We said our goodbyes to Pai and headed on our way to Mae Hong Son. Unfortunately, we missed the 8:30 minivan to Mae Hong Son (arriving at 11:30am). There is only one, so by the time we went to get our tickets, it was sold out. We had to take the 11am local bus, which, in typical fashion, didn’t arrive (let alone depart) until 12:30. As soon as I got on the bus, I was reminded of when I had to take a local bus to the wetlands of Bolivia – crowded, crying babies, chicken feathers in the air, sacks of rice everywhere. Ok, ok…this one only had the sacks of rice. There were no crying babies nor chickens this time, but it was crowded. We got ready to brave the 4 hour ride, but once seated, I noticed a bag of pee tied to the seat in front of me. It didn’t take long for Ols and I to deboard the bus, instead opting to share a taxi with another couple. It cost us each $10 more, but it was well spent. Our driver spoke English and gave us a little mini-cultural lesson the whole way there.
The town is a quiet one. Not much to do, so we walked around the night market and had dinner with some other tourists we had met briefly on the local bus out of Pai. It turned out one of them was the 24 millionth visitor to Thailand this year. That won her a limo ride to any part of the country, roundtrip tickets back to Thailand, and a smartphone and data plan. Ummm, Jealllz!! Apparently, Thailand gets a million visitors every 10 days or so, and each “millionth” gets an assortment of prizes. Well done, Thailand. I like it!
After dinner, we walked around the town, when – out of nowhere – another veteran (this time confirmed) who has been stationed out here for some 20-odd years ran up to us talking about the need for tolerance and peace. He continued about how there is too much hate in the US and that out here (Mae Hong Son) when you’re not doing as you’re supposed to do, they tell you to “get to temple.” He carried on and on and on, at one point dropping his deep fried food and not missing a beat between bending down to pick them up of the street and stuffing it (by the handful) into his mouth. At this point, we decided to get keep it moving, but we were not able to elude him. In fact, I’m pretty sure we ran into him another couple of times that night.
I have completely digressed – back to Mae Hong Son. As I mentioned, it’s a quiet town and, for the most part, tourists go to visit the Hilltribe villages, which apparently are more authentic. You wont see any pics of the villagers on our blog since it feels weird taking pictures of people in their alleged “natural” environment like they are some kind of zoo animal. I use “natural” in quotes because these villages didn’t quite seem natural. They were pretty much just markets set up for tourists to buy textiles and crafts. Of the Longneck Karen tribe, a group that wears rings that stretch their necks upward, I only saw two “villagers” whose rings looked real. The others had the back of their necks covered (i.e., I’m sure their rings were essentially clip-ons). In the middle of our tour, we stopped at our guide’s house so that he could pick up some rice (two truckloads full) for his brother. As we waited, his mom served us rice, beans and chicken. How’s that for a local experience! It was tasty.
Apart from visiting some villages (Longneck Karen, Shan, and a Chinese Villages), a waterfall, and mud spa, what left the biggest impression was the scenery. The valleys are ridiculously green and the flowers grow in the brightest of colors. Amidst the greenery we even saw our deep-fried-food-off-the-ground eating friend on the side of the highway some 20 kilometers out of town. Whaaaaa?