the reservation.  She reiterated that there was only room left...and that it was reserved.  Yes, for us.  Her look made it clear that she was intent on sending us away.  Fortunately the woman who had given us a ride acted as a translator and the guesthouse employee grudgingly gave us our room.
We were shown to our bungalow.  It looked lovely.  It was far away from the main portion of the property, and despite the darkness I could see that it was surrounded by lush greenery, a pond on one side, and terraced hills in the background.  I couldn't believe this was only costing us $7 a night.  The room looked cozy enough.  Everything was made of dark, lacquered wood, and it had an attached bathroom on the back of the tiny house.  She left us to get settled in. 
As we got situated we noticed we were not the only guests in the bungalow.  There were several dozen mosquitos hovering in clouds around the room.  Lindsey started clapping and stomping her feet, East Texas hoe-down style, and sending many of the tiny insects to their death.  I inspected the bathroom, which was full of standing water and provided a nice home for a plethora of insects.  I quickly retreated back into the bedroom, carrying with me many of the mosquitos that had attached themselves to my flesh.  I did an epileptic seizure/disco spin/self flagellation in an effort to kill all my new friends.  We thought it would be a good idea to hide under the sheets and go to sleep.  But there was no sheet, just a couple of rough blankets.  There were not what most would consider pillows.  They were Thai style, meaning they were just an eighth of a couch cushion, square and firm, and relentlessly uncomfortable.  I decided I wanted 6 of my dollars back.
I sprayed myself lavishly with insect repellent and dressed myself from head to toe.  I was well defended.  Bug spray, socks, pants, long-sleeved shirt, full body armor.  I was impregnable.  So they bit my eyebrows, which swelled up, and I woke the next morning looking heavily brow ridged and cave mannish.
Well, I thought it was morning because I heard roosters crowing.  But cartoons are a lie, and roosters crow at all hours.  It's not a single call to announce dawn.  It's an incessant barking that last from the hours of around 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.  I didn't understand how a single rooster could have so much energy or so much breath.  It was endless.  But it turns out that our little jungle bungalow is adjacent to some sort of cock-fighting breeding grounds and there are several dozen roosters living just a few feet way.
Needless to say I didn't wake up refreshed or terribly happy to be alive.  But we looked out our windows and saw Thailand surrounding us.  Green of every hue in every direction.  Brilliantly colored flowers seemed to grow without assistance all over the village.  Mountains surrounded us.  The air was cool.  We woke up to a perfect day and the previous night's madness disappeared like an unpleasant dream.
So next...we'll have a look around.
Some of the photos are from the ride back from Um Phang.  Shhhhh.  Don't tell anyone.
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