For 34 years, Kasma took hundreds of people to Thailand on her small-group, off-the-beaten-track trips to Thailand. Perhaps her most popular trip was an 18/19 day trip that included Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. Like all of her trips, it offered many special and unique experiences. When I was selecting these favorite moments, it was hard to narrow it down. This is a continuation of my recent blog, Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1
(Click images to see larger version.)
Fern Resort in Mae Hong Son: This trip spent 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 stayed. 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 used this lovely resort for our command center as we spend the days exploring Mae Hong Son. Even after her retirement we will go to spend time here
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, Mae Hong Son Province: While staying in Mae Hong Son, we always took one day to go up the (extremely) windy roads to the little town of Ban Rak Thai (see below). On our way there, we 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.
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.
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 – offsite, opens in new window.) 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.
Although the road is steep and winding so inappropriate for the big tour buses, it has become an increasingly popular destination. When Kasma started going there was only 1 restaurant – now there are several.
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 were delicious pork dishes, including skin-on, stewed pork leg (succulent and rich) and a tasty pork-belly dish. There was 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!
Drive from Mae Hong Son to Pai: Another strength of Kasma’s trips was that we drove pretty much everywhere. Not only did we get to see some beautiful scenery, we got 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 traveled via Pai and saw some of the prettiest scenery in Thailand. We stopped at a vista point where we saw the lovely view to our left. Along the way we stopped at another place selling green tea and, if we were lucky, also found delicious, fresh-grilled sour-sausage at the same stop.
At one stop with fabulous views, we came across these Lisu girls, dressed in traditional garb, available to be photographed, for a fee. On one 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 did get their pictures the next year when we passed that way again.
Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai: Thailand is a Buddhist country and we visited many temples on our trip. One of my favorites was 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 spent 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).
To the above left are some of the Buddha statues that circle the main chedi. The vendor to the right was actually found at the very base of the temple before you enter the compound. She was selling unsweetened passion fruit juice with the seed included; it’s a sour drink, quite refreshing.
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 enjoyed. There were 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 went 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 above left shows a platter with various vegetables, sausages and fried pork skin with two dipping sauces. The green sauce 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.
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.
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 went that would be difficult to discover on your own. I’ve written a blog, complete with a slideshow of some of its amazing carvings, on the museum: Ban Roi An Phan Yang Wood Carving Museum in Chiang Mai.
To see photos of Trip B, go to our trip exploration page and follow the links.
Written by Michael Babcock, July 2012 & May 2020