I heard this story from a friend who is passionate about photography.
He was traveling in the north of Thailand for some days before arriving in Chiang Mai.
It was his second time in the area and he wanted to go hiking in the hills and visit some of the hill tribes.
The point is that photographers use to have a different schedule from the rest of the travelers. They like to work with the first light in the morning -this means starting at dawn- and also to work a little more at sunset -and this means to work late and have very late dinner. Most of the photographers I know also like to work in solitude.
This was the main reason why he was looking for a trusted local specialized operator, who can offer private services -to avoid group activities- and a good local guide.
And someone recommended one, located in a tiny alley in the historical center of Chiang Mai where he booked private services for a 2-day trekking in the hills. The appointed guide was a local young man from the Karen tribes, born in the hills.
All what he wished.
On day one, he was promised to be guided through the hills to fabulous viewpoints that only locals knew. And there he went climbing hills up and down during some 3 hours. The supposed first viewpoint on the top of a hill resulted a no-viewpoint at all. There was nothing to see but high and leafy trees set in a thick rainforest. Lovely nature but not and impressive panoramic view.
Same happened with the second view point. Then three and a half hours they reached another hilltop and… there were no path to follow anymore. The young local guide from the Karen tribes, born in the hills was lost. To keep the story short, they had to go down the hill as they could, ending in the back garden of very small a Buddhist temple, not far from where they have started. They have walked a very long circle in the mountains during the whole afternoon and now it was starting to get dark.
Young but resourceful, the guide hired some local drivers to take my friends in their scooters through the muddy paths of the mountain up to the village where they were supposed to sleep. 🏍
- Those who you hire as expert hill-tribe born guides can get lost too
- Any hike in the mountains can end in a biking ride
This is a note about the difference between organizing the trip back through the resort in Ko Libong or just do it yourself.
We checked the prices for our transfer from the resort in Ko Libong to the bus terminal in Prang with the front desk. Differences were enormous even when you compared the private services. For example, on our way to the resort we took a private minivan between Trang and Hat Yao pier and we paid 600 bath. The hotel wanted to charge us 1200 bath for the same service.
The total amount for the transfer service from the resort in Ko Libong to Trang offered by the resort was over 2300 bath for two persons.
We decided to go on our own and it went very very smooth.
Considering that it was low season we guessed that there would be less frequencies between the island and the mainland so we left the hotel at 08:30h to the island pier (300 bath). By 08:50h we were at the island quay buying the tickets (100 bath each) for a long-tail boat that left at 09:00h.
We arrived at Hat Yao at 9:45 and then we took a minivan leaving at 10:00 to Trang. The fare was 80 bath each. We got to the railway station around 11:00h.
The total cost was only 330 bath each… and it took us 2:30 hours, no long waits.
- Resorts can be very overpriced
Near the border between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar or what's known today as the Golden Triangle (originally it was referred to designate a broader area where opium was produced) is the Hall of Opium, a multimedia exhibition established by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation just one kilometre north of Sop Ruak.
The museum, an initiative of the kingdom of Thailand, gives account of the fascinating history of opium and development of the trade in Asia in the XVIII century and after and revisit the causes of the 2 Opium Wars (the Western powers against China) and their consequences.
It also includes informative displays on the effects of abuse on individuals and society.
The visit is quite interesting and worth investigating.
The exhibition is well balanced and highly recommendable.
Photo: Opium poppy, by SuperFantastic, http://flickr.com/photos/superfantastic/68321333/
We met Rico during one of our usual stops at PTT tank stations (they have good coffee shops -Amazon Café- and convenient 7-eleven stores to refill our water and snacks supplies).
To be exact, we didn't meet Rico but his unusual baggage. A low wheeled cart with a hard suitcase attached and topped with a solar panel.
The curious cart was parked next to our car. We studied it for some minutes and then went to grab some food at 7-eleven.
We were somewhere between
It was almost noon, we were somewhere between Chiang Khan and the central plain and we were hungry.
We walked out of the shop with our food when we saw him. A tall young man eating an ice cream (it was nearly 36 C.
He was Rico and we can chat briefly.
Rico is a German young man who has been walking for two years. Yes you read well, 2 years and he's planning to walk another 3 before getting home.
In these 2 years he has walked from his native Germany to this spot in the middle of Thailand where we met. Most of the times he camps on the roadsides or if the conditions are bad he sleeps at hospitable people's homes or monasteries.
He told us that he only flew once to avoid walking in Afghanistan.
And also that the Iranian people are the most hospitable.
He crossed deserts at unbelievable temperatures, ancient rivers incredible wide, rainforests and mountain ranges all on foot.
Tropical depression Sonca also hit him as he walked in Thailand (as it hit us as well ) and he looked for shelter in a Buddhist monastery.
We were not told the powerful reason or the motivation that keeps Rico walking but we found he's admirable.
He plans to walk Australia east coast and also across Canada and USA before ending the walk back in Germany.
This is his website if you want to know more about him and support his long "long walk": www.ricoslongwalk.de or Facebook group: rico's long walk
- Being on the road always gets you to find weird things and surprising people.
This morning we are moving from Hat Yai to Trang to cross to the islands in the Andaman Sea.
From the hotel we came by tuk-tuk (60 baths) to the bus station in the southern part of the city. This is where the buses to Phuket depart from. It was early in the morning and it was not hard to find the minibuses going to Trang. In fact, we were literally conduced to them after saying just "Trang".
We both slept very well last night so it happened that this morning we didn't have 100 bath face but 170 bath.
That was the price the minivan drivers offer us, per person. Plus an additional 170 bath for the luggage though we knew that the price was just 100 bath.
Besides considering whether it was a fair price or not, the 70 bath difference wouldn't be significant if you covert it to euros (around 2,50€) but here came the discovery (that we haven't found in our travel guides):
There are also regular buses between Trang and Hat Yai, much more spacious than a minivan and with airco.
The price is only 209 bath per person (luggage included) and tu don't need to travel tightly packed in a full minivan.
So here we are, on our way to Trang and then to the islands in the Andaman sea. And the sun is shining.
- Don't panic if everything around you is in Thai language and you cannot understand
- Be cautious with free-lance people in the bus/train stations
- Use the tourist information desks when you are in doubt
- Check other alternatives before accepting what seems "non-negotiable" conditions
We started to drive very early in the morning heading west along the Mekong. We wanted to have some time to visit some some of the interesting points in the Far North.
It was impressive to me seeing how things have changed in this area the last 20 years (that's the last time I travelled around here) and how some of the mystic is gone to give way to a more massive-global-electronic vibe.
In Mae Sai we bought some breakfast and we could see the early trade traffic between Myanmar and Thailand.
We tried to park our car in a public place (no signs indicating otherwise) by a temple and one guy came to ask us 40 baths for parking there, in a free parking place.
After Mae Sai we drove to Doi Tung to visit the royal project and Wat Phra That Doi Tung, a sacred place in the summit with stunning views over the Mekong and the lowlands. This are has historically been the site of opium production but now is the focus for rural development projects.
The roads to the village are narrow but quite ok though when we drove up to the top we found some places were the slope had collapsed on the road (photo) Anyway we could drive pass them with some care and braveness. 🤔
(keep reading after the photo)
Though weather was not accompanying us, we took some time to visit the top and it was very rewarding, the views and the temple were worth the visit.
Last stop was Mae Salong, (Santikhiree) and it keeps being very scenic but also very developed, full of resorts and buildings ruining the fantastic views. Be aware that there are to ways to get to the village. One was in a very bad condition due to the rains and that was the one we took following the gps. Believe me, it's a very bad one. Next time I would rather take the longer way option…
We arrived at the busy Chiang Mai in the early evening and dropped the car in the parking ready to go trekking in the hills for a few days.
- Don't trust your gps a 100%
- Tourism, greed and development not always improve the places and bring wealth to locals
Another long day driving to the northernmost point of Thailand.
We will stay in Chian Saen tonight.
From Phayao we drove our way to Chiang Rai, where we stopped briefly to visit the center and specially Wat Phra Kaew.
We also made a short stop to have a look at the modern White Temple – Wat Rong Kuhn (1997), that could have been the perfect scenario for the wedding of Disney's princess Li Shang from Mulan.
After Chiang Rai, we decided to take the long road to Chiang Saen along the Laotian border to the north, taking a combination of the roads 1020, 1055 and 1093 (a suggestion from Lonely Planet Thailand travel guide – check "The long road to Phayao", we followed it northbound from Chiang Rai.
It was a unique experience indeed but we wouldn't do it again.
At least not in one day and certainly not in the rainy season though it has nothing to do with the rain.
I will explain myself.
The trip is long and tiring and stressful. Mountain roads with great views and dramatic scenery. Some parts in very good condition, some parts not. You can find big holes, and sections where one lane or part of one lane has been affected by the rains and collapsed. Google maps also took us through smart shortcuts that were small abandoned roads downhill or uphill. That was the most stressful part.
We also found out that some of the most recommended viewpoints were not reachable or that once there climbing up to the viewpoint and back would taken too long. And we definitely didn't want to drive those roads at dark.
Therefore, we both agreed that it would be ok to do it in two days and during the dry season when the roads are repaired.
- Travel guides suggestions are not always the best thing
- Do not trust completely in Google Maps or similar
- We are very brave drivers