Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Where Will AirAsia take you for 550 baht?

Who can resist a really good bargain?  Due to my obsession with signing up for every frequent flyer and travel program I deem beneficial, I now regularly get to shop AirAsia's specials before the "general public".  The 24 hour "members only" event left a lot of possibilities open, but I hadn't yet been to Chiang Rai, and I have a week or so of vacation to kill before Stephan, Christina, Katrina, and Mathew arrive.  When it comes to larger cities in Thailand, Chiang Rai is about as far north as you can go. It's part of the Golden Triangle: Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.  It also boasted the biggest opium trade anywhere. (Well, I guess they wouldn't actually brag about it, but it was their claim to fame.)

I arrived in Chiang Rai at about 4PM.  I've lost my fascination with Thai airports excepting that wall at Don Muang where you can be a part of the picture….

This is for Songkran… 
a lei of orchids around my neck, and the silver bowl that's full of water to splash all over.

and then the picture changed to Japan.

A few obligatory Chiang Rai airport shots….


and off I went to my hotel, Baan Baramee.

No palace, I admit, but for 500 baht/night, it was clean and did the trick.
I wasn't in my room long before I realized I'm a bit tired of night markets and temples (I feel so guilty saying that).  When I was checking my email, something from The Bamboo Nest showed up, apparently I had checked this out before.  Obviously a sign from above (literally) and I promptly sent an email inquiring about a room for the next two nights.

The manager buying ant eggs from a traveling sales lady.

The bus station was a 5 minute walk from where I was staying, and arrangements were for Noi to pick me up at 10:30 AM.


I've been propelled along the roads of St. John, with their twists and turns, missing pavement, and drops into nowhere.  I've been in a tour bus riding up and down mountain roads in Northern Italy, hairpin turns and no room for oncoming traffic.  I let Stephan negotiate the roads to Cinque Terre where, surprisingly, he never got a ticket and we never plunged into the sea.  I have a strong constitution.

But…. this ride was something out of a pleasant nightmare.  First, I got into the Ford pick-up truck with Noi, a tiny man, probably not much younger than me, not really knowing where I was going.  TripAdvisor gave high ratings for this adventure.  Navigating the traffic-clogged streets of Chiang Rai, in retrospect, was like a drive to Market Basket.  Remembering, of course, that traffic rules are merely guidelines and optional.  I was afraid our conversation would distract Noi from the moto-cys that darted in front without warning, or the trucks that knew red light or no, they were bigger and would win in the end.

A little further out of town, traffic cleared, and it was a matter of navigating twists and turns.  The roads were certainly not wide enough for two regular sized vehicles, so the way to survive is praying no one comes from the opposite direction!  Loi informed me that some people thought he drove too fast, but he'd been driving these roads all his life, so he knew them well.

The total journey is 25 km and we had barely started.  Still on a paved road at this point, we drove by hot springs and an elephant camp, and on into a national park.  The road narrowed to one lane, increased in slope, and continued its treacherous twists and turns.  All the whie, Noi and I discussed SouthEast Asian politics, ASEAN, and rightful nationality of the hill tribes.   The truck had long since been shifted into 4WD and the air con turned off to prevent overheating.

A sign:  Bamboo Nest 500m,  a sharp turn, a path that reminded me of a hiking trail to Reef Bay in St. John, and we arrived at the top of the hill.



The pictures aren't nearly as scary as the road was!!!!

Bamboo Nest is truly a place to get away from everything and simply relax or contemplate life.
I'm in the middle of The Goldfinch, so no problem here.

Surrounded by flowers, lots of vegetation, banana trees sporting not only the fruit, but the flower, I was brought to my cabin.

No locks here- wooden sliding bolts.


and some pretty amazing views….

Feeling a little restless, I decided to see if my legs and glutes could handle the walk down and back up the road a piece.  Sadly, I found the people not nearly so friendly.  The first few people I ran into this far up the mountain did not respond to my big smile and "sawadee".  I spotted some children(my weakness) and tried conversation to no avail.  I asked if I could take their pictures… tai roop dai mai?  They shook their heads no.  I was a bit surprised because I hadn't encountered this before, when a little girl (6-7 years old) came up to me with a mischievous grin.  Ah!  Playful!  She thrust her hand at me and asked, "money?"  Another first for me.  I laughed it off, asked her for money and was on my way.

A teenage boy, maybe 14 or 15, trailed behind me at about 100m.  After awhile, he called out, "hello!" How sweet!  I gave him my 50,000 baht smile and said hello.  He continued to hang back a bit, and once when I turned around, he was urinating at the side of the road.  I felt a little uneasy with all of this, and there was the thought of climbing all the way back, so I stopped and changed direction.  When I had just about reached him, he looked at me curiously, pointed downhill, and asked Bai mai?  No, no, no… I pointed uphill, trying to indicate it would be too difficult.

Anyone in my family is bound to know where this is heading…. I've been plagued all my life.  I was well on my way up the hill and again I hear, "hello".  When I turned, my young friend lowered his pants to display the family jewels.  Oh yes.  Like when a bee hovers around you, it's important to stay calm and not run. Who am I kidding- I could barely walk up that hill.  My mind was racing, what do I yell?  will anyone even care? where are those 3 guys I spoke to who were headed up the hill?

Well, I wouldn't be telling the story if it turned out badly.  Along the way back, I ran into the little girl again.  This time she asked for my bracelets.  When I said no, she asked for my necklace.  So I asked for her bracelet, then I asked for money.  We  laughed at that one and I made it back to the resort to speak with Noi.

It sort of put a damper on the rest of the afternoon, so I stayed close and used my time for photos.


The purple underneath the bananas is the banana flower.  People in South East Asia eat it in salads and cook with it.  I had a taste and it made my mouth really dry.





A little later on, Dylan, Mike, and Selena came back from their two day trek with Bii.  We had dinner together and spent the night sharing experiences.

Bii, Noi, Nok

Bii, Selena, Mike, me (back0
Noi and Nok

And the photos wouldn't be complete without the dogs….

My new friends were off to Chiang Mai on Friday, so I had the place to myself.  Some photos of my hut…


A good night's sleep and an American breakfast… eggs, bacon, and toast, and I was on my way back to Chiang Rai.

Every 90 days I need to check in for my visa, or I can just leave the country and re-enter to extend for another 90 days.  Myanmar is only a one hour drive from Chiang Rai, so of course I didn't pass up the opportunity.

The van is 46 baht one way, and much quicker than the bus (and I imagine more comfortable).  It holds about 15 people, at the driver's discretion.  At one point, we were sharing seats after he picked up a few extra passengers.  But we arrived at the bus station in Mai Sae in good time, and took a songtauw to the border.


After crossing the bridge to Myanmar, I took the stairs down to the market (I know, I said I was tired of these).  The first thing I hear is, "mommy, mommy!"  I turned at this bizarre verbal confusion to see a man telling me, "here, take these.  give to friend tonight. For you, special deal." He was holding out a handful of Viagra packets.  And to be on the safe side, he was also peddling condoms.  The rest of the market was pretty typical with the exception of seeing more muslim women than I'm used to.




          All fried…. I had one of each.

      Roasting chestnuts in the coals.

And, just a reminder….

Yes, our van was pulled over on the way back to Chiang Rai and checked for yaba.  Two 20ish guys were taken from the van and had to give urine samples on the spot.  Apparently they were clean because they were allowed back for the rest of the ride.

And my final shots… more children.

And so, another adventure winds down.  Now, it's 4 days…. 96 hours until I see my family!!!!