Well, we’re back in Thailand. Not only that, but we’re back on the very same scooter that took us around Mae Hong Son six months ago – The Dark Knight.
But let’s rewind to somewhere between then and now.
Two months ago, we met a guy named David at the Myanmar-Thailand border. His family had a farm house in Chiang Mai, which David invited us to stay at whenever we liked. “You can ride the horses!” he said.
We decided to take David up on his offer, and contacted him a few days before arriving.
“Nobody will be home,” was his reply, “But you are more than welcome to stay. I’ll give you directions”
“Where will you be?” I asked.
“In Kurdistan, Iraq. There’s a lot of fighting in the town of Sinjar, and we’ll stay to assist the soldiers and internally displaced people.”
“That sounds nerve wracking.”
“It’s a very desperate situation for the Yizidi people and the Kurds. They are about to start an attack on Sinjar.”
David, a young (maybe 21 or 22-year-old) aid worker who volunteers for the Christian charity organisation ‘Free Burma Rangers,’ proceeded to give us the GPS coordinates to his house and told us where to find the key. We spent two nights at his peaceful farmhouse while he braved the front lines and sent back reports of the ongoing conflict.
The next stop for us, it was decided, would be the small town of Phrao. It was a relatively short 60km drive through bushy hills, but it turned out to be quite an eventful day. Our first diversion was the Mae Ngat Dam, which we didn’t ‘visit’ so much as ‘see from a distance after being distracted by a dilapidated bridge and turning off the road to find said bridge.’ The bridge was certainly worth visiting.
Dotted all along the highway were signs advertising a wat. All the writing was in Thai (as one might expect), but the pictures looked so new and shiny that we felt the need to visit. Wat Doi Wang was much like any other wat, except it had the manicured feel of being rather new and very well looked after. Several modern buildings that looked like they could be dorms were being built, as well as a small temple with twin nagas. We bought an iced Thai tea, sat down, and then met a monk name Superman.
“Come, come! Be happy! Eat eat!” he insisted, and led us to a table that, only moments before, had been occupied by feasting monks. There was still an enormous spread of food, several lay people, and about twenty meowing cats. We were given sticky rice, pork salad, pork curry, coconut fish curry, and greens.
I will happily eat most things, but it was during this free lunch that I came across a food that I couldn’t stomach: brown crab goo served in an upside-down crab head. The idea was to dip a ball of sticky rice into the brown crab goo and then slurp it down. It was truly, truly disgusting, and I quickly hid my half-eaten goo-head back on the plate when nobody was looking. Caroline, “Didn’t think it was awful.”
“If you have problems, just call me!” said the monk who’d invited us to eat. “I superman!” He gave us a white business card embossed with gold. It was entirely written in Thai, apart from ‘PhD’.
Our next distraction came from a corrugated iron rainbow tower on a distant hill. We simply could not resist, and turned down a dirt road to find it. More rainbow-coloured structures revealed themselves as we drove, and we parked outside a shed containing two Thai people.
“How’s it going?” said one in an American accent. We never got his name, but he had lived in the States for 20 years and had recently returned home to perform experimental Biochar rice-growing techniques. If you have no idea what Biochar is (like I hadn’t), then click here to learn. His first crop of rice wasn’t ready to be harvested, and so the results of his experimental crops were as yet unknown. His rice fields certainly looked luscious, and he had a nice scarecrow. “Feel free to look around,” he said.
The rainbow tower on the hill was called วัดพญานาคราช, which Google translates to ‘Naga Royal Temple.’ What it should translate to, in my opinion, is ‘Naga Fluro Temple.’
Our final diversion was to Wat Doi Mae Pang, which attracted us because of a very impressive gate (although we did not take a photo of the gate). It was lovely to stroll around the shady grounds, and we met a group of heavily pearled Thai women who wanted photos with us. Like almost everywhere we seem to end up, the place was mostly deserted and everything was written in Thai. There were several expensive-looking buildings scattered around, and most of them seemed to be honouring, or even the tombs of, highly revered monks.
As we strolled around the grounds Caroline found something cool. We’d never seen anything like it before, and proceeded to speculate about what it was and take fifty photos.
Turns out it’s a Tiger Moth cocoon. The caterpillars are called ‘Woolly Bears’, and they weave the outer basket with their body hair. They then suspend themselves behind their hairy wall, cocoon themselves, and wait to hatch.
After all our distractions, we did eventually make it to Phrao. We stopped by the side of the road, hoping to find a guesthouse on Google Maps, but a truck pulled up beside us as soon as we’d hopped off the bike. It was our American-accented Thai friend from the experimental farm.
“You have somewhere to stay?” he asked.
“There’s a cheap place just around the corner, then turn two lefts after that. Call me if you get lost.” He handed us our second business card of the day and waved goodbye.