This is a continuation of our road trip around the north-western part of Thailand. To read from the start, click HERE.
With the little town of Hot behind us, Highway 108 became a windy forest road. We sidled up to the Mae Chaem River, which was dotted with weekend swimming spots, inner tubes, and thatched platforms on stilts. An hour into drive we took an intersection onto Highway 1088 to look for some mineral hot springs that several signs had promised, and after five minutes pulled in to a wat that we thought might have a good view: Wat Mae Long.
A nun (female monk) saw us pull in and gave us icy, sweet coconut water. As several stray mutts yapped at us we peered around the site (there was no view), and concluded that it was very peaceful (apart from the barking), but very similar to the many other temples we had so far visited. A few monks sitting at a table wished us well on our travels as we left, but as The Dark Knight pulled out I discovered that the rear tyre was completely flat.
The monks took pity on us, and one jumped into a van (herein known as the monkmobile). Caroline rode in the monkmobile behind me, while I hobbled on the flat tyre to the closest likely repair shop – somewhere near the Op Luang National Park HQ. There wasn’t a repair shop, but there was a police kiosk, and one of the officers kindly helped us by hauling the bike onto the back of his pickup (everyone in northern Thailand drives pickups), and driving us to the nearest motorcycle repair shop – unfortunately all the way back in Hot. The monkmobile drove back to the temple with our thanks.
The Hot mechanics fixed a faulty valve stem, so happily we didn’t have to pay for a new tyre. And so there we were, three hours later, back to where we started. We brought a gift hamper for the kind monk, and when we eventually passed the temple again delivered it to him. The monks were happy to see us and one whipped out his cell phone to take photos. They offered us cool water, and gave a blessing for bringing them food. Excellent! More merits!
“Him,” said a monk who could speak a little English, while pointing at a darker-skinned monk, “He walk from Bangkok.”
“Really? To here?” I asked. That was a huge walk.
“One month,” he replied. “Now he walk to Mae Chaem.”
That’s where we were heading, and it was a difficult enough drive. As I was pondering his feat, the walking monk picked his parasol and alms bucket, tucked them under his robe, and sauntered off towards the dry, hot highway.
Highway 1088 climbed into he hills, where thousands of acres of paddy fields were on fire, creating the famous ‘haze’, which blurs the horizon all over the country, leaking into others as well. Kuala Lumpur blames their regular haze on Indonesian paddy field burning, but we discovered that Indonesia clearly aren’t the only culprits.
Finally we reached our initial intended destination, the Thep Phanom Hot Springs, and found it deserted apart from the people working there. A soak in the mineral spa cost 50 baht each (2 NZD), and a one-hour Thai massage was 150 baht each (6 NZD), So we opted for the massage. Caroline, whose Thai is improving quickly, had a broken conversation with her masseuse. I simply winced in pain as I was trampled upon, and bent in ways I didn’t think were possible.
Driving further, up and down steep, windy roads full of pot holes, we finally ended up in the little town of Mae Chaem, and spent the evening strolling about, drinking frozen yoghurt. We spent the night at Pimnapha guest house, owned by a short, happy man who, apart from being short and happy, was entirely uninteresting.
To continue, click HERE!