adventures in Thailand

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MAE HONG SON (MHS), the provincial capital, sits in the NW corner of Thailand not too far from the Burma (Myanmar) border to its north and west. It takes nearly three hours to drive there from Pai in private car or minivan and at least four hours by public bus. Although I thought it sat north of Pai, it’s actually due west. However, the drive consists of hundreds of curves UP the mountain range going north and then hundreds more curves going south DOWN the mountain range. Throughout the scenic drive, the two lane road moves westward.

My previous time there consisted of a three-hour visit last December to visit the Dept. of Education. So two nights there gave me a good feel for the small city and, best of all, provided the chance to see a natural wonder featured on postcards everywhere in Pai and MHS province: thousands (perhaps millions) of bright yellow Mexican sunflowers dotting huge hillsides about 2 1/2 hours SE of MHS.

MEXICAN SUNFLOWERS came to Thailand courtesy of Catholic missionaries (from Mexico perhaps?). Therefore, my Irish next door neighbors at the guesthouse where I stayed, refused to go see them since they are not indigenous. Luckily, my attitude differed. In fact, I went to MHS specifically with the objective of experiencing this delightful visual spectacle in person.

I approached my goal of witnessing this annual display with very little advanced knowledge.  All I knew was that they bloomed from mid November to mid December somewhere south of the city of MHS. Beginning with my first visit to Pai in November, 2009, I had seen beautiful postcards featuring bright yellow blooms against  green hillsides with blue skies and shining sun overhead. My excursion differed sightly in that the sun peeked through occasionally while foreboding rain clouds moved closer slowly. Luckily the rain held off until an hour after my big adventure.

 THE BIG ADVENTURE consisted of:

1) a ride on the back of a  policeman’s motorbike to the bus station on my first afternoon in MHS. I wanted to find out the schedule for the following day and didn’t realize the station was nearly a couple of miles out-of-town. When I inquired at the police station about directions to the bus station, having already walked at least a half mile in the wrong direction, one of the two policemen got up from behind his desk and told me to meet him in the parking lot. So kind!

2) a nearly two-hour bus ride at 8 a.m. the following morning on an old, un=airconditioned bus filled with locals (I was the only Westerner).

3) finding a motorbike taxi to transport me an additional 45 minutes from the bus station in Khun Youm to Tong Buatong where the sunflowers thrive.

4) buying two beautiful hand-woven scarves from Hill Tribe women at the tiny retail area near the sunflower hills.

5) finding and purchasing a FABULOUS handmade fingertip length jacket with gorgeous panels of needlework created by other Hill Tribe women. This was at a small market area that catered to locals mostly and some tourist about 15 minutes from Tong Buatong.

MAE HONG SON, THE CITY, features a few worthwhile sights. First of all, the center of town rings a small man=made lake with a diameter of about 250 yards/meters. My inexpensive guesthouse sat on the edge of the narrow park that surrounds the lake. My Italian CouchSurfing friends, Sabrina and Giovanni, had stayed at Johnne’s House and recommended the guesthouse which worked out well. They spent $5 for a room for two without private bath. I opted for the more expensive option: $10 for a nice enough private room with full bathroom and shower. No TV or AC, amenities that come with most rooms priced $15 to $20.

On the opposite side of the lake from my guesthouse sat one of MHS’ two most famous wats (temples). The other towered above the town above a high hill. I managed to visit both places. Going to/from the bus station we passed another pretty wat.

As found in most Thai cities, MHS had an evening walking street geared toward tourists (mainly) as well as locals. A fair amount of vendors featured food so that’s where I ate each evening. One disappointment (which repeated itself in Chiang Mai with a slight variation) was my attempt at protein to complement the fruit shake. I pointed to a skewer of meat on a little BBQ grill and inquired (in Thai), “Chicken, not pork?) When the proprietor said “chicken” I bought one for 35 cent. After  the first bite I spit it out because it was too fatty. So I tried the next piece and discovered the same problem. Turns out it was what my late Cousin Jack called the Pope’s Hat or Bishop’s Hat or something like that===it’s the fatty, triangular piece at the end of the chicken just above the cavity in a whole chicken. I went back to the vendor and bought a BBQ chicken leg for 65 cents. A couple of nights later in CM I made a similar mistake by purchasing a skewer filled with chicken gizzards. Ate half of one and threw out the remainder. Guess it’s safer to stick with tofu when looking for protein!





Hi Everyone who follows my blog:
        This is more like a letter than a regular blog post. In fact, there are  4 paragraphs from an email letter I wrote earlier today to my (new) friend Fern who moved to Thailand about a month ago to teach English. (Thanks to Tom Cherwin for introducing us). Fern and I spent a lovely 2 days celebrating Loy Krathong Festival in CM on Weds/Thurs. (See Nov. 2011 blog for details on the holiday.)
      There are at least two blog entries waiting to be written: 1) Mae Hong Son (provincial capital where I spent last Mon. and Tues. nights) and
2) Meditation retreat at Wat Tam Wua Forest Monastery ( where I spent Thurs. afternoon until Mon. morning, starting Nov. 22). Right now I have a bit of a cold so am lying low for a couple of days. Hopefully will write those two blogs within the next 48 hours.
       Meanwhile, here’s what I wrote to Fern when she asked about my “free school” which I had referred to in an earlier note to her:
      “When it became apparent that  my role at BC (Banyan Center) had changed and I was no longer involved with the kids, I started my own gathering of kids. Not really a school.
      I befriended 3 VERY poor kids on my block (No running water in the house. they bathe and wash clothing in the irrigation canal). Soon they felt comfortable with me and came to my “guest cottage” at my invitation to do art, etc. Now I run a very informal school on one weekend morning (has been Sun. but switching to Sat.) for an hour or two, depending on their interest. Plus they come over many other times and use the “school” to do art, write English, etc. on their own.
      Originally there were 2 kids at this poor house living with their grandparents. In Late Aug. or early  Sept. another girl joined them. Just learned her story two weeks ago thanks to a friend who speaks Shan (what the Burmese refugees speak and many Thais speak in their villages as well if they are of Shan heritage). Her mother and sister are still in Burma. She doesn’t go to school, not sure why. Her name is Toon.
       I might start a free school for her and one other 3 1/2 y.o. who came to my school today, perhaps an hour or two on Tues. and Thurs a.m. plus the Sat. school which will have more kids (hopefully).  (On Mon. Wed. Fri. I try to go to guided meditation at 11 a.m. with Stan at GOOD LIFE restaurant.) The Burmese refugee is 8 but looks 6, probably from poor nutrition in Burma. She spoke only a little Thai before but knows a lot now. Her English is very limited, ABC and #s to 10. She went to school in Burma and learned it there.
      Anyway, I’m psyched now because I think there’s a good possibility for me to do “some good in the world” via Toon and maybe Lilly, the 3 1/2 y.o who came today. Her parents are Swiss (mom) and Thai and she was a charter student at BC. Found out today that they tried the other private school in town but Lilly didn’t like it. Mom is a children’s clothing designer. Might do a barter if Lilly comes to my “school” regularly… in exchange for tri=weekly school. (Remember  my hyphen is broken, using the = instead).”
SO…MY CHANGING ROLE AND GOALS. The preceding outlines my current goal. As for my changing role, here’s the BIG NEWS: On Nov. 19 I resigned as President of the Board of the Banyan Center. While in the USA for a month I talked to five dear friends who gave me wonderful support and advice. With the distance of 6000 miles (or whatever it is), it became very clear that the BC was well on the way to success. Thus, my role as CoFounder (which will never change), founding School Director, and then Board President had altered significantly. Thanks to the support and editing help of Phyllis, Nancy, Judee, Vesta and Karen, we drafted a letter of resignation in October. HOWEVER.
       MOST RECENT BC CRISIS: The day before I planned to hit the SEND button on my resignation letter, an unexpected email arrived from Nui (Narissa), the wonderful certified Thai teacher who joined the BC staff on May 1, 2012. Guess what! She beat me to the punch: her email announced her resignation. Vesta advised me not to resign until the staffing crisis was over. Therefore, I returned  to Pai on Nov. 12 with a bit of optimism and  hope that my PR, management and writing/editing skills would be used and that the SEND button of my resignation letter might never be pushed. However, one week “back in the saddle” made it clear that my optimism (I’m the perpetual Pollyanna) was unfounded.  My dedication and natural affinity with young children has found a new outlet. That makes me happy.