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!


  1. I share the same views. Liked your blog very much.