Rainy Season Marvels & Mishaps 

Doi Mon Lan | Chiang Rai, Thailand 

After a week of endless rain clouds and a constant series of monsoons in Phrao, I now know “rainy season,” as they call it. I had heard a lot of people talk about rainy season and warn against traveling during it but after over three months of my time in SE Asia during what was apparently part of rainy season, I hadn’t experienced more than a rain storm in the afternoon or a rainy day or night here and there. I was beginning to think all this talk of “rainy season” was over exaggerated. Then the never-ending clouds that rolled in and large amounts of water that fell from the sky told me loud and clear what rainy season is.

With all the rain, James and I have been able to make some pretty gnarly adventures happen. They haven’t all gone smoothly, thanks to Mother Nature, but we’ve rolled with it the best we can. Friday, I followed James on a journey up one of the mountains near Phrao called Doi Mon Lan because although there were plenty of warning signs of it being a rainy day, I didn’t want to miss out on the chance of a nice ride and a great view. We rode about an hour and a half past Phrao up Doi Mon Lan when we got confused at where the viewpoint was. We passed a few on the way up but the one we were trying to go to was difficult to find. Meanwhile, it had begun to rain and we were climbing further and further into the clouds that had taken over the top of the mountains already. We ended up going about 8km past where we think we should’ve stopped but did reach a large village that was beautiful to look at from a far, nestled perfectly into the lush, green mountains with thin, misty clouds lingering just above it. I had to enter it as it was one of the more unique and large ones I had scene.

northern Thailand, hill tribe village, Doi Mon Lan
The hill tribe village on Doi Mon Lan

On the way out, we must’ve run over the bumps too hard or run over something sharp because just a few km more up the mountain, we noticed each of our motorbikes had flat tires on the front wheel. We slowly rode them back down into the village to try and find a motorbike shop. I called to the first person I could and pointed to the tire in hopes she would lead me to a shop. Sure enough, after a few confused looks, she hopped on her bike in the rain and took us to help. At first, a man at the shop shook his head at the tire and we were able to gather he didn’t have the right size. So we went inside, sat, looked at each other, and tried contacting people at Warm Heart to see if anyone could come up and get us. Lucky for us, they found a couple tires because we found out later nobody from WH would’ve been able to do that.

motorbike, flat tire
The motorbike shop

We sat inside this shop in a random hill tribe village way up this mountain eating noodle soup and admiring the randomness of the situation. Children kept running into the shop to see what all the excitement was about and like any other hill tribe visit, many adults just looked at us and would laugh at our whiteness and presence in their village. When the bike was fixed, we waited a bit for the heavy rain to calm down but eventually went ahead down the slippery mountain road slowly and cautiously. Crisis averted.

The next day me, James and another volunteer from France named Romane, caught a couple buses to get to Chiang Rai, a city and province north of Phrao. Chiang Rai is known for its temples and views outside of the city so we rented motorbikes one day and headed south from the town. We stopped at the famous White Temple first. This temple is actually used more today as an art display than a temple for worship. People come from all over to observe the interesting decor and paintings inside, which involve modern day characters like Spider Man, the Minions and depictions of events such as 9/11 in NYC. Although it was very beautiful and unique, it was also overwhelmingly crowded with tourists when we first arrived so at times it was difficult to truly appreciate.

White Temple, Chiang Rai, northern Thailand
The White Temple

Our next stop ended up being the Khun Korn Waterfall. To get there, we had to ride through a lot of muddy ground but also some really beautiful scenery back in the mountains where the road ran next to a fast flowing river. The waterfall required us to trek about 30 min. into Khun Korn Forest from where we parked and it was the loveliest, most serene walk I’ve had yet in Thailand. Bamboo and large, old trees lined the trail and the green color of the trees and plants was extra vibrant because of the raindrops making them glimmer. When we reached the waterfall, I was completely taken aback by the size and sound. Because of all the rain lately, it was fully gushing and roaring from the sound of all the water falling into the river. It’s been years since I’ve seen a waterfall of that size and power so I cherished every minute of the time we stood just staring at it, letting its mist fall all over us and it’s sound overcome anything else going on in the world.

waterfall, Khun Korn Waterfall, northern Thailand, Chiang Rai
Khun Korn Waterfall

 


We finished the day with a ride up to a viewpoint that overlooks Chiang Rai Province. On the way up to the top, the rain begin falling hard again and while going on a steep and slippery part of the road, my motorbike slid and I fell with it to the ground. I remember feeling surprisingly calm after it happened and just picked myself and my bike right up. Luckily I recovered with nothing more than a skinned knee and scrapes on my big toe and hand. After a bit of a breather to let go of the shock and reassuring James and Romane I was ok, we continued up to the top and enjoyed a view that was wonderful- maybe not motorbike fall wonderful but wonderful nonetheless.

viewpoint, Chiang Rai
The view

That night we went to the Sunday Market to try new foods and were surprised by a monsoon about an hour in. The rain was coming down stronger than I’ve seen it yet- so much so that the streets flooded and we had to walk through about a foot of water just to get back to our hostel. Again, rainy season making itself known.

On our last morning we checked out a couple more sights before turning the motorbikes in and heading back to Phrao. Our first stop was the Blue Temple, which was cool and different because of its themed decor. It was not only painted blue on the outside but also had blue walls and blue-based paintings on the inside. I enjoyed the more futuristic vibe it gave off for a change. Last we walked around the Baan Dam Museum, or “Black House.” It’s an arrangement of 40 different hand-crafted houses that display the works of a internationally known artist named Thawan Duchanee. He spent 50 years building the museum to display his art in his hometown in Chiang Rai. It was beyond impressive to wander around and think about the fact that one old man made all that.

 

 

Chiang Rai, you were beautiful, cultural, unique, fun, dangerous and very wet. We’ll see what else the rain brings in.

– Annaleigh

Good morning, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand 

I rode into Chiang Mai this morning to spend the day here and as I wandered around, I captured a few photos of some morning activities I passed. I figured it might give people who are interested a better idea of what a typical Saturday morning in Chiang Mai city looks like. Enjoy!

IMG_4089
Little boy and his birds
IMG_4095
Mothers with their favorite playmates
IMG_4100
The bird lady
IMG_4102
The laughing bird lady
IMG_4104
Fountain in action
IMG_4107
Morning phone call in the park
IMG_4112
Cool coffee shop light
IMG_4114
And of course, coffee 🙂

 

 

Rocking Around the Hill Tribes

Si Lanna National Park | Chiang Rai Province, Thailand 

The sun was shining, the fresh, mountain air was filling my lungs, my heart was happy, my mind was expanding with new knowledge, and my eyes were open wide to the never before seen sights in front of me. That’s pretty much how my journey through the hill tribe villages of northern Thailand went on Saturday.

James and I were beyond fortunate to be offered the opportunity to join a group of  local Thai men and a few women on their annual holiday day-trip up to the hill tribe temples to offer gifts to the monks (and have an excuse to drink beer and drive trucks). The group was celebrating the three-month annual buddhist retreat called Vassa, similar to Christians’ Lent. Vassa season means the monks will be confined to the temple and their immediate surroundings for a while, which is why it is a common practice for Thai people to bring them offerings, such as food and water.

We showed up to the house we were told to meet at in the morning with beer in hand as our offering to them for taking us. We expected to be saving them for later in the afternoon but quickly realized these guys were ready to party when they cracked them all open before we even left, at 9 in the morning. Large 4×4 trucks rolled in one after the other as we sat and enjoyed the view of the mountains until there was about eight of them. We met the crew, ate strange foods, learned a few Thai words, drank beer and eventually began our journey up the mountain through Si Lanna National Park. There was a single narrow, rocky, dirt road we took that was being shared by several different 4×4 truck and motorbike groups who were doing the same thing we were. As I was tossed from side to side in the back of the truck, I figured out pretty quickly why everyone brought their durable 4×4. Our driver, P’Chiang, is a Thai man who works at the non-profit we’re volunteering for. He is a large, talkative dude who loves a good laugh and a cold Chang beer.

IMG_2838
Driving through Si Lanna – PC James Van Camp
IMG_3123
Villagers we passed in the Si Lanna mountains – PC James Van Camp

I’ve never had to pee as bad as I did on our way up to the first temple. After all that beer and rocky dirt road to toss me around the truck, all I could really think about was a toilet. I (barely) made it though and was so charmed by the little, wooden temple up in the Si Lanna mountains we found ourselves at when we arrived. The monk at this temple was a German woman who said she had been there for five years. I wanted to ask her a million questions and learn her story but the other temples awaited. On my way out, she invited me to come back again and share a cup of coffee with her so maybe I will.

IMG_2878 (1)
The first temple stop – PC James Van Camp
IMG_2888
The grounds around the first temple – PC James Van Camp
19961210_10208449273063895_3831611024226611841_n
The monk

We did this for a while- rocking around in the 4×4, stopping at a temple to offer gifts and pray, hopping back in the truck with a beer in hand to rock around some more, and so on.  There was a lunch break, however, when the whole 4×4 crew pulled over and unloaded buckets of steamed rice, cans of beer, meat dishes and fruits. They were generous enough to share it all with us so there I was scooping mounds of sticky rice into my hand and grabbing fried pork out of bucket to eat with it- quite the opposite of the way my mother taught me to eat. I listened to them all laugh and share stories as my family and friends would on a roadtrip like this. And while I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, the smiles and laughter, food laid out all ever the truck bed, and the views of the northern Thailand mountains made me feel right at home.

19905116_10208449273383903_479462318690525906_n
The lunch stop

Then it was back in the truck and time for rocking around again.

After a couple more temple stops and pictures with monks (because they all get giddy when they see the rare white person in their temple), we found ourselves eating and drinking again. This time we were in a hill tribe village all the way up in the Chiang Rai Province at what seemed to be friends of our truck friends’ wooden house. They brought out more sticky rice and meat dishes, one with cooked bamboo served as noodles, for us to devour without knowing exactly what we were eating. And then came the rice whiskey…

Things started to get really comfortable once the rice whiskey was introduced to the gathering. There was a woman, Sirintip, whose favorite activity was forcing shots of this stuff down people’s throats. James and I both had a few willingly but it didn’t stop there… every time we agreed to “ONE MORE,” she managed to convince us we had to have another until before we knew it we were about 15 shots deep. While we were obviously her favorite victims, she made sure to include everyone in her efforts and soon enough we didn’t have to be the drunk Americans at the party- everyone was in on it.

19905161_10208449274263925_6795315268882446888_n
The gathering in the hill tribe village
IMG_3333
From left to right: the village leader; Sirintip, the shot pourer; me; a lady part of our truck crew – PC James Van Camp

Groups came and went on their motorbikes and trucks, each bringing their enthusiasm and smiles to the party. There was so much joy and energy at one point we had to make our own music since we didn’t have speakers, service, or any other means to play any. We used whatever we could find- an empty jug of water, an empty beer bottle and our hands and voices to complete the atmosphere.

IMG_3351
Parading up to the village temple
IMG_3377
Dancing back to the party – PC James Van Camp

Times like those are the ones I look back on and am most thankful for from my travels. You can’t plan that kind of joy or fun. It just happens somewhere, sometime and you go with it. Looking around at the villagers smiling and dancing, the children running around playing, and people coming and going through what I would consider to be a small, distant village, I felt so incredibly fortunate to be where I was in the company of people so unfamiliar but even the more enjoyable. It’s amazing how little a language barrier matters when rice whiskey and music are involved. In those moments, we were all simply human, not individuals associated with different countries, statuses and cultures.

IMG_3428
Saying goodbye to our friends – PC James Can Vamp

As we jumped back in the trucks and rolled away from our new friends, I had the fullest heart knowing what kind of rare and wonderful experience we just had. When I’m sitting in my air-conditioned house eating my takeout meal back in the states, I’ll think of that village and those people and remember how different life can be.  Their reality is so drastically distant from mine at home, yet we shared a unique experience that I think we all will remember and cherish for some time.

-Annaleigh

 

A World’s Difference

Phrao, Chiang Mai, Thailand

This Fourth of July, not being in America and all, is quite different than all the others. So far, I’ve spent the day having meetings and completing tasks in an office. Not to be confused with a real office though, this one at least is surrounded by the mountains of rural Thailand and allows me to feel the breeze since there are no real windows or walls separating me from the “outside world.” Of course we have some plans, like fireworks and a home-cooked dinner with a red, white and blue cake for dessert, but there’s still an apparent lack of Bud Light and BBQ.

July 4 means my time here in Thailand is flying by and I’m finding myself begin to think about the daunting job hunt, or shall I say “life planning,” in front of me when I arrive back in the USA. It’s going to take a lot of reminders for me to continue to just enjoy where I am and not worry about what’s ahead but I’m going to remind myself as many times as it takes because this experience is too precious to me to ruin by concerning myself with the things I can’t do anything about now anyway. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that worrying about what you can’t control is only a waste of energy and time. While taking initiative and choosing your path sets you in the right direction, ultimately what happens will happen. One thing always leads to another, no matter how much you stress about it.

In the meantime, I’m still soaking up the adventures. Saturday I had my first big motorbike journey, heading northwest past Phrao. James and I ended up biking all the way up and through the surrounding mountains to a town called Chiang Dao, where we explored a change of scenery for an afternoon. We weren’t impressed by the town itself but found the views and atmosphere on the outskirts to be really amazing. We made a visit to the area’s prized possession and #1 tourist trap, Chiang Dao Cave. Set up against a tall and wide mountain, it had an enormous amount of space for a cave. Walking through it and back took us about 45 min., with about a 15 min. stop in between. And that was only the lighted pathway part. There were plenty of routes you could take with a guide that would take you deeper into the cave but we were happy with just getting a glimpse at the cave from the lit walkway. The complex where the cave sat also had several, old, unique-looking temples that were probably built there because of the crazy looking mountain that was set behind it and the obviously well-adored cave. We spent a good hour or so checking out the temples and taking photos before heading back.

IMG_4039
The entrance to Chiang Dao Cave

It was an incredible ride, with spectacular views of green foliage and a series of mountains always staring back at you. It is consistently worth the gas and time to take a ride around the region. There’s always plenty of new views to see and environments to enjoy. I always get a new perspective of where we’re living just by seeing what’s around the corner and realizing the diversity and inspiration that even a super rural area can bring to my world.

IMG_4030

The days spent in rural, northern Thailand can be long and frankly, boring, for a girl who  is used to American society and an endless amount of entertainment options but I never forget that is the very thing that makes this experience so special. I can’t think of a time spent anywhere else that I had to become accustomed to a simpler living. I think the little things like manually flushing a toilet with a bucket of water, struggling to find food to buy after dark and having large insects and other critters accompany you no matter where you go are the kind of things that show you a different side of yourself- one you never thought existed because it never needed to. I realize more now than ever the everyday comforts at home like closed doors to keep the bugs out and 24-hour drive-thru’s are not things we ever needed. We just decided we “needed them” because we could need them. Myself and those I know from home were born in a society with the luxury to create anything it wants and enough creations to develop an infinite list of “needs” that it nourishes (like going shopping for the latest fashions, getting pedicures, buying the newest gadget, eating at a restaurant at least once a week, owning the most up-to-date appliances, the list goes on…). The comparison to my upbringing and a child’s here could not be more different while I also have noticed a child’s innocent outlook and emotionally driven actions here compared to mine when I was young could not be more similar.  Crazy how society molds us, isn’t it?

-Annaleigh