Yes it's another blog already!!!
Nick got tired of typing and left you all where we arrived in Mae Sot, that means that you're over a week behind where we actually are so I'll bring you up to date now!
Mae Sot is towards the South end of the road that runs up the Thai side of the Thai - Burma border and my brother, Jon, had recommended it to us. Thank you Jon, you were right, it was amazing!!
Our afternoon and evening in Mae Sot was very uneventful - basically it rained torrentially - so apart from venturing out to find out about transport and buy dinner we sheltered in our room.
The next morning we planned to catch the 9.20 songathew to Mae Sariang. However when we arrived at the bus station we were told that the 9.20 wasn't running and we'd have to wait for the 10.20. Nick dutifully sat there with the bags while I explored the town a bit. I found what I assume was a Burmese refugee camp on the other side of town and the local market which completely disorientated me and, in a panic that I was going to miss the bus, I jumped on the back of a taxi moped back to the bus station. I arrived at 10.15 expecting Nick to be asking the driver to "please wait" only to find that the 10.20 wasn't running either so we'd have to wait until 12.20!!!
Eventually we left at 12.15 and embarked on one of the most uncomfortable, but amazing journeys of the trip so far. Basically, a songathew is a pick up truck with bench seats in the back and a roof. These are driven all over Thailand and they pick-up and drop-off anywhere along the route and will keep stuffing people in (even putting people on the roof at times!) They're not the most comfortable mode of transport available but you do get to see some interesting things. On this particular journey that included live chickens and a woman with a green plastic foot! The road we took to Mae Sariang was very scenic. Long sweeping bends and amazing views of mountains and paddy fields, we also passed a huge Burmese refugee camp made completely from timber and bamboo. Apparently a few years ago you could visit this but that's no longer possible and there were army guards all around.
We finally arrived in Mae Sariang at around 6pm, very hungry and dirty but happy! Checked in to a hostel, showered and went out for possibly the worst meal we've had in Thailand so far!! Oh well, never mind! On the songathew we met a couple of Dutch guys and a Japanese guy who all ended up staying in the same hostel as us. The Japanese guy then proceeded to get very drunk on local whiskey much to everyone's amusement!
The next morning we were moving on again so after laughing at the Japanese guy's hangover we accompanied him the the bus station and jumped on a local bus to Mae Hong Son. This was yet another beautiful road with amazing scenery and the 4 hour journey passed relatively quickly for us (not sure about the Japanese guy!!). When we arrived we decided to sign up for a Hill Tribe Trek into the jungle, leaving the next morning. We had planned to do this in Chang Mai but several people had recommended doing it elsewhere as Chang Mai is very touristy and about twice as expensive. This did mean foregoing elephant rides and bamboo rafting but we've done all that before so weren't too concerned. So, after a quick walk around town and some food from the market, it was back to our rooms to pack.
So, 9am the next morning off we went. We were driven a short distance to a large Karen (hill tribe) village with our English speaking guide, Piak. At the village we met Pati, our Karen guide, at his house. Piak can speak Thai, very good English and a bit of Karen, while Pati can speak fluent Karen and Thai and a very little bit of English. They've been trekking together for several years and obviously get on very well, we had a great time with them.
The first day was relatively easy, mainly level ground with a bit of up hill at the end, it was even dry for most of the day! During the whole trip Piak and Pati were pointing out animals and plants that can be eaten when in the jungle. Some, like bananas, papaya and grapefruit we are familiar with. Others, such as orange ants that taste of lime (yes, really), tadpoles (we didn't try these) and some plants were less familiar and not generally as nice. Pati is also brilliant at bamboo carving. As we walked along he cut some bamboo to make a tea pot, he then made cups, spoons and pipes. When we stopped for lunch Piak lit a fire to make ginger tea in the bamboo tea pot with ginger he'd picked in the jungle. We then drank it out of bamboo cups! Amazing! Unfortunately, at this point our camera battery ran out and, for the first time on the trip, we'd forgotten to charge the spare. So, no photo's of the last two and a half days of our trip!
That night we were staying at a very small Karen village with a handful of houses and a small school which all of the children from miles around walk to and stay at during the week. The village is built from bamboo and teak wood with palm leaf roofs and there were dogs, chickens, goats and pigs roaming wild. We even saw some buffalo in the morning.
Initially we were a bit disappointed to find that we had our own separate house and a separate room to eat in, worried that we were going to be left alone all evening. However, after dinner we were invited to join them in the "living room' a room with an open fire for cooking in the centre and no furniture at all, just teak floors and blankets! We drank tea while they finished their dinner. One of the strangest things has to be when one of the men came back from hunting with two squirrels he'd shot. Pati then put them in the embers of the fire and rubbed the fur off, Piak then started playing with the "naked" squirrels and telling us he'd cook them for us for breakfast!! Oh, how we laughed!
The next morning we were served mince squirrel for breakfast!! Not so funny now! Nick wouldn't eat it as it was too spicy, I tried to eat some but they hadn't actually boned it so the mince was crunchy and really not very appetising. Luckily, we also had some fried bamboo, grilled chicken and fried egg so we didn't starve, but I would have killed for a bowl of cereal!
The second days walking started with a trip to the school where we said hello to the children and were shown where they eat and study. Then we continued with the hike. The second day was a bit tougher than the first, partly because there was more uphill and partly because it had rained so heavily during the might that the track was really slippery. Nick's knackered old trainers weren't really up to the job and he must have walked the route twice all the sliding around he did! The walk was good and mainly dry but the most memorable thing was definitely meeting some hunters on their way back to the village. They'd shot a deer that morning and one of them was carrying it on his back like a "deer rucksack" - really weird. This trip definitely isn't suitable for vegetarians!! Piak told us that these men were really lucky to shoot a deer as they'd get about 2000baht (about 40quid) for it at the market. It seemed like a hell of a lot of effort for 40 quid!!
We arrived at the next Karen village (which was pretty much the same as the first) around 2pm that afternoon where Pati made us tea and coffee, Piak made us soup for lunch and we worried about what we were going to do for the rest of the afternoon. Luckily Piak had a plan. We walked up a very steep bank, climbed over some rocks and reached a huge cave with beautiful, sparkling stalactites and mites, loads of bats, a huge spider and even a snake living inside! After that little adventure we weren't back at the village until around 7pm when Piak made us some dinner and him and Pati joined us, talking and showing us a silly game and puzzle made out of bamboo.
And so to the final day of our hike. This was mainly downhill and partly through a stream (which I managed to fall in!) back to Pati's house in the first village. The walk was pretty uneventful (apart from sliding in the mud and Piak fooling around) and we were back at our hostel and showered by 4pm. You have no idea how good that shower felt!!!
That evening we relaxed with beer and fried rice and chatted to the Dutch guys, who'd just completed a similar trek in Mae Sariang. Then it was time for an early night. We'd been woken by roosters crowing and pigs grunting at around 5am the previous two mornings plus we'd slept on a teak floor with only blankets under us the night before, so we were both pretty tired.
The next morning we were on the road again, this time up to Pai, about a 4 hour journey. This road was even better than the previous two and Nick was really craving his motorbike. The Bends were constant and the views were stunning.
By the time we arrived at Pai we were both pretty exhausted so, we checked into a hostel out of town had some food and found a swimming pool to relax by. Then it was pizza for dinner - yum, no rice!
In the morning we decided that we'd like to see more of the Pai area than just the town so we rented a scooter and spent the day exploring the countryside. We visited waterfalls (the Pam Bok waterfall in the gorge was beautiful), the Pai Canyon (actually a sort of inverse canyon - a huge narrow line of rock rising from the ground) and a hill top temple, before returning to the hostel to relax. That evening we went for a lovely meal then got absolutely drenched in a torrential downpour as we walked home - all the locals were laughing at us - not very hospitable!
And so, finally, I can bring you up to date. We are now in Chang Mai. We arrived at around midday yesterday and spent the afternoon exploring the city centre, an area contained within the ancient city walls and a moat. We'd been out of tourist ville for so long that it was a bit of a shock to start with but we're back in the swing of things now. Last night was spent in a hostel with plastic covered mattresses - really horrible so we moved to a lovely place this morning.
Today was spent out of town on a moped, exploring the mountain roads, visiting temples and eating lunch in a bamboo hut floating on a beautiful lake (unfortunately the food didn't match up to the location but that's another story!)
Now it's 10pm, we're sitting in an internet cafe and I'm starving so time to head to the market for some food - tomorrow we're off to Laos!!
See you all soon