NORTHERN THAILAND

May 20 Ma Sa Valley Loop

We reserved bikes to ride the Ma Sa Valley Loop (100 kms) but we awoke to pouring rain so we turned in the bikes for a jeep. After a few wrong turns we headed out of Chiang Mai toward the lush green valley west of town.

Once out of the city, the countryside was a wonderful change from Phuket, with patchworks of rolling green hills and cultivated fields with mountainous backdrops. An agriculture area, we passed many workers in their fields.

May 21 Elephant Conservation Camp

The Elephant Conservation Camp was the highlight of our trip to North Thailand. We spent the day learning how to become a mahout, communicating in "elephant language" and riding the huge beasts until we were to sore to walk!....more

Journey to Mae HongSon

May 22

We arranged to rent a 4 x 4 in Chiang Mai and picked it up in the evening with the plan for an early start to cover a long distance to Pai in northern Thailand. The vehicle was a typical rental wreck, a Samari jeep.

However we were greeted with a flat tire and no wrench to change it with. Furthermore, the spare was not the right size. So we called the rental company and they eventually, 2 hours later, came to the rescue. When they attempted to change the tire they noticed that the brakes were faulty so thought they had better fix them before allowing us to head into the remote hills of Thailand (good idea).

It was many hours later that we finally departed Chiang Mai, headed for the Hill Tribes of Thailand.

Our drive took us through teak forests, limestone cliffs riddled with caves, waterfalls and remote  bamboo hut villages.

We stopped for lunch in Pai, supposedly a resort town but one we found very unique. We ate in a little restaurant and couldn't help notice that time had been frozen in the 60's. The music, the clothing, the decor, all the retro Western influences of the past, preserved as if time could stand still forever.

Cave Lodge

A resort called Cave Lodge had been recommended to us and when we sped past a little hand written sign on a weathered plank nailed to a tree, we stopped and backtracked to the turnoff. The road headed into the jungle and quickly deteriorated to a narrow broken gravel path. We travelled for miles coming upon many isolated villages, their fences inches from the roadside.

It seemed that we were travelling to nowhere as there were no other indications of this so called Cave Lodge. Just when we were sure we were lost and ready to turn back, we came upon a group of rustic bungalows set on a hillside overlooking the river.

The lodge itself was a huge open room with an area in the center for a firepit surrounded by low wooden tables where one could sit on the floor. Emerging from the kitchen in the back was a friendly young girl followed by a number of young children. She showed us around the lodge and we checked into one of the bungalows.

Our room was large with a balcony, the walls made from woven bamboo that apparently let the bugs in because they lay dead all around. A wooden ladder in the center of the room led to a loft. The bathroom was well equipped with modern facilities, even a shower.

After we got settled in we went to the lodge. It was then that the owner John Spies appeared. John is an Ozzie that got "stuck" in Thailand 30 years ago and is perfectly content with his simple life's nitch as caver, trekker and host. We soon learned that there was only one other guest staying at the Lodge, a young American girl. When we met her we were surprised to find out that she had been crew on Sililona, the large Indonesia ship that we had partied on throughout the Rally!

We went for a walk along the river and took shelter from the rain in a tourist information centre that housed displays of the surrounding caves, but unfortunately written in Thai.

 When the rain let up we continued our walk to the Cave entrance, where swiflets darted overhead and some Water Buffalo took refuge from the weather.

Along the bank of the river, a local was building bamboo rafts, probably in preparation for the tourists. Since we didn't have a lantern we did not venture too far into the cave.

Back at the lodge we had a cheap meal while watching the fireflies buzz around the trees below. Later we climbed into our bed only to find that geckos had left us some treats in the sheets!

May 23

After breakfast we checked out and bought a manuscript of John Spies life in Thailand. He was in the process of getting his book published and signed our unedited version. 

The fields were dotted with the hill tribe people hoeing the rich red soil of the rice fields.

Everywhere the road was under construction, making passing oncoming cars treacherous on the washed out, steep sided roads that never offered guard rails. Our destination.... Mae Hong Song to visit the Long Neck Hill Tribes. There are many hilltribes in Northern Thailand, including Akha, Hmong, Lisu, Karen, Yao and Lahu. If you are interested in learning about these unusual people check out http://www.wayfarersthailand.com/hilltribes.htm

Long Neck Hill Tribes of Mae Hong Song, a community of Burmese refuges where women wear coils of brass rings around their necks. more....

After our tour of the two Long Neck villages, we were back in the truck, jostling down the road toward the highway that led to Ba Farang. The road was twisty, steep with switchbacks offering bird's eye views of the teak forested valleys below

Along the road we passed villagers in their tribe's traditional woven garb, some women smoking pipes while herding their Brahma cattle or water buffalo down the road. Each tribe has different dress.

Sometimes we would find ourselves herding water buffalo down the road as they lumbered along refusing to get out of our way despite honking horns!

Although we didn't actually see any elephants on the road, signs warned us of their presence.

We reached Ba Farang late afternoon. The town was small and non-descript so we just checked into a family run resort called Farang Resort. Our bungalow was cheap and spacious and surrounded by jungle, although despite the abundance of geckos, the ants had full run of the bathroom. I had to hose the parades of ants off the walls before I could use the shower. Lots of geckos scurrying around the room did not seem to have the ants on their menu!

We both treated ourselves to a massage given by a little Burmese gal who had aspirations to leave Thailand for a bigger, better life.

We had dinner in the outdoor restaurant at the resort, watching the flash of the fireflies all around. Back in the room we were lulled asleep by the nocturnal choir of the forest. The buzzing of cicadas creshcending in waves, the crickets shrill croaking in competition.... the clicking of the geckos and the intermittent whooping of the gibbons settled in the surrounding trees.

May 24

We got an early start and headed east into the mountainous ranges of Thailand. The scenery was spectacular, terraces hills and valleys, rice fields and hillside villages. Since we were so close to the Burmese border, we encountered several checkpoints.

Highest Spot in Thailand

Doi Inthanon National Park encompasses the highest mountain In Thailand. This range is part of the great Himalayan range which originates in Napal. The doi (mountain) is largely granite with lower elevations mostly limestone formations containing a number of caves. The park covers an area of 48,240 ha.  The summit with its perpetual misty clouds is an important factor in the maintenance of the moist evergreen forest.

We drove the steep vertical climb to the mossy covered summit of Doi Inthanon, at 2565 meters, a climate more like Canada than Thailand. The temperature has been known to drop as low as -8 degrees C. and frosts are not unusual during the cool, dry season.

At the summit was a celestial observation dome and weather station. Above the clouds, we took a walk along a nature path with a boardwalk that led to a waterfall


Our windy road down from the mountain offered grandiose views interspersed with the usual roadway obstructions of cattle or construction.

We reached Chiang Mai early afternoon and took in the Bo SangTourist Village, the center for woodworking and wood products. There were some really beautiful pieces of teak furniture. We continued our quest in search of the perfect wooden elephant but were still unsuccessful!

The area was chock-a-block with wooden carvings, souvenirs and full size statues, like the one pictured right.

We checked into a noisy but cheap room down the lane from where we had previously stayed. Again I had battle with the ants. We had a lazy evening, watching a movie on our computer.

The following morning we caught our plane back to Bangkok.




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