This is a continuation of our road trip around the north-western part of Thailand. To read from the start, click HERE.
Waking up in a tent usually occurs at around 6.00 a.m., but we managed an extra hour, cosy in our sleeping bags under the pine trees in the cool mountains. The glass-like Pang Oung lake was swirling with surface mist in the early morning sunlight, and swans broke through it noiselessly.
It didn’t take long to find a place open for breakfast. A nearby homestay, deserted apart from the owner and an elderly French man, was open for omelettes and coffee. Caroline and I aren’t normally coffee drinkers, but newspaper articles inside praised the owner – Uncle Pala – on his self-grown, self-roasted, organic brew. I’d like to tell you it was the best coffee I’d ever had, but I haven’t drunk it much since quitting my job as a barista nine years ago. However, I loved the fact that Uncle Pala made it from plant to cup, and so I bought 250 grams of Uncle Pala’s home-roasted coffee beans to send back to a discerning friend in New Zealand.
A friend of Saeng’s was having a traditional Shan wedding, and we ambled along to see it. The bride and groom sat behind a table, their heads joined by a long, floral headpiece and their hands bound together by hundreds of bits of string. We, along with other guests, approached the wedding table on our knees, deposited our gift (an envelope of cash), and each tied another four pieces of string to their bound hands. Only at the days end could the newlyweds cut their bonds.
The next twelve hours would be a mixture of eating, drinking, and singing (the latter no doubt declining in quality as revelers quaffed the prior), but we left soon after arriving.
With Tomato in our rear view mirror, we drove half an hour to Ban Rak Tai – a Chinese village on the border of Myanmar that we intended to visit three days earlier (before we became sidetracked).
Ban Rak Tai was a beautiful little village surrounding a lake, and it was ripe for tourists. It’s almost instant, spotting a tourist town. The streets are manicured, the open stores along the main road are packed with identical trinkets, and it’s hard to find a sleazy Thai food stall – the best kind.
Yet we were here, we were foreign, and we appreciated signs written in English. And what were we really in this town for? To look around and then leave? Probably. But the great thing about not planning ahead (as I wrote HERE), is that something unexpected could happen. You might end up becoming attached to an area for some reason. Maybe an offer will materialise from a kind stranger. You could end up with a lifelong friend. Your stock-standard, trinket-buying, tour-group-participating, burger-cramming tourist will have a set plan. We did not.
Sharing a space with open-mouthed gawkers and bratty, screaming kids is never pleasant, but happily for us we were traveling in the off-season and so once again, like so many times on our little road trip, we were the only foreigners around. This time we stayed in a quaint little riverside guesthouse named Ping Ping, becoming instantly fond of the place after seeing 30-40 chickens clucking on the grounds and a beautifully tended garden filled with colourful plants. Hearing the proprietor, a happy half-Thai half-Chinese woman, singing heartily as she cleaned the bathrooms sealed the deal (that and cash).
A routine motorcycle exploration of the town revealed a road that took us to the border of Myanmar, which was being guarded by one soldier, one duck, and several ducklings. We asked if it was possible to cross through, but one of the ducklings said, “No,” so we turned around.
One of the only eateries open served a Chinese take on standard Thai fare – kuay teow naam. Up here in the far north the soup was topped with roasted sesame seeds and some sort of delicious, leafy green vegetable that remains a mystery to us. Instead of the usual pickled chilli as a condiment we could help ourselves to tart lime juice, which was deliciously different. During the meal, two small jugs of complimentary tea were placed in front of us, likely done to entice us into buying a pack.
Tea is grown all over the area, and people come specially to the lakeside town to try the local beverage. The tea was delicious and so we bought a pack, only to discover later – by lifting a false label – that it was actually produced in Taiwan. Go figure.