Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mae Hong Son and Mae Sot

Route 1095 - Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son

From Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son is only 225 km, but it took us almost the whole day to get there. As usual, in our free and easy way, we were distracted and did a couple of detours.

From Chiang Mai, Miss G guided us to route 107 and then turned left to 1095. After travelling for an hour or so, we took a coffee break at Pankled Coffee, 70 km from Chiang Mai, along 1095. Because we were attracted by the signage they put up before reaching their location. We were curious about what coffee in the middle of nowhere. This countryside cafe was nicely decorated. There were butterflies flying around and I caught two of them next to the parking lot. This was a pleasant place for a coffee break.

Detour No. 1 - Mork-Fa Waterfall,

As we about to leave, Neo Chian saw a sign pointing to the road next to the Cafe - Mork Fa Waterfall. As we were not in a hurry, we decided to make our detour number 1.

When we arrived at the car part of Mork-Fa waterfall, there was only one other car there. The attendant at the ticketing office told us that this waterfalls is 60m high. The last time we saw a waterfall was in Laos. We decided to have a go again. After we changed into our swimming trunk, the other party just left. So, only two of us headed for the waterfall. It was a 5 minutes walk to the waterfall. Once we saw the waterfall,, we were impressed with its height and double-barreled characteristic. As we walked near the waterfall, we were puzzled by a sign which read "Please believe Alarm Sound". Don't really know what it means.

Detour No 2 - Phu Pai Art Resort, Pai

Pai was once a quiet market village inhabited by Shan people. Pai is a small town in northern Thailand on route 1095 about 110 km away from Mae Hong Son. Recently Pai has appeared on the Thailand tourist map and has received major infrastructure upgrades including an airport with several daily flights. As Pai lies at the foot of the mountains, many tourists use it as a base for trekking and visiting hill tribes like Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu. In the recent years, several small- to medium-size luxury resorts were added. When we approached Pai, the sign of Phu Pai Art Resort caught our eyes. We were curious to find out what Art Resort means and took our detour No. 2.

This 40 rooms boutique luxury resort sits on acres of rice paddies and surrounded by scenic mountain in Pai. All villas are beautifully built and decorated, and are embraced by acres of green rice fields, fruit orchards, and landscaped tropical gardens. You can watch real farmers cultivate rice and other crops on their fields and try your hand at being a farmer for a day when the timing is right.

The manager shown us the rooms and amenity and facilities. We had a beer at the poolside and enjoyed the scenery. We played a game of "table football" free of charge. We asked why this resort is called Art Resort. We left the resort without knowing the answer. On hindsight, we should enjoy this resort for one night.

Mae Hong Son, the provincial capital
Mae Hong Son province is the most mountainous province in Thailand. Mae Hong Son, the provincial capital, Thailand's northern border city, hiding itself in between the towering mountains with densely forested slopes, stretching to the Myanmar border. Maehongson is known for its charm of scenery and culture. The people of Maehongson consists of the Shans who live in the city and the hill tribe people who live in remote villages on mountain tops where elements of lifestyle have changed little in hundreds of years.

We arrived at Mae Hong Son city in late evening. There were not many tourist and room occupancies rate was low. We checked into Biayork Chalet which is on the main street and is near to on the Jongkam Lake. We took a 5 minute walk to the Johgkam Lake for dinner. There were many food stalls around the lake but mostly sold deep fried and Grilled foods. We found this lady selling similar to our Fried Oyster (only stall served hot meal) with eggs. Instead of oyster, she used seafood (calamari and prawns) for 30 THB, cheap and good. After that, we went to Crossroads Bar, one block away, for a drink before returning to the hotel.

In search of the Padaung Hill Tribe
The Padaung Hill Tribe is an ethnic minority in Myanmar which has been made famous by the brass rings which women in the tribe wear around their necks. About 20 years ago, many fled to Thailand to escape the Myanmar repression. With the help of the Thai government, they set up the Pduang refugee-village in a small secluded valley right outside the provincial City "Mae Hong Son" of the Mae Hong Son province. The biggest Padaung village is Nai Soi, 32 km northwest of Mae Hong Song. The other village is Hoy Sen Thao, 11 km southwest of Mae Hong Song,

Next morning, we decided to visit Hoy Sen Thao instead of Nai Soi, nearer and not back tracking. The map of Miss G doesn't have the detailed information around Mae Hong Son. We could not find the village Hoy Sen Thao. We relied on a biref map from the airport tourist information. We couldn't find the way to Hoy Sen Thao and ended up at the river. There were a minivan and two people sitting in a hut next to the river. We asked if they speak English. The lady responded. We explained we were lost trying to find the village where Long Neck ladies live. Turned out that Jan is a tour guide from Chiang Mai. She was so friendly and gave us the direction to Hoy Sen Thao effortlessly. She was waiting for a European couple who was riding elephant opposite side of the river. This couple would cross the river on the elephant to where she was waiting. It sounded like fun thing to do. However, she doesn't know actually how long more before the couple would corss the river. Otherwsie, we could wait to see it. May be, we could negotiate a deal just to ride the elephant across
the river and back. The hut has a raised platfom for easy of dismounting from the elephant. The village is on the other side of the river. We needed to cross a bridge, passed the elephant camp and some streams before we reached Hoy Sen Thao.
During the conversation with her, we mentioned that we drove from Chiang Mai yesterday. She said we could go to the Tourist Information Center at Mae Hong Son and get a certificate showing we had made 1864 turns from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son. Cool! The Tourist Information Center is next to Biayork Chalet. We thanked her for her help and continued our search for the long neck ladies.

Hoy Sen Thao Village

We crossed the bridge, met an elephant and crossed about 10 streams before we arrived at the village. There was a road sign "Elephant crossing, do not horn". The elephant was walking on the our side of the road. We stopped behind the elephant and waited for the trainer to stop the elephant and waited at the side. This elephant is taller and bigger than the Pajero. As we moved slowly and quietly pass him, I could fell the strength of the elephant. For whatever the reason, if the elephant turns mad and decides to swing its head and trunk at the car, the Pajero would be flung to other side of the road.

When we arrived at the village, we were looking for entrance ticketing office and car park like any other attraction. Instead, we drove through the village and saw an sign arrowed down to a house that says "See Long Neck". We thought that was the village folks trying to pull a fast one and capitalise on the tourists. We continued passed the village and a few km up the hill and turned back to the "See Long Neck" place. Walked down the slope, there was a village with handicraft shops. We did some shopping. There was a "demo half brass coil" for tourist who wanted to try. The real thing is a spiral brass coil. Even this half brass coil welded together was about 2 kg in weight. The real thing could be up 5 to 8 kg depending on the number fo rings. You could imagine the suffering of these ladies following their traditions.

After Hoy Sen THao, we went back to the city looking for Tourist Information Centre. For 20 THB each, we got our certificate for driving the 1864 turns on 1095 to Mae Hong Son.
We ate Pizza for lunch and then set off to our next destination, Mae Sot, another border town to Myanmar.

The turns of 1095.

Mae Sot

From Mae Hong Son, continued on route 108 southward to Mae Sot. It is a town in western Thailand that shares a border with Myanmar to the west. The town is part of the larger Tak Province and is the main land gateway between Thailand and Myanmar. As a result it has gained notoriety for its trade in gems and teak. Before reaching Mae Sot, there is a stretch of the Moei River serves as a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar, Mae Sot and the Burmese town of Myawaddy. You can see Myanmar on the other side of the Moei River were taken on route 108.

It was dark when we arrived at Mae Sot. We ate dinner at a local beer garden with live country music in English. By the time we were done with our dinner, it was 10 pm. We found Erawan Hotel nearby and checked in for a night.

Myawaddy/Mai Sot border crossing
The Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge crossing the Moei River was constructed in 1997 completing the link between the two countries. At the entrance of the bridge is the immigration office which is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thailand tapped the cheap labour from Myanmar. Many Myanmese comes over to Thailand for work everyday.We were at the border around 8 am and saw Myanmese were being locked in this truck and moved away. The truck was probably acted like a bonded truck, delivery labourer from the border to a job site. In the evening, they return to border by the same bonded truck.

We found that the border security was not strict. If you have proper documentation, you walk on the bridge crossing Moei River. Or you could cross the border by Rubber Tube Ferry.

Rubber Tube Ferry Operation

1. This ferry operator carried a huge inflated inner tube and worked upstream on Thailand side. When he reached the pick up point, he set the inner tube in the water and he stood in the center of the tube and held the tube steady.

2. The first passenger who was queueing at the riverside sit on the inner tube, either sitting one leg inside or both leg outside.

3. The operator turned the inner so that the second person can "board" the inner tube. This was like loaded a revolver. Until 6 or 7 passengers were on board, the operator pushed the inner tube away from the bank.

4. He bended over the tube and used his hands paddling the tube forward. The tube now was carried by the flow of the river downstream. The tube drifted downstream diagonally across the river which may be about 30 to 40 meters wide.

5. When the tube was near to the opposite bank, the operator used his hands to move closer until he could stand in the river. Then he pushed the tube to the bank. One by one, he let his passengers alight.

6. He carried the tube upstream again and repeated the process, taking passengers from Myanmar to Thailand.

This is an ingenious way of crossing the river. But we have so many questions from what we just seen, like

1. where is the immigration check point?
2. do these passengers have passport?
3. are they Thai or Myanmese?
4. why are they crossing the river this way?
5. was this an illegel entry?,,,,,,,

Another interesting thing was that where I took these pictures, I was standing next to a Thai soldier with machine gun watching the border. And all these things happed under his nose. This shows that there is a certain amount of tolerence of Myanmese crossing over into Thailand without papers. Unless there is tension at the border, this opeatoin would be carried on for a long long time.

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