The Longest Day

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Jan 172008
 

Hmmm, I have too much Thai currency left over this morning. This is a dangerous town in which to have this problem. But before indulging in any splurges, I need to solve the packing problem and arrange for transport to the airport. I dropped by a cafe for a tea and to get on the free wi-fi to check my flight schedule and the maximum allowed box size. Then back to the Boathouse to assess what I have and cool down for the next phase.

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On My Own

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Jan 152008
 

I had planned to catch an inexpensive public bus down to Pattaya, stay over one night to do an introductory scuba dive, and return to the Grand Tower that evening. Bad news: the new rate at the Grand Tower would be more than double the group rate. Not worth it, but what was Plan B? One of our drivers would take me down to Pattaya, leaving at noon. This gave me three hours to sort out the accommodations, pack, and check out. Oh boy.

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The Grand Finale

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Jan 142008
 

After a quick nibble at the Diamond RiverSide’s breakfast buffet, we made our way to the Chiang Mai airport in the most dilapidated van I have ever seen. The split upholstery revealed a broken-down foam cushion; I think my cheeks were clenched all the way to the terminal just holding the seat together. After a little tea tasting in one of the gift shops, and browsing the others, we eventually boarded. One trip member somehow managed to fit in a foot massage before boarding. The flight was uneventful, and we amused ourselves in our little row with some trip photos from the laptop.

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Temples and Feasts

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Jan 132008
 

Today we would visit Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, the nearby mountaintop temple so well known that it is said you haven’t been to Chiang Mai if you didn’t see this temple. Along the way, we stopped for breakfast at a noodle shop with cushy booths, to have our choice of fried noodles or soup noodles. The beef soup was well flavored and the meat with tasty; even the crunchy tendon wasn’t bad. A little fruit chaser and we were on our way.

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Singing for my Supper

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Jan 122008
 

For breakfast we strolled to the morning market — completely distinct from the night bazaar — and grabbed our meal from various carts, eating on our feet along sidewalks and busy aisles. Fresh jackfruit segments first, then deep fried bananas and yams, gooey yam balls, oily but tasty coconut pancakes, corn fritters, sticky rice with chilli-sugar ground dried shrimp, pork rinds with green chilli paste, sour sausage on a stick, and more. Eventually we made our way to the cart where a woman served up scoops of homemade young coconut “slush.” We chartered a little bus (with benches for 5 facing each other in a tall camper-shell-like enclosure) and sped back to the hotel.

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Shopping, shopping, shopping

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Jan 112008
 

After breakfast, we began a marathon tour of shopping destinations across Chiang Mai. At the silk place, we read about the lifecycle of the silk worm and nice sales ladies suggested various overpriced items, available today at a discount. At the silver place, we watched a workman pound intricate patterns into a piece of metal, and then shopped among various overpriced items while nice sales ladies suggested their possible uses. I actually was not able to resist a silver bowl here; it must be the elephants. We visited another celdaon factory whose products were not quite up to the standard we had seen yesterday, but whose prices were even more affordable. And we visited an antique shop or two where the nice stuff was well out of range. We were beat. Continue reading »

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Thailand’s Second Capital

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Jan 102008
 

If anything, the road from Pai to Chiang Mai is even twistier and has more altitude changes than the road from Mae Hong Son to Pai. After about 90 minutes we stopped at a tea shop for another tasting and a brief glimpse into the tea-making process. Our proprietor poured a locally grown Chinese style black tea and a locally grown green tea (with a more Japanese character). In the back, a man was wilting tea leaves in a drum rotating over a fire. The leaves moved from one pile on the floor, into the drum and back out again, and then were swept into another pile on the floor. It was not obvious that this was something you would want in your mouth. Too late, we had already tasted. Anyway, there was little time to dally. A few purchases and we were on our way.

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Thampla, Tham Lot, and the Road to Pai

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Jan 092008
 

Mae Hong Son

We arose early and headed to our next destination, the mountain town of Pai, often the chilliest of the three spots we visit. First, though, according to a long tradition, the young women from the hill tribes who work at the Fern resort posed with the group for photos. Smiling in their make-up and bright clothing, they then posed with Kasma and her husband. And then posed with the single men in the group (all two of us). We knew we would miss the comforts of this resort, but we gamely loaded into our vans and returned to the congee/noodle shop for our final breakfast in Mae Hong Son. Along with our soups or fried noodles (I had the noodles this time; very filling), we had rather unsweet mangoes from the market, custard with sticky rice, and smoky shredded coconut in small glutinous rice balls. A little fresh squeezed tangerine juice, some caffeine, and we were ready for the next leg of our journey, through the twistiest mountain roads.

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The Borderlands

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Jan 082008
 

Mae Hong Son

This morning we would breakfast in town on noodles and congee before heading up into the hills. The Vietnamese style soup noodles were generous on the pork products, but the broth was not as fully developed as one might like. We turned the corner into the market and picked up some spices and miscellaneous ingredients before piling into the vans to head up, up, up the road North. Our first stop was an Agro-Tourism center featuring experimental projects and a variety of instructional displays regarding, for example, how to grow coffee and avocados, two introduced crops, in the area. Nice flowers, but it was getting hot in the sun.

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Elephant Ride

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Jan 072008
 

Mae Hong Son

The day’s schedule was full: floating down a river on a bamboo raft, riding an elephant in a seat made for two, a bit of shopping, lunch in town, then a three hour jungle hike near the resort, the second Buddha talk, and dinner back in town. When would there be time to process photos or lounge on the Internet?

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Temple Day in Mae Hong Son

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Jan 062008
 

Mae Hong Son

A 6:30 AM start is never easy, and especially not after so much Sang Som. But being left behind was not an acceptable alternative, so I arrived in the lobby with moments to spare. We arrived at the market with many stalls still covered with tarps, but Royal Congee was busy; we had to wait a bit for enough tables to open up. As the name implies, the restaurant specializes in rice porridge. We chose between plain porridge and porridge served over a raw egg, and added our choice of the usual seasonings (vinegar infused with chillies, crushed dried red chillies, and so on). The porridge was a bit thin, but nicely peppery and gingery. As we slurped, Kasma arrived every few moments with treats from around the market: khanom krok coconut milk pancakes, crushed peanuts in a small tapioca flour ball with thin sprigs of cilantro, and my favorite, the red banana sweets. Soon we were quite full, and we browsed the market for a while before returning to our vans.

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The Road to Mae Hong Son

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Jan 052008
 

We had a long drive ahead of us, so we started with a breakfast of sour sausage fried rice and hot tea. We headed toward Chiang Mai and then swung South and West toward the border with Burma and Mae Hong Son province. Our first stop was at the Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum, a showcase of natural production techniques for hand made cotton fabrics, including annato and other materials used in dying cotton thread, all grown on the premises. Naturally we lent our support in the gift shop.

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Cultural Exchange

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Jan 042008
 

At 6:30 AM my travel alarm showed 53 degrees. And it felt even chillier. The resort provides a heavy layer of blankets, and comfy slippers for the cold tile floor in the bathroom, but my head was cold; I need a hat. I peered out the front door to investigate my water heater pilot light, and a resort employee with a lighter appeared like magic. I was back in business, but could only manage a hair wash in the frigid bathroom. The rest will have to wait.

Breakfast was a plate of fried noodles with a few bits of egg, meat, and vegetable — and all the optional chillies you can handle. Kasma’s husband Michael shared a few leaves of Northern Thai green tea which brewed up tasty and not too intense. We were ready for an adventure.

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Exploring the North

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Jan 032008
 

Sukhothai

On our final morning in Sukhothai, we stopped at a local noodle place for a breakfast of duck noodle soup. We then wandered the local market (adjacent to the temple) and nearby streets looking for anything of interest. I tried some warm corn and potato balls which were a bit too dense and mild to recommend. We headed back to the main highway for our journey North.

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