Somehow it took me a week to let go and get into travel mode, but now I’m really locked in. I suppose with the bewilderment wrought by jet lag in Bangkok and then the madness of Songkran in Chiang Mai I wasn’t able to relax. But the cure for all that (besides time) is Pai – a place where I have no qualms whatsoever about doing absolutely, positively nothing for an entire day. Nothing, that is, beyond eating a bit, reading a bit, drinking a lot of water, wandering around…and uploading a shitload of photos.
So there’s no excuse for me to not write what I’ve been up to.
So, the trek. All 11 of us piled into a Saangtaw (basically a red pickup truck with benches attached to the bed, open sides, and a hard roof overhead) with our small rucksacks tied up on the roof and covered with plastic to protect them from (you guessed it) water. Since we were extremely easy targets for Songkran revelers, within minutes we were all soaked. We were kept well watered by buckets of water thrown by villagers along the road to our first stop – Mok Fa Waterfall. Since it’s the end of dry season here, the water didn’t so much fall as trickle. But there was still a nice cool pool to dip into.
Next it was back into our Saangtaw and up into more mountains, into a national park to see Pong Dued Geyser and have lunch. Then, finally, the trek began. After a short easy walk into the rain forest, real fun began. Hike up a 45-degree incline in 90-degree heat for 30 minutes. Good god, I’m out of shape. I made it for about 20 minutes (more or less – it seemed like 3 days) and then I really started struggling. So, to my neverending shame, Greg (the father from Montreal) insisted on taking my pack for me until we reached the top. I’m still mortified. But I made it.
The hike itself was at a fairly brisk, steady pace. Other than during brief rest & water breaks, we didn’t really stop to admire any views (there were few) or to look at/for flora or fauna. The first village we came to seemed to be more for a longer break. There was a Karen woman there selling water, soda and beer (!) out of a cooler, but that was about it. A few of us wandered around taking pictures, but things were pretty quiet.
After about 20 minutes we were off again for another 45 minutes or so, to the village where we would spend the night. Doh, our guide, is Karen. A woman who came from his village is married to a man in the village where we stayed….so that’s the connection. Though the description of the trek had promised a homestay, in fact we all stayed in a huge bungalow on the edge of the village. It was nice enough – 12 thin mattresses on the floor below mosquito nets, a large balcony area, and another room with a long table for our meals. After cooling down and washing up a bit in the river, I went for a wander around the village.
It’s dry season, so that lush green rainforest I was expecting to see in the surrounding hills is marred by large swaths of brown. The air was heavy with smoke from the “burn” that local farmers use to clear land. The Karen live in simple bamboo and teak huts on stilts, with chickens milling about and a pig tied up in each yard. Sprinkled throughout this traditional life are modern items, some of which are quite surprising. I saw motorbikes parked next to old wooden churns, modern backpacks hanging next to traditional woven skirts. Most huts had solar panels in the yard to generate electricity. Each house also had lovely planters hanging out front, filled with colorful flowers.
The Karen are semi-nomadic people who speak their own language and who don’t recognize themselves as Thai (or Laotian or Chinese, or from whatever country they live in). That said, I saw a few posters of the Thai king and queen – compulsory decor in every other Thai building – hanging on some of the huts. The people seemed reserved and aloof – I suppose they’re sick of farang (foreigners) like us parading through their village like it was an exhibit. But our Doh, our Karen guide, didn’t offer much information either – nothing about the people, the village, etc. Even logistical information about our trek was doled out sparingly, on a need-to-know basis.
OK, time to get something to eat again. More later or tomorrow….