Although Mae Hong Son lacks many of the conveniences of a major city, the relaxed pace of life (not including our itinerary) and fresh mountain air will be much missed in coming days. Still, it’s time to return to the hustle and bustle of modern Thailand.
The Fern Resort staff efficiently collected our bags from our porches, and we met up in the parking lot for the traditional group photo. Kasma has discovered that a 4×6″ print magically brings smiles to the faces of the pretty hill tribe women who work here so they dress up for the opportunity to get their twice annual photos. Of course, this only works if you visit regularly; the rest of us are just paparazzi passing through.
Vietnamese Breakfast (#3)
We returned to the coffee shop a third time. This time I joined the congee eaters for long-cooked steaming hot rice porridge with various pork parts (some tastier than others) and a raw egg. I won’t have a fourth visit here to try the fried noodles, but I can make those a bit more easily back home. We had a lot to squeeze in today, so no time to run back into the market for more spices. We hit the road for Pai, looping North before turning East.
Tham Pla Fish Cave
With the mists still lying heavily on the mountains, we stopped at a local park where a gently flowing spring-fed stream leads to a cave. Although humans cannot enter the cave, there are openings in the rock through which you can see down into the stream, which is thick with blue carp. The waters are rich with nutrients tossed down by visitors — sold by vendors at both ends of the path — and the fish grow quite fat here. We wondered whether they are ever harvested (because we never stop thinking about eating?).
At the park exit one finds various vendors selling the usual colorful goods. Plus vendors grilling sweet potatoes, bananas, and packets of banana-leaf wrapped sticky rice with either sweet potatoes or bananas. These were tasty, if a bit starchy. Another vendor was roasting husked young coconuts on a charcoal grill, being sure to rotate them off the fire every now and again to avoid an explosion (which I’m sure would be very painful). The ones we bought had been roasted some time ago and refrigerated, so we had both a refreshing chilled drink and the tender coconut meat. I don’t think I’m losing weight.
The first major stop along the highway provided 180 degree views of the mountains and, across the narrow highway, stalls offering clothing, bags, sweet potatoes, local honey, etc. etc.
Kasma visits this village regularly to shop for handicrafts and to distribute photos. Coaxing a smile from a child is hard work, so there were extended photo sessions. It also takes quite some time to sort through dozens of slightly different vibrantly colored bags, checking the shoulder strap length, zipper operation, and price, so the shopping was none too quick. After stopping at several homes, and being confronted by vendors in the middle of narrow streets, we finally departed the village well behind schedule. (For the record, I bought 6 bags and 1 hat from 4 different vendors. What will I do with all of them?!)
Tham Nam Lod
This locally operated cave attraction is named for the water running through it. You enter on a bamboo raft topped with a few squat wooden benches and disembark at the first cavern. Note to travelers: do not leave your water bottle or fish food on the raft, a different raft will take you on from here. Whoops. The first cavern is remarkably tall, with stalactites and stalagmites of considerable width. Our guides each carried one of the old fashioned lanterns you need to pump to maintain the flame, and this also helps keep the temperature inside quite warm. Occasionally during our stroll through the first and second caverns (the latter called the Doll Cave due to its smaller features) they pointed out formations that might resemble another object: elephant, crocodile, UFO. One particular stalagmite with a long narrow extension might someday be called “the finger.” I decided not to climb up to the third cavern, the coffin cave, as I have braved the bat guano sprinkled staircase twice before. We ambled back to the park exit through a light forest. No coconut sorbet cart showed up this year to make Thai sundaes (coconut sorbet on a bed of sweet sticky rice with sliced palm fruits and crunch whole peanuts on top), but maybe we’ll get another taste somewhere else?
Hut Ing Pai
After one last viewpoint, the road straightened as we neared Pai and we turned off to Hut Ing Pai. We were welcomed with several baskets of fresh fruit on a table outside their dining room, including mangosteen, tangerines, sweet tamarind, and sapodilla (I can’t recall the Thai name). After gorging a bit, we headed to our room. Compared with the last two resorts, this one is a major downer, with dim lighting and uncomfortable beds (and an extra twin bed crammed into the room). But for one night I think we can handle it.
For dinner, the chef prepared way too much food; our most valiant efforts were insufficient to clear the table. I don’t even try to describe every dish, but the system appears to be that there is a fixed menu of “something for everyone” (ranging from Thai to Chinese food), with a fruit plate and very bad coffee on the side. Quantity might have won out over quality here.
Going to town for a market walk seemed out of the question on such a full stomach, and we have a fairly early start, so a little wi-fi and off to bed seems best.