I hovered over the map before my first trip to Thailand; then I suddenly located a small town close to the Myanmar border – Mae Hong Son. I studied it more carefully; a winding road travels from Chiang Mai through the mountain pass of North Western Thailand. I googled it further and found it takes over 1500 pass through the rolling hills and the mountain to reach there. Sure, my kind of place, I thought. I contacted Alex, my tour organizer in Chiang Mai from Orient X’plorer.
“Why do you want to travel to Mae Hong Son? It’s not a tourist area,” Alex was perplexed.
“Exactly, that’s the reason,” I replied.
“No, honestly Tab, there are over 1500 mountain pass to drive there. And at the end, it’s just a small border town.”
“And that’s the reason, I want to see those mountain passes, Alex,” I told him flatly.
“You are nuts, Tab!”
“That makes two of us.”
“No, not me…you are the one who wanna go there,” Alex was getting upset
“And you are the one who is taking me there…no one else agreed.”
Alex gave up. “Ok, fine…I have to
Alex and Oppy
Alex and Oppy
bring Oppy with me…it’s not safe coming alone in the mountain after dropping you in Mae Hong Son.” Oppy is now Alex’s wife and business partner!
“Yeah, bring her on.”
And that was the start of our everlasting friendship.
It was a bright, warm morning when we started from Tharn Thong Lodge, close to Chiang Mai. Alex and Oppy picked me up from the lodge. Soon, the rolling hills those silhouetted at a distance became more visible and slowly the car started traveling up the hills. I knew it’s a two day trip from Chiang Mai and we have to halt for a night in Pai. Otherwise it’s not easy for Alex to drive at a stretch in the mountain roads.
We stopped in a little village for the lunch. Sweet name - Mon Jeam! There are some agricultural projects sponsored by the Queen, a school, some houses- that’s all about it. There is a beautiful garden next to the bamboo hut and the panoramic view behind it was breathtaking. Surrounded by the blue silhouetted hills in the bright afternoon sun, it’s a place I could spend hours just absorbing the beauty and tranquility of the
Nature. Fantastic, I thought! There was a black stone in one corner and I was told late King Bhumibal once came to meet the locals and sat there. I touched the stone and felt the aura of the bygone days. We settled down for the lunch. Alex and Oppy ordered the dishes and I made sure it was not hot. I have already learned my food habit in Thailand. Thai food is delicious, but usually they are hot for me. Thai cuisines use a lot of red chili in their food and although I am originally from India, generally I am not used to hot spices. When in Thailand, I usually order the green chili chicken curry…a safe bet.
Back on the road after the lunch! This is the first time I met Oppy. What a lively woman with full of energy and great sense of humour. No, I am not writing this because Oppy is going to read my blog. I know she would, but that’s not it. I am easy going and fun loving and so are Alex and Oppy. It was a perfect combination of three of us. We never discussed why we were going to
Lunch in Mon-Jeam!
Lunch in Mon-Jeam!
Mae Hong Son. We just wanted to have a fun road trip. And fun we had for sure! We made a few stopovers, bio breaks and cup of coffee. Near the late afternoon we entered the city of Pai. A golden late afternoon was melting over the farm land and the surrounding hills. It was a picture perfect afternoon that I will ever remember.
“You know Tab, many expats live in the town,” Oppy told me.
I was surprised. First I thought why on earth people would come halfway across the world and settle in this non-descriptive place. But more I thought about it, the place is a perfect gateway from the hubble-bubble of the city life, but not too far from Chiang Mai. We found our hotel, again a basic one for the night halt and that was perfect for all of us. We parked the car and walked around the town. The dusk was coming down and the night market on the main street came to life. We had a nice stress-free evening and we had a nice dinner together. Oppy and Alex went for foot massage and I looked around the souvenir shops for the
mementos. There is a considerable Muslim population in the town and the history of migration goes a long way. We checked out the town and came back to our hotel around 9:30pm. Alex was tired driving all day and it would be an early start tomorrow.
I am always an early riser. When I came out of the hotel after taking a quick shower, the town of Pai was still sleeping. I walked up the alley and came to the main street. It was just getting ready for the daily market and I managed a hot cup of tea from a street vendor. I guess I was her first client. When I came back to the hotel, Alex and Oppy were still sleeping. I banged their door to wake them up and settled for another cup of tea. I relaxed in the front patio and started whistling ‘Seasons in the sun’. A dog was sleeping nearby. She woke up and slowly came close to me looking at me eagerly. I was thrilled that the dog perhaps liked my tune, but only realized later that she was hoping for some biscuits and it was not my tune that
attracted her. Story of my life!
The two came out giggling and we were back on the road. We left Pai and drove along the winding road until we found a picture perfect small restaurant by the hill side. We stopped there for the breakfast and hanged around a bit to discover a rickshaw idling behind the restaurant. Of course, Alex suggested that he rides it a bit. Once we are done with the monkey business, we headed towards Mae Hong Son.
We stopped by a beautiful mountain waterfall by noon time.
“Let’s go on the rock and get wet,” Oppy was excited.
“No, not for me! I am not getting wet, my dear,” I was non-committal. But my resistance was short lived as they dragged me to the waterfalls. Soon we were jumping up and down just like three little kids.
The road now became more winding and elevation increased. A small van was carrying some pigs in front of us…probably to a pig farm. Honestly, they were packed like sardine with their back facing us.
“I’m driving slow,” Alex said.
“Why,” I asked.
“If they start shiting on my car,
I’m not taking any chance,” Alex said flatly.
“Their ass kind of cute, Alex. Kinda yours, man” I commented. Oppy was laughing at the back.
“Would you shut up? Otherwise I’m going to drop you off here,” Alex said.
“Ok bud, truce!” I joined the laughter. Oppy still reminds me of the scene!
The winding road was quite high up now and covered in fog. The lower valley was covered in cloud. Alex was driving carefully.
I suppose we crossed the peak and started downhill. Before noon, we reached the outskirts of Mae Hong Son, the road passing through the beautiful Sal forest.
Like Alex mentioned, it’s a non-descriptive border town, but we never regretted the trip. We walked up the town and came to the end of the road next to the Myanmar border. Someone snapped a group photo of us with the last milestone of Thailand before the border. The town has received Chinese migrants across the border for generations and it has a mix Thai and Chinese culture. We hanged around the town for a while, visited a village and found a beautiful lake side restaurant for lunch. Then it was
time for me to say good bye and head to the airport. Alex and Oppy dropped me to the airport…a small airport nestled in the rolling hills of northern Thailand. I checked in and I was about to enter the security check when I looked outside. Alex and Oppy were still waiting outside in the car to make sure I don’t face any problems and get stranded – an untold token of friendship. I felt a lump in my throat and I came out running to give them a hug.
“Everything is fine guys, you can leave now. You have a long way to drive back,” I told them.
They smiled at me and drove away. I felt a void and took my window seat in the Nok-Air flight. It was a sunny afternoon when the flight took off. Soon, the sleepy town of Mae Hong Son cuddled with its dark forest and surrounded hills disappeared far below. What Mae Hong Son didn’t know is the bondage that the trip has made between Alex, Oppy and I remains forever!
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