Motorcycle road trip

Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
Trip End Feb 04, 2005

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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Thursday, December 23, 2004

Hello everybody,

Came back to Chiang Mai after Lampang.  Wanted a road trip so we headed on our motorcycles north to this town called Mae Rim.  Andy heard it had a monkey farm, snake farm, bungee jumping, shooting range and more.  We passed it only 10 minutes - not much of a road trip.  I agreed to a bungee jump (only 20 meters) if Andy went first.  Never found the place.  Never found much of anything since the signs were all in Thai.

So we kept driving and a few hours later ended up at some caves near Chiang Dao.  Pretty neat. It's a maze of caves that go about 675 meters through this mountain.  That's about seven football fields total.  There are different sized caverns that are connected by tunnels and sometimes really tiny crawl spaces.  I barely made it through a few of them.  Not everybody finishes the guided tour.  Guides with lanterns are required so you don't get lost.  The caves were pretty damp.  Moisture dripped down from the ceiling.  There were lots of rock formations of animals and temples to Buddha set up.  Looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.  Wish I could tell you more about it geologically, but the guide spoke real limited English.

We left Chiang Mai about 8am.  About 6PM and 215 kilometers later, we ended up at this little town called Pai.  We're getting close to the Northwest border of Myanmar.  Originally we were going to spend a night but loved it so much we stayed six.  It's a sleepy little town on a river.  A friend had been there years ago before it was listed in the guidebooks.  Now, it's been discovered.  Just got its first stoplights a few months before we got there.  Ran into a number of expats who were retiring there.  To get around the one-month visa limit, they make regular runs across the border for a new stamp.

This area is close to the hill tribe peoples.  There are about six main groups of ethnic minorities that still maintain their original dress, customs and so forth.  Lots of people go trekking in the mountains and stay with the hill tribes in simple A-frame huts.  One of the more popular groups is the 'Longneck.'  The women put gold rings around their necks to heighten their heads.  We never went on a trek, but it's pretty enjoyable to get out in the more remote areas.

The place we stayed was right on the Mae Nam Pai River.  Just a simple teak bungalow.  At night, fell asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs.  A big mouse woke me up one night.  A couple days later, I found a nest tucked away in the corner with some babies.  In the mornings, I got into this ritual of sitting in this hanging chair by the river, having tea, reading the paper and watching the sun melt the mist.

The first day there, I was standing on one of the streets and thought I heard someone call my name.  So, I turned around and saw an empty street.  Had to be a mistake I thought.  Who do I know here?  Sitting across the street in one of the many bistros was Tamy, one of the mahout trainees from Lampang.  Pretty funny.  So we caught up and traded stories.

Outside of town there are some hot springs.  One night I drove out to try them out.  The private ones were closed so went to the public springs in the national park.  Was pretty crowded but found a spot near the bottom.  Pretty clean compared to the ones I've seen back home.  Anyway, there were many locals bathing there.  I mean, they were soaping themselves and washing with their clothes on.  I read about this in the guidebook but didn't really believe it.  It's true.  They soap and rinse underneath their clothes.  When finished, they put on a big towel and change back into their regular clothes and go.  It seemed perfectly acceptable.  It's a little mind shift to realize that for some people this is what's practical and necessary.  I think many here just don't have access to or funds for running water.  I talked to one waitress who says she makes 100 Baht a day.  By comparison, the average American makes about 4,000 a day.

The nights at Pai get pretty cold.  Had to buy a jacket as I left everything back in Chiang Mai.  Six days in the same set of clothes wasn't real exciting but that's travel.

One of the interesting things here is the food.  Many more choices and flavors than you get back home.  One time in a store I picked out some chocolate milk and got strong ginger soy milk instead.  At the night market in Pai, I picked out some honeydew melon slices.  Might have been cucumber but either way, it'd be a good snack in the morning.  I ran into the owner of the guesthouse and she looked at me real astonished.  Got green pumpkin instead which requires cooking.  She was gracious enough to trade me some bananas and oranges for it.  For those of you who think I'm daring, it's time to meet Andy.  One night, he was going to buy a bag of fried crickets.  The vendor offered him some to taste first.  They're apparently pretty salty so he changed his mind.

A few days into the trip, I ventured to the other side of town.  It was kind of nice to see the locals and get away from the "farangs" (foreigners).  Walked into a barbershop and got some funny looks.  It's interesting to communicate without words.  They pampered me with more care and attention then any barber back home.  It's fun to walk into the restaurants too.  One of the first things they do is point out what's NOT spicy.  Good thing, too!  Even then I can barely eat some of what's served.

My guide book mentioned farang as having a negative connotation.  At first it bothered me, but not anymore.  Most of the tourists just don't care about their appearance.  Casual is one thing, but dirty and sloppy seems to be the rave.  Farang may actually be pretty appropriate when you consider how respectful Thai culture is.  I do my part to be clean and neat even though I'll never be confused as a local.  Someone thought I was a German schoolteacher.  That works.  One of the things I like about Thailand is that when someone asks where you're from (both locals and tourists), they really mean it.  People are from ALL over.  Americans are just one small slice of the pie.  I'm getting a lesson in identifying races.  This whole time, I thought all the Asians here were Thai.  Nope.  There's actually a pretty strong Japanese presence here.  It was a little embarrassing to overlook such an easy distinction.

So...I wish you all a very joyous holiday.  Next stop, Laos.  On Christmas Eve and day, I'll be rafting on some river to Luang Prabang.  Don't worry if you hear about any attacks in Thailand.  They'll all be located down south near the Malaysian border.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and smiling Buddha!

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