I decided to take two weeks and be a tourist. So I got a plane ticket, took off with a plan of direction but nothing definite. I’ll just go and see what happens. I started out in Bangkok, which I had been to before. But….. that was 40 years ago in 1973. Not the same place anymore. Most all the khlongs are paved over now with a few left to the locals, mostly for transportation. There were only about 3 or 4 buildings over 5 stories then and now it’s a bustling metropolis with a skyline to match. Subways and even a Sky Train that travels above the streets like an ‘El’.
The Khlongs were the lifeblood back then, the way you bought your food, clothing, and you got around. One remnant of the old days, albeit now he’s selling hats and trinkets.
( All Blog Post Photos: © Bartay )
My plan was to head north past Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle Area of Chiang Rai, so I flew up from Bangkok. When we arrived we circled the airport about 3 times. I wasn’t quite sure why, this is a small airport. The kind where there are no taxiways, you land, turn around on the runway and go to the parking lot. I couldn’t see much out the window, then just saw the ground as we were about to land.
Nowhere did I read that March and April of every year are like this. The visibility is only about 1 to 2 km. This is the time of year the farmers are burning the remains of their rice harvest getting ready for planting the new crop. The Thai government has asked the farmers to stop burning, which ‘most’ have. But they have no control over Burma (Myanmar) nor Laos and the entire northern part of SEAsia is under very heavy smoke.
I wanted to find the poppy fields, the buds heroin is made from, only because I’ve always heard about them. The Thai government has been able to rid the countryside of almost all of them, but I did finally find a few plants.
I have found what I like most is to just rent a motorcycle and take off for a day. Drive up to mountains and get out of town, I usually get lost but the things you run into are usually very interesting. Early in the morning I rode south of Chiang Rai to see Wat Rong Khun, also called the White Temple. Chalermchai Kositpipat designed it. I think he’s the Antoni Gaudí of Thailand. It is very different and very unique.
One day I got a car and driver and we drove along a very narrow road that is the border, with Thailand on one side and Myanmar on the other. The terrain is very steep so most of the way it’s just cliff then barbed wire where it’s possible to climb. Along our drive that day, about every 15 km we would run into a military post, just a hut and a bamboo stick across the road. But always a uniformed officer with rifle to check our trunk and my driver had to show his Thai ID. They are looking for Burmese who have come across the border. Even on my bus ride to Chaing Mai, the bus was stopped and officers came onboard and all locals had to show Thai ID. Somewhere behind all that smoke is Burma.
I got as far north as Mae Sai at the border with Myanmar. I had to go, so I crossed over into Myanmar and spent the afternoon in the market and took a tuk tuk up to the temple to see the city but just too much smoke.
The next day I took a bus and went to Chiang Mai, about 3 hours south of Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai is an old town of history, being the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna from the early 14th through mid 18th centuries. It is quite a bit bigger than Chiang Rai and somewhat of a tourist destination now. I found a great guesthouse inside the old city wall and it was just great.
I had so wanted to join a particular, eco, animal friendly elephant rescue farm where you spend an entire day, one on one with an elephant. But they were booked through the month so I was resigned to not seeing any elephants while I was there, which really bummed me out. So I rented a motorcycle and went up into the mountains for a 204 km ride into Samoeng Valley and around. I was riding back toward Chiang Mai and off the side of the road an elephant in the stream caught my eye. So I stopped, grabbed my camera and went to the edge of the cliff and started taking pictures. A mahout (trainer) was giving this elephant a bath as another elephant came down and into the stream. The mahout saw me taking pictures and waved me down, so I went back to the bike, changed to the wide angle lens and down on my butt, I slid down the cliff. Had no idea if I was going to be able to make it back up, but I wasn’t going to miss out on this. I was able to spend half an hour or so with these elephants all to myself, and the mahout. I was one very happy puppy. Not easy getting back up the cliff but I did make it home.
The next day I did something I’ve never done before. I went zip lining through the jungle forest. It was about an hours drive into the mountains and was over 5 km’s of zip lines. We would go from one tree to another, cross rope bridges to another tree, drop down 20 ft to another. The longest single zip line was about 200 meters, longer than two football fields. Most of the time you couldn’t see the landing from where you were starting. It was a blast.
Then it was on to Luang Prabang In Laos. A young woman, Vesna from Montenegro, sat next to me on the plane, we got talking and low and behold, she’s a singer, photographer/videographer, on a 2 month trek through SEAsia. We got along great so we spent some time traveling around Luang Prabang.
Again on the first day I rented a motorcycle and asked Vesna if she wanted to come with me to go see the Pak Ou caves carved into the side of the cliffs along the Mekong river. So off we went. After about an hour or so we crossed a river and it just didn’t seem right so we stopped and asked some kids. They pointed us back south and with no common language we just went. Took the first road we saw and went with it. After about half an hour on this small dirt road without any traffic we figured, we were lost. It was so beautiful we kept going and kept running into such beautiful surroundings. I should mention here that the Lao farmers are also burning so the smoke here is actually denser than in Thailand.
Along the way we came around a corner and saw this working elephant along side the road. We stopped to take some photos and the mahout wasn’t very friendly, but try stopping two photographers.
After riding and seeing wonderful country we ended up in a small village, parked the bike and walked through the village and down to the river. Vesna wanted to go swimming and we found a very beautiful spot, with only the occasional boat paddling by. That tiny boat with the husband and wife show you how big these cliffs are.
We stayed for about an hour or so till it was getting late. The wind started to pick up and the sound of the wind blowing through the bamboo made the most beautiful sound. Then it rained on us riding home, a very welcomed change.
The next day we were going to go down river to the Kuangsi Waterfalls and while walking to the river we ran into Joy, a woman Vesna had met in the airport. So Joy joined us and the three of us rented a boat to take us down river. When we got there, Joy who’s Thai and can communicate in Lao, got a fellow to take us up to the waterfalls in the back of his pickup. He was very kind, he laid a rug down for us to sit on.
The colour of these pools and the water was just beautiful.
Now I’m back in Phnom Penh and the summer heat is in full swing with 100º+ days and the occasional downpour.