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Top Cities in Northern Thailand
Chiang Mai is the number one travel destination..
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Sukhothai isn't a particularly popular..
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Pai attracts only a small number of travelers,..
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Chiang Rai attracts only a small number of..
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Few travelers make their way to Mae Hong Son..
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Umphang isn't a particularly well-known..
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Questions answered about visiting Northern Thailand
Has anybody ever been to Khon Kaen? What is it like?
Hi, is it possible to go to elephant camps without booking at tour agents ?
Has anyone made the Mae Hong Son loop ? I'm planning to rent a scooter and make all the way round it. Should I start in Pai or in Mae Sariang ? Is it really worth. I am am Asia first-timer. tks
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Travel Tips from people who've been to Northern Thailand
1. use taxi that the driver able to speak english..it save a lot of your time..:) 2. and when using a taxi ask for "metre charge"..it save your money..:)
If it's your first time here, plan on staying longer than you originally thought you would. It's that kind of place.
On our last day in Mae Hong Son, we had arranged a full day tour to three of the local attractions and suddenly found ourselves having to get up early for the first time since we arrived. It's funny how you get used to lazing around a pool all day after only doing it for a couple of days, isn't it? We were collected from the front of the hotel and driven down to the banks of the Mae Hong Son River where we boarded a long tailed motor boat, a vehicle which was obviously trying very hard to look like an authentic tribal canoe but was actually having quite a hard time hiding its rather obvious outboard motor. It would've been quite nice to be paddled slowly along the river to our destination, but instead we sat in single file behind the driver and sped through the water with the wind blowing our hair about and the front of the boat skipping up and down on the waves. The scenery, however, was second to none. Having got used to living in the village and observing the surrounding forests from a distance, it was fantastic to find ourselves sailing along the river with nothing but dense woodland along both banks and the sight of tall mountains shrouded in mist rising above the trees all around. This is what we had come to Mae Hong Son to see. Arriving at our destination, we disembarked from our canoe and waited for an elephant and rider to emerge from the river in front of us and stomp off along a heavily trodden dirt track into the forest. We then followed at a discrete distance, smiling ear to ear, pointing excitedly and whispering "elephant" at each other as though unable to grasp the fact that these gentle giants actually existed outside of a David Attenborough documentary. After about five minutes or so, we emerged suddenly behind our elephant escort into a large clearing and found ourselves in the elephant camp. This was the moment when, if this had been a major Hollywood feature film, the camera would've pulled back and shot up into the canopy to reveal a bustling area full of elephants entering and leaving with tourists on their backs and guides steering people up steps into raised huts from which they could climb on board! But it wasn't a major feature film, so we had to content ourselves with observing all this from ground level - which was no less impressive. Obviously, nobody is expected to just sit on an elephant's back. Each of them has a harness attached which holds a small seat in place - this isn't, however, much more than a low wooden platform for two riders to sit side by side. It's only really us politically correct westerners that go in for the whole health and safety thing! Three sides are raised in an attempt to stop you falling off, although the back of the chair only came up to the small of my back so I feel sure that any slight lurch would've sent us tumbling to the ground. We also had a tiny leather strap which fastened across the front of the chair, but this was clearly more for show than as a safety precaution - not only didn't it come anywhere near our laps, but it was about a foot in front of where we were sitting. If the elephant had suddenly decided to sit down at any point we would've simply slipped underneath the strap and disappeared, only to be found later doing a really good impression of a couple of pancakes after it stood up again. Once Tanya and I were perched precariously on our elephant's back, our mahout (a much better word than "elephant driver", I think you'll agree) climbed on board. No dodgy looking wobbly seat for this guy - he just plonked himself down on the elephant's neck with his legs dangling into the air on either side, and signalled for us to get under way. Our mahout didn't seem to have any sort of reins for steering, instead simply holding onto a small stick with which he would carefully stroke or lightly poke the elephant on either side of its thick neck to indicate which way it should go. Moving away from the raised platform from which we had boarded, our elephant stomped its way across the clearing and back towards the river. The elephant and our mahout seemed to have an unspoken agreement to get all the really scary stuff out of the way at the beginning. Getting into the river was something of an experience as it involved riding down a steep bank into the water, a manoeuvre which forced us to slip so far forward in our seats that we had to hold on for dear life to avoid slipping under the seatbelt. After wading across the river, climbing back up the opposite bank wasn't much better, pushing us back into our seats and shaking us from side to side as the elephant tried to find the best footholds in the soft mud to haul itself up onto dry land. But the worst was over, and the rest of our ride was a delightful serene experience as we trekked through the forest and along well trodden (by elephant, anyway) pathways between collections of huts in which the local people lived. As we sauntered along, our ride would occasionally stop to munch on some tasty looking treat next to the path - giving us an opportunity to release our vice like grip on the edge of our seat for a moment and gaze around at the scenery while the driver desperately poked at the elephants thick neck with his stick as it completely ignored him. It was obvious that the mahout only had as much control over our elephant as it wanted him to have. From time to time we would stop to allow another elephant to pass by, usually carrying residents on the way between their homes and the local market. Often, these elephants would have several people perched on their backs and would be seemingly covered in bags and boxes full of food - and it was very obvious that they provided a much more useful service than simply attracting the tourists. In Mae Hong Son, elephants are the local taxis. The elephants eventually led us out to the local Padaung Karen village. The Padaung are famous the world over and are popularly known in the west as the long-necked Karen due to their tradition of wearing heavy brass rings around their necks. This isn't entirely accurate, however, as it is only a very small group of Karen who practice this form of self mutilation. The vast majority of Karen have never had anything to do with the wearing of rings and many find it as curious as we do in the west. For the Padaung the tradition starts at an early age with small children being given a single ring to wear around their necks, more being added as they grow older. Upon reaching adulthood, many women will have more than twenty brass brings weighing them down. It's difficult to know where to stand on the moral issues here, as the Padaung are very insistent that the wearing of the rings is a local custom that shouldn't be interfered with and that it doesn't hurt - but when you see these women in person, it's hard not to be a little disturbed and feel that they can't be doing themselves any good. Besides, it could be argued that if you've been wearing heavy metal rings around your neck since you were a small child then you may have grown to accept any discomfort as just a part of life and no longer think of it as pain. It doesn't help, of course, that the Padaung (and unfortunately, due to ignorance, the Karen in general) are often referred to in the west as the Giraffe women, hardly a name they would feel happy about. Their appearance is considered locally to be highly beautiful, and the Padaung are more than happy to pose for photographs as tourism is now a major part of their income, but life in the village seems to somehow still manage to be carefree and relaxed despite the constant stream of western feet passing through. As unthinking foreigners march past gaping at everyone they see and clicking away with their cameras without even asking first, the women go about their everyday lives - cleaning, hanging out washing, selling their goods at the market stalls and chatting among themselves. Children run around playing in the dust, dogs lay in dark corners with their tongues hanging out - if it wasn't for the brass rings around the necks of everyone you see being a dead give away that you're in a Padaung Karen village, this could be any other hill tribe settlement in Thailand. I couldn't help wondering, however, where all the men were. The idea that the rings cause the Padaung women to grow elongated necks is actually a common misconception. In fact, if this were the case then they would all be paralysed from the neck down due to stretching or snapping of the spinal cord. In reality, pressure of the heavy brass rings on the collar bone and upper ribs actually disfigures the upper body so that the collar is pushed upwards at an angle and appears to be part of the neck. It's a matter of some debate as to why these women choose to mutilate themselves in this way. The Padaung women themselves seem to know little about it beyond the fact that it is their tradition, and new theories come into circulation every day. Wherever you go, somebody will be ready to give you the definitive explanation, and every story will be different. Some say that the rings were originally put there to protect the women from having their necks savaged in tiger attacks; others think it was more to do with making them look unattractive to visitors from other tribes and slave traders who may abduct them. In fact, the traditional punishment for adultery is to have the rings removed - the result of which is that the body is suddenly unable to support the head and the woman can no longer stand or sit for more than a few seconds at a time and pretty much has to spend the rest of her life laying on her back. The Padaung are not the only Karen group with traditions which may seem a little bizarre to western eyes, although they are by far the most well known. Among other groups is the originally named "big-eared Karen", who insert small ear-rings inside their ear lobes at an early age and then progressively replace them with larger versions as they grow older until their ears are stretched out of all proportion. Personally I haven't encountered this particular group for myself and am therefore not really qualified to comment, but I do have to wonder how many of these traditions would have died out long ago if it wasn't for the tourist trade. From the Padaung village, we were herded on board a coach and driven out to another local attraction known simply as the Fish Cave. I can honestly say, without fear of contradiction, that this was one of the least exciting things I've ever done in my entire life - and yet, at the same time, if I hadn't experienced it at all then I wouldn't have one of my most commonly repeated anecdotes about the misuse of English. The so-called Fish Cave is actually within a large park, so after parking the coach we had to walk some distance through formal gardens and across carefully mown lawns before arriving at the cave itself. This wasn't really anything more than a shallow opening on the rock face next to which was a natural rock pond into which somebody had crammed altogether too many Carp. Without exaggerating in the slightest, I can honestly say that if one more fish was added to that pond then they would've been springing out of the water like jack-in-the-boxes under the pressure. This seems to be what passes for entertainment around here, and the locals come every day to feed the fish with bread which can be purchased from the park shop - an activity which presumably only serves to make the fish bigger and the amount of free space in their home smaller. Above the pond is a metal sign, tacked onto the rock wall, which has to be one of the best examples of why you should always employ a proof reader I have ever come across (see the photo on page 26) - although many of the tourists around us certainly seemed to agree with the sign as displayed. I knew I was going to miss Mae Hong Son, but it seemed as though as soon as we'd arrived it was time to be heading back to Bangkok and on to an island off the coast of Krabi which I hoped would be every bit as romantic as it looked in the brochure.You can find my complete travel journals at www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer and www.offexploring.com/globalwanderer2
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