Pu Chi Fah

Trip Start Mar 21, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pu Chi Fah is one of Thailand's hidden treasures. I don't know if it's in the current Lonely Planet book, but it certainly isn't in the copy I have. Which is great! It means that there are far fewer farang wandering around the place.

The reason we travelled to the area was mainly work-related. Mirror are looking at introducing new villages for their homestay programme. We should have visited three new hilltribe villages - one populated by the Akha, one by Hmong and a Mien village (also known as Yao). Circumstances ensured that we only managed to get to the Mien village on the first of our two day trip.

It took approximately three hours in the pickup to get to our accommodation, which was at a resort a few minutes drive from Pu Chi Fah itself. Our host was also our contact and the main guide for the duration of the visit. He was a jovial, large chap who spoke no English. However, my Thai is slowly but surely coming along and I was able to hold some simple conversations without feeling completely hopeless.

After we had stowed our packs and cleaned ourselves up, we traveled in a two car convoy to the Mien village. While Om, Jaipar and Phi were discussing details about the homestay, the rest of us chilled out underneath some cool, shady trees, watching one of our guides getting dressed up in the Mien traditional costume. Sakura followed in this lengthy ritual (lengthy largely because the headwear is comprised of two long strips of material wound around the head before being tucked in).

After discussions were completed, we took another short car ride to Phu Sang waterfall. Climbing the earthen footpath to the top of the falls, we walked through some woods until we came across a bamboo-built path, set a few inches above the swampy ground. This took us, after a couple of incidents of peoples' feet going through the occasional rotten pole, to the end of the path where a hot spring bubbled up from the depths. On our return we noticed a large tree which had roots resembling, not only something from the set of 'Aliens', but also the head of an elephant.

The evening saw us, wrapped up against the cold, huddled outside eating a fresh homemade meal. It was interesting to watch Phi, Om, Jaipar and Ajee cook up the fare. Especially the 'Lap', a northern Thai delicacy. I thought Phi was joking when he explained one of the ingredients, until he shoved it under my nose to smell. Lap is made from raw beef, bashed and mashed with the back of a machete/large cooking knife, a number of herbs and spices, and the key ingredient. Key is a good word to use actually, as kee, in the Thai language, means excrement. The main ingredient of 'Lap' is a bowl full of the contents of a deceased cow's intestine - a watery mix of poo and pee (and whatever else you find dribbling out of the end of its pipes). I watched, partly in horror, partly in disbelief, partly in fascination, but mostly in the quiet satisfaction that I am vegetarian and was therefore not going to be offered any. However I did see them cut up my vegetables on the same block as they had previously mashed the meat (prior to mixing in the extras). But I am more relaxed about my eating habits now. I have to be, as although the Thais, and especially the people I know who are aware I'm veggie, are very helpful and accommodating when it comes to my dietary requirements, they don't always get it right. Sometimes I'll mention it, if it's too much for me to ignore, but mostly I bite my tongue and shovel it down anyway. After all, there's no one major reason I'm veggie, so it's largely habit and a fear of what meat will do to my stomach if I eat it again (there is still the distaste for eating an animal though).

Anyway, the meal was prepared, mine was delicious, and the 'Lap' was lapped up (sorry for the pun). But not by the other four western volunteers - luckily for them, the Thai staff didn't think it was something they could inflict on them so never mentioned it. I did tell them, but even John (who will 'eat anything once') decided not to go there.

After we ate, a fire was lit in front of the girl's rooms and we sat and chatted over a couple of beers, watching a beautifully clear night sky. As we were due to leave for Phu Chi Fah at 5.30am, I crashed out around 10.30pm and slept the best I have for a week or more. 5.30am duly came, with a very cold pre-dawn chill. The other volunteers hadn't been forewarned about the cold and so John and Kirsty were both unprepared with no really warm clothing to speak of. Once we reached the car park at Phu Chi Fah, they grabbed coffees while I went straight up the hill. Dawn was approaching and the sky was slowly brightening. Turning from a dark blue/black to a golden orange, as I trudged up the steep path. Reaching the top, I could safely say that the sights over the next hour or so were some of the best I've experienced in Thailand so far. You look down over a vast valley which has hills and small mountains poking their noses into the air above the early morning mist and fog which settles over everything during the cold season. Added to this sight is the rising sun, chasing away the shadows and changing the colour of everything it touches on the start of its journey across the sky.

We left the mountain top in great spirits, all agreeing on the beauty of the natural spectacle we had witnessed. A warming coffee kept me going until we returned to the resort where we breakfasted.

Phu Chi Fah literally means 'mountain point (to the) sky'. An apt description, which you will see if you look at the photograph from a distance. The edge of the cliff was filled with people, all waiting for the sun to rise. I only saw two other farang while there, which goes to show how much influence Lonely Planet can have on a place. Phu Chi Fah is a domestic tourist attraction, and I can only hope it remains that way.

The remainder of the day, before our return to Chiang Rai, was to consist of an hour long trek to a cave and through a forest to the source of a river. But what was meant to take an hour eventually turned into a five hour trek, up hills, across rocky outcrops clinging to the mountain as we clambered above a sheer drop, into the cave stumbling blindly as sunlight and torchlight came and went, through thickets of thorns, banana groves, and vine-ridden trees, over cabbage fields incongruously situated on mountainsides, and for a good three hours of the trek, walked down the stream from its source slipping and sliding over moss-covered boulders, small rapids and dodging bamboo sticks. I loved it!

Most of us were in fine fettle about the whole thing, apart from angela who complained pretty much all the way about her expensive trousers getting ruined by anonymous poo stains, and the length of time that the trek was taking. John, who had much more to moan about - he was in shorts, sandals and a vest t-shirt, was having a ball. He's too over the top sometimes, but he's 22 years old, loves his beer, is into similar music to me, and basically reminds way too much of myself at that age.

By the time we reached the end of the trek, at a Hmong village not the one we should have visited), it was to late to do much more than drive back to the resort, collect our things and take the pickup back to Chiang Rai.

I would love to recommend Phu Chi Fah to you all, because it is an incredible sight to see. But I'm afraid I cannot, as you may decide to come along, and then tell your friends about it, and they come etc etc - I don't want to see a Starbucks at the bottom of the hill in five years time.
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