Pai to Mae Hong Son (107km): A much easier ride than from Chiangmai to Pai, with numerous diversions in the form of scenery, waterfalls, popular caves suitable for rafting. The road is in very good shape with very little construction. There are even some stretches of widened, newly paved and straighter road, but it’s mainly winding and mountainous
Here, at the top of a mountain, a family of the Lisu tribe waits in full dress, soliciting photos. The kids were so cute I couldn’t resist.
Mae Hong Son itself isn’t much to write home about; but there are, as to be expected, quite a few religious shrines, differing in style from other Thai styles due to the strong influence of the Burmese.
Lottery tickets were on sale at the Wat.
I got totally lost in the city right away. There doesn’t seem to be a hotel neighbourhood, a tourist neighbourhood or a restaurant neighbourhood that I noticed. I had to drive through the airport to get to my “hotel.”
When I finally got straightened out, I found my way to another couple of shrines in the centre of town overlooking a small lake. These two are circa 1820. One houses a collection of Burmese religious artifacts.
Ban Rak Thai: Today, I took off for Ban Rak Thai, a village about 50 km north and minutes from the Burmese border. It’s a gorgeous ride through cultivated valleys, dense jungle, mountaintop views and small villages.
I passed government agricultural facilities, the Pha Sua waterfall, a royal palace and a beautiful bamboo garden sponsored by the Royal family.
In a place called Ban Na Pa Paek, I happened on a procession that I first thought might have been a funeral…or maybe a marriage. But it was neither. Nevertheless, the women were dancing and singing.
The writing on the musical instrument is not Thai. It’s Burmese.
Ban Rak Thai itself, surrounding a small reservoir, is an enclave of Chinese who are scattered throughout this northwestern area, intermingled with a half-dozen other ethnic groups spanning the Thai-Burmese border.
How did they get here? Three generations ago, the remnants of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist Army, the Kuomintang, driven out of China by the People’s Army of Mao Tse-tung, hid in the jungles of Burma and Thailand, fought skirmishes with the Burmese Army for decades, clinging desperately to dreams of reclaiming China. The Thai government regarded them as a northern buffer against communist invasion. They ultimately assimilated into the local population (deeper information in a great blog here).
Today, Ban Rak Thai (also called Mae Aw) is a remote tourist attraction featuring numerous tea-tasting shops selling the delicious harvest of the upper elevations, as well as restaurants featuring excellent Chinese food.
My favourite tea was called Top Dew, an amazing green tea dew blend with a natural aromatic sweetness that was positively transporting. I was also served some local almonds with a sweet flavour I’ve never tasted before, along with some local dried fruits, all delicious.
My day was cut short by a light but steady rain. Riding down from the mountain, I am pelted by the drops. But strangely, the wind is drying me as fast as I am being soaked. By the time I am down to the lower elevations again, I am completely dry.
Tomorrow, a long ride to Mae Sariang. And the forecast is not looking great.