Six glorious hours in a Sawngthaew

Trip Start Jan 10, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2010

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Sawngthaew ( reads something like "Songtow") is a pickup truck refitted to carry people, it literary means "two benches" which ... it has, not much else. It is an OK mean of transportation for say... up to an hour of a ride. You might get a better idea on this kind of transportation if you watch the video.
Anyways, got up at 6 am by a quarter to 7 I was at the bus station waiting for my Sawngthaew. 7:20 off we go: me, a big load of something and a smelly bag of fish. All exicited about the 6 hours ahead of me and wondering why would they call it "off the beaten track"?
For one: I was the only farang in that truck for the whole trip, haven't seen another westerner of it either. Two: some protions of the road were only penetrable by 4x4, luckly very short ride in those conditions. Third: the shaking and the dust and the getting really cozy with mountain tribe people definetely "off the beaten track".
I started all alone but very soon other people will join me for shorter or longer portions of the ride. This was probably the most exciting part of the whole thing next to the most amazing scenary of Northern Thailand seen at the speed of a normal motorcycle. People of all tribes, from very, very old and frail to some super cute kids we all tucked in, sometime 15 at a time, if it wasn't for me I'm sure the driver could have packed 20 souls in that thing.
The narrow road like all the roads in this region, follows the mountain ridges and valleys the best it can, and that makes for inumerable scarry tight curves, both on the way up and down of a similar amount of hills. All you can see close and far is jungle, and ocasionaly rugged clifs so steep that even that crazy vegetation couldn't hang on.
The villages we're passing by are mostly poor with all traditional for this parts bamboo houses covered with Ting Tong (not sure about the spelling) tree leafs. We stopped in a couple of the more well off vilages to drop people off or pick up more business. These villages I realized were border crossings into Burma, therefore bigger and better with paved streets, big beautiful teak houses even concrete ones. I could get a glimpse of Moei River and the boats that cross people and goods over to and from Burma, I was literary on the border. That explained the frequvent army and police road checks but for all the show of force I had to show my passport only once. In all the northwest they are on the hunt for ilegal immigrants from Burma, they couldn't care less for us Farangs.
My ass took a serious beating for these 6 glorious hours but it was all worth it! I would have kicked myself if I would have taken another route to the north.

In Mae Sariang a 2 hours wait for my bus to Mae Hong Song made it perfect for a good streching session and the first meal of the day. It was nothing else than a Phad Thai but she probably didn't noticed I wasn't Thai, or she did it on purpose, ... I cried like a school girl, and the hickups and the running nose... you cloud have melt steel in my mouth so hot that food was! It took one full hour, 1 liter of water and 2 Pepsi in the bottle to be able to feel my tongue again (here I'll leave the next morning story to your imagination...)

The next 5 hours to Mae Hong Son went uneventfull through the same fabulos landscape and it was probably the fear of dealing with that spicy food again on the way up that made me keep it down on that windy road. But I made it all in one piece, less few hundred papilae in my mouth and I was happy, very, very happy!
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Diana Diaconu on

"How to travel with a bag of smelly fish and make a (new) connection at the end of the day".
You left it to my imagination and I'm laughing out loud at this potential essay.

Off the beaten track looks interesting. Maybe you need to change it a bit. "How to travel with a small pillow"? Just so your precious body parts don't suffer so much.

Highly entertaining, Tony! Missing you here, but you partially make up for your absence with fun stories and great pictures. Way to go!

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