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Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 2

Michael Babcock, Friday, July 6th, 2012

Kasma Loha-unchit’s small-group trips to Thailand offer many special and unique experiences. Here are some more of my favorite moments from her 19-day trip of Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. It is a continuation of my recent blog, Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1

(Click images to see larger version.)

Resort Staff

The resort staff

Mae Hong Son Resort: Kasma’s trips to the north (including her 28-day Trip A and 19-day Trip B) spend several days in Mae Hong Son, both in the city and around the province. It’s a somewhat isolated city, up in the northwest corner of Thailand near Burma, and the Burmese influence is obvious (particularly in many of the temples). Mae Hong Son is notable, in part, for its large hill tribe population, mainly Lisu and Karen (pronounced “Gu-rian”). I love the resort where we stay. It’s nestled in amongst rice fields and is a peaceful, lovely place to spend 4 nights. Most of the staff there are Karen hill tribe women and their friendliness is much of the fun of staying here; we get to benefit from the many years Kasma has been on her tours and formed lasting relationships with people all over Thailand. We use this lovely resort for our command center as we spend the days exploring Mae Hong Son.
Mae Hong Son Resort

View from our room

Resort Sunset

Sunset at the resort

Many of the rooms have lovely views of the rice fields, such as the one above from our room last year. There’s a lovely area called the “Rice Terrace” where you can order a drink and sit and watch lovely sunsets, such as this one above.

Rice Field Walk

‘Rice field’ walk

Rice Field Walk, Mae Hong Son Province: On Kasma’s trips we’re often lucky enough to end up on excursions not planned in the itinerary. While staying in Mae Hong Son, we always take one day to go up the (extremely) windy roads to the little town of Ban Rak Thai (see below). This past year some activity in the fields directly off the road caught our eye. Kasma stopped the vans and off we went on a ‘rice field’ walk – though at that time of the year I believe it was soy beans. It was great fun, wandering through the fields on raised mounds in-between the crops, crossing over a rickety bridge, really just a few sticks of bamboo, over a stream, and meeting farmers and a woman resting in her home, right amongst the fields.
Crossing a Bridge

Crossing a bridge

Thai Farmer

Spreading straw

To the left we see the bridge we needed to cross on our impromptu excursion. The farmer on the right is spreading straw in-between the rows of crops.

Tea Tasting

Tea tasting

Ban Rak Thai – บ้านรักไทย: Ban Rak Thai literally means “Village Love Thailand.” It’s a little village nestled up at the top of Mae Hong Son Province about a kilometer from the Myanmar border. (Show in Google Maps.) The village was founded by ex-Kuomintang soldiers from Yunnan province who had to leave China when the Communists took over. The Thai government allowed them to settle here where they began growing tea and eventually became Thai citizens: the name “Love Thailand Village” reflects their gratefulness to Thailand for taking them in.

One nice thing about the village is that it will never be heavily-touristed: the road is too steep and winding for the big tour buses. Even in our mini-vans, we stop at one point on the way back down to allow the brakes to cool off.

Chinese Feast

Chinese feast

After reaching the town, we go to Gee Lee, the original and best of the tea-houses and restaurants. We start out by sampling (and buying) several kinds of tea: Oolong teas, green teas and a ginseng-infused tea.

We then have a Yunnan-style feast; and I do mean feast! There are delicious pork dishes, including skin-on, stewed pork leg (succulent and rich) and a tasty pork-belly dish. There’s a whole, fried fish, soup and a fresh tea leaf salad. The dishes in the picture are (clockwise from left), buns (to be eaten with pork leg), stewed pork leg, pork belly and an appetizer platter with sour pork sausage, thousand-year old eggs, egg rolls, pork ribs and cashews. After eight delicious dishes, we were well-gruntled indeed!

Thai View

Thai view

Drive from Mae Hong Son to Pai: Another strength of Kasma’s trips is that we drive pretty much everywhere. Not only do you get to see some beautiful scenery, you get a better sense of the country. Mae Hong Son province, in particular, is quite lovely and people who fly into Mae Hong Son city miss the scenic beauty. On one of the routes from Chiang Mai (via Mae Sariang) there are 1864 curves: a fact trumpeted on t-shirts you can buy in the markets. On our return from Mae Hong Son we travel via Pai and see some of the prettiest scenery in Thailand. We stop at a vista point where we saw the lovely view to our left. Along the way we stop at another place selling green tea and, if we’re lucky, also find delicious, fresh-grilled sour-sausage at the same stop.

Lisu Girls

Lisu girls

At one stop with fabulous views, we came across these Lisu girls, dressed in traditional garb, available to be photographed, for a fee. On this last trip, they approached Kasma and asked for a few baht and she told them: “I’ve already been to a village where I’ve taken plenty of pictures.” When they didn’t believe her, she showed them the images on the back of her digital camera. She asked if they’d like to have her bring them their photographs next year. The next thing we knew, they were enthusiastically throwing themselves in the air for us to photograph. And they will get their pictures this coming year when we pass that way again.

Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai: Thailand is a Buddhist country and we visit many temples on our trip. One of my favorites is Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. It is said that if you don’t visit Doi Suthep, you haven’t really been to Chiang Mai. We spend a morning at the temple, seeing all the Buddha statues, the bustling activity and the Thai people offering incense and walking clockwise around the main chedi (the Thai word for stupa).
Doi Suthep

Buddha statues

Drink Vendor

Passionfruit juice vendor

To the left we see some of the Buddha statues that circle the main chedi. The vendor to the right is actually found at the very base of the temple before you enter the compound. She’s selling unsweetened passion fruit juice with the seed included. It’s a sour drink, quite refreshing.

Thai Dips

Two Thai dips

Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant in Chiang Mai: It’s not really possible to have a list of favorite moments from Kasma’s trip without including one of the many Thai feasts we enjoy. There are so many memorable ones; which one to choose? My favorite Restaurant in Chiang Mai is Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant – ร้านอาหารแกงร้อนบ้านสวน – literally “Hot Curry Garden.” It’s in a lovely garden setting; we usually go for lunch when it’s a bit less crowded. It has a number of northern specialties that we don’t find anywhere else.

The picture to the left shows a platter with various vegetables, sausages and fried pork skin with two dipping sauces. The green one to the left is Naam Prik Num – Northern Thai Roasted Young Green Chilli Dip; it is made with roasted green chillies and is very, very hot indeed. The reddish one to the right is Naam Prik Ong, a pork-based sauce.

Catfish Dish

Catfish dish

Another dish that is done very well here is Charcoal-Grilled Catfish, “Sweet Fish Sauce” and Neem Leaves (Sadao Nam Plah Wan Pla Duk Yang). It’s a dish you will also find as street food. It starts out with succulent grilled catfish, still tender and moist in the middle. It’s eaten with lightly boiled neem leaves, which, eaten by themselves, are very, very bitter. The sauce is a sweet and also sour and spicy mixture of shallots fried crispy in oil, tamarind, dried chillies and palm sugar. Eaten individually, each of these three components are fairly mundane. Put them together and you’ve got a wonderful explosion of flavors in your mouth – spicy-hot, savory, sweet, sour and bitter all at once, with varying textures from the neem, fish and sauce. It is Thai food at its very, very best. (There’s a good Bangkok Past article that includes information on this dish: On your marks get set go slow, by Suthon Sukphisit.)

Carved Dragon

Craved dragon

Lanna Wood Carving Museum in Chiang Mai: I’ll conclude with a bonus picture from a wood carving museum – Ban Roi An Phan Yang Museum – located at Chiang Mai-Sanpatong Road between kilometers 19 and 20. This museum is the labor of love of a Thai man, Charoui Na Soonton, who has collected numerous wood carvings to be displayed in his Lanna-style house. Walking through the museum, you walk through a warren of rooms filled with intricate carvings that leave you gasping in amazement. There are many bas-relief carvings from the Ramakien (the Thai version of the Ramayana), Buddha statues, elephants, goddesses, demons and more. It’s another one of those sites where Kasma goes that would be difficult to discover on your own; luckily, she’s found them all for us.

See How to Get There.

See also:

To see photos of Trip B, go to our trip exploration page and follow the links.

Written by Michael Babcock, July 2012

Thai Novices (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Young Thai Novices

Young Thai Novices

Young Thai Novices

At some point in Thailand you will come across the saffron-robed Thai monks; they are very much a part of Thai life, even in the cities. These young novices (not yet full-fledged monks) are part of a merit-making ceremony in Chiang Mai on the occasion of the King of Thailand’s 80th birthday in 2007.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Temple Detail (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Chiang Mai Temple Detail

Temple Detail

Temple detail

This is a photo of an intricate decoration on a temple in Chiang Mai.

I enjoy the temples of Thailand. From a distance they are often quite gaudy as the outer walls are often covered with ceramic tiles and gold leaf. Whenever I visit a temple I like to pay close attention to what is on the walls. I like this intricate little beast on the outside of a temple in Chiang Mai.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Teach in Thailand – Pay it Forward!

Kasma Loha-unchit, Sunday, October 24th, 2010

This is a guest blog by Cheron Gelber.

I first fell in love with Thailand and its people when I traveled there in 2003 on one of Kasma’s wonderful trips. We ate our way through the country and I’m sure we saw much more of the “real Thailand” than many other tourists. I was determined to go back.

But I never really thought that many years later, I’d be standing in a classroom in Thailand, saying, “Nut, Porn, Pis, do you have your homework assignments?”

Thai School Kids

Photogenic Thai children

Have you ever thought about teaching English in Thailand?

Here I was at a grade school in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching English to a bunch of eager students, three of whom are named Nut, Porn, and Pis. The truth is, I don’t even like kids that much. But these kids stole my heart. Most of the children come from poor families. It was heart-warming to see that in many ways, these children seem to be some of the happiest in the world.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Teaching at the School

Focused kindergarten class

My cousin and I taught at the school for the hot month of August, and we had the time of our lives. The kids live just outside the city of Chiang Mai and don’t see many farangs (foreigners), so we were a novelty to them. We could tell they were puzzled that we couldn’t speak their language and confused by our feeble attempts to try. They probably wondered, “Why are these grownups so stupid that they don’t know how to talk right?”

We, on the other hand, marveled at their eagerness to learn English. We smiled when we called their names, many of which have such funny translations in English. And we loved to hear them count—“twelve, threeteen, fourteen, fiveteen, sixteen,” which reminded us of how inconsistent English is and how difficult it must be to learn.

A Learning Game

Playing bingo with the alphabet

Every day, we were treated to a delicious Thai lunch with the school’s headmaster and other teachers. The resident “English” teacher was excited to practice our language. He dutifully copied all our lessons onto his computer, so he could use them when we left. The other teachers know a lot less English than he does, so communicating at lunch was interesting to say the least. But it was clear that the staff was thrilled to have us there, and we got by with sign language and the little bit of Thai we’ve picked up. The headmaster wanted us to learn at least one Thai word a day, and we were definitely up to the challenge.

Thai Children

Music for the Children’s Day parade

The English teacher is from a Karen Hill tribe village with its own language, so English is actually his third language. He wanted us to visit his home village. His dream is to start an English teaching program there, as he knows that learning English is often a key to a better future for the children of Thailand.

During our free time, we visited temples, an elephant camp, and an orchid farm–there’s so much to do in Chiang Mai! We went zip lining in the jungle, and of course got lots of wonderful and inexpensive Thai massages. We even went to Laos for a weekend. And naturally, we feasted on wonderful Thai food every day and shopped the many large outdoor markets of Chiang Mai.

A Happy Classroom

Volunteers show off their student’s work

One of the highlights of our teaching experience was that our student, Mong, the son of illegal Burmese immigrants, won the paper-airplane-throwing contest for all of Thailand. He created a national stir when he could not get a passport to travel to Japan for the “all Asia” competition because he was not a Thai citizen. Finally, the Prime Minister of Thailand agreed to grant him a temporary passport and he was able to go to Japan. He came in first in the group competition and third in the solo competition, and we were able to proudly watch videos of our little winner. Mong has a dream to become a pilot some day, and I would be surprised if he doesn’t make it.

Working with these children who are so polite and so appreciative of our efforts was an incredible experience. I returned home vowing to recruit many more volunteers to share in this way to “pay it forward.”

Come join us – NO teaching experience necessary.

Happy Children

Happy Thai twins

Written by Cheron Gelber, October 2010

Thai Fruit Salad (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Fruit Salad, Thai-Style

Thai Fruit Salad

Thai fruit salad

Fruit salad in Thailand can be very different than what we are used to in the United States.

One of the joys of traveling around Thailand is going to specific restaurants where you can get a dish unlike anything you find elsewhere. One of Kasma’s favorite Chiang Mai restaurants is Kaeng Ron Baan Suan, located outside of the city off the freeway near the Equestrian Club at the foot of Doi Suthep. It has a great listing of northern dishes seldom seen elsewhere. They have a fruit salad that is, perhaps, my favorite dish there.

Kasma has come up with her version of the recipe and  teaches it in her advanced Set G class (4th session).  She calls it Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Dtam Ponlamai). You may notice that it has a word that also appears in Green Papaya Salad, or Som Dtam; they both have the word dtam, which means to pound, for some of the ingredients are pounded in a mortar and pestle.

Although her version in the U.S. uses different fruits than are found in Thailand, the basic flavors are the same. The fruit is flavored and complimented by garlic, chillies, dried shrimp, fish sauce, limes, palm sugar and interesting texture is added by long beans and carrots. I always look forward to the classes where it’s taught: it’s a wonderful thing to take a bite of a fruit salad and be surprised by flavors you would never think to add to fruit.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Earth Mother Goddess, Doi Suthep (Wednesday Photo)

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Earth Mother Goddess, Doi Suthep

Earth Mother Goddess

Earth Mother Goddess Mural at Doi Suthep

This mural of the Earth Mother Goddess is found at one of my favorite temples in Thailand – Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai (see Doi Suthep Buddha). You may recall the statue of the Earth Mother Goddess, Ubon Ratchathani from last December. This mural is found in one of the temples at Doi Suthep. I’ve related the story of the picture in my previous post: the short version is that as the Earth Mother Goddess bore witness to the Buddha’s enlightenment, she wrung the water from her hair and the flood swept all the illusions (personified by Mara) away.

The Wednesday Photo is a new picture each week highlighting something of interest in Thailand. Click on the picture to see a larger version.