Great Expectations for Doi Inthanon

Friday, September 5th, 2008

I often have expectations of how I think a certain day or trip should go, and our recent adventure was no different.  Nik and I have been planning a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park to go camping.  We do not have camping gear, but I had done a little research and found that they rent tents and blankets at the Park Headquarters.  They also provide free fire wood and have several restaurants throughout the park to eat at.  Perfect!  Nik and I could make the 1 1/2 hour drive in the morning, rent and pitch our tent in the afternoon, then have the rest of the day to see the highest peak in Thailand and sit around a campfire.  The trip would be very inexpensive (500 baht max) and simple.  Here was our chance to reconnect with nature and leave our cushy amenities behind!

Well, as with most expectations, mine weren’t met.  We didn’t leave Chiang Mai until 12:30, so we had to find lunch half way to our destination.  This was difficult because there weren’t many towns, and we didn’t see any street side vendors.  We finally went through a small town, and I had to convince Nik to make a U-turn to go to a small soup shop.

When we made it to the park, we were slapped with a 400 baht/person plus 20 baht/bike entry fee.  I guess I missed that in my research, so there goes my cheap getaway.

Storm Clouds

Storm Clouds*

At the time, the weather was beautiful, but we could see storm clouds rolling in.  We decided that we should go on to the top to get the best views, and as we reached the top, the clouds met us there.  We could see to the north, but not to the south.  Ugh!

The Highest Point in Thailand

The Highest Spot in Thailand*

We left the summit after some dilly-dallying around 4pm, and if the park headquarters was anything like the ones in America, they would be shutting down in about 30 minutes.  The clock was ticking.  We made it to the headquarters and they were still there, but they don’t rent tents.  The man at the information desk was very apologetic and told us that there were some bungalows just around the corner.  I was insistent on the tents, so he made a call and found out that someone had tents in a town called Ban Mae Klang Luang.  On our way to the village, the sun was setting, and a nice yellow glow was cast over the rice fields.  To me, this meant it was going to be dark soon, and we still didn’t have a tent or fire, so we better hurry up.  To Nik, this meant we had to stop and take photos.  We stopped.  But that view wasn’t perfect.   We stopped again.  Daylight’s fading….we need to set up camp!!!  Nik finally got his shot.

The Shot: Rice Fields at Sunset

The Shot: Rice Fields at Sunset

We made the turn toward the village, and saw a small snack stand with 5 or 6 locals sitting around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.  This must be it because there wasn’t much more.  We stopped and asked about tents.  I’m not sure anyone understood our question, but they pointed to another building 100 meters away that looked like the rec-lodge at summer camp.  This was promising, but no one was there.  We looked around for a minute and noticed that there were also bungalows.  The bungalows were simple, but they were at sitting between the base of Nik’s rice field and a large stream.  Slightly defeated, we agreed that a bungalow could be nice.

Eventually one of the locals came over to offer assistance.  He obviously didn’t own or work at the place, so he made a call on his cell phone.  I assume he was calling the owner, but no one answered.  Then a silver pick-up truck pulled in next to us with 5 men in the back.  One of them with a green t-shirt wrapped around his head seemed to be a friend of the original guy, and he started acting as the interpreter.  They were both laughing a lot and didn’t act like they knew what they were talking about.  The first guy went up to the desk at the rec-lodge and found a book.  He looked in it, then the guy in the truck said, “500 Baht for bungalow.”  I’m guessing the book was nothing more than a guest book, so I don’t know where the 500 baht came from.  Nik and I talked a little by ourselves, but 500 baht was more than I was willing to pay after the 820 baht hit at the entrance. So we asked, What about tents? He looked in the book again, then they talked and laughed back and forth a little more, and the guy in the truck said “250 Baht for tent.”   At this point I felt like I was being had.  It seemed like these were just two random guys trying to get us to give them money, so we walked away.  As we got back to the main road I asked Nik, “Did I really just make us turn down a comfortable bed in a quaint bungalow at the base of the most beautiful rice field in Thailand because it was $15/night???”  Nik said, “Yep, you did.”  But he backed me on the sketchiness of the situation.

Defeated, we went back to the park headquarters and checked into a bungalow there, which was 600 baht/night and didn’t have anything close to the atmosphere.  Ugh!!!  What a day.

Eco-Lodging & Cafeteria

Eco-Lodging & Cafeteria

But it wasn’t over.  We still had to eat dinner, and I still had hopes of being one with nature.  One way we could do both of these would be to go to the fresh produce market that we passed earlier, then we have a nice picnic in the park.  Sounds good, right?  As I suggested this, Nik informed me that we didn’t have any gas.  Neither of us remembered how far away it was, but we decided to risk it.  We’ll walk.  We were tired and hungry, but fresh produce would be worth it.  Luckily, we didn’t have to walk very far!!!  Horray, maybe this day wasn’t a complete failure.  But wait.  The market stalls are there, but there’s no market.  It was closed.  Back to the park headquarters to have dinner at the soulless cafeteria that is probably going to rip us off even more.

The cafeteria wasn’t that bad.  We both had Pad Siew for 30 baht each, but we weren’t any closer to nature.  We bought a few sweets at the little convenient store, went back to the bungalow, and sat on the porch and read while listening to frogs and crickets.  Me and nature….I guess.

The Porch

The Porch*

I’m not exactly sure why, but we went on a walk.  It was pitch black outside, and it took our eyes a while to get used to it.  We found a stream, then we saw something glowing in the field on the other side.  It looked like a long white illuminated tunnel, and that’s exactly what it was.  Most of the farms near us were flower farms, and these white tunnels were made of translucent white plastic stretched over bamboo arches with compact florescent bulbs hanging from each arch.  During the day, they weren’t that spectacular, but at night, they looked like enormous glowing silk worms crawling through the valley.  We walked around for about an hour trying to get a good view so that we could take a photo.  We never found the right shot, but the adventure was worth it.  I even took us hiking up a drainage ditch!  Finally, me and nature!!

Flower Farm: Day | Night

Flower Farm: Day | Night*

We had a satisfying night’s sleep, and woke up this morning with a new take on life.  We had no expectations, and just rolled with it.  We filled up the tank before visiting most of the park’s waterfalls, and had lunch on a bamboo platform floating in the water!  After lunch it rained and rained and rained, but as I have mentioned before, escaping the rain has created some of the best moments on our trip.  Our lunch host offered us a dry seat in her kitchen, and we happily obliged.  Then we made our way up to a hillside picnic shelter where Nik read “The World according to Garp” and I read “Invisible Cities”.  The rain calmed down and we headed home.  It was  a long ride, and we were exhausted. It was very nice to finally take the hot shower I had been anticipating the entire trip home!!!  Wait…I thought I was done with expectations?

Gas Pump

Gas Pump

Sirithan Waterfall

Sirithan Waterfall*

Mae Klang Waterfall

Mae Klang Waterfall*

Wachirathan Waterfall

Wachirathan Waterfall

Dining Companions

Dining Companions

Dining Room with a View

Dining Room with a View*

Nik’s Blog: Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park, Thailand

*These photos were taken by Nik.

Huay Kaew Waterfall

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008
Huey Kaew Waterfall, photo by Nik

This photo was taken by Nik. He and his camera are much more equipped to capture the majesty of nature, but I am learning!!

Late Monday morning, Nik and I set out on foot to have lunch at the Huan Huay Kaew Restaurant at the edge of the Chiang Mai Zoo.  We had heard good things about the food and the scenery, which includes Huay Kaew Waterfall.  When we arrived, the restaurant was tucked away in the forest so we had to walk along a narrow path to find it completely empty with the exception of three college aged waiters.  We picked a table at the edge of the balcony overlooking the falls.  The menu was mostly in Thai, with only half of the dishes written in English.  We chose a pork curry and cashew chicken.  Each dish was 100-120baht (3x-4x normal) and not that good.  We were paying for the atmosphere only, not the food.  I do not recommend this restaurant.

Instead, stop and order a meal to-go on Huay Kaew Road on your way up to the falls, rent a bamboo mat for 20baht near the entrance, and find a shaded rock right next to the water.  A picnic lunch is definitely the way to dine at Huay Kaew Falls. The park does close at 6pm, so you won’t be able to have a picnic dinner.

Huay Kaew Falls is a fairly extensive series of small falls stretching from the northern edge of the Chiang Mai Zoo all the way up to Hwy 1004 that leads to Wat Doi Suthep.  Near the entrance, there are several large flat rocks that protrude into the stream and are surrounded by shallow water.  These are perfect for larger groups and families with small children that want to play in the water.  There is also a large flat  grassy area with a few picnic tables and plenty of shade just across a small bridge.  For the slightly more adventurous, there is a stepped path that leads through the grass to the top of the falls overlooking the city.  I believe that this area can also be reached from a parking area on Highway 1004.

View of Chiang Mai

View of Chiang Mai

For the more agile picnickers, there are rocky paths on both sides of the cascading waterfalls.  The path to the left goes about half way up the falls and has two or three larger areas as well as a few large rocks that perch above the water.  The path to the right snakes along the water all the way up to the top.  In the late afternoon, this is the perfect spot because it is shaded by the trees and rocks while the water is bathed in sunlight.  If you choose this path, be careful because the rocks are very slippery.

    Here are some of my attempts to capture the falls.  I was wearing a skirt and shoes with no traction, so I wasn't willing to venture as far onto the rocks.  Next time.

Here are some of my attempts to capture the falls. I was wearing a skirt and shoes with no traction, so I wasn't willing to venture as far onto the rocks. Next time.

Vacant Lot

A few things we found on our walk that we never would have noticed on motorbike.

We made it home exhausted from an active day right before sunset, and were greeted with this.

Sunset from our Window

Sunset from our Window

Nik’s Blog:Hot Walk to Huah Kaew Waterfall

Hair Cut in Thialand

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I forgot to tell you…I got a hair cut!  I’m sure you could care less whether my hair is short or long, but I wanted to tell you about the experience of having my hair cut in Thailand.

It was late July on a Thursday afternoon.   After Nik and I had lunch on Nimmanhaemin Road, I set off to find a hair salon.  I walked across the street and half a block to the right, and there it was.  The windows had tasteful images of L’Oréal hair models, and there appeared to be 4 bored stylists sitting on couches reading magazines.  I walked in, and all eyes were on me.  The older man who appeared to run the salon greeted me, and I mimed shampoo , hair cut and blow dry.  He nodded, and I asked if I could see a hair book (open/closed hands like a book, pointed to my head then pointed to the stack of magazines).  One of the stylish younger ladies understood, and she walked around the corner and came back with a jumbo sized hair book.  I quickly thumbed through the pages to find a photo resembling Kate Bosworth’s cut.  I showed the owner, and he nodded yes.  I said, “Right now my hair is ugly.  I want to be pretty.”  He smiled and nodded in agreement.  Or maybe was just smiling and nodding.  Regardless, we were all on the same page.

The hair book girl walked me back to the shampooing station and motioned for me to have a seat.  The shampooing chairs were unlike anything I had ever seen.  They were black leather chairs complete with an adjustable height footrest and a super soft headrest.  I sat down, and she wrapped my shoulders and neck with towels, and started washing.  THAT’S COLD!!!  I forgot, they don’t have hot water heaters in Thailand.  After the initial shock, I settled into the ice cold shampoo and found it quite refreshing.  As my lady lathered and rinsed she gave my head a much needed massage that didn’t stop at the hair line.  By the time I was ready for the final rinse, my ears, neck and temples had been caressed and covered with shampoo.  I was paranoid that I would have shampoo in my ears all day, buy she skillfully rinsed them with ice cold water and followed with a plush towel.  I sat up and was ushered over to the owners station.  It was do or die time.

He showed me the book again, and we both nodded.  I was very pleased to see that he didn’t begin with basic shears, instead he started with a straight razor!!!  At last, I finally had confidence that he knew what he was doing.  You see, for thick, bulky hair like mine, scissors do little good.  In order to reduce bulk and add shape, the stylist has to use a razor.  20 minutes later he was finished, and I was back in the capable hands of my shampoo lady.

She added a couple different products, and started with the all-over blow dry.  Once most of the moisture was gone, she pulled over the cart full of duckbill clips and started pinning up sections of hair.  Normally, stylists use two or three, but she used about 20!  I suppose it is a little more efficient this way.  She proceeded to dry my hair straight in sections, and she is the most skilled blow dryer ever!!!  Every movement was graceful and efficient, and the results were amazing.  No straightening iron required!

After she finished, the owner walked over with a big smile to match mine as I touched saw my new style for the first time.  He had done a wonderful job, and his assistant was spectacular.  He pointed to a L’Oréal hair poster, and in broken English said, “You be model.”  I blushed, and said thank you, thank you!

An hour and a half after I walked in with my frizzy ugly hair in a pony tail, I walked out with silky smooth hair hanging over my shoulders.  And the final shocker is that it only cost 180 baht, or $5.50.  I was so flabbergasted by this that I had to give them a 50% tip, but they deserved so much more.

Jamie Sinz

Jamie Sinz

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