Sunday, February 22, 2009

In Pai Now

The last couple days have been fun. After I posted my last blog I went to hang out with the Belgium couple again and then we had some dinner. I showed them the street vender I went to the first day in Mae Hong Son and they liked it. I found out the curry stuff is Khao Soi which is the classic northern Thailand dish.

Then after eating we went to have some drinks at the Crossroads bar. It ended up being a big group of people from all over including The Belgium couple, me, a Japanese guy (that the couple had met earlier that day), a German guy, a Swedish girl (that we had met at dinner), and the San Fran guy. It was fun to have such a large group where everyone had different backgrounds, and four of us had quit our jobs to travel.

The group of us from around the world

The next day I changed guest houses first thing because I didn't want to give the rude woman my business, and the Swedish girl recommend a good place. Then new guest house was great, nice owner, good garden, still on the lake, and other good people staying there. I rented a motorbike from the guesthouse to go see some hot springs around the area.

The view from my window in the new guest house

First place I went was the Mud Spa, which really was a hot spring but they collected the mud out of the source and made a spa out of it. There were a lot of people there and I knew I just wanted to soak in the pool so I walked around and found the pool. I soaked for 2.5 hours, hanging out and reading, and then just left. Not one person said hi to me the whole time and I was the only person in the pool so I actually got away with soaking and not paying the 60B they usually charge.

The source, notice the 70C sign, that's hot!

The pool I soaked in, its all about 104-105F

I decided to go to the fish cave next because its a tourist attraction and I had the bike. I stopped at a little monk cave first, or what other people call the bat cave, and thought it was really cool. There was a monk living in a little cave on the side and then you walked up the hill a little bit and there was a big cave. There were buddhist shrines and platforms that the monks used to meditate on. Then I continued in for a long ways by myself. I'm lucky the cell phone I bought has a flashlight function, I thought it was stupid but it came in handy.

outside the Buddha cave

inside the cave

Next was the fish cave, which had tons of tourists but it was pretty cool. It wasn't really a cave but water came out of the ground and made a little river and there were huge fish in the water. There were little holes into the ground that showed the water, and the huge fish. At first I wondered how they got so big but then I realized that almost everyone but me was feeding the fish.

The fish cave where the water came out and one of the holes

some cool stuff near the fish cave

I went back to the guest house to wait out the heat of the day and then went to the hot spring south of town. I didn't think I would like it because I passed it on the bus and it looked like large swimming pools, but the pools were really very large sources. No soaking but it was cool to see the massive amounts of hot water coming out of the ground in this place. There was even a tiny new spring that was popping out of the grass. Then I went to the top of the hill near town to watch the sun set.

The other hot spring, see they look like pools, but are large sources!

The sun setting over Mae Hong Son province looking towards Myanmar

To end the day I went to the great resturant I found with a Scottish guy I met at the guest house. When we got there the guy who showed me around his place was also there watching soccer and hanging out, so we joined his table. Then after a little bit the german and swedish girl showed up. Its nice that after a few days in a place you know people and have friends. Again the solo thing is growing on me but I am about to meet up with friends in the next couple days so that will be interesting. I'm sure it will be great, but I may need a day or two to myself every now and then.

the wats across the lake illuminated at night, I spent so much time looking at them I had to take a picture

Today I just had coffee and toast hanging out with the other people at the guest house before I caught a bus to Pai. Pai is a laid back place, but its just like people told me, farang central. I don't think I've hardly seen a Thai person here. The vibe is nice but it is strange that the whole town is farang. I'm going to try to connect with the springer I met in Um Phang that lives here and knows about 4 springs around Pai. This is turning into a Thai hot springs road trip, because I've seen 9 hot springs so far, and have soaked in 5 of them. Anyway, peace and love to all!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Still in Mae Hong Son

This place is starting to grow on me. I've had a couple really nice days here. Apparently there are refugees here and poverty from Myanmar but they hide it better here than in Mae Sot. Everyone just pretends like it isn't happening, even though the lowest class workers are Burmese. And the main ethnic group is different. It is Shan people up here, and Shan in Myanmar, so the refugees or Burmese people are not looked down upon as much or as desperate as the Karen people down south. Also apparently the Shan are successfully fighting the Burmese government to the point that there is a free Shan part of Myanmar (I know I'm using both names but thats how it is here). I've heard the Shan are more successful fighting because they have more support from Thai people and the Thai government, so they have good weapons to fight with, unlike the Karen.

So, a couple days ago, after ripping into Thai culture on here, I just had a peaceful dinner by myself and went to sleap. The next day I woke up a little late and went out to wander the town and find a place to trade my book. Out my door I got caught by the girl at my guest house, who was trying to sell me tours (by now I don't think she likes me because I haven't done any tours, and I think she insults me to my face in Thai because she knows I can't understand). I talked for a while but eventually left without doing what she wanted me to.

I found this wonderful resturant, and it has treated me great. They have an actual give and take bookshelf, which is why I found it. Then I met a guy (from the Santa Cruz mountains) and his wife (Thai) who live outside of town. They turned on the BBC, so I saw some news, and we hit it off talking about stuff. We set it up so I would call him the next day in the morning and he would show me a little natural hot spring in the middle of fields, and some pools below the waterfall everyone goes to near here. Plus I saw what he was eating and ordered the same thing. It was an amazing BLT with home made bread, and was just wonderful!

After he left I decided to stay in the resturant and drink some tea watching the news. Soon after he left though another solo traveler arrived and we started talking. He was from San Fran and had been coming to Mae Hong Son for 15 years. Now he has a Thai wife and just moved to Chang Mai from the US so his 5 year old daughter could go to school here. He is just here hanging out at his old favorite place in Thailand while his family is still in Chang Mai. He is a character who wants me to write a screen play with him, I laugh and he says he's not joking. We made plans to meet later for food and drinks.

That resturant just treated me great as far as meeting people, and food. When I was alone I decided to walk up this hill next to town with a Wat on it, to see the town from up high, and the Wat I guess. On the way I saw the Belgium couple and made plans to meet them for drinks in the early evening. The hill wat was nice, and the view was good, but there was a lot of smoke yesterday from the slash and burn agriculture (but really they are just burning everything not just dry crops).

Mae Hong Son, my guest house is on the left side of the lake

The wat with Burmese style Cheda's (the pointy things)

My evening and night was very nice. I hung out with the Belgium couple at there bungalow drinking rum and passionfruit. Then we separated for dinner and I went to meet the San Fran guy. After he finished his beer we went to the good resturant and then it turned out the Belgium couple was there. We all laughed and they made jokes about me following them. It was interesting because politics came up and the conversation was strange. I know the husband was having a good time, but I think the wife didn't really like the San Fran guy.

After dinner the San Fran guy showed took me to a little local bar he had found the day before. That was fun because there was a nice group of locals and like 4 of them could speak ok english. One was way too drunk, his brother was a really nice guy who was an artist, a couple others were photographers (one for national geographic, the Thai edition), and the other owned the bar. I had a good time, and went to bed around midnight.

Today was a great day so far. The guy I met the day before picked me up from the resturant and I had breakfast while I waited for him. He took me to his property, where he has a really nice teak house, and then we walked through the fields near his property to the hot spring. It was another sulfer spring that was very hot and came out right into a cold river. There was no soaking place but it was really cool, I guess it gets completely covered in the rainy season by the river. It was also cool because he said the locals around him always wondered why he thought the place was special, and then when we got there, there were offerings around the spring.

Me next to the little springs
After seeing that we had some lunch at a little place near his property and then went to the waterfall. It was a cool waterfall, but the pools he showed me below them were way cooler. And it was nice because no one else was there, even though tons of people see the waterfall. He is a really good person and it was nice to hang out with him for the day, and talk a bit about thai culture. After that he just took me back to my guest house and now I am here.

the main waterfall

The pool the guy took me to

I think the other day I ripped into Thai culture a bit too much, even though everything I said is true. The class thing and the face thing are here but thats an Asia issue and apparently it is way milder here than in other countries. And there is the extreme kindness that I had expressed in earlier posts. That does stand out, I think it is part of there culture to be relaxed and kind, but farang also do see it at an extreme because we are the highest class possible. I still agree with everything I said about the monks, but the people in general seem to be devout buddhists and live accordingly. And the worship of the almighty dollar really is the western influence on the country, so I have to look at my own culture as far as that is concerned and can't judge them because of it.

Thats all for now. I think I'll stay here for another day, rent a motorbike, and see some the developed hot springs around here, and maybe some other stuff too. Then I'm off the Pai, which many people say they love, but I also here a lot of bad things about from some of the travelers I've met. Thats one of the reasons I'm staying here for another day and spending less time in Pai. Peace and love to all!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some Thoughts About Thai Culture

Today I moved north to Mae Hong Son. I woke up and had rice soup at the same place I found yesterday and then caught the bus up here. On the bus ride I met a nice older Belgium couple who have traveled all over the world. After arriving up here I just checked into the guest house and walked around town trying to find a local place for noodles but was unsuccessful but saw a bunch of town and the large market. Then I decided to go to a farang place I saw and the Belgium couple was there. I ate lunch with them and then read my book (The Killing Fields) at the little lake here and watched the sun set. Thats my day so far.

I figured this was a good time to do some writing about Thai Culture, which is a bit strange. First off I don't really know what to think about the monks or the practice of Buddhism here. I get the impression it is not very strict or true to the actual beliefs of the religion. Monks seem to do whatever, including whores if they want to. It has made me question all the monks here even though it is probably only some who do whatever. They look innocent and pure then you will see them pull a cell phone out of there robes, or walk into a whore house. Some travelers even said they had gay monks hit on them. It is like the fact that boys think of becoming a monk the same as becoming a lady boy kinda says it all. The only good thing I can say about them is that a poor person, or child, can go to a monistary and be taken care of, at least having a place to stay and food.

On the surface it looks like Buddhism is the religion here but really everyone prays to the almighty dollar. People have figured out that monistarys, or Wats make money from tourism. This place is such a mix of old culture and new western society that people don't know what to do, but everyone wants money. I haven't even been to the most touristy parts of Thailand yet and tourism is still affecting everything.

Another aspect of the culture is that it is very class based, and the people have been living like that for years. There are the higher class people that feel like they can do anything, and probably can because they have connections. Treating everyone equally here is a joke because the way the culture is people are of different classes and should be treated differently. That is why a middle class person can use whores from the lower class and then go to the monks, which are a higher class, and pay them respect without even thinking what they are doing is wrong. From there perspective the lower class is there to use and the higher class should be respected. Like the burmese refugees are definately a lower class and here to use so they are screwed in Myanmar and then also screwed here. You can travel here and not see it, but if your like me and are here to absorb and observe a different culture, it screams at you. I've heard other countries are worse but all I've seen is Thailand.

Then there is the "face" thing. I am lucky that my friend Greg, who just returned from China, told me about the concept of face. It is the most important thing. Saving face is more important than telling the truth, and loosing face is worth killing over. You can see it all over the place if you are looking. People are so kind but if someone feels like they loose face then they are so ashamed. I saw a higher class person almost pull a gun on a shop owner because he raised his voice at him, therefore loosing face. So, with the class thing and the face thing people are very careful about how they behave, but at the same time envy the western cultures and want to earn money like us.

With all this negative stuff, or differences of viewpoints, there is also this extreme kindness. People put there hands together and bow when saying hello, and thank you, and there are always smiles. I really don't know what to think about it. I can't figure out if people are really kind or just saving face, or think I'm a higher class and deserve respect. I have had some large reactions when I bow and show respect to some people, maybe because they are a lower class, and then others act like they expect it, maybe because they are a higher class. It is hard to tell if people are sincere, because kindness is part of the culture and if they weren't kind then they would loose face. This is all sinking in now, and perhaps I will have a different view in a couple weeks, but these are the realities of the culture here.

I am still reserving my judgement. I don't want to think all monks are fake, but it does seem like the western idealization of monks if completely false, at least in Thailand. Also I would like to think people are kind and not just treating me kindly because I am considered a higher class. It is very hard to tell what is going on without speaking the language. I kinda feel like I understand the latin american culture but still do not understand this culture. They are very different! With all this I am realizing it is an uglier place than I thought but that doesn't change my desire to understand the culture. I will continue to travel and talk to people and observe, but Thailand is a very confused country.

I wanted to share these thoughts with others and this seemed like the place to do it, thats why I'm keeping a blog. Tomorrow I think I will hang around Mae Hong Son and take care of some stuff, but not do much. Another thing is I think I gave the wrong impression about Mae Sariang. The whole Burmese refugee thing, and therefore extreme mix of cultures, is really isolated to the Mae Sot area becuase of the boarder crossing there. Mae Sariang may have had a Chinese and Karen vibe a bit, but the poverty and refugee aspect that was in Mae Sot is not up here, at all! That has been surprising to me because all these cities are along the boarder. I liked it a lot better down there where it seemed real and people needed help. Up here its back to buisness as usual where people promote tourism and ignore the problems across the boarder. Well, thats all for now. Peace and Love to all!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Lovely Day in Mae Sariang

I got a feel for this town today, and saw another hot spring in the area. It is a nice small town where all the tourists are concentrated in a line along the river, and I'm staying off the river. I like it but its a bit too small making it a little harder to do stuff, and I pretty much saw what I want tody, but I like the real vibe here. It is another kinda strange vibe because it doesn't feel too Thai, more Karen and Chinese.

I woke up early this morning and went to the morning market for some tea. Not many people speak english so I ended up getting hot chocolate and some green tea, but not the Thai tea like I was looking for. It was nice to sit for a while in the market though and watch all the women sell there vegitables, and meat, and watch the men hang out and drink coffee. Then after walking the town a little bit, passing a tour place recommended by the Lonely Planet because it looked closed, and finding a nice local place with rice soup for breakfast. Rice soup is the traditional breakfast here and it is good! The place is only open in the morning and I got a bowl of soup and as much green tea as I wanted for 15B, what a deal.

Next I went to the tour place and it still looked closed but I knocked on the door anyway. It turned out I was too late to go on a trek of the hill tribes and waterfalls because the driver was already working in the fields for the day (I guess I should have knocked before). Then I talked to the guy about hot springs and he told me detailed directions to get to one about 14 Km out of town, and said that was it for hot springs in the area.

So, I got some stuff ready and rented a motorbike. It was hard to find one though, and the one I got was an automatic, and seemed to be the last one in the place. I found out I don't like the automatics as much as the manuals, it feels like I have less control over the bike. With the bike I drove around town and found some chicken and sticky rice to eat at the springs and headed off.

The ride was interesting because it was only 3 Km on the main road then a bunch of smaller mountain roads through Karen fields and two vilages. I also found out how hard it is to drive a motorbike on a dirt road. Pretty soon after getting on the dirt the bike slipped out from under me. I wasn't going too fast so it wasn't dangerous, just a realization how easily they slip on the dirt. I scraped the bike a bit but it ended up being fine (the rental place/guest house/resturant didn't notice). I found the springs fine with the guys directions but it was good I had all those details because there were no signs and I just had to know it was there.

Some fields on the way

The springs were across a little river with a bamboo bridge and were the first sulfer springs I have seen. I went up to the sources first which were very hot, had the sulfer smell, and the white algee typical of a sulfer spring. The soaking tub was down near the government bungalows that the people who took care of the springs lived in. It was a very big tub in a bungalow that the guy who had pretty much been following me and pointing to where I should go had to turn the water on to start it filling up (he had good vibes but couldn't speak english, I think he followed so I felt like I was finding them myself).

One of the sources with the white algee

The water in the tub was about 104 which is perfect for me, hot enough to overheat, but not too hot you can't stay in for a while. I soaked, ate my chicken and sticky rice, read my book and soaked some more. It took the whole time I was there (maybe 3.5 hours) for the tub to fill to almost full. The guy would check on me every once in a while to see if I was ok but didn't pressure me to leave or anything, and even filled up my water for me so I could soak some more. It was a very nice spring and would recomend it to anyone.

The tubs

The view from the tubs bungalow

After that, I paid the guy 20B which he didn't ask for but I figured I should pay, and drove really slowly back to Mae Sariang. I returned the bike, and had some tea or coffee (it was hard to tell) at a little coffee shop near the mosque (good tea houses tend to be in the muslim neighborhoods). After tea I headed to a resturant on the river for the view, but it had terible food, I should have eaten something at the tea house.

A burmese wat in Mae Sariang
After that I was going to go to an internet place to write this blog, but the one I went to yesterday was closed, so after walking around a bit I decided to have my first thai massage. There was this little place I passed a few times that seemed like it was a good place and an hour massage was only 100B. It was a wonderful experience, different than any other massage I have had. Lots of stretching, and rubbing of each muscle on each limb with me stretched in different ways. Next time I'll have to go for two hours. Then on the way to my guest house I passed this shop (which wasn't open yesterday but is today) and decided to write the blog. Tomorrow its moving further north to Mae Hong Son and seeing stuff around there.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Moved north to Mae Sariang

I was out of internet land for a while, then returned to Mae Sot, and have now moved up to Mae Sariang. A lot has happened in the last few days so this will be a long one, and probably just what I did without much insight or too many details.

So where I left off was that I was in Mae Sot and rented a motorbike to visit the hot springs I found out about around Mae Sot. That is exactly what I did, first I rented the motorbike, which was a better one than I rented in Sukhothai, and went to the hot spirngs that are about 16 Km north of Mae Sot. The hot spings where a bunch of wells with artesian (flowing water) hot water coming out. Mineral deposits had formed around the wells, there were maybe 4 total and some places where the water was just coming out of the ground. The water was too hot to soak and there were not many good pools. The only good pool was in direct sunlight and it was the middle of the day so I didn't soak. There was a park area around one of the well things that had grass and some food venders. It looked like they were working to build the hot spings up more, there was also a large sized pool that was not filled with water, and some privat rooms with little tile tubs that did not look maintained.

The first hot spring
After looking around at the cool hot springs area I decided to walk up a trail/staircase that went up to a budhist cave. The trail was long and pretty steap. After talking to my dad, who called me while on the trail, I continued to walk and a guide with some monks said he could show me the cave for 300B or else it was locked closed. I told him I would not pay that and would just see what I could see. Thats what I did, the cave was pretty cool but I didn't go too far in, and was happy with what I saw.

A little buddhist shrine near the hot spring
The entrance to the cave

Next was to the hot springs about 45 Km south of Mae Sot, and I stopped in town for some Phad Thai on the way. I went through a little town to the hot spings and was able to show people the piece of paper with thai writing that the woman and the guest house gave me to show people so I could find the hot spring. It was out in the middle of no where with no signed but I was able to find it after I passed it once and came back. It was large holes with really hot water, and completely natural. There was a woman in the house nearby that couldn't speak any english but was very nice, and was grinding rice separating the grain from the plant casing. I tried to soak my feet in some smaller concrete tubs near the source but they were too hot, I think the locals use them too cook eggs, that seems to be the main thing locals use the hot water for. Also the lady in the house had hot springs water piped to her house. She could tell I wanted to soak somewhere since I came all the way out there so she showed me where they clean dishes and I took one of the tubs they used to wash dished and soaked my feet, even then I had to let the water cool off for a while.

A water fall on the way to the second HS

My motorbike near a river near the second HS

The second HS

After that I went back to Mae Sot and directly to the ex-pat place for some more italian food, arriving after dark. Then it was straight to sleap because I had decided to drive the motorbike down to Um Phang which is a 164 Km drive through some very windy mountain roads. It was good I got to use the bike for a full day because I felt comfortable driving the long distance.
The sunset on the way back to Mae Sot

In the morning I had breakfast, rented the bike for another 3 days, and packed my bag, leaving some stuff at the guest house. I was on the road by about 10 and was excited for the adventure. The ride was good, I stopped when I needed to to rest my legs, and got gas and food at a little town half way. Next to the town was a pretty big refugee camp with maybe 20,000 refugees, all Karen, which is a hill tribe from Burma. When I got to Um Phang I went to the place the guide book said was the cheapest place (the guide book was so incorrect about Um Phang, for example it said there was no gas but there were like 6 gas stations). The place was the cheapest though, the room was 200B but had three beds, a refrigerator, a TV, and a privat bath. I told the lady I didn't need all that and would look for something cheaper. She said ok but that I would be back and sure enough I was, everything else was more expensive or a lot less for the same price.

After getting settled in the room I went to see about visiting the hot springs nearby. I am beginning to realize how strange my obsession with hot spings are because the girl acted like I was crazy for wanting to stay at the springs for several hours. The only way to see them was by rafting so I had to set up a raft and guides. I set up an individual trip with a short rafting trip so I could spend several hours at the springs. She said I was the first tourist to ever ask for this and she thought the only ever.

Then I went to buy food to eat at the springs the next day and to a little resturant I found while looking around at guest houses. They couldn't speak any english but I know a few thai dishes by name so I ordered some noodles and drank a beer while reading my book. While I was reading locals kept arriving and sitting at a back table and drinking wiskey, including the chef/owner of the place. One of the guys spoke some english and envited me to sit and drink for a while, people like to practice there english with a native speaker. I had way too much wiskey, they just put me in the little circle of people so whenever it was my turn I took my shot (really they were half shots). Then we went to a kareoke bar and I bought a bottle of wiskey, and sang horribly. Everyone was so drunk that half the bottle was left and I said I would bring it to the resturant the next day so we could finish it together. Then walked the motorbike back to my guest house because I was very drunk.

I met my raft at 8 am (I pushed the time an hour early because I wanted to get to the spring when there was still morning air) and forgot my camera because I was still getting over the night before. That is sad because the rafting trip was beautiful with nice waterfalls into the river and huge overhaning limestone cliffs. Then the hot springs were wonderful. Completely natural with maybe 102 degree water and under bamboo shade. I soaked ate some breakfast and soaked some more. Another hot springer showed up with his thai girlfriend, they also set up a special trip to spend hours at the springs. I was happy not to be the only crazy farang but still got all the attenting because the locals would say this crazy farang has been hears since just past 8 am and hardly anyone could believe it.

My guides actually wanted to leave at 11:30 because the message about how long I was going to be there did not get to everyone so I guess the driver had been waiting for me since 9 or 10. I ddin't want to leave and jumped in the springs quickly and when I got out my guides said I could stay and go back with the other springer I had met. He had actually set it up because he could speak thai, and the guides talked to each other and agreed that I could go with the other guys. So my guides left me at the springs. I soaked for another 1.5 hours or so and then we all left together after eating some lunch. It worked out great because they had set up visiting a cave also so I got to see a really cool cave. It was a big cavern then went back really far, we even saw a snake in there. Then we all got dropped off at their guest house that was next to mine and I walked back to my guest house. I thought the girl would laugh at me but she was actually kinda upset at her guides for leaving me because she understood I would be there for many hours.

Next I went to the same resturant as the day before like I said I would and ate the same thing and read my book. The group of guys didn't show up though, and I did bring the rest of the wiskey. So after reading for a while the cook sat down with me and we took shots together. I felt really bad though because he didn't speak any english and was speaking the simplest thai and I still couldn't understand. I ended up giving him the last of the wiskey and heading back to the guest house to read and go to bed.
The next day I knew I needed to go all the way back to Mae Sot but I aslo couldn't leave the area without seeing the largest waterfall in thailand so I left early to the park entrance. They won't let motorbikes into the park, and the waterfall is 25 Km on a dirt road so I needed to get a ride with someone to the falls. The people there were really trying to rip me off and I refused to pay, saying I would only pay a smaller amount. Then after waiting for a little over a half an hour a group of thai tourist arrived and I asked if I could hitch a ride with them, and they said yes. Almost at the same time another truck came that would take me for the 500B, and people tried to get me to do that, but when I told the thai people they wanted to charge me they understood and said I could tag along with them.

Once we got to the falls I didn't want to intrude so I walked off alone to the falls. They were absolutely beautiful and well worth all that effort. I spent maybe half an hour there and then saw a large group of thai tourists leaving and started fallowing them back hoping I could hitch a ride. I ended up being the same group of people and they said it was fine but they were going to eat first. They shared there meat and sticky rice with me and I shared the corn and oranges I had left over from the day before with them. People are so kind with sharing food, they insisted I keep eating until I was full. Then they took me back to the entrance and I rode the motorbike back to my guest house and checked out. The whole adventure took longer than expected so I wasn't leaving Um Phang until 4 pm.

Thee La Su Waterfall, the largest in Thailand

A close up of the middle fall

I rode back to Mae Sot so fast and couldn't hardly stop at all. I was very concerned about getting out of the mountains before it got dark and just barely made it, riding the last 40 Km which are pretty straight and flat in the dark. When I got back to town it was Valentines day and there was a big flower sale in front of the high school. When I got the the guest house my butt was very sore and I got the last room. I asked the lady at the guest house about the high school thing and she said she couldn't set it up for monday. The kids had a concert to prepare for that weekend and they have a big test coming up next week so this week won't work. I told her I needed to move on, so we could just say we tried but it didn't work. She was a bit upset because she said it was hard for her to get people to agree to do it and they needed help. I just said maybe next time I'm in town.

I shared a beer with a thai guy hanging out in the garden and stretched my legs, pacing back and fourth. He was a teacher at the high school and wanted to practice english with me. When I said I wanted to go to the italian place he wanted to come with me, but it turned out he just wanted to drive me. He said there were motorcicle gangs in Mae Sot so he felt better if he drove me, then he came and picked me up after I ate. I went with him to the high school after that so he could look up some stuff an Wsconsin (he was going to an interview for cultural exchange and wanted to know as much as he could about where he was going, thats also why he wanted to practice english). After that he dropped me back off at the guest house.

The next day, which was yesterday, I thought I would go to the market but after so many busy days I didn't feel up to haggling. I had breakfast with some american guys (the first americans I have met on the trip) after I returned the bike. We talked about he strange thai culture since they had live here for about 1 year they had some interesting insights. Then after breakfast I hung out in the garden of the guest house with an Australian couple with a 9 month old baby. After a while they wanted to get lunch and I asked if I could go with them.

The chill area of the guest house

They took me to the muslim neighborhood and we had some tea at a tea house and some wonderful curry with a nan like bread. It was a great meal. I really like the cultural diversity of Mae Sot. Once we turned down into the muslim neighborhood almost everyone was muslim and we had interesting conversations with locals in the tea house. I actually let the Australians to most of the talking and just listened in. It seems like almost everyone in Mae Sot is from Burma and has just been in Thailand for various amounts of time.

Then we went back to the guest house walking through the day market, I like tagging along with people because they show me cool stuff I wouldn't see otherwise. In the afternoon, when the baby was sleaping, I went to the sauna again. I love that little rustic sauna, and the people all seemed to recognise me from the time I went there before. When I got back to the guest house the Australians took me to the night market for dinner. The baby is so disarming, and really cool to see how the locals respond. They just take the baby away and play with it, and give it rice porage, and the parents are happy to be able to eat there food in peace. It happened at the tea house and at the night market.

Next it was off to bed and I left for Mae Sariang this morning on a truck with benches in the back. While waiting for the truck one Karen guy wanted to talk to me and drink coffee with me to practice english. Then another guy wanted to talk on the truck for the same reason. I have a lot of respect for the guy that talked to me on the truck. He told me a lot about what is happening in Burma and was honest, after a while he said he wanted me to remember him and tell other people what he was telling me becuase usually he was not so open but had good vibes from me. Some of the stuff he told me was that the Karen people had been fighting the Burmese for over 50 years, with a lot of death including his father and grandfather. Also that he worked helping people cross the boarder and get into Thailand. He was a legal citizen of Thailand I asked him how he did that and he said to be honest he paid for it. I really like how honest he was. In Um Phang I think one of the guys I was hanging out with also helped people across the boarder but he wouldn't tell me, I just got that vibe when he wouldn't say what he did. Right now I feel a lot of compasion for how difficult it is for the Karen.

Mae Sariang is a nice and small town. It feels like another real thai village but I don't really have a good feeling for it yet. I'm guessing there are a lot of Karen people here because its close to the boarder but so far I haven't really talked to many people. Tomorrow I will walk around and check out the town, and maybe try to go on a hike to see a village. I guess there are the people with all the rings around there neck and very long necks in this area. So, this was a long one and my fingers are tired, but your all caught up on what I've been doing. Till next time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I really like Mae Sot

This morning I immediately left Sukhothai and got on a minibus to Mae Sot.  I could tell I was going to a non-touristy place right away because it was a rickety minibus full of thai people, and no farang.  After getting dropped off at the bus terminal/market I walked to the Green Guest House, which has a very nice garden and a nice lady who runs the place.  I could tell right away that I had found gem #2 of the trip, and realized I would be here longer than a couple days.

The town of Mae Sot is a boarder town with Burma and has a lot of Burmese refugees, the guide book said there were about 150 thousand just in this province alone.  Because of the interesting dynamics of the town it is culturally diverse, with Burmese, Thai, Chinese, and Muslim.  The first question from the guest house owner was if I was a tourist or a volunteer, which shows how many volunteers they have here, or how few tourists.  There were posters around for different volunteer positions showing the need for english teachers and health care probiders.  After talking to the owner for a while I decided that I would spend one day at her kids high school.  She said most people wouldn't do it because if they volunteer they are tired and most other people just come and go.  She said she would talk to the class to see if Friday or Monday would work.  It sounds good because they will do a Thai food teaching thing for me and I'll just talk and be friendly, and it seems like it will be very appreciated.

Another reason I know I will stay longer is that she told me about one hot spring 16 Km to the north of town that people like to visit, and then another one about 40 Km to the south that most people don't visit.  She thought it was funny how excited I was to see hot springs, plus the guide book didn't mention one of them, makes me want to write Lonely Planet about there inadequite coverage of hot springs.  Plus there is an herbal spa in the back of one of the wats in town.  I was sold this place deserves more than a couple days.  If I volunteer on Friday then I may leave after that, but if its Monday then I will probably go to the biggest waterfall in Thailand, which is a good deal south, and then come back for the high school.

For the day I decided to get cheap thai food lunch, then go to the spa, then get some nice italian food at a highly recommended ex-pat resturant at the end of town (I've been waiting to find a good italian place, usually there are tuns because of the ex-pats but this is the first one I've found).  The day went great.  Food was good, then I got a beer at a little place and read a Bangkok Post newspaper I bought (I felt like I needed some news from the world).  Then the spa was great.  It is a bit rustic but all the essentials are there.  The spa is a very hot steam room with a lot of herbal sents in the steam (hotter than the steam room at Banya, and one for girls and one for boys, of course).  Then outside there were lots of benches to chill on, some work out equipment, a place to pour cold water over you, and some herbal tea.  It was a really pleasent experience.  I spent about 2.5 hours there and was the only farang besides one guy who came and left very fast, actually I seemed to stay there longer than anyone.

Last but not least the italian food was great!  Everything I could have expected, perhaps I spent too much but I wanted some good non-thai food (you think you won't ever get tired of thai food but after almost 3 weeks it is a really nice change).  Tomorrow I'm planning on renting a motorbike and seeing the hot springs, then the next day checking out the market (this is suposed to be one of the best markets in Thailand especially for minerals and gems).  

I haven't made any friends here yet and the Dutch girl didn't answer my call, but I like this place so much I don't think I care.  I'm starting to feel the love for solo traveling again because I can randomly choose to stay here for several days and volunteer at the high school, which I did.  So right now I don't know when I'll leave Mae Sot, it may take me longer to get to Pai than I thought it would.  But thats the point of being alone, following my nose and doing what feels right.  I don't think I would feel good about just visiting Mae Sot and not at least helping a little bit, it needs so much help.  Perhaps I will even come back here in the future to volunteer for a longer period of time.  Thats all for now and sorry no pictures for today, I'll try to make up for it in my next post.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I love Hot Springs

My adventure to see the hot springs that are not in the guide book went great. It is hard to explain how much I enjoy hot springs. I feel a connection to the earth and some sort of spiritual connection. My body relaxes and I can feel the stress or pressures of life just fade away. Plus it gets me out into the world and seeing things I wouldn't see otherwize.

I woke up later than expected this morning and I didn't feel great, maybe too many beers with the British girls last night. But I eventually got out of my room and had some breakfast alone because all the friends I had yesterday are gone today. After breakfast, which I had around noon, I rented a motorbike. I figured I would get the manual because its cheaper and since it was my first time ever on a motorbike might as well learn on the cheaper one. It worked out because there is no clutch so its basically like changing the speed on a bike, and I felt more connected with the motorbike.

It was funny at first because it was my first time and the guy I was renting the bike from barely spoke english. I understood what all the peddles and stuff did but when I hit the gas it went faster than I thought. I could see the worry on the guy's face. I just said I needed to practice and went up and down the little streat practicing changing gears. There were some Thai people watching and they would say "gear up", and when I changed the gear they cheered. It may have been my first time but in 5 minutes I figured I was as good as I was going to get so I went off down the road.

After getting gas I was on my way to the hot spring on the highway. I just kept the speed at around 60 kph and was pretty comfortable driving the thing in no time (with a sore butt though). It was about 60 Km down the highway and then another 10 or so on smaller roads. There were good signs telling me where to go, which is how I saw it in the first place, so I wasn't worried about finding it. As I expected when I got there I was the only farang and everyone seemed to notice that.

The hot springs were pretty developed like the other ones but it was maintained on a donation basis. There was a center area (in full sun) with lots of different temp deep smaller pools, and then shallower pools around them. It didn't look like they were ever cleaned though, so at first I thought I might not be able to soak. Then I found another pool near a small man made lake that kids were riding little swan paddleboats on. That was the maintained soaking pool! It was about 103-104 and had umbrellas around for shade, and wooden planks to sit on. The source was next to it in a little raised pool that older thai women were filling up drinking water from. It seemed like a lot of people just came to fill up waters, soak there feet for a few minutes and then leave.

the un-maintained smaller pools in full sun

the maintained pool when I had it to myself
I soaked for a while, and was the only one that completely submerged my body, it was shallow so I had to lay down. Then I would get into the little man made lake. After a little soak, I read, and then soaked again. I couldn't really talk to anyone because they were all thai people that didn't speak english but people just let me do my thing. I saw several groups of people come and go while I was hanging out by the pool. A lot of them seemed like Thai tourists because they would take pictures of there family in the pool.

Eventually I got hungry so I left the pool to look for food and donated 20B. I couldn't find any food there, and I knew the closest town was pretty far away so I decided to leave and not do the night soak. It was a good decision I think because I drove back to Sukhothai during sun set and was a bit cold. When I got to town there was another chinese parade going on. This one was huge, it made the one from yesterday look really small. Also all the buisnesses had little shrines with candles in front of the stores and then the dragon would come up and bow, and these kids would run around with little sticks saying stuff. The nice kid at the guest house I'm at that can speak some english said it was a chinese new year celebration and the shrines were to wish the buisness prosperity, he said the kids were chanting "make money" or something like that. It was a neat specticle to come back to town and see. Plus it showed that I knew how to ride the motorbike because I had to weave though a lot of traffic and not hit anyone in the crowded streets.

After watching the parade I just walked down to the night market (always the cheapest place for food) and had some noodles. Now I am doing this, and am not sure what else I'm going to do. I'm alone again so if I want some company I need to be outgoing and I'm not sure if I feel like it. Plus tomorrow I'm moving on to Mae Sot so it might not be worth it to go through the effort of getting to know another person. It sounds bad when I say that but thats kinda how I feel. It is work to get to know people and if I'm just leaving tomorrow, so the friend I make, I won't even see again, then I might as well just read and go to bed early. I think the Dutch girl will be in Mae Sot tomorrow and I know her number so I can just call her when I get there, so hopefully I'll have a friend tomorrow. Anyway, thats all for now, and so far I have not seen any textiles, just jewelry, but I heard there is local silk somewhere. Peace to all!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

In Sukhothai

Yesterday after breakfast and packing up I headed to the bus station to come up to Sukhothai. In the bus terminal first I met a nice Dutch girl that is doing similar things in the next few days and then a Welsh girl and a Scottish girl traveling together. The Dutch girl left on the bus before me and the two from the UK. It was good because since I've been up in Sukhothai I've had a few friends so I didn't have to try to look for people to meet.

The Bus ride was really cold, they had the AC on full blast. I slept a bit and then when I woke up and started focusing on the road to figure out where we were I saw a sign for a hot spring about 60 Km from Sukhothai. So, now I'm planning to stay an extra day and rent a motorbike tomorrow to go check out the springs. They aren't in any books, but the guy here at the guest house knows about them and pulled out a thai book that had them in it. Its very exciting for me to get to see a hot spring that isn't even in the guide books.

After the bus ride I had dinner with the UK girls and then we had some drinks and tried to watch a rugbee game, but the game wasnt' on (the girls were sad about that). Today I had breakfast with the girls and the Dutch girl, then we all went to the historical Sukhothai together. It didn't really seem worth it. People said Sukhothai was better than Ayuthaya but I liked Ayuthaya better. The admission price for the historical Sukhothai site was raised significantly above what the guide book said and it really didn't seem worth the cost. Maybe I've just seen too many wats recently. Once they were trying to charge us 100B to ride over to more ruins we decided not to pay it and just to go back.

riding bikes through the ruins

The coolest parts of the Sukhothai historical park

We got back to the guest house and had some lunch together. The Dutch girl went off to use the computer. Then the UK girls decided also to use a computer, and I read my book and fell asleap. When I woke up I went up to my room and within a few minutes there was some racket on the main streat. I went out to see what it was and there was some sort of parade in the street, where they were blocking it off and big groups of school kid (I assume) were dancing, or playing drums, and there was even a chinese drangon thing. The UK girls aslo came out of there room to watch and it was a cool thing to see. Now I'm doing this and we are all going to out out for some drinks before some dinner.

I think all three of the friends I've been hanging out with today are leaving tomorrow but I have to stay to check out these hot springs. I'm more excited to see them than more Wats. Hopefully it will lead me into a cool adventure, and it will be the first time I try driving a motorbike. Wish me luck!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Chillin in Historical Ayuthaya

The last few days have been nice. I spent the last night in Bangkok hanging out with the Austrailian couple. It was really good because we knew each other well enough to start talking about deeper issues and it was a really constructive conversation. There were some things talked about that really hit home with me and am still thinking about.
Yesterday morning I left Bangkok as soon as I woke up! That experience with the gambling scam attempted to be pulled on me made me want to leave that place. Everyone says that Bangkok Thais are different that the "real" Thais. I took the water taxi down the river and then walked to the train station, and took the train to Ayuthaya. When I got here I just walked over to the river and took the water taxi accross to the city (The city is on an island in the center of rivers). I walked through the day market trying to find the guest house/backpacker area. I eventually found it and acutally took the first guess house I ran into.

The guest house is a little more than I wanted to pay (200B) but it has a nice chill area so I realize I'm paying for the atmosphere and took the room. I didn't do much during the day (I think drinking the few nights before in Bangkok was taking its toll on me). At night I walked over to the night market for dinner and had a nice bowl of soup. After dinner I walked past some of the illuminated Wats. Then when I got back to the guest house hung out with a Dutch guy that is here for Moi Thai (spelling). It was interesting to hear some about the sport.

An illuminated Wat

Today I wanted to see more of the Wats in the city becuase it is a very historical city, it was the old capital from 1450 to 1747 when the Burmise sacked the city and destroyed most of the Wats and Buddhas (most of the Buddhas are headless). I wasn't sure how to see the city becuase its pretty big, so I was thinking a bike but that didn't happen. I had a Tuk Tuk driver courner me and I got rid of him by getting breakfast at a place. At breakfast I met a nice girl from South Africa and we talked for long enough for the Tuk Tuk driver to leave.

I walked to the train station with her, so she could by a ticket to leave tonight and head north and then we walked around the city. She let me just lead us around to see whatever I thought we could see. First we walked to a Wat that is off the island and has the largest Buddha in Thailand (18 meters tall). It was amazing and there was a ritual occuring in the temple where people throw clothes up to people standing on the Buddha then the clothes are stung together and then then go over the crowd while they are praying. It was a cool sight, I wish I knew more about the meaning behind it.

The 18 mether buddha and the cloth ritual (pictures can't capture it)

Then we took a water taxi back over to the island, and walked over to the historical site of Ayuthaya, getting lunch on the way. We saw three other Wats, one we walked passed, another had a 14 meter tall bronze Buddha, and then next to that was another old Wat. The final one was the coolest. The Wat is completely in ruins except three piller things, very beautiful and awe inpiring to walk around in.

the bronze buddha

The really cool old Wat with the three pillar things

Then we got some beers nearby to wait for the sun to go down so we could see the Wats in the dark all illuminated. We drank in a little local place where the owners were just so happy to have some foreigners hanging out. Then after looking at the Wats we walked back to the guest houses so she could get her bag and catch the train. Now I'm doing this before I get some dinner and hit the hay.

The pillars illuminated

One thing is I am getting a little tired of the solo thing and can't wait to see some friends. Not that I'm not enjoying myself but its a lot of work trying to meet people every day. Today worked out but now she is gone, and I'm alone and going to travel up north tomorrow and have to meet someone new in order to have some company. Maybe I'm just a bit tired because of Bangkok and just need that to wear off. I think I got spoiled in Kanchanaburi because I saw the same people several times so it wasn't so much work everyday just to have some company. I did have a great day with the South African girl, and even got a call from the French girl I met in Phetchaburi just wishing me good travels and saying she is leaving the country tomorrow.

Well I'm heading north tomorrow by bus up to Sukothai, which is the other historical capital and then over to Mae Sot near the Burmise boarder. Peace to all!