adventures in Thailand



The mini-van is pulling out of the lot in Pai as I begin this blog. Goodbye Pai. We’re winding our way slowly down the main street, one of four commercial streets in this town of 5,000 residents. Let’s see if the typing can continue as we navigate the road to Chiang Mai with its 762 curves.

Prior to arrival here, I wondered how I’d fill five days in Pai. The instant I landed, it became apparent that five days would not suffice. Therefore, I changed my dental appointment in Chiang Mai from last Thursday to today, Monday, and extended my stay. During my ten days here I met at least six other travelers who chose not to leave on their original departure date. That’s what Pai does to visitors.

I’d forgotten the enchanting beauty of this green valley completely encircled by mountains. Everyday bright sun and cloudless blue skies greeted visitors. The town bustled with activity at night as the two main streets became pedestrian malls with hundreds of vendors selling their wares. During the day, I frequented my favorite restaurants, enjoyed massages and while at Bueng Pai Farm simply hung out in the many hammocks and lounge areas overlooking its stocked fishing ponds. At BPF I also braved the cool waters of its natural swimming pool which got chilly overnight when the temperatures plummeted to the low 50s.

We’ve just past the Memorial Bridge built by conscripted Thais during World War II to aid the Japanese. So now the curves begin and this blog will have to end for now. MORE LATER. [Addendum: No one got sick during the mini-van trip to Pai—hurrah!]
It’s the next morning, Tuesday, and I’m halfway through the two-hour flight from Chiang Mai to Krabi. Air Asia is surprisingly comfortable, especially for a low-cost airline. By booking the flight way

Leaving BPF  with me and my luggage in the sidecar. Note Pai's mountains in the distance.

Leaving BPF with me and my luggage in the sidecar. Note Pai’s mountains in the distance.

back in August, I’m flying from CM to Krabi and then Krabi to Bangkok for under $70, including charges for a 20 kilo suitcase. Dirt cheap! My guess is that the first flight is about 800 miles and the second more than 300 miles. It’s definitely better than Ryan Air which I flew once from Athens to Bologna.

In order to qualify for the pre-paid 20 kilo checked bag, I had to remove 3 kilos (over 6 pounds) at the airport. Why? It’s not due to too much shopping for gifts (though there was some of that). I visited the used book store in Pai and got a handful of English books and graphic novels for my friend who teaches English in northern Laos. She’s

first of 3 incredible meals at Om Garden Cafe. Pumpkin & Spinach Curry with coconut on brown rice. Probably the best meal I had in Pai.

first of 3 incredible meals at Om Garden Cafe. Pumpkin & Spinach Curry with coconut on brown rice. Probably the best meal I had in Pai.

meeting me at the beach. Plus my friend Caro, who was storing some of my possessions, gave back a big empty suitcase. So I put my smaller suitcase inside the larger one, adding weight. After removing 3 kilos of books and a beach towel of mine that Caro had kept, I returned to the check-in counter. I told the Air Asia representative that the books were for English students in Laos and she allowed me to put a few back in, despite my bag weighing about 22 kilos in the end. Very nice of her….and I managed to squeeze the beach towel back in.

Since I’m talking about the flight, here’s a small world item. I know two people on board much to my surprise and delight. If you followed my blog when I lived in Thailand, you might recall an entry about an amazing Thai wedding I attended in Chiang Mai a bit over two years ago. Well, the groom and his business partner are on board. They’re filmmakers, one Italian (the one I know) and one American, probably on their way to Krabi to film in the jungle where they make many movies. The Italian’s twin daughters (age 5 now) go to the Montessori school in Chiang Mai which is where I met their mother. I expected to bump into acquaintances in Pai but not on Air Asia.

Yesterday in CM I had my second dental appointment–teeth cleaned and the permanent crown put in. Cost $600 for both as opposed to $1400 for the crown and $200 for a deep cleaning at home. The thousand dollars I saved nearly covered the cost of my week-long package tour with airfare from L.A.

After dropping off my bags at the dentist’s office I searched the area for a reasonably priced guest house. Looked at three sub-standard (by my standards, anyway) ranging from $15 to $22 and returned to a more expensive one ($37) for the night. That’s the most I’ve ever paid directly for accommodations in SE Asia although the places I stayed during the package tour cost much more, no doubt. It was a lovely room with TV with BBC, AC, enclosed shower, fridge, big fluffy towels and helpful staff. The front desk ordered a taxi to pick me up at 5:10 a.m. for my 6:30 flight.

Just one more thing about Chiang Mai, then I’ll end this blog since some friends have indicated they’d prefer two shorter blogs than one long one. Last night my dear friend Tiew, who owns RELAX Massage in Pai, met me for dinner. She had been in her hometown helping take care of her sick father and was away from Pai during my stay. Luckily, she was spending the night in CM on her way back to Pai. It was great seeing her. I would have been very disappointed if our paths hadn’t crossed during my visit.
[For those of you who followed my blog from the beginning, you

my favorite lounge area at BPF where I relaxed in the hammock while reading.

my favorite lounge area at BPF where I relaxed in the hammock while reading.

might recall in Nov. 2011 an entry about my wonderful visit to Tiew’s humble home in Fang. Her mother thought it was the first time a farang (foreigner) had ever visited her village. If interested, you can go to to read my earlier blogs about the traditional Thai wedding of two Italians and my time in Tiew’s hometown.]

Stay tuned for the next entry with more details about my stay in Pai and my upcoming adventure on Koh Jum.

LATER: Tried posting this on Tuesday night but it wouldn’t transmit. So now it’s Thurs. a.m., Weds. p.m. on East Coast and will try again.



Back in Pai and Chiang Mai, my old stomping grounds

It feels so good to be back in Pai where I lived for 18 months, starting July 2011. I walked into RELAX massage, which my dear friend Tiew owns, and the moment one of the masseuses saw me she came over and gave me a big, warm, heart-felt hug. Then we went to find May, my best friend from RELAX, and she, too, greeted me with the warmest of hugs. A great home coming.

fresh ginger and cassava along with bags of passion fruit.

fresh ginger and cassava along with bags of passion fruit.

mts. in the distance as we round one of the 762 curves on the road to Pai.

mts. in the distance as we round one of the 762 curves on the road to Pai.

view from the mini-van with pine trees in foreground.

view from the mini-van with pine trees in foreground.

On Sunday I’ll check into Bueng Pai Farm, the place I call Heaven on Earth. But to save a bit of money, I’m spending the weekend in town. Didn’t have a reservation but the place where I was hoping to stay had a bungalow available. It’s a double, not single, so it costs an outrageous $13 instead of $10 a night. The reason I chose Mr. Jan’s Guest house is that it’s a large property with dozens of tall trees providing shade and wonderful gardens throughout. Hard to believe I’m in the middle of town. I can hear a rooster crowing occasionally (hopefully not at 6 a.m.).  [Addendum next morning: No rooster woke me though I can hear it crowing in the distance now.]

The 3 hour drive here was as breathtaking as ever—-beautiful mountain vistas, soaring pine trees at the top elevations, and hair-raising curves. In town one can buy a t-shirt emblazoned with “Chiang Mai to Pai–762 curves.” Though I didn’t count, no doubt it’s true. Unfortunately there was a person in the mini-van who suffered from terrible car-sickness even before we started climbing the treacherous mountain road. Luckily I was in the front seat next to the driver and the vomiting took place a couple rows back. Still disturbing.  [I know, TMI.]

We made a rest stop at a place that features fresh produce where I enjoyed a strawberry shake. If I can figure out the technology, the blog will include a couple photos from there. [ADDENDUM: Figured out how to insert them but not in the proper spot. Oh well.]

an upper berth on the overnight train. mine was below.

an upper berth on the overnight train. mine was below.

fresh strawberries at our rest stop

fresh strawberries at our rest stop

Tonight I’ve been invited to Ing Doi Guesthouse for dinner. That’s where I stayed for my first 6 weeks in Pai in 2011. My friend Dianna’s son and daughter-in-law own it along with a larger, more basic Yawning Fields bungalow colony. Mink, her daughter-in-law, is a terrific cook so I’m looking forward to dinner and our reunion. If I have the energy, I’ll go hear live music at a coffee house in town that’s about 5 minutes from my guest house.

ADDENDUM, Next morning: Dinner was fantastic and it was great seeing Dianna, her family and two guys I know who come to Ing Doi every winter, one from the UK and the other from Wisconsin. On the walk home I decided to forego music in favor of a massage. I was going to wait until Saturday but my back and shoulders cried out to stop at RELAX massage. May gave me the best massage I’ve had so far. Decided on an oil back massage and she soothed my sore muscles from my feet to my neck. May has incredibly large and strong hands–perfect for a deep massage. An oil massage is similar to a Swedish massage. Today I’ll get a Thai massage–no oil and wearing loose clothing that they provide. FYI, an hour oil massage costs $7 (plus a $3 tip since she gave me extra time) and a Thai massage costs $5.


Backtracking to my stay in Chiang Mai….

After the group tour left for Bangkok, I took the overnight train on Tuesday to Chiang Mai. I love traveling that way—it was my 4th time, twice in first class (when a lower berth was unavailable) and twice in second class. To my surprise, the car had individual berths on either side of an aisle with red satin privacy curtains. I had expected a small compartment with 4 berths (first class has only 2). Despite the set-up I slept well and arrived in CM at 8:15 a.m., right on schedule.

My two nights in CM were spent at my favorite guest house, TriGong. Adam makes me feel like part of his family. Didn’t do much in CM except spend an hour-and-a-half in the dentist’s chair while he worked on my new crown and enjoy a fabulous two-hour massage. I did buy a new top upon arrival since I needed something to wear while my dirty laundry was washed and folded. Sure wish I could find someone to do a load of wash for $1.50 in Woodstock!


Today I plan to see a couple more friends and then meet Dianna for lunch. It’s in the mid–80s during the day but chilly overnight. I’m waiting for the room to warm up a bit before taking a shower and washing my hair.

Oh yes, other activities in Chiang Mai included going to my favorite hairdresser for self-care (or self-indulgence?) The shampoo person washed/massaged my head for a full 15 minutes and then took another 5 to add conditioner and rinse. What luxury! While she worked on my head, another young woman started my no-polish manicure. Though I skipped a pedicure at my first visit, the next day I returned and now have red toenails (necessary here in Thailand with my sandals).

One more thing about staying at Mr. Jan’s Guesthouse. The mattress is the typical Thai one—-made from the fibers of coconut husks. Thus it’s extremely firm. Some would say hard. Fortunately, I like a firm mattress but it did take 10-15 minutes to get used to last night. Slept great until 8:30 a.m.

As always, your comments are always appreciated. Love hearing from my friends.





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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.


Rainbow, Cat, School and CouchSurfing

RAINBOW  As many of you know, one of the joys of living in Pai, Thailand is its amazing natural beauty. A couple of  days ago a lovely rainbow arched across the sky. The view was from my front porch. Though it took nearly a half hour for the rain to reach my home, one could see the storm clouds behind the house. Rainbows are a fairly common occurrence but this one really caught my attention. A double rainbow tried to form but only made it 1/3 across.

CAT  The young cat that my first CS friend said couldn’t be tamed now is docile and loving. Despite having said she wouldn’t come in the house until after her visit to the vet, I relented and last week she came in and out for a few days. However, I think she has fleas so now she’s been banished to the front porch and side door area. Hope to take her to the vet this week. Yesterday bought a fake cat carrier that my friend Dianna recommended. Pace, the cat, (BTW, that’s pah chay not PACE) now eats her meals with the food bowl inside the carrier. Thought it might be a good idea to get her used to it.

I had hoped to get her examined, shots and fixed before she got pregnant. But it might be too late. Not sure but the vet will tell me. Her presence adds to my happiness. Someone to talk to…and she doesn’t answer back except with meows.

SCHOOL  Our second board meeting takes place tonight. As mentioned previously, I’ve been busy with work in preparation: creating the agenda, completing tasks (i.e. meeting with graphic designer about reprint of our brochure, trying to correct website, etc).

Yesterday the Banyan Center received a fabulous compliment. There’s a new parent who moved here from Malayasia with daughters 3 and 5 years old. She came to Pai because of the school which one of our CoFounders predicted would happen. Yesterday we had lunch and she said, “I’ve looked for schools in many parts of the world and Banyan Center is the first to truly meet my needs and expectations.” Isn’t that great? She’s German and her kids speak that. So now we have German, Japanese, Russian, Thai, English, Shan speaking kids at the Banyan Center.

The strangest part about meeting this new parent in Pai, Thailand is that we share something in common: both have worked for human rights in Palestine. She was cofounder of International Solidarity Movement (she’s been shot 7 or 8 times and once the person running right next to her was shot dead!). The group I worked with, International Women’s Peace Service, grew out of ISM. IWPS was founded a few years later to be slightly less radical and woman centered.

She was born in Germany where her Palestinian father practices medicine.

COUCHSURFERS  Today a 27 year old British couple arrives. They are traveling the world overland for two years. If it sounds familiar, you will recall that my first CSers fit the same bill although they were British an Canadian. The new couple sounds very interesting and am eagerly awaiting their visit. Best of all, my repaired refrigerator arrives this morning (hopefully). Thus, after 3 weeks of using ice in a cooler for a fridge, things will be back to normal.

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BAD NEWS/GOOD NEWS: Scorpion, Wasp and Snake (plus more)

BAD NEWS: Stepped on a scorpion in the shower a few days ago.

GOOD NEWS: It didn’t sting me prior to its demise (courtesy of me).


BAD NEWS: A wasp stung my right forefinger today and it is now twice as wide as my left forefinger.

GOOD NEWS: My iPad (which I was holding last time two wasps stung me) was safely in the house with its new LCD screen which had shattered when dropped following the first wasp attack in June.


BAD NEWS: The snake curled up in front of my porch was/is alive.

GOOD NEWS: It didn’t bite but disappeared upon being hit by a rock (thrown to see if it was alive). Also, its venom is only dangerous to frogs and small animals, not humans.

Okay, enough with the nature reports, right? There have been several comments about earlier biology lessons, etc. on this blog. But truly, it’s nature here in Pai that is so different from Woodstock, NY and so amazing to this foreigner. On to other subjects…

INTERNET It has been so wonderful having internet access which was achieved by buying a special external modem ($30) that connects my laptop to a CAT satellite and works anywhere in Thailand. When signing up, frugal Paula chose the cheapest option instead of the unlimited version ($3 vs $20 per month). I thought mistakenly that the charges only occurred when downloading something. WHOOPS! The account was charged anytime I was connected for email or listening to my favorite radio stations (WAMC and WMHT). Despite the fact that I downloaded podcasts and a few iTune movies at other locations using wifi instead of my modem, the first month’s bill came as a huge shock: over $300!!!!

Needless to say the CAT office was visited recently and the problem explained to the English-speaking manager. In Thai fashion, I smiled a lot, admitted my misunderstanding and stupidity, and hoped for the best. No raised voices, no impatience, no harsh words. The manager phoned the regional office in Chiang Mai but the problem was so big that it was referred to headquarters in Bangkok. He suggested we cancel my first contract and issue a new contract with unlimited satellite time. Great idea and accomplished immediately.

Only potential problem was that I had to go home and remove the SIM card inside the modem, replacing it with one affiliated with the new contract. Naturally my technophobia reared its ugly head. It delights me to report that all was installed properly despite no directions or “how to” illustrations.

Yesterday when I stopped by the CAT office the manager was out so the verdict is still unknown. My fingers are crossed (a gesture unknown to SE Asians) that we’ll negotiate a figure closer to the unlimited monthly fee of $20 instead of $300+. BTW, that’s just the June bill. July will probably be the same.

TERRIFIC BLOG (NOT MINE) If you want to read a more detailed and more literary blog about Pai, a nearby Karen hill tribe village and the Ahka hill tribe near Chiang Rai where I stayed last month, go to: This is the blog of my first (and favorite!) CouchSurfers Julian and Brianne. They visited me in week 7 of their two-year overland adventure from Singapore to England. Brianne is a wonderful writer and Julian a magnificent photographer.

FINAL WORD: HYPHEN.  Perhaps the ant colony that sometimes resides in my laptop ruined the hyphen. It doesn’t work. Sometimes an equal sign is used in its place but in this blog the hyphens were just skipped. So for you editors, writers and (former) teachers, please overlook the missing hyphens in a couple of places. ADDENDUM: Recently I became aware of an editing service on the this blog website. When the robotic editor noticed the missing hyphens, it suggested the correct version. So you got the hyphens after all. (Although all of the passive tenses were not changed to active tense as suggested.)