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Mae Hong Son

Nice, but the town of Pai is nicer

sunny 33 °C

Written on June 2...

Wow, writing about the day "on the day of"! Who's finally caught up with her blog?! Iam Iam! hehehe

So I got here yesterday, and am not exactly impressed with the town. It's no where near as nice as Pai, but still fairly good. I started looking for a tour right away, to visit the one thing (I should say people) that I really wanted to see here, Longneck Karens.
There are 3 tribes around, made of people who fled persecution in Burma. They wear very distinctive jewelry; a ever increasing number of rings around their necks to elongate it (like women in some African tribes I believe). I figured it was worth the trip to see them.
Mae Hong Son town is almost deserted of falangs, as low season apparently hits very hard here! I walked around and enquired until a guide finally told me that he had one other girl who wanted to go and "two people, 1000B". I though he meant 500each, but he meant 1000each! yikes, big difference! His tour brought us to essentially every attraction in the area (a cave, a waterfall, a Chinese village, a Longneck Karen tribe, and a palace)
So anyway, I walked away and a few minutes later a white girl approached me and asked if I was the "other girl who is looking for a tour!" Out of the blue, right on the street! hehehe (that's how few falangs there are here - which is something I actually enjoy, but anyway!). So yeah, of course it's me. We talk a little, and I suggest to rent a motorbike instead and do our own tour, which is certain to be less than half the price of the "professional tour"-which often only consists of being driven around. Tourist info is pretty good here, with decent maps and "attraction booklet", so we decide to venture on our own.
We started early this morning, around 8:30, rented a bike, went to enquire about a bus ticket for me, from here to Bangkok, but it turned out to be 780B, while I can do the same trip from Pai for 420B (+70 to get to Pai). So anyway, that's the current plan, leave tomorrow morning at 10:30 and arrive in Bangkok the following day around 6am! yikes! That should be fun (sarcastic!!) Aliya bought my ticket in Pai, which I will pick up upon arrival tomorrow.
We then went off to the airport, as my travel mate wanted to buy her ticket (she’s flying to Chang Mai (1/2hour flight vs 9 hour bus - for triple the price - only- worth it in her eyes - I'd do it too if I wasn't so cheap).
Anyway, we head off to see the Longneck Karen tribe, pay the 250B entry fee to the village (we knew about it already), as they are refugees and can therefore apparently not work in Thailand (so they live off donations and selling stuff they make). The experience was, at the same time, quite different and exactly the same, as I expected.

It's essentially like going to see a circus. There is some info about them on a board (their background and more details on how these rings work and stuff - I will elaborate shortly -) but overall, the whole thing is that you're supposed to buy "way overpriced" stuff to take pics with them and talk with them a little. We were the only falangs in town when we got there, yet we still felt a bit weird/as intruders, but as we were about to leave, a group of at least 80 Japanese or Koreans barged in -with a guide who used a overhead speaker to talk to "his group"- and just made us realize how crazy this must be during "high season". The women might as well be in cages, as they are treated and looked and photographed like animals. I was just finishing a pic with one of the Longneck Karen woman (after buying a 10B postcard), when the big group arrived, and one of the asian women literally pushed me out of the way to take a pic with her as well, then the next woman, then the next! Wow, how freaking weird and inconsiderate!!! They obviously want us to come as it's their livelihood, but I still consider it my duty "as a guest" to be nice and friendly! It's apparently not everyone's philosophy!
So anyway, this was overall a "not so pleasant" experience, but I'm still happy to have seen them, as I must say that they are very pretty! Many of them had their own professional postcards, which was quite funny to see! (I obviously bought a few, as it was the only somewhat affordable thing there. Other artifacts included scarves, bracelets, little "Longneck Karen" dolls, pens, key chains, etc etc etc).

About these rings. They are made of copper, and are quite heavy (4-5 pounds). Contrary to popular belief, they are not rings, but rather a coil of the metal, and also contrary to popular belief, their necks don't actually get longer (some women got X-Ray’ed as part of a research on the topic), but these rings "simply" push their shoulders and rib cage bones down, giving the appearance of longer necks. They could apparently remove them and still be fine (their necks wouldn't break). So that's that.

We then head off to another village advertised for its weaving practice, only to not find anything clearly indicated as a "weaving area" - or whatever there. We were certainly not going to knock on doors, so we left and stopped at the Royal Handicraft Centre, where stuff made locally (honey, sesame oil, cotton scarves and handbags, weaved baskets, etc) are sold. This centre, along with a training centre was apparently created by the Queen in 1984, upon visiting the area and seeing overwhelming poverty. I think it worked as it developed tourism as well as giving women the ability to make stuff which gets sold throughout Thailand.

We then head off to a town called Ban Rak Thai, which was described as being 44km out of Mae Hong Son, at the very border of Burma and Thailand. This town is "worthy of interest" because it is where many Chinese people settled when China became communist, and one can see the Chinese writing, food and other customs things. I wasn't particularly keen on going there as I just came from HK, but my travel mate (who's name I can't pronounce - she's Dutch) wanted to go, so we went! What wasn't advertised is that, to get there, we had to literally drive up a mountain (the steepest road I've ever been on, and certainly on a motorbike with a passenger!!!) Wow that was an event!! The last 12km are all uphill and took us almost 1 hour (the bike doesn't exactly go fast in 1st gear up a crazy, twisty hill!!). Hehehe, we eventually got there - after a scare with the bike where it stopped responding in anything but 1st gear-, only to find an almost ghost town. There are a lot of rice fields and tea plantations around, so my guess is that the shop owners where working there instead of staying in an empty shop. We stopped for (Chinese) tea at one of the only place opened, which was nice, and started our journey back. There were much less uphill, and a lot of downhill, so the return was overall MUCH easier and faster!!!

We decided to skip the palace as it required branching off the main road (after going down about 1/3 of the way) and go all the way up again. F that!
We also decided to skip the waterfall, as even the guide had warned us that, at this time of the year, it was more of a water trickle than a waterfall.
We then head off to the cave called Fish cave, which turned out to be more fun than expected. A stream runs under the cave and a breed of carp fish lives there. They are massive, thanks to an easy life of several feeding by tourists (food available at the entrance of the site) and no predators! hehehe It was fun and I have pics that I'll post whenever possible.
We then came back to town, after using the entire tank of gas (mainly thanks to the uphill portion) and arrived at 7pm. Ouf! long day, but it cost us 365B each, as opposed to 1000B!!!! Yay!
That's that for that!
I'll post pics on my (probably last blog for Thailand) when I get to Bangkok in...way too long!

Posted by Mistrale 06:55 Archived in Thailand

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