Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The End of the Road: Pai Land

So we spent another few days in Chaing Mai, which were an absolute blast. It should be noted that the reason wasn’t becaus we did anything very special, but because we stayed at an amazing hostel and met some great people. 

“Hostels” in much of the world are communal, with dorm beds and large, inviting guest rooms.  Throughout Asia, the hostels have been more like guesthouses, which tend to have people sequestered in their room as opposed to herded into communal tv-watching, dining, cooking and chilling locations. 
Julie’s Guest House is the coolest place we stayed in so far.  The room wasn’t special besides it’s price (180 baht / $5).  There was three large common rooms where people would discuss the benefits of various treks (hikes), elephant adventures, cooking classes and the like.  There are three common rooms at Julie’s and we spent many hours chit-chatting in the common room with new-found friends from across the globe. 
Throw in a massage and a visit or two to the bazaar and that was a few days before we headed off to Pai (pronouced like “pie).
Pai’s a small community of 3000 people in the northwest corner of Thailand.  For us, this is also the end of the road as we have decided that there’s not enough time for Mae Hong Son and instead we’re heading back to Chaing Mai and Bangkok before the flight home. 
The place is known for trekking (what “hiking” is known as by the Thais and Europeans) so we immediately signed up for a two day trek.  The trek was filled with very high highs and very low lows.
It began with us meeting our crew, Mai from China, Nichola from Switzerland, Christian and Charlene from Quebec, Canada (French-Canadian) and something like “Louth” who was French, but living in New Caladonia.  Our guide was Chuh, who was born in the Lisu tribe and lived in Pai.
Chuh was a blast and made the trip worth it.  He spoke the language of both tribes we visited, Thai, English and some French.  At the end I even whipped out some Spanish on him and he made a joke en Espanol. 
We began in the back of a pickup truck and headed about 30 minutes west of Pai, about twenty minutes from the Myanmar (don’t call it Burma) border.  We started with about a hour and a half hike and headed into a Lisu village.  There are six (give or take) ethnic minority village in northeast Thailand.  The most common throughout the rest of the country are the Akha, who are always coming up to people in Bangkok and trying to sell wooden frogs.  The best known world-wide are probably the Karen, whose women lengthen their necks with golden bands. 
Anyway, our first stop was Lisu, where we were given some noodle soup that was pretty good and got to watch the goings on around the village.  It’s interesting being in a tour group for one of these things because it’s interesting to look around, but we’re definitely not part of the local customs, can’t speak the language and can barely interact with the locals, who probably aren’t interested in talking to us anyway.  As a result, our interaction with the villagers was mostly with our guides who were of a few different groups and Chuh’s family.  His sister married a man from the Lahu village, which is where we stayed there.
The first thing I noticed was that all the huts were pretty sturdy, usually with 2-3 rooms and an open area.  Bathrooms were squat toilets, but there was running water.  Chuh attempted to keep up the appearance of rustic living but I could catch glances of him text-messaging and the solar-panels and satellite dishes stuck out.  Yes, the “hill tribe” had solar power and satelite TV. 
We then checked out a cave that was pretty cool, but would definitely NOT be up to US safety standards.
A few more hours and we found a waterful that we were to camp at.  We went swimming and Chuh and his cousins got to work building a shelter.  I didn’t notice what was happening until I got out of the water, but they were halfway done in fifteen minutes.  Banana leaves covered the roof and floor and the whole thing was up in about a half hour.  Next came tea.  Water heated in a fire in bamboo and poured into bamboo cups.  Dinner was started as chicken was skewered on bamboo as other tubes made a BBQ.  Sticky rice was put in bamboo and steamed along with vegetables.  The entire thing was served in bamboo plates (made by chopping 1 segment in half length-wise).  When it got dark they made candle holders. 
The whole thing turned into the most posh camping experience I’ve ever heard of.  It was a bit rediculous.  I’m usually pretty helpful around a campsite but soon realized that I’d just get in their way. 
That night turned into a nightmare though.  For starters, I had some sort of ear problem, that kept me from sleeping.  I thought my head would explode and I had flashbacks to when I was a kid and my eardrum burst.  After watching fireflies for three hours I finally got a little sleep.
My head was better upon waking, but Leslie had been absolutely eaten alive by some bugs and has had an allergic reaction.  We later counted and discovered 135 (yes, 135) bites.  We did our best to be in good spirits, but with my ear-infection type thing and Leslie’s bites we were a somber pair in the morning. 
Chuh told me to put water in my mouth to warm it up, spit it into my hand and then pour it in my ear as it was something from the waterfall.  I didn’t think it would do anything, but didn’t think it would hurt so tried it and it helped a bit. 
We then hiked on to the Laho village where we had fried rice and saw another hill tribe.  It was interesting, but we really just wanted to get back, with my head ringing and my hands tearing Leslie’s away from itching (she’s done pretty good). 
Two more hours of hiking and we returned to the truck to take us back to town.  We split ways with the group, but have already seen Mai and Nicolas, as the towns quite small. 
We’ve also invested in two large tubes of anti-histimine for Leslie and I’m back on anti-biotics.  We’re going to take stock tomorrow and go to the doc if needed. 
It also seemed prudent to check into a nicer place, which we’ve done.  The place is a “rustic” looking bungalow and reminds me of home, as it’s clean and decorated with dark stained wood.  It has hot water and we were almost fooled into thinking we could be in the States .. . .. . until we saw the 9″ lizard in the shower. We figured we’d leave it alone and it’d leave us alone, so last check it was still there.
Don’t want lizards in your shower?  Tough. This is Thailand.

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