Throughout my time studying social work at UVM, one of my professors always emphasized this idea of making a plan, but holding it lightly. When we were getting ready to head into our internships and meet with clients one on one, she would say “Make a plan but hold it lightly”. If we were preparing for a big assessment or assignment, she would tell us “Make a plan but hold it lightly”. Since coming to Thailand I’ve been thinking more and more about this little phrase. Do I have a plan in my head of what I would like to accomplish in the next year, and the next 5 years? Yes. But that doesn’t mean I am going to strictly adhere to every single step to reach these goals and deprive myself of spending time with friends, family, traveling and enjoying my life to reach these goals in a set amount of time, no!! I’ve been trying to apply this saying to more of my day to day life, and also in thinking about getting back home and what is to come. For me, it’s another good way of reminding myself to stay in the moment, go with the flow, but at the same time to make goals and motivate myself.
The weekend of Christmas Eve, we had a very exciting plan. We knew Christmas would be a little tough here for us, so we planned on heading to Phu Chi Fah to do a beautiful sunrise hike. This was our second time trying to do Phu Chi Fah. The first time we asked the songthaew drivers in our town how much it would be and they told us an absurd price so we tabled it for another time. This time, we headed to Chiang Rai after school on Friday, 12/22, and planned on getting to the bus station early the next morning to get a ticket for the van ride to Phu Chi Fah. That night, we met up with Emma’s friend from Burlington and her boyfriend for dinner. We went to one of our favs, Chef Sasa, an Italian place in town and chatted about Thailand, the ups and downs of teaching, and new fun places to explore. They had done Phu Chi Fah a few days earlier and warned us that it was cold but beautiful and so worth it. We were so pumped, and that evening we even headed to the market to invest in some gloves to keep us warm on the hike up.
That night we stayed in this apartment/guest house which was super nice. Honestly, best bed/comforter I’ve slept on in 3 whole months. After a beautiful nights sleep, we woke up and headed to the bus station to buy tickets for our adventure. Sadly, they were sold out…already…at 10 AM!! We were super bummed and spent a significant amount of time going back and forth with the ticket man trying to figure out if there was some way we could come back if someone didn’t show but all he could say was that we could buy a ticket for the next morning (which we couldn’t do because of teaching). We sat for a while contemplating our next move and then headed back to our guest house to get our bags before we had to check out. We laid around for a while and I began searching some things on my phone trying to find us somewhere not too far that we could hike and stay overnight. Eventually I came across Mae Salong, a small mountaintop town in Chiang Rai province which promised beautiful views, some hiking and yummy food.
First we decided to get breakfast at Melt in Your Mouth, Chiang Rai and although my
breakfast looked pretty good, it had this weird mayonnaise-like sauce on it which kind of weirded me out. After, in classic Emma and Emily fashion, we decided the cheapest and easiest way to get to Mae Salong would be to get an über. We waited a little for the price to go down, and then plugged in the directions to get to there. We never really know if these drivers know what they are getting themselves into when we head on these long trips, but they pick us up anyway! After some serious twists and turns, and with the help of Dramamine we got there safe and sound. Upon arrival, we got the general direction of the guesthouse we booked earlier on booking.com (always) and headed into the hilly village to find this place. On the way, we passed a 7-11 (always a good sign), and a bunch of different tea shops, and tiny coffee shops too! We found the guesthouse and checked in, and to our surprise it was nice! We had a pretty room with a large balcony and nice view and it was more than enough for just a quick trip.
After being relatively stationary for the day, we wanted to get some fresh air and exercise so we asked the lady at check in how to get to the temple at the top of the mountain, Wat Santikhiri on Doi Mae Salong. She told us we could get a driver or that it would take us about 45 minutes to walk up the road to the temple, and hike up the 900+ steps to the top.
With just enough time to make it for sunset, we sent it up the road by foot and got to the steps. The steps were pretty rough on me, they were so little and I felt like it took a ton of
energy, but we made it to the top just as the sun began to set over the beautiful mountains and tea plantations. It was such a treat to breathe some mountain air, hike (even if it was short) and see some of the best views we have seen so far in Thailand!
After dinner we went on a walk through the town again to head back to the restaurant we started off at. Mae Salong actually began as a Yunnanese town and you could definitely still feel the Chinese influence. I don’t know much about Chinese history, but from what I have read, remnants of the Kuomintang (KMT) fled Yunnan after defeat in the Chinese civil war and landed in parts of Northern Thailand, Taiwan, Burma and Laos. The Thai government presented a deal to the KMT that if they helped the Thai fight their own Communist insurgents, they could stay. Over the years, the relationship between the KMT and the Thai government deteriorated but the Chinese influence (food, oolong tea, and architecture) remained. That being said, we ate at the Mae Salong Villa Restaurant which felt like a huge Chinese restaurant we might see back at home.
Despite almost never eating meat here, I had the Yunnanese braised pork and a steamed bun and it was delicious. Melt in your mouth good (unlike my mayo breakfast). Post dinner we headed back to our cute hilltop hotel for a good night’s rest in this quiet little town.
We woke up the next morning and after asking around, figured out we could grab the local songthaew to a bus back to Chiang Rai for a cheap 100 baht and then got the bus back to our town from there. Although this wasn’t exactly how we had planned to spend our Christmas weekend, it was just what I needed, yummy food, beautiful views, mountains and a new adventure. So, make a plan and hold it lightly. You never know what gems you might come across with an open mind 🙂