June in Thailand: Off the Beaten Track

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And the most adventurous part of Thailand started with Tom and me taking a school bus type vehicle out of Chiang Mai, past seriously obscure villages perched on curves of streams…

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… to an equally obscure little town called Mae Sariang that even Dee hadn’t heard of when I texted her. Lying in southern Mae Hong Son province, Mae Sariang lies in a predominately Karen region with other tribal groups like the Lawa mixed in. According to Lonely Planet Thailand, it is also the best base for trekking in the province.

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Mr Salawin, the best and only trekking guy in town, treated us really well. I’d called ahead to warn him that two of us were coming in for a 3-day trek and he sent two motorbikes to pick us up from the bus station even though his “office” was only a 5 minutes walk away. We had a good chat to discuss the itinerary and what we wanted or didn’t want. (Tom wasn’t too keen on the elephant trek because he’d learned that some elephants weren’t treated too well.) He also recommended good places to stay and eat and also sent us on a motorbike back to the station to pick up a book I left on the bus!

We didn’t really know what to expect on the trek except that it would probably rain and that we would need a pair of trousers, a pair of shorts and two shirts (maybe three). Jare and Kiat, both relatedly to Mr Salawin in some convoluted way, were our guides for the trek. They first hauled in three big bottles of water for each person (probably making my bag about 10 kg by now, so much for one pair of shorts and two shirts), got all their gear and food into impossibly tiny packs, and packed us into a public sawng thaew (pickup with covered seats at the back) replete with the usual assortment of people and chickens.

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Somehow the chickens out here seemed to be the scrawnier, less attractive kind. They looked so traumatised at their own appearances and probably life in general that I kinda pitied them. Poor guys. They did have pretty fashionable woven baskets shaped like women’s shopper bags as their transport though.

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And after bumping our way in for a couple of hours, we finally made it to the border town of Mae Sam Laeb, which was to be the start of the trek. It was strange being so near to Myanmar as the Salawin River formed the border. I couldn’t help but imagine the types of trafficking occurring between the rebelĀ  Karen-controlled Burmese side and the peaceful Thai side. It all looked so deceptively peaceful.

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More soon!

March in Laos: Along the Mekong in Huay Xai

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Unlike most travellers who were using Huay Xai as a transit point between Thailand and Laos, Siamesecat and I made our way to the border town for some monkey business. (More on that next time.) We spent a little time cooling our heels here at this tiny strip of huts along the Mekong. I wished “Visit Laos” year would come round more so they’d get a new sign. While the town appeared fairly nondescript, it was so laid back that it was almost worth the couple of days spent here.

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The streets were tidy and well-kept, lined by lots of pretty flowering shrubs.

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The main focus was of course the river. The slow boat from Luang Prabang ejected its passengers, grubby from the two-day journey, along Huay Xai’s banks. Everything in this town seemed to point to the river.

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Even the local temple, with its so-tacky-it’s-cool dragon balustrade, pointed to the river with the long flight of stairs up to the shrines themselves.

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The stairs undulated their way down to the river, reminding devotees returning from prayer exactly where the source of life was for this town.

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Strangely enough for a riverside town, this place was incredibly dusty. Even this cutie-pie of a dog had its fur messed up with brown. It lived at our guesthouse and at the end of our stay we still couldn’t figure out whether it was a white dog or a brown one.

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