Head in the clouds on Thailand's highest spot, Doi Inthanan, 2600 m
|1$US =~ 40 Baht|
I rode the bike an hour out of town to some hot springs and went to an umbrella factory and some other arts and crafts places. They make the frame out of bamboo and some other wood, make the paper, dye it, paint it, laquer it. The tourist buses were also quite spectacular.
At night I went to the No.1 bar and had a few beers with Doc, an American who's been in Thailand for 10 months and plans to stay. He's looking for a job in Bangkok. I could never live in Bangkok. The smog is so thick that I look at the 6 year old school-children in their white school uniforms and think that by the time they graduate they will be poisoned to such an extent that they won't have much of a life left. It makes L.A look like a mountain spa.
Happy birthday, Vati und Rainer! -I took the plane to Mae Hong Song and am staying at the Ampa Guest House. This place is very relaxing. It's at an altitude of 1860 m, the air is clean and I'm planning to visit some mountain tribes tomorrow.
This is country living alright. At 5 am the roosters start crowing in fierce competition and since the walls of my 5$ a night guesthouse are made out of woven coconut leaves, it sounds like they're crowing right into my ear. By 6am they have woken up the dogs and they start barking. You can't avoid the occasional mosquito bite and I wonder how acute is the danger of malaria. Apart from that it does have a certain charm, however and one still finds expats who don't want to leave this place. Last night I had a couple of beers with an English seafaring engineer and his Thai wife, who's a schoolteacher. He's on ships half the year and here the other half. He's been to the places that I'm going to, so it was interesting to get his scoop of things.
A.K.A.George, a Thai tourist guide who was my initial contact here is showing me around today. We went to meet a group of school children who are learning about the tourist trade and before long I was enrolled as guest English teacher. We went to the Fish Cave National Park and the kids were entertained and educated through various games by the park rangers. After sharing lunch we went on to a lake for paddle boating and the kids were really nice after overcoming their initial shyness. George, Am and I went to see the longneck people and some other refugee minorities from Burma while the kids went back home. I'm happy to tell you that my perception of them has changed from my preconceived idea of it being a tourist freak show. It was a very interesting and enjoyable day and I could write several pages about the plight of these refugees but I'll leave that for another time.
Last night I had a couple of beers at the neighborhood watering hole named "Crossroads" and played pool with a couple of Thai guys. The people here are very nice and not obtrusive at all. Even the local roosters didn't manage to wake me up before 8.15 and at 9 George and I drove towards the Burmese border and visited several idyllic villages. The morning temperature can go as low as 8 Celsius and there is always a mist in the air, creating very special scenery and moods. By 11 it has been burnt away by the sun. Even though we're at around 2000 m altitude everything grows here. Bananas, pineapple, rice and every other tropical plant you can imagine. The forest is full of teak, bamboo and other precious and useful wood, the mountain streams are clean and full of fish. People truly live here as they have for centuries but with the addition of electricity and the consequent satellite dishes next to the thatched hut. We visited a "Chinese village" that gained notoriety 3 years ago when the Thai Army drove out heroin traffickers and found the mountain caves full of heroin, making it Thailand's biggest bust. All the heroin was coming from Burma and even today as we got closer to the Burmese border the Thai roadblock didn't let us go any further because there is some unrest with the private drug lord armies and they considered it unsafe for a farang (foreigner) like me.
I flew to Chiang Mai around noon and had lunch at my favorite restaurant during my 2 hour lay over. Then onto Bangkok and finally Siem Reap, Cambodia. I arrived at the Yalkom Angkor Lodge around 2100 and settled into my very comfortable 20$ a night bungalow. It has air conditioning, TV, a fridge and a balcony.
I had just ordered breakfast at 7.15 when Saren, my 15 year old tour guide arrived. My friend Bob is putting her through school but she is taking 3 days to show me around.