This was taken in a crowded songthaew (a Thai shared taxi made by adding a roof onto the bed of a pick up truck) headed back to Chiang Mai from Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son is a town and province about six hours away from Chiang Mai. To get there you have to survive – and I’m not using this term lightly – 1864 curves in the road through mountainous jungle. Between the twists and turns, hills, questionable drivers and unpredictable oncoming traffic, it’s enough to make those with even the strongest of stomachs start to feel a little queasy…
Entries Tagged as 'on the road'
Traveling around countries where English is not spoken, you often see various signs, information pamphlets and menus employing some interesting uses of the English language. Sometimes silly, sometimes poetic, sometimes confusing and sometimes downright nonsense – funny English signs in Asia rarely fail to amuse.
My favorite menu item that I’ve seen so far was for ‘beaked beams’ as part of an English Breakfast in Pai, Thailand. I don’t know why I didn’t get picture of it, but it’s been stuck in my head ever since and now pay better attention when something catches my eye.
Here’s a sampler of sorts of the signs I’ve caught throughout Southeast Asia and India.
At a walk up, fast food burger joint throughout Chiang Mai. They can’t be serious…right?
Um, well, this room was in Vang Vieng, Laos so…yeah.
Taken somewhere in the middle of India. I’m not sure if…well, I just not sure about this one.
Apparently. Winnie the Pooh made this sign for ‘Hunny’.
Seen during the Thai Loy Krathong festival, I don’t know if this sign speaks more to Thais not wanting to cause confrontation, or the fact that you can often find a way to get out of trouble here. ‘Please don’t do this – but if you do, don’t worry, you’ll be alright.’
And last but not least – one of my favorites found in the Nimmanhaemin area of Chiang Mai where a new wine bar seems to be popping up every day. The thing that made the sign even better is that the place is called ‘I’m Chair Bistro and Wine Bar’. I’m. Chair.
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The Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos is known for jungles, coffee and waterfalls. Like this one.
Usually I don’t go on group tours, you never know what it’s going to be like or who will be in your group – but while staying on the plateau I signed myself up for a day trip as I was traveling alone and didn’t have personal transportation. I also am usually wary of random waterfalls or scenic stops on these types of package deals – sometimes they’re great and other times they’re…well, you don’t really understand what you’re stopping for.
This one about an hour outside of Pakse however did not disappoint. The overall cooler climate of the plateau was also a welcome relief from the hot stickiness of everywhere else during the rainy season.
Been to the Bolaven Plateau? What was your favorite part?
Despite my last post being a little…questioning…I love Chiang Mai – I mean, I’ve stayed here about a year longer than I initially expected. I’m kind of a fan. But the town it itself can be…dingy. There are some really charming, even beautiful, spots and the city is relatively clean, but there are also a lot of areas that look worn out. There aren’t a ton of trees or green spaces, and hastily thrown together ‘coffee shops’, tourist agencies and guest houses clutter the streets. If someone was only passing through town and here for a couple of days I could understand if they were…underwhelmed.
The real beauty of Chiang Mai lies outside of town in the country roads, hills and jungles. And while it may seem easier to stay in around the city center, it really doesn’t take much effort to go further out.
The best thing about being able to live or spend more time in a place is discovering the things, places and activities outside of the immediate tourist track. I never would have heard about or gone to the following three spots if I hadn’t spent a lot of time here, but they’re each an easy trip just outside of town perfect for a morning excursion or afternoon break.
Huay Tung Tao – One of the most simple and enjoyable things I’ve done here is spend an afternoon at lake Huay Tung Tao. Located just a quick 25-30 minutes from Chiang Mai’s city center, visitors can spend hours in a cabana by the water ordering drinks and dishes to share from the restaurants situated around the lake.
- Go: Get a motorbike and head toward Mae Rim on Canal Road. You’ll see signs (in English) for Huay Tung Tao on your left. You could also talk a tuk tuk into taking you out there or get a group of people to rent a songthaew (shared truck taxi). The driver can work out a deal to take you there and pick you up to come back at a specified time. *Note: there is a 20 baht fee to get onto the park grounds. Parking is free.
The Samoeng Loop – It’s no secret that I love motorbikes. Whether driving or riding, I’m completely content to spend all day watching everything pass by. It really is the best way to see Northern Thailand (and Southeast Asia general) and isn’t as intimidating as it might seem when you first touch down in the Land of Smiles. There are plenty of drives just outside of town and one of the best is the Samoeng Loop. Good roads, interesting stops and great views make the trip an easy getaway. While the first part of the drive takes you through I guess what you would call Thai suburban sprawl, once you get on the main road and away from town the hills will open up for you.
- Go: From the old city’s north gate, head north (again toward Mae Rim) on Highway 107. After about 15 minutes turn left onto Highway 1096…that’s it. From here you will loop around emerging to the south of the City on Canal Road. If you’re going quickly the loop could take just 90 minutes or so…but if you have more time you can drag it out stopping along the way. For more details check out this guide.
Mon Cham – A Royal Project site (Thailand’s Royal Family has various agricultural projects throughout the country helping villages and hill tribes better produce crops), Mon Cham is essentially a strawberry field in the hills – with a killer view (just look at the first photo). Enjoy the drive up (less than an hour and a half from town) Come here for the nice drive and stay for lunch at the garden’s outdoor restaurant situated right on the ridge. While not many tourists know about the spot, Thais certainly do and travel up here for numerous photo opps. At 9am on a Friday morning I was one of two foreigners taking in the view, but was surprised by the number of songthaews, cars and tour minivans that were already there. It still didn’t feel overcrowded though and was a great example of how Thai people love sightseeing…and taking pictures. For those who want to stay longer, there’s camping (tents and bungalows) at Mon Cham as well as at several spots on the road up.
- Go: Like the Sameong Loop, head toward Mae Rim on Highway 107 and turn left at Highway 1096. Go past the elephants farms and botanical gardens until you see signs for Nong Hoi/Mon Cham and turn right. Once you turn right it’s about nine kilometers of steep incline. Mon Cham is at the very top of the hill when you can’t go any further. There’s a 10-20B fee for parking but no entrance fee.
Live or spent some time in Chiang Mai? What did I miss? Tell me your favorite day trip spot in the comments below. for more photos check out the Paper Planes Facebook Page.
Unexpected mini trips, Christmas, computer problems…the past few weeks have kind of been odd and now I need to get back on the blogging bandwagon and figure out what I’m doing and where I’m going in 2013. A quick look about what’s been going on lately…
Northern Thailand is filled with mountains and jungles – it’s stunning. I’ve done several drives through the areas around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but have always wanted to go even further north to the town and province of Mae Hong Son. (Often in Thailand a province’s largest city shares the same name as the province.) After coming back from Malaysia, I haven’t even really left town these past few months and was itching to get out.
The town itself doesn’t offer much. It’s cute but small with not much to do. The real reason of the trip was for the drive – 1864 curves in the road between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son through sun-filled jungly mountains. I would have been completely content just driving around in circles all day…which is actually kind of what it felt like since the roads were so windy and it took about 6 hours.
While there are plenty of buses and minivans going between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the most rewarding way to go would be by motorbike. Unfortunately, I did the trip by myself and didn’t feel comfortable driving that far alone, so felt like I was kind of missing out on fully enjoying the area. On the plus side, I managed to not get car sick. I have a strong stomach, but 6 hours in a full minibus with three little kids getting sick (1864 curves!) could get to anyone.
A day after getting back from Mae Hong Son, I ended up going to Bangkok for a couple nights (still can’t believe that I can just decide to go to Bangkok one moment then hop on a bus to get there the next…) and finally tried eating some bugs. Check that off my list.
Then it was Christmas, which in Thailand doesn’t feel anything like Christmas. Even spent with friends – who collectively managed to pull together and impressive spread of green bean casserole, potatoes and gravy, stuffing, roasted chickens, bread, wine and lots of chocolate – Christmas here just feels…like nothing.
Though the spontaneous Mae Hong Song and Bangkok trips helped with my itchy feet, I’ve been trying to be more proactive about getting out and seeing or doing the things I still haven’t done here – particularly trying to go on day or afternoon trips to areas just outside of town.
So there you have it – no big plans, 2012 recaps (although you can check out some of my most popular posts on Wanderlust & Lipstick here) or 2013 resolution posts for this girl, just a quick catch up and now onto getting back into a bit of a routine now that the holidays are (almost) over and I have a working computer again (fingers crossed).
I’ve always appreciated the old and natural over the new and plastic. I like old buildings, old cars, old clothes. I majored in history and have often felt like I should be living in a different decade. I prefer making things with my hands than working online. I don’t have a smartphone.
When I first moved to Thailand several things stood out to me as being ‘old fashioned’ or done in a more natural way than at home. More clothes are made or fitted by hand. Tailor shops and single seamstresses working out of their front room are everywhere to make custom clothing and resize school uniforms. In a time when less people are even wearing watches, here you can get your broken timepiece fixed by a man with a little stand on the side of the street. Along with getting your shoes resoled.
Some more examples – above are old-style bicycle taxis known as samlors. Naturally, before the onslaught of cars and motorbikes, they used to be used much more frequently, and today are mainly reduced to a tourist attraction of sorts. The only people that seem to use them seriously are old Thai ladies going to and from the fresh markets.
When I was taking my TEFL course I walked past this print shop everyday where they have not one, but TWO classic Heidelberg letterpresses that they use for printing…fliers. Fliers! And invitations, but still. Here you see one of the press and racks of type that the man who owns the shop and his son have to set by hand for each design.
Traditional Thai houses were made of teak and raised on stilts to avoid flooding damage and, well, tigers. Though there are still several of these types of houses around, many are worn down and no new ones are being built. You can see in the image below an older house by newer buildings and hotels.
Southeast Asia is the world’s winner for using the most plastic bags possible. It’s not just that there’s no awareness about trying to use reusable bags instead of plastic when going to the market or grocery store; it’s like there’s an unspoken competition to use as many bags for your purchases as physically possible. I’ve literally bought three small things before and had them placed into three separate bags. I don’t get it. My favorite is when I see someone buy a bottle of tea or can of soda, have it put in a bag to carry out, then open it up and start drinking still hold on to the bag.
Anyway, on the other end of the spectrum, gigantic banana leaves are abundant and often used to wrap, package and cook in. Above are Thai sweets made from coconut milk that are cooked and then sold in their banana leaf wrappers – so simple, green and sustainable. Sometimes you can get fried noodle dishes off the street served on a banana leaf instead of in a styrofoam box. Perfect.
When I first came to Thailand I thought I might be gone for about a year – teach a little bit and travel around SE Asia, then head to Australia and New Zealand, and ideally make my way home via Europe. That was in May 2011.
Instead, I haven’t even managed to get out of SE Asia (wait, does India count?). And I still want to see all those other places.
What it comes down to though isn’t about checking places off my list or adding stamps to my passport. The real reason is that, even though I have now lived in Chiang Mai for more than a year, I still do/see/learn/eat/realize/experience something new everyday.
And that’s what’s keeping me here, for now. Yes, you can learn, do or see something new everyday at home, but it’s more difficult. You do the commute to and from work without actually being aware of what you’re doing. You get used to your surroundings/routines/habits/expectations. And that’s not a bad thing – it just makes it more difficult to recognize the new and experience something different.
I know the time will come when I want more stability, predictability and a home that feels like I’ll be staying there for a while. But for now, I love the fact that I can still walk down the street and notice something new, learn something about where I am or appreciate something so little as realizing there’s a papaya tree in my back yard. It’s the little things that make me stop and think or stick in my mind more than the big ones like, say, going on holiday to a new island or zip lining for the first time.
I hope that by the time I do go home or settle down in a place, I will be able to remember not to get too caught up in the familiar and still actively seek out or notice new things all around me.
What keeps you traveling? Or how do you find new things to excite you at home?