adventures in Thailand

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BACK IN HEAVEN (written in late Oct. forgot to post it)

BACK IN HEAVEN Ahhhh…what a fabulous feeling to awaken, look out the window from under my mosquito netting in bed and see a small lake (huge pond?) surrounded by lovely green vegetation (banana trees, low and tall bushes) with my porch hammock in the foreground. Beyond the fringe of banana and other trees out the front window and the flowering bushes and banana trees out my back window, there’s only morning fog in the distance. It’s like being a cocoon—surrounded by gray mist in the distance. It reminds me of my year in a high-rise apartment in Milwaukee (first of five years there on 10th floor, 1974-75). Occasionally the fog from Lake Michigan (about two kilometers east of my building) would roll in. Sometimes (rarely) it would reach all the way to the high-rise. I loved that! It made me feel like I was being bathed in the mist and/or like I was back in the womb or in a cocoon. However, let me assure you there were NO banana trees or green vegetation. Haha.

Yesterday afternoon I checked into Bueng Pai Farm ( — its website has lots of photos). Will be back tomorrow, Friday, also. Before the rates double on Nov. 1 I want to take advantage of my out-of-this-world place to stay that’s only a 9-10 minute walk from the school house. A new Australian friend came by around 5:30 and we took a sunset walk to the wat (Buddhist temple), a 10 minutes walk from Bueng Pai Farm (20 min. from school house). It’s one of my favorite walks from school/temporary home. We arrived as the monks were gathering for sunset prayers. One came out of the wat and in English invited us to join them. He told us that there were visiting monks from England and New Zealand there. Carolyn, my new extremely adventurous friend, said, “Let’s do it!” and we did. Stayed about 15 minutes, kneeling on the floor, listening to the chanting and bowing to Buddha when the monks bowed.

Carolyn is amazing! She’s about a decade younger than I and has had the most fantastic adventures. She’s toward the end of 3 months of traveling, heading back to OZ (how some natives from there abbreviate Australia) to spend time with her 84 year old mum (British/OZ spelling). We met because her 21 year old daughter is staying the bungalow colony where I take yoga. Maddy (daughter), Carolyn and I had lunch together yesterday at Charlie and Leks, one of my 3-4 favorite restaurants in Pai. Anyway, Carolyn rented a motorbike (told you she was adventurous) and came out yesterday evening to see this “bit of heaven on earth” and take a walk. She and Maddy are returning this a.m. to go out for breakfast and Sunset View Restaurant, halfway up a mt. (Kitchen is still closed here—re-opens Nov. 1) Maddy just completed TEFOL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language—or something like that) and was looking for a volunteer project. Turns out she’ll be our first volunteer at the Banyan School. She has loads of gardening and outdoor experience. Thus, we’ve purchased a shovel and will buy a rake. Her first project will be to combine 3-4 piles of brush/vegetation debris into a one pile and create a compost area.

Next she—and possibly another couple from Australia who want to volunteer somewhere—will probably create a few raised vegetable beds. Nothing will be planted until the students can do it. Additionally, Maddy has experience in house painting (her father’s in the construction and renovation business in OZ) and might help with repainting the school kitchen a small upper area in on of our learning areas. (Most of the walls are wood paneling which will remain as is). As if that’s not enough, if the Australian couple does decide to help us, the man is a professional artist (and trained musician—university music major) and wants to paint a mural. Having a mural in the classroom would not be appropriate. However, there’s a water tank outside (to catch rainwater in case the well dries up—-very unlikely this year with all the rain and flooding in the south). It’s really ugly now with black something (mold???) on part of it. I’m hoping the landlady will give us permission to clean the exterior and have Marty create a mural. [LATER: Maddy worked about a week and then had to return to OZ, the other couple from there never was able to volunteer.]

Well, this is nearing 800 words so better stop for now. Undoubtedly there’ll be another blog post during this or Friday’s overnight at Bueng Pai Farm. Whoops, one more thing. (Columbo from the TV series and I have that trait in common.) After two nights of lousy sleep, last night my eyes refused to stay open past 8:15 p.m. Slept nearly 10 peaceful hours.


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Loi Krathong Festival

My first trip to SE Asia in ’99 brought me to Chiang Mai the day before the annual Loi Krathong Festival. Arriving at that time is a major reason I fell in love with Thailand and CM.

In CM it is celebrated for nearly a week. But the main nights are the day of and the day after the November full moon. It is celebrated by lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky and by releasing beautiful floats in the river. The floats called Krathong are made from folded banana leaves, fresh flowers, a candle and incense. Some also have a photo of a deceased loved one and some money. Many towns, including CM have a parade with beautiful floats. [LATER: Mercenary, or perhaps simply poor, some Thais stand on the river shores with long sticks, reaching for floating krathongs with money. They remove the money and re-release the Krathong. Saw a man and two young boys doing it where my Krathong was released.]

Yesterday I went to a workshop to make a Krathong. I was the only one enrolled so it was a private lesson costing $5 which included all supplies, tea and individual instruction. It would take the teacher about ten minutes to make the finished product that took me 1.5 hours! Will try to remember to take a photo tonight before releasing it In the Ping River that flows through CM.

This  evening two Americans who are going around the world for 7 weeks will join me for dinner at a restaurant on the river. It is at the guest house where I stayed in ’99. There is accesss to the river so I will release my Krathong there. Tomorrow night I think there is a parade. [LATER: it was tonight after all.]

Speaking of the hotel/guesthouse … Sunday night was at Tri Gng whose owner is so helpful and kind. He only had space for one night so I moved around the corner to SK House. For the same price ($20) there is a beautiful swimming pool. A Dutch couple whom I met at the pool said they were paying $10 for a room  with fan instead of AC. So Monday I moved into a similar room. It is cool enough not to need AC.

During the day tomorrow, Friday, I will do an all day excursion to Thailand’s highest mountain with a beautiful waterfall. The day also includes visits to a hill tribe village, lunch and another stop.

LATER: Dinner on the river and releasing of Krathong were delicious and fun, respectively. Turns out the parade was Thursday night. As I walked back to the hotel, the parade passed by in the opposite direction. There were thousands of Thais and tourists walking along the closed -to -traffic main thoroughfare. About fifteen beautiful floats and hundreds of marchers participated. The wats, temples, were decorated specially and monks helped people light and release lanterns. The sky was ablaze with bright orange lights as hundreds of thousands lit lanterns floated upward.

EVEN LATER–Back in Pai on Saturday. The second night of Loi Krathong occurred without my observation. Fell asleep at 7:30 p.m. and slept 11 hours. The preceding night I had slept horribly and must have really needed a good night’s sleep on Friday. Unfortunately, I missed an even bigger parade an fireworks. Oh well—next year!


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Vehicle decision & Dentist

Those of you who have been following my blog know about my indecision about whether to rent a motorbike or not. For the first two months it was my plan to get one in Sept. However, having witnessed or heard about so many horrible motorbike accidents, my final decision in mid-October was not to have my own motorbike.

Thanks to Tiew and her husband’s encouragement, I decided to buy an ATV (all terrain vehicle, also known as a quad). We added at least an hour to Friday’s trip by visiting a dealer who had a used ATV (piece of junk, it turned out) and looking at a big discount store (none in stock).

The pursuit continued in Chiang Mai, CM. Monday I found one that I considered ordering but Tuesday I found an even better deal. Will probably order it this week after speaking with Tiew’s husband. Adam, the owner of Tri Gong Guesthouse, and his son have been advising me in CM.

Adam is the most helpful person I have ever met. He must get a great deal of satisfaction from assisting his guests because he does it constantly. Even when not asked. For example, Sunday I mentioned that I was looking for for an adult tricycle. Before I knew it, he had gone to a website and printed out info on all the bike shops with contact info and descriptions.

Yes, I plan to buy a bike as well as an ATV. Hopefully one can be purchased with at least three gears. Found one near Tri Gong but no gears. Too many hills in Pai to bike without gears.

DENTIST: Yes, I’m back at the dentist on Weds. At my appt. on Monday he discovered that I have some decay under an old cavity filling. So today he’s removing the old mercury one and replacing it with a non-mercury filling. Hope he doesn’t have any surprises like he did in late July. That tooth needed two pins in order to put in the crown. I had thought the problem was in the new crown but it’s in the tooth next to it. Ah, the joy of visiting the dentist.

After the appt. I plan to enjoy Loi Krathong Festival. Let me know if you want some pics from my iPad.

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13 hours on the road!

13 hour Road Trip!
When my first Thai friend, Tiew, asked me to go with her on vacation with her husband and son to visit her family I said no. But the next day I realized that it was an honor to be invited to meet her parents and said yes. The plan was to spend one night at her parents or two if they invited me an extra night and I felt comfortable. Then I’d take a bus to Chiang Mai.

Thursday, the day before our departure, May, who works with Tiew, said, “It’s a long drive.” I had imagined the three hours to Chiang Mai and two or three to Nan. May informed me it was more like eight or nine hours altogether. Well, that was much longer than I had expected. But I decided to proceed anyway and just look at it as an adventure.

Armed with iPad for word games and two books, I was ready to leave at 7a.m as requested. But Tiew called at 7 and said we would leave at 8. We pulled out at 8:10 a.m. and arrived at her parents at 10:45 p.m. About three hours was spent in CM and Lampung doing errands and looking for a vehicle for me. So rather than complain I was simply appreciative that Tiew’s husband tried to help me. The vehicle search was fruitless. (separate blog about my future vehicle.)

Just as Antonio mentioned that his brother and sister-in-law are rich as we approached their home, Tiew informed me of her parents’ financial situation…the opposite of Antonio’s relatives. So I was expecting a very basic home with squat toilet and, perhaps, thin bamboo walls like some of the houses near the schoolhouse. A pleasant surprise awaited…well constructed home with solid walls, a Western toilet plus two squatters, a shower with hot water. Many of the luxuries such as the Western toilet and washing machine were purchased by Tiew and her husband. Turns out she helps support them as well as her brother. Tiew and her husband are very good business people with three businesses in Pai…massage (which is how I met her), watch repair/key making and laundry.

Another contributing factor to the extended road trip was that in CM, Tiew received a phone call and said we were going to Phayao to pick up her 9 and 10 year old niece and nephew. That side trip added about an hour each way to the journey. Her brother’s house was more what I expected when Tiew described poor. Thin exterior walls, floor covering that was worn and ripped in some parts, limited and old furniture, squat toilet, exterior kitchen, and general worn out appearance. The highlight of stopping there was was watching her brother knock down coconuts from the tree in his backyard…about 10 on Friday…and then each of us having one. Drinking the coconut water is one of my favorite treats here. I like the soft, immature coconut meat also but was too full on Friday to eat that. Saturday he arrived at her parent’s with a big basket holding about 20-25 coconuts. I’m looking forward to having one for breakfast.

Highlights of Saturday included: having an hour plus Thai massage, treating her niece and nephew to new school shoes, and today, walking to her mother’s huge garden, and buying unusual lanterns for the kids…instead of the plain white ones that will be used on Loi Krathong later this week,I found some with a panda face, big red heart and the colors of the Thai flag. Tiew is bringing a Panda one back to Pai for Pansa since I’ll be in CM for the big festival.

The buses to CM on Sunday were sold out so I am splurging and taking a 45 minute flight to from Nan to CM for $65. The only alternative was to catch an 11 p.m. Bus and arrive in CM at 4 a.m.

LATER: On the way to the airport we stopped in Nan to view its annual, traditional long boat race which has been going on for centuries. Tiew, who grew up 30 minutes from Nan, had never been. It was fun to experience once– saw 2 races on the Nan river — but it very hot and crowded.
Boats are about 50 feet long, very narrow, with between 30-40 rowers. Colorful to watch.

Plans for CM include: dental visit, trip to the American Consulate to get something notarized, shopping for a couple items for the school, buying a motorbike helmet so I can wear it when a passenger, and visiting the Chiang Mai Montessori School. I’ll remain there through Thursday or Friday to celebrate Loi Krathong. If you are too curious to wait for the next blog, just google it and you will discover why I’m so excited to be in CM for one of Thailand’s biggest festivals.

It is 5:30 a.m. as I write this, courtesy of the numerous roosters in the neighborhood. Will try to go back to sleep. Please wish me sweet dreams.

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Paula + Pai = Pairadise

Last night I went back to Sunset View restaurant for dinner and to enjoy the sunset. There I met a young Irish entrepreneur who has turned his passion of travel into several lucrative on-line businesses. He encouraged me to start a travel blog and I’m hoping he’ll provide some guidance. That said, the entry below was written with him in mind. Will send it to him and see if he’ll publish it on one of his sites. If you want to see his main website go to:

A few days ago I celebrated my third month anniversary in Pai, Thailand. This week I’ve been feeling so grateful to be living in a town and valley with such natural beauty. No matter the weather, the mountains which surround the entire valley take my breath away. Now that I’m living in Mae Hee, about four kilometers from the town center, the mountains and vistas hold particular attraction.

With rainy season over, the days begin with clouds covering the mountains but they’re gone by 10:30 or 11 a.m. Then the glorious blue skies and bright sun take over. It gets quite warm by mid-afternoon and I rarely walk anywhere without an umbrella to provide shade and keep me a bit cooler. As night falls, the crickets and grasshoppers fill the air with their songs and the temperature begins to drop. Three nights ago I began sleeping with a quilt to ward off the chill. How the the Hill Tribes and some of the locals keep warm in their homes with paper thin exterior walls is beyond me.

My favorite past times in Pai are: 1) staying at the incredible Bueng Pai Farm (see earlier blogs for details) 2) walking past the acres/rais of rice paddies toward Wat Sai Khao (Rice Beach Temple) and then meditating in front of its half dozen golden Buddhas 3) enjoying Pai’s famous nighty Walking Street filled with vendors selling amazing handicrafts and a luscious array of food 4) enjoying wonderful oil massages at RELAX and medical massages at Lek’s traditional Thai medicine studio 5) visiting the afternoon market where all the locals and some farangs (Westerners) do their daily shopping 6) enjoying fruit shakes from my favorite no-name stand across from Siam Books.

Pai seems to have something for everyone. Traditionally known as a backpackers’ haven with easy access to marijuana and other drugs, Pai has transformed itself into a tourist mecca that appeals to all ages and socio-economic levels. Travelers in their 20s and early 30s seem to dominate the street and bar scene. But there are plenty of other tourists in their 50s and 60s, some staying at reasonably-priced guesthouses in town and others paying top dollar for the luxury resorts that have popped up on the outskirts of Pai in the past few years. I’ve heard that there are 300 places offering rentals in the Pai Valley and that on big holidays such as New Years, every single facility is completely booked. Not only are all the hotels and guesthouses full, but it seems every square inch of grass has tents pitched on it.

Activities in the Pai Valley abound: trekking, white water rafting, kayaking, tubing down the Pai River, riding or frolicking in the river with trained elephants, soaking in hot springs, visiting a nearby Chinese village, and enjoying several waterfalls from the dry shores or dipping in the natural pools. For travelers who prefer to simply hang out (and Pai seems to attract many of them), there are dozens of good restaurants, fruit shake stands, coffee stands, bars and clubs.

One of the other great things about living in Pai is getting here. The three hour drive from Chiang Mai must rate as one of the most beautiful roads in the world. The two lanes wind around over 700 curves as the air-conditioned van climbs up and down mountain after mountain. The vistas are incredible—mountains, mist, forests, and occasional temples.

Pairadise strikes me as the perfect play on words because Pai is truly a paradise.