Saturday, November 27, 2010

Old Town Chiang Khan

As presumed, we planned a winter trip up north. Keyword… winter… reality, perspire like pigs. End of November, should have been cold, but Buddha decided to turn the sauna on. And so we left Bangkok at 10pm in the night. Can’t recall the entire journey, but when I woke it was near 6, and up the mountains we went in the still cool air hoping it will last.

We were in Loei and joined the flock of local travelers for the sunrise. As we hike up the pathway, many of them were already strolling the opposite way, we missed the sunrise but nevertheless, the view was still breathtaking on Phu Ruea National Park. Misty, top of the peak I was as the sunrays contest the heavenly clouds to reach my lens. First stop of the day for many on their way to Chiang Khan.

Now Chiang Khan had been the talk of many lately. Her old rustic charms attracting many of the city folks, luring them with her backwards appeal into a world where the clock ticks slower. However, the dwellers of this village just ain’t too happy about it. They had been invaded, modernization had set in with the ever increasing loads of tourist. Even farangs had started to arrive in small numbers. The concrete buildings have started to sprout, over shadowing the original rows of aging wooden houses laid along the only street. Chang Khan will turn into another Pai soon as many had already reflected.

The monks walk their daily rounds just as the sun rise. Briskly, they collect alms from the local folks, strolling a slow pace taking in the clear morning air. In contrast to that, during the peak supposed to be cold period of November till January, things are very different. Monks get overfed like fishes. We tourist like to do everything that locals do just so as to do what we tourist are suppose to do. As a result, abnormal number of people lined up the streets and we dump loads of monk-feed into their small bowl. Never mind the cookies, sticky rice and what not had already piled up like mountain, tourist continued to squeeze whatever we can into any opening we chanced upon between the packs of nutrients. I myself was one of them and it was quite obvious the monks tried to walk as fast as he could pass all of us, refusing our offerings tactically. Some, I could tell was calculating how to walk past us beyond arms reach. We tourist had stressed the monks. There should be a Monk Overfeed Protection Act set up in Chang Khan someday.

Accommodation in Chang Khan is basic. Mainly, they are home stay. This is the second time I am at it and I am still amazed that all the elderly are wiling to sacrifice their night sleep for us. For a mere THB1500, they are willing to give up the bedroom and sleep all over the living room downstairs, scattered in a way like cats would do so in a large open area. There are not resorts on Chiang Khan as yet, but in time, there will be as popularity grows.

The old town is located next to the Mekong. So one could talk local to the locals and have a boat ride out on the river for THB1000. Sail next to Laos, see them kids play the water. Wave as we did as the citizens of Laos smiled and waved back. Cycling is the core activity there, for in Chang Khan is a long street where in the night it turns into a bustling market with restaurants, drinking joints and the so many peddlers. Colorful lights reflecting off old wooden charms, a kaleidoscope, it can be quite a picture.

A packed trip up north and back, sleep deprived we were back working the third day. 60% of the time spent in the van, stopping along the way for spots of unknown attractions. That’s the way we do it here, cheap.

Full photo sets available here under Old Town Chiang Khan Nov 2010.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pink Flowers and Weird Rocks

Blog about August, some time ago. What’s on during August? Pink flowers season they say. All Thais flock to this place called Chaiyaphum to step on them flowers… no just kidding. Thais flock there to take in the full view of these pink petals blooming all over the slopes in the midst of fresh foggy mountain air. Flowers, so many, but you gotta catch them at the right time. With global warming, it’s hard to predict when they will bloom. We were told we went late for the season. The Dog Krachaio (that’s what they call them) had already started withering.

Chaiyaphum is highlands about 5 hours from Bangkok by van. That’s what we went in. My colleagues are very good (in fact all Thais are) at organizing such tightly pack trips over a short weekend, squeezing every bit out of off work time. We left midnight on Friday, our lives in the hands of the lone driver. Woke up crusty eyed at 5am on some mysteriously misty place, thinking our van had crashed and we were in Heaven. And when sense returned, we realized we were in some national park, Thai name too long, me brain no register.

August, Thais not only flock to Chaiyaphum for the flowers, but to also pose themselves dangerously on precariously looking rocks in order to take the picture of their lifetime. The forestry here in Thailand is good at making every rock sticking out over dropping cliffs an attraction. They are also ingenious in naming theses places, one of which I visited was “Cliff of Penis Shrinkage”. It’s a myth, my penis is still looking good down there.

Other then carrying genital related names, these are one of the few rocks in the entire solar system which has the most number of humans ever stood on them. Just wondering in my mind when a crack will appear and give way, taking a lovely couple along with it.

Rock features in this region are very peculiar in shapes. Thais looked at them and christened them Radar, World Cup something and whatever they can think of. Aiming through my viewfinder, I contemplate what freaky natural erosive phenomenon could have created them over the millenniums which had past.

Thais like waterfalls. And so, if there is one in the region, we flock there like frogs looking for a pond to spawn. In my restless state, again I cannot register the name of this place, but it was packed with people. As usual, Thais swim in their full daily attire, no bikinis for eye candy. Locals, only locals, hidden away from the knowledge of farangs the place is.

And what accommodation we lodged in? Travel local, stay local. Speak their language, live their language. We bunked over in “Home Stay”. Home Stay in Thai means staying in someone’s home literally. We invaded some farmer’s house for a small fee and the usual occupants young or elderly, will find some hole sleep else where. It was about THB 2,000 or so as I can recall for their sacrifice. Where do we get such incredible deals I asked? The web forums aplenty floating around they said. In written Thai they all are, reasons now we know why we expats can’t find good cheap deals.

They had simple food for us dinner, breakfast and lunch. We can squeeze in as many as we want, they will somehow get all the mattresses and blankets for us all. Just try not to think of the odor that came along with it. I was too tired to think of it anyways. Arrived late in the night and woke early 5am for out next leg of the journey.

Rocky rides, sleep deprived. We traveled them cliffs, flowers and rocks and falls. Had fun aplenty, all within a packed 48 hours. To so many places and back again. Monday, the next work day, was terrible. Will I do it again? Yes.

Full photo set here under Pink Flowers and Weird Rocks Aug 2010.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Thailand Tsunami 2010 – Prophecy

Ok, I am back, will try to be back to writing my blog that is. Work is crazy now and I am trying to make sense out of all the chaos.

Anyways, dunno which Buddha decided to pass the message to mankind here in Thailand, people are talking about avoiding the south during December. Tsunami will come, and now it will be from both sides. In 04, it hit the western coast where Phuket is. This year, it will be different. On 30 Dec 2010, Tsunami is going to hit from both sides, east where Samui is and West where Phuket still is.

And my Thai friend showed me the action of a clap – Biang! Whatever in-between, meaning the thin strip of Thailand running down the center, will be swept away. Let’s see prophecy right or wrong...