Mae Sam Laeb was an odd little border town consisting of only one dusty street containing a few little shops. These shops sold all sorts of odds and ends from army supplies to live fish from an aquarium! An equal oddment of people were on the street, from hardy looking men to saffron-clothed monks and little children just come home from school (wherever that was).
Even odder was a huge carp breathing its last, seemingly abandoned after being weighed.
The poor bug-eyed fella was simply left on the concrete to gasp its way to death. I felt so sorry for it.
The real purpose of stopping here was to sign in with the Thai border guard as it was hard to monitor the border, especially at night. I wondered what they’d do with our details and how they’d find out about any mischief we’d get up to anyway. I unashamedly asked the very obliging men in uniform for a picture. They seemed fairly pleased to have their pictures taken, though I didn’t get their address to send them a copy!
After Jare and Kiat took away fried rice in styrofoam boxes for lunch (a yet odder start to our back to basics nature trek), we waited at the pier for a public boat to go down the Salawin River.
This time there weren’t chickens but motorbike and children instead.
The views were very beautiful as the river wound past lots of forested slopes, much more rugged and impressive than any other Southeast Asian river I’ve been on.
It was also strange to look on the other side of the river: the Burmese side controlled by Karen rebels. It was dotted with little huts — outposts of the Karen army.
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…
… 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.
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.
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.
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 rebel Karen-controlled Burmese side and the peaceful Thai side. It all looked so deceptively peaceful.