|Our first break of the trip. We named our bike Lek (small in Thai), but she had a big heart.|
Eric and I had a three week break between finishing teaching our students and one week of teaching the science and math teachers at our school and headed out the Sunday after our last day with our students to the north of Thailand. We met my cousin, who was finishing his 6 weeks of traveling throughout southeast Asia, in Chiang Mai. It was great to see family and to hear about some of the countries that Eric and I will be headed to after Thailand, but unfortunately we were quite disappointed by the city of Chiang Mai, which we had heard many great things about. After two days in the city, we were definitely ready to get out of there so we rented a motorbike from Mr. Mechanic in Chiang Mai for 250 baht a day (about $8) plus gas (less than $5 a day) Wednesday morning to start the Mae Hong Song loop. Unfortunately I never asked anyone to take our picture, but imagine Eric (who is about 6'3") driving what is more like a scooter than a motor cycle with me hanging on behind him carrying our big backpack that we shared for the trip.
Once we were 20 minutes outside of the city, the feeling of freedom washed over us. Thailand has a very developed tourist industry, which makes it very difficult to get off of the tourist track. As I have talked about in my posts about weekends when we rented a car, having your own transportation makes a huge difference and riding on the back of a motorbike is an even more enjoyable way to travel. Our first stop was Chiang Dao, which actually isn't part of the Mae Hong Song Loop, but was an excellent addition. It was about 2 hours from Chiang Mai, not including stops, which were relatively frequent since our butts could only handle half an hour to an hour of driving at a time. 10 km outside of Chiang Dao the highway was lined with Som-o stands (Pomelo in english) so we enjoyed one next to the stream before heading into Chiang Dao.
The only bad thing about the area is that it is difficult to find a truly cheap place to stay, but after stopping at 5 or so places, we found a place called Malee's for 350 baht a night. We thought of looking for a cheaper place, but when we saw the mini pool (and playset) we were sold. Plus, we were just down the street from some hiking trails, the Chiang Dao cave, and a nice little village. After a quick swim, we went to the little resort next door that Eric had read had great food. Holy Shamoly. Prices were relatively high, but the menu looked like it was made by a gourmet Californian chef. We order a panini with grilled vegetables and a chicken sandwich with bacon, tomato, and lettuce and both came with side salads. Our jaws dropped when one of the extremely friendly ladies brought our food out and continued our meal in awe. We are going back to Chiang Dao with my mom in a couple weeks and will definitely eat at this place again.
After being wowed by our lunch at Nest, we decided to check out the cave expecting a similar deal to the caves we saw in Sam Roi Yot (aka hike straight up and then explore an awesome cave). However, this was much more of a tourist trap and although it was a crazy cave with many different rooms, it required a guide and was tricky about how much you had to pay. We payed an expected fee outside (40 baht each) and then when we walked in they told us we had to take a guide and it cost 100 baht, but we were also expected to tip her. This was a bit of a bummer, but we learned from this experienced and were much more careful about what we payed for the rest of the trip.
After hiking we had some pool time, found some cheap noodles down the road, more pool time, read, and napped. After going for a run through the main part of the village (which was home to some of the friendliest people I have met in Thailand), Eric and I found another cheap, yet amazing, meal of omelettes and went for a ride up the road toward the national park nearby. The road leading to the park was absolutely gorgeous and wound its way along a little stream and was surrounded by jungle mountains with cool air blowing by us all the while being wrapped in the smell of orange blossoms. I thought of how amazingly different I felt compared to the nights in Chiang Mai wondering what I was doing in Thailand. I went to sleep very content for the second night in a row looking forward to our next leg of the trip the following morning.