Northern Thailand seems to be very romantic at this time of the year but in fact it is not. Magical mist lingering the nearby mountains are nothing more than the smog, which is a result of farmers burning grass on their fields before new growing season. Every day I wake up with sore throat and grey clouds cover the sky almost every day. As a result you can stare directly at the sun and your eyes will not hurt. First you need to find the sun through.
Chiang Mai is nice but we want more. Some say – go to Pai, it is great and lazy, othgers – current Pai is not what it used to be a few years ago. There are huge crowds of backpackers. Go to Mae Hong Son. So we ask for tickets to Sop Pong and the lady at the counter asks why we want to go there – there is really nothing there. We look at each other and instantly know this is the right direction.
A minivan takes us all the way through famous 700 curves of the road towards Pai. I was lucky to take a motion sickness pill before the ride and have a rather calm driver. Still my stomach feels upside down when we finally leave it in Sop Pong. One street and 3 places to stay in total. None fully booked. Our place is called Little Eden and is a small garden with a pool in the middle and a small stream at the back. Over 30 degress during the day but then it gets as cold as 10 at night. The water in the pool is therefore cold but still it is hard to persuade Szymon to leave the water until he is really trembling.
After few lazy days we go to see the Tham Lod cave. At the site it turns out there are in fact three caves – magnificient and beautiful. At dawn one can experience a magic spectacle – thousands of swifts circle above the entrance to one of the caves before flying inside making so much noise. At the same time thousands of bats leave the cave to start their day. I have never seen so many birds and so much noise birds can make. We sit still and watch.
We go back home after dark and this is really food for my and Szymon’s imagination. Especially in the field of multi-legged creatures. Similar to Cambodia there are many spiderwebs with nice round holes. Sometimes they are 1 centimeter wide, sometimes even three. Sometimes they look empty inside. But sometimes I can spot a brown shape inside and it sends shivers down my spine. My arachnofobia is all well it seems.
We also go for a two-day trek into the nearby mountains, including an overnight stay in one of the villages. We are very close to the border with Myanmar and there are many local tribes here – Lahu, Lanna, Ahka, Hmong or the most famous – Karen. We do not pay a visit though – this is like a human zoo and we do not want to support it. Instead we walk for 5 hours through the mountains with just our local guide, not meeting anyone. The landscape looks like autumn with colorful leaves but the sun still burns. At one of the stops our guide cuts a bamboo pole then cuts mugs and a pot out of it and makes us tea on campfire. This tea in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains is best in the world. Our overnight hosts do not speak english but smiles and gestures make up for missing words. The local kids quickly connect with Szymon and soon they run around playing football disturbing chickens in the yard. „Mom, I saw small piglets, come and see how cute they are…”
In the evening the kids get together with flowers and candles wrapped in a banana leaf. They want to take Szymon with them and I join them too. We go together and it turns out today is a major buddhist festival – Parinirvana – the death of Buddha. Me and Szymon are a small sensation in the temple and kids can’t stop looking at us. The chief monk is smiling though and after some time we all circle the temple, each of us holding their own candle.
The morning is freezing cold. Our host brings hot rice, cabbage with garlic and a soup. Women from nearby villages gather at the local grocery store for small shopping and we get together for another 5 hours in the mountains. This place will stay in my mind for a very long time.