Thailand Redux: A slice of Pai (ปาย)

From Soppong I made my way to Pai.  This (once) one main street town is a major tourist trap.  It had started out as a hippy heaven and is today a hippy wannabe heaven, retaining its druggy charm with suspicious looking herbs and mushrooms offered.  An overzealous crack down on these items by the Thai authorities have made the sale underground but still quite easily available to tourist.

Originally I did not want to stop here but my accommodation at Soppong was fully booked.  Nevertheless I found Pai to have a few activities for those clean-living, say-no-to-drugs boring people as well.

Pai is surrounded by beautiful mountains thus making it a great place to walk and hike.  From Pai I took a motorbike taxi (130 Baht return) to my last and final KMT (Chinese Nationalist) village call Santicorn.       

From the village center I made my way up to the lookout point.

Crossing farms and tea plantations.

With beautiful views of the mountain range.

It was an easy walk with tared and cement roads with the occasional farm dirt paths.

At the lookout point there is a tea house with an entrance fee.

I came back down to enjoy the fanfare of the village center which includes a manual ferris wheel.

This KMT village seems a bit more dolled-up compare to the others I have visited.

It has mud houses,canals and even a man-made lake with a little pavilion.

Very pretty even though its not that authentic.

You can even get a pony ride around the ‘lake’.

Yunanese food and Chinese tea are also sold here. 

I found a back exit from the village center to the real Chinese village

Mostly residential houses with pretty gardens and lanterns hanging everywhere.

At the end of the day, I ended up liking Pai.  Minus the hippy wannabes, suspicious herbs and tourist learning to ride bikes….. Yeah it’s a typical pretty little town among the mountains in Northern Thailand.

The night market is one of the liveliest next to Chiang Mai’s.

Other than that it’s just a nice town to sit back and relax sipping coffee in a cafe watching the world go by.

The bus station is very near Wat Klang and buses and vans leave for both Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai directions (which is my next destination).  

And yes bring plastic bags or pills or ginger whatever, the ride is very twisty going back to Chiang Mai.  I also found that riding shot-gun (next to driver) reduces the impact. Nevertheless be prepared, this includes hearing and smelling your fellow passenger vomiting.   

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Day 20 - Mino Park. Best time to visit in autumn but it was a nice walk in the forest nevertheless.

Hankyu Private Rail from Osaka Umeda, make a change at Ishibashi for Mino-O - cost ¥ 260 one way (bout an hour).

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Sakura at Sakurajima…

On the Nagisa Lava Trail.

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Thailand Redux: Hiking Mae Sariang แม่สะเรียง

Made it to Mae Sariang to hike around the Western Thongchai Range.  This time I took the advise of my outdated Lonely Planet and hired a guide from Mr. Salaveen.  The day trip cost only 600 baht per person for a Japanese dude and me.  Lunch and transportation was included, though this was my first time taking public transportation to a hiking point with my guide. 

The hike took us across a variety of ecosystems and terrain from dry grasslands to thick rainforest cutting through farmlands and villages.  Found a cute calf hiding among the dry bushes, pretty good camouflage.  

The people in this parts are predominantly from the Karen tribe.  Our guide himself is also a Karen, making communication with the villages much better.  He was also very knowledgeable about the flora of the area, he kept feeding us interesting berries that possibly cured my laryngitis! 

We cut across farmlands, used village dirt roads and went into the jungle.

The main commodity crops that are grown here are arabica coffee and cabbages.  At a particular farm, our guide managed to get some Karen potatoes for lunch and some papayas and bananas for snacks along the way.  Love the farm fresh food. 

The Karen people that we met in the villages were very kind and friendly.  Do note that they hunt for food so don’t be alarm if you see some of them carrying a rifle.

We stopped at this village to have lunch.  It was pretty awesome to have lunch in the kitchen of this family.  Lunch was a simple noodle soup with potatoes and bananas for deserts.  Hand rolled spiced tobacco were also offered but…. no thanks

The family’s house has a great view of the surrounding valley and hills.

After a huge bowl of noodle soup it was time to be on the move again.

The hike was not too challenging, but did have some problems in the jungle where the soil was loose.  Don’t want to imagine doing this during the wet seasons.

Towards the end of the hike, we were rewarded with a cool shower at the waterfalls, bout 8 of them!  They were not very big or high but really refreshing.

There’s a visitor center at the top with picnic and bathroom facilities.

After 8 hours we reached the main road.

Had to cut through dry grass and Mexican sunflower bushes to get to the main road.  Some dogs accompanied us while we attempted to hitchhike back to Mae Sariang.  Managed to stop a van and got back to town by sundown. 

There’s nothing much about Mae Sariang but you’ll get the off the beaten path feeling here.  It has many tourist infrastructures including teak house hotels and riverside pubs!

There is a monastery in the town center and since Mae Sariang is close to the Burmese border, the architecture is more Burmese than Thai.

Mae Sariang is a cool place to stop by on the MHS Loop.  It is not overcrowded with tourist and trekking here is superb.

You can get to Mae Sariang from Chiang Mai via comfortable 2nd class buses.  Takes bout 4 hours and cost less than 400 baht.  Do note that the last hour of the journey may be difficult for those with motion sickness!  

You can also get to Mae Sariang from Mae Hong Son.

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Thailand Redux: Hiking Mae Salong (แม่สลอง)

Mae Salong is a settlement on the Daen Lao Range, part of the Shan Hills.  It was settled by many hill tribes mainly the Akha people though the centuries.  More recently Chinese nationalist (KMT) who lost the war against the Communist have made their homes here.  It soon became notoriously known as the largest heroine refinery in the world and Mae Salong was a restricted area for many decades.

Fortunately thanks to the heroic Thai Royal Army, the drug lord Khun Sa has been defeated and Mae Salong is open to tea and outdoors enthusiasts.

First thing to notice and to climb is the hill overlooking the village.  The summit is crowned by the Phra Boromathat Chedi, built to honor the late Princess Mother.     

From the top you’ll get a panoramic view of Mae Salong.

At the foot of the hill is the Wat Santikhiri.  Use the stairs at the side of this Wat to get to the top. The climb only takes about 30 mins’ plus.

You may also want to explore the Akha people’s villages around this hill.

Majority of the hill tribes around this parts are of the Akha tribe.

And around 7 in the morning, the market in front of Shin Sane Guesthouse (where I stayed) is bustling with hill tribes selling their produce, crafts and wares.

Hiking around Mae Salong can be done by hiring a guide or DIY (which I did).  Shin Sane provides a pretty good map to do this. 

First stop at an Akha village.

I did this trip in December so the Sakuras (cherry blossoms) are not yet in bloom, they usually bloom in mid January. 

Then I reached a Lisu village greeted by some water buffaloes.

Another Akha village.

Mae Salong is also famous for its tea plantations.  Gone are the days of opium farming, the Thai government in collaboration with the Taiwanese government is able to successfully substitute it with tea.

The yellow flower (below middle) is the Mexican Sunflower. It usually blooms in November covering the hills in a spectacular flash of bright yellow.  I did not have any luck with the flower seasons…

The DIY hiking (based on Shin Sane map) took about 4 hours across farms and village roads covering bout 4 villages.

Next morning before I leave Mae Salong, I went for another hike to nearby Akha villages.  Mae Salong is just full of hills and valleys to climb and explore and from what I experience and hear, it’s also pretty safe. 

You may also hire ponies for trekking.

Mae Salong or now known officially as Santikhiri can be reached easily from Chiang Rai.  From Chiang Rai take a bus heading north for Mae Sai.  Ask to be dropped at Ban Basang, will cost about 30 baht.  Ban Basang is 15 mins’ after the town of Mae Chan, remember to ask the conductor to inform you of your stop.  At the Ban Basang crossroad turn left and about 150 meters you’ll see the songthaew (pickup trucks) heading for Mae Salong.  Be warned that departure and cost depends on the load capacity of the truck, for a French couple and me it cost 150 bath per person.  The 2.5 hours plus journey would be difficult for those with motion sickness so be prepared.    

Besides Thai and hill tribe languages, mandarin Chinese is also widely spoken here.

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Day 17 - Hiked the hills of the Aranyik (Forest) on the western sector of Sukhothai Historical Park.

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Day 11 - In the hippie colony of Pai. Best thing about Pai are the hills that surrounds it.

Ps. I so agree with Eric Cartman!

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Day 7 - Having lunch at this Karen granny’s kitchen, was one of the best part of the trek…

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