As my time in Northern Thailand is winding its way to a close, I’d figure I’d share more pics to show you what the mountains up in this part of the country are like. The highlands up here are (believe it or not) the furthest of the foothills that radiate out hundreds of kilometres from the main ranges of the Himalayas. They don’t reach up high enough to get snow in the winter time, but they do provide a bit of novelty for the Thai population nonetheless, as the coldest nighttime lows in December/January get nippy enough to cause frost to form!
Despite the fact that I described them as foothills, these mountains aren’t small exactly … you see that squiggley line in the side of the hill ahead? That’s just two of over 1,800+ curves on the Mae Hong Son loop, a popular motorbiking route that includes the mountain valley paradise of Pai. This road is not so great if you’re stuck in a bus or minivan, but a pure joy to ride on a bike (word to the wise #1: don’t rent a Honda Click, as you will struggle to get up steep inclines … word to the wise #2: check your fuel often … it’s actually remote in this part of Thailand!)
Just in case you think North Americans have the market on tacky tourist stuff cornered, think again! In addition to all the Coffee In Love attractions in nearby Pai, at the mountaintop viewpoint between Pai and Sappong, you can pretend to be a Karen tribesperson! Not my cup of tea, but I did find it amusing on this day in Thailand’s hill country!
Have you done the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand? What did you think about it?
When you look at things like infinity pools, it’s easy to assume that these things can be only can be enjoyed by the super-rich, who have the cash to burn at $300/night hotels.
But those are the rules of the developed world. In Thailand, things are done just a little bit differently.
On the grounds of the Baan Krating Resort in Pai Thailand, there is an amazing infinity pool located just above the banks of the peaceful Pai River, with clear views out to the mountains that rise on the other side of the valley. While it is definitely more affordable to enjoy a touch of luxury here than back in the West (room rates start at 1800 baht or $60 USD a night), the common people can also sample an afternoon beside this aqueous oasis for an entrance fee of (drum roll please) …
Travelling to any area is made infinitely better when you have a local contact that knows about the many hidden secrets it possesses. For me, that was my friend Katie, whom I worked with at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park back in Canada for three years. In the winters, she typically lives in Pai, located three hours northwest of Chiang Mai on a winding mountain road (762 puke-inducing curves, yeehaw!), a pastoral mountain valley with a series of small friendly towns and villages, and a lazy river running through the middle of it all.
This part of Thailand is also known for its hill tribes, people who have been traditionally nomadic, having immigrated and migrated across silly imaginary lines on a map for centuries. Back in the 1970’s, there were at the centre of a troublesome drug trade, growing opium poppies to get by from year to year.
Realizing the importance of getting them out of this destructive trade, the King and Queen of Thailand initiated a program to get them to grow high value temperate zone fruits and vegetables, allowing them to interact with the Thai economy in a legitimate fashion. Today, alongside a burgeoning handicraft industry, this is what keeps these folks gainfully employed and productive in Thai society.
The pic above is of recently cleared farmland, reached by muddy pathways that needed to be negotiated with great care, as the wet Earth can lead to slippage, and potentially a motorbike on top of your legs! Ouch!
Ever been biking in Pai? Share your favourite places to go to outside of town below!
Buddhism has a huge influence in Thailand, with 95% of the population claiming Thervada Buddhism as their religion. As such, there are many exotic (to us foreigners, that is) golden and brass houses of worship across the country, along with countless centuries old brick stupas. When you walk into these sacred places, there are a number of different things you might see, ranging from idols that honour various animals, to gold leaf covered Buddha statues. One thing that I always scope out a temple for though are the sayings of the Buddha. Frequently, you will signs in Thai and English, imparting the wisdom of the Buddha to visitors.
The above saying is particularly apt in today’s modern world. Technology has us constantly distracted, deflecting attention from the things that truly matter in the real world: beauty, the taste of food, the laughter of a friend, and so on. Also, the careful considerations of one’s actions could make a huge difference in the life of many people. So often, we live our lives on autopilot, making automatic decisions that may be creating sub-optimal results in our everyday lives. By questioning seemingly easy decisions that we take for granted, we may, as the sign says above, begin to prosper where prosperity had not been present before.
A deserted waterfall at the end of a hike up a small mountain 40km south of Sukhothai, Thailand … a worthwhile payoff to a morning of hard effort
After receiving a tip from some local Thais at the resort where we were staying in Sukhothai, my travel mates and I rented bikes and set off south of the city, in search of a remote waterfall in a small national park, virtually unvisited by fellow foreigners. Not thinking it to be much more than a walk in the woods, I threw a bottle of water in my day pack, slipped on my well-worn sandals, and set off on the road with my trusty Honda Click.
After paying the entrance fee to disinterested gatekeepers, who were more wrapped up in the Thai soap opera playing out on their fuzzy TV in the corner, we set off in search of our secret chute in the wilderness. Shortly after, it became apparent that sandals were woefully inadequate footwear for this trail, as it ascended 20-30 degree grades at the worst of it, and towards the end, we had to scramble over granite boulders.
We survived, though, and our reward was 100+ foot high waterfall, a delightfully chilly plunge pool (which required sandals to walk in without hurting your feet) with a cloud of dainty yellow butterflies hovering overhead … and not another soul to be seen.
When you push through hell, or any other less than ideal circumstance, take heart: most of the time, an incredible reward awaits you at the top.
The main ruins complex at Sukhothai, Thailand, as seen at High Noon…
Passed over by many travellers and tourists that have already seen the ancient Thai ruins at the more conveniently situated site in Ayutthaya, the remains of the medieval period capital of Siam in Sukhothai can come as a complete surprise to people with no idea what to expect.
The full moon shines through the clouds on a festive night in Koh Chang…
Throughout the world, Thailand is well-known for the rowdy celebration known as the Full Moon Party. Some love it, reveling in its trademark neon body paint, techno music, and bottomless buckets. Others hate it with a passion.
And still others are intrigued by the concept of partying and having a good time with only the moonlight to guide your dance steps, but they are turned off by what they see and hear at Koh Phangan’s flagship version of the event. The massive crowds of 30,000 people, excessive drug use, theft.
Well thankfully, that Southern Thai island doesn’t have a monopoly on moonlight and beaches. It turns out that Koh Chang has both as well. Minus the massive crowds. When I was the version of the party that Lonely Beach on Koh Chang threw, there were maybe a couple hundred people at the most out on the sands. It just felt right.
So if the crowds down south intimidate you, look east. Koh Chang may just be the place for you to find your groove under the faint light of the moon!
The largess of the Sukhumvit Road area of Bangkok, as seen from the highway headed towards the Eastern Provinces of Thailand
Known as the Big Mango, Bangkok is essentially the NYC of Southeast Asia. It is a massive city filled with people from every corner of the world. Some are here for business. For others, pleasure.
The former have no doubt made their mark on the Bangkok skyline, gracing it with innumerable skyscrapers. From food to entertainment to the palpable buzz generated by everyday life in this megalopolis of 14 million people, it’s clear to me personally what I feel when I roll into town from the Southern or Eastern islands after dark: I’m home, baby!
Generally speaking, temples, ruins, and other architectural attractions don’t really peak my interest while I am travelling. Usually, I tend to be drawn towards natural attractions, like mountains, beaches, hiking trails, and so forth.
However, some human heritage sites are just so spectacular and breathtaking in their scale, that they cry out to be explored. The Grand Palace in Bangkok Thailand is one such place. Scores of ornately designed buildings, plotted out in the Buddhist tradition, capture your imagination. The spires, pagodas, and Buddha statues are decorated in brass, gold leaf, and flecks of mirror-like glass, testaments to the wealth and creativity of the Kingdom of Siam.
At 500 baht ($16.50 USD), the entry fee is steep, but if you are a fan of Thai design, it is well worth the money!