Phu Chi Fah- Part 2 (or 3??)

A few posts ago I talked about our attempted but failed trip to Phu Chi Fah. Well this time, the weekend of January 14th, we were going to make it happen no matter what.  We took the advice of the man we met at the Chiang Rai bus station (see previous post) and tried to get the bus from Thoeng Station since it was much closer and also less money.

Emma and I rode our bikes to the bus station around 11 hoping to catch the bus around 11:30 or 12. Learning from our previous lessons, we brought our bike locks and allowed ourselves some extra time to ensure that our bike rack was there and ready to use. After we got there, we locked up our bikes and sat down to wait for the bus. We sat for a while and no bus showed , so we eventually asked someone who told us it would be coming soon. This time it was late (classic Thai time), and we hopped on after clarifying that the bus would be stopping at Thoeng. It was pretty chilly that morning, we were both in leggings and our handy dandy Patagonia jackets and also brought plenty of layers for our hike.

After getting off the bus at Thoeng, I went up to the counter to ask when the next van to Phu Chi Fah would be here. He did a quick scan of the area and pointed to 15 minutes later on the clock. Wow! Had we really figured it out this time? We sat down and waited excited about the prospect of actually figuring this transportation system out. Aaaand 15 minutes later a driver arrived, however it was a songthaew driver and not the cheap van we had been promised. At this point we didn’t care, we were going to get to Phu Chi Fah and were going to pay the extra if it meant us getting there. We hopped into the songthaew for another mountainous journey but were just so excited we would finally be getting to this little mountain treasure. When we arrived in the town, our driver drove around to a few of the guesthouses to help us find the best price (how sweet!!!) until we finally settled on this little guesthouse up a rather steep hill for a good price. It was sooo chilly, and our room was even colder. We immediately layered up with our hats and gloves we had bought the last time we thought we would be hiking and headed out to get something warm to eat. We found a shop with hot chocolate and warm soup so we sat down to eat that over a beautiful but foggy view of the valley. It was a little bland but we were grateful to have some food with no trace of mystery meat in it.

There really isn’t much to do in the town of Phu Chi Fah. There is the little main drag that most of the guesthouses are off of, a few restaurant-esque places, and a ton of stalls selling Cup-o-Noodles (Thai version of course), gloves, hats and other layers for the unprepared tourists making the trip. After walking through the town very quickly, and figured we might as well hike the trail during the day before we did it in the dark for sunrise. We found a pick up truck at the bottom of the road that would take us up to the entrance point of the hike for a few baht. We laughed as we thought about how anywhere else it would absolutely not be ok to hop in the back of a strangers pick up truck to get a ride up the mountain, but in Thailand it is the norm. It was about a 10 or 15 minute drive up to the base where there were even more vendors selling Cup O Noodles and winter gear, but we were ready and decided to send it up the mountain. The hike was definitely a little steeper than I expected, but absolutely doable. Honestly, the most challenging part was that most of the hike is patches of mud which can get pretty slippery. We got up in under 30 minutes and were impressed by the view considering the hike was pretty short. It was really foggy (seems to be a trend) but beautiful nonetheless and it got us even more excited to hike up for the sunrise the next day. We headed back down to our guesthouse to warm up and pass some time before getting an early dinner.


It really was so cold– I know it’s hard to believe if you’re reading this back home… but I was wearing leggings, a long sleeve t-shirt, a sweater, my Patagonia fleece, my jacket, ski socks, a hat and hiking boots– and was COLD! I snuggled up under the fuzzy blanket provided by the guesthouse and began to write in my journal to pass some time…and what do you know, my pen, the only pen we managed to bring, ran out of ink. So classic but you really have to laugh! Emma tried to find something English on t.v. but our only option was some advertisement channel or something along those lines. We tried entertaining ourselves a bit longer but were so bored we headed back out to walk through town again. We ended up going back to the same place we had eaten lunch but this time managed to communicate that we would like vegetarian fried rice and it was delish! Lots of flavor! After, we stopped by the banana rotee man we had been eyeing all day and got 2 banana rotee to go to eat back in our beds under the warm-ish blankets.

Banana rotee ft fuzzy blankets

Our alarms went off the next morning at 3:45, and despite being wrapped in all those layers, it was pretty painful to get up out of bed. We got up, put the very last of our layers on and headed down the hill to wait for one of the trucks to bring us up to the hike. We found a few drivers waiting on the main road, so after a few minutes of just staring at each other one of the drivers told us to get in the bed of his pickup truck and we waited for more people to join us. It was close to pitch black, and we were slightly confused why we were told to be here so early, but we wouldn’t miss the sunrise for anything so we stuck to the safe side. Eventually the truck took off with us and another family and we headed up to the base where we started the hike yesterday. We took off and started our short hike up to the top. We didn’t realize, but somehow we ended up in front of all the other people hiking up and were the first ones to the top even before 5 am. Once we got up we realized how long we would be waiting for the sun to come up and were not super excited to be sitting in the cold that long. Slowly but surely more and more people came up the mountain and we got closer to sunrise (which would be around 6:30 AM). The mountain got PACKED, but despite it being so crowded we were 2 of maybe 5 farang (foreigners) at the top. Everyone else were Thai tourists. The sun finally began to come up and although we did not get much of a sunrise, the view of the surrounding mountains early in morning covered by fog was spectacular. It almost looked like islands in the sea. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life, and all of the trials and tribulations to get there that morning were all worth it. We took lots and lots of pictures, and lots of pictures were taken of us also. One older Thai lady grabbed my hand and handed Emma her camera and pulled me into a hug for a picture, and another group of ladies pulled us into their picture and had a full on photoshoot with us. I’m talking 10 minutes of straight smiling, posing, and being called “so sexi and beautiful” despite looking like a marshmellow. It can definitely be somewhat uncomfortable sometimes but this time it was pretty entertaining.

When Emma and I put in our request to be placed in Northern Thailand, we were hoping to be in the mountains surrounded by lots of National Parks and ample opportunities to hike. Although we are indeed veryyy far north in the middle of mountains and national parks, there is very little hiking here. Kind of a bummer since that’s a main reason we wanted to be here, but it simply isn’t a huge part of the culture here. Of course there is more hiking in the touristy areas, and there are plenty of opportunities to trek but as far as day hikes near us, there really aren’t many. Phu Chi Fah was one of the few times we were actually able to hike (although short) and the views were absolutely worth the wait.

After our hike we headed back to the small town to grab something for breakfast and wait for our songthaew driver to come back for us. He was able to take us right back to Chiang Kham which made the price a little more, but it was worth it to get back to our town in a more direct way. It took a while to shake off the chill, but we eventually defrosted and had the rest of the day to prepare (both mentally and physically) for our next week of classes.

Stay tuned for more about Life in Chiang Kham! We are almost finished teaching!!!!


Make a plan and hold it lightly

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

Weird saucey breakfast

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 (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

Just in time for sunset!

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.

Breaking my veggie streak!

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 🙂


Chiang Rai: we ate, we struggled, we saw and we ate again


I know, I know, this next update is loooong overdue. Time seems to pass in the strangest way here, some days I feel like I’ve been here for months and months, and other days I feel like I just got here. This week seems to have flown by, but other weeks drag on and feel like forever. Well, here I am now! I know I have a few weeks to update on so I’m going to split the last few weeks into 2 different posts!


The weekend after Thanksgiving, we headed to the closest “city” to us, Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai City is the capital of another province in Northern Thailand, Chiang Rai. For us, it is the closest place that offers different food, shopping, grocery stores besides Tesco Lotus, a movie theatre, waterfalls, temples and more. After school on Friday, we raced to the bus station as per usual, stored our bikes with the lady who keeps them for a few baht a day, and hopped on the bus to Chiang Rai. It’s a 2 hour bus ride from Chiang Kham, and we drive right through the sunset which is always stunning. The drive is definitely mountainous but nothing unbearable and before we know it we arrive at the bus station.

We Stayed:

We stayed at a guesthouse we found on called Baan Bua Guest House. It was walking distance from the bus station and really in a perfect location for our weekend. When we arrived, the woman who owned it told us she almost cancelled our room, so she was glad we showed up (and we were glad she didn’t cancel it!). We had a private room with 2 twin beds and a small private bathroom with hot water. It was pretty cheap for a few nights, and we found it a bit more relaxing to be able to leave our stuff out rather than lock it up whenever we had to leave. The beds were…springy, but a touch more comfortable than our hard beds back in Chiang Kham.

We Ate:

One of the reasons we most like to get out of our town on the weekend is to have different types of food. While most people expect that we have wonderful different curries, pad thai, noodle dishes, and anything else you could get on the menu at a Thai restaurant at home, in our town, that is really not the case. In reality, we eat the same 3 or 4 meals every week, and there is very little variety to what we can have. We usually eat stir fried veggies and rice, fried rice, noodle soup or pad thai. Other than that, almost everything has meat in it, and while Emma is a vegetarian, I tend to stick to veggie dishes, especially in our town. The first night in Chiang Rai, we knew we absolutely wanted some type of Western food. Using our trusty friend, TripAdvisor, we opted to go to:

Hungry Wolf’s, #3/ 257 Restaurants in the city. On TripAdvisor, it says the restaurant is “Steakhouse, American,Bar” all of which sounded good to us. Upon arrival, we learned that a New Yorker and Australian opened the restaurant a few years ago. I was immediately overwhelmed by the menu because everything looked so good! We decided to get guac to start with, and share a large pizza. Oh, and we both got margaritas which if you know us is not a surprise whatsoever. This dinner was exactly what we needed. It is so easy to feel tired of the food, so having cheese for the first time since I’ve been here was amazing. After dinner that night we headed back to Baan Bua to get a good nights rest after a long week of teaching.

More like cheesy bread than pizza but man was it good!

The next morning we ate at:                                                                                 BaanChivitMai, a small Scandinavian /European style coffee shop within walking distance from the bus stop and our guest house. When we got there we learned that the bakery is actually owned by the BCM Foundation whose aim is to help children in need and that all proceeds from the bakery go towards the foundation. I thought that was pretty unique and cool!! I had a banana pancake and an iced mocha, both things I cannot get in our town and I truly enjoyed it. It was quick, easy, and a nice feeling to know our money was going towards a good cause.

That evening we ate at:

Surf n Turf Bistro, a small Australian/ European restaurant near the Night Bazaar. It was quick, clean and the owner was very nice. When we first saw the name, we couldn’t help but laugh as Surf n Turf made it sound beachy and Bistro sounds more like a French restaurant. After dinner that night we also got ice cream sundaes from an ice cream chain called Swensons, kind of like a Friendly’s. According to their menu, it was created in California and very famous in America but I had never heard of it….

For our last meal in Chiang Rai we ate at:

Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, the #1 rated restaurant in Chiang Rai!! While we seemed to wait for hours and hours, the meal was definitely worth it. I had salmon eggs benedict and a super deluxe caramel ice coffee of some sort and it was delicious. The restaurant was huge, and both buildings looked like huge mansions out of Europe. One was a coffee house and a bakery and the other was a bar and restaurant. They were both beautiful and it was also located right on the river. Definitely would go back here!!

We Saw:

We saw a lot on our short but sweet weekend trip to Chiang Rai. It’s so exciting to be able to explore a completely new place and have access to so many different things we don’t get to see every day! On Saturday morning, we were weighing our options and decided that we would do something exciting and rent a motorbike for the day. Renting a motorbike is so much cheaper than hiring a tuk tuk or a taxi, and how hard could it be, everyone else rides them!? Well, we were wrong. We were able to rent the motorbike no problem! 100 baht each, two helmets, and Emma filling out some paperwork and leaving her “insurance card id” (so she wouldn’t have to leave her passport) and we were off! Emma started off driving and I was so impressed as she scooted gracefully down the street to the main road. We were definitely too excited and not thinking because we managed to ride onto an extremely busy road with a traffic circle and both went into a slight panic. After going a little further, Emma pulled over and asked me to give it a shot. Feeling nervous, we switched spots and I gave driving a try. I cannot emphasize more, DRIVING A SCOOTER IS NOTHING LIKE DRIVING A CAR. I thought I would be fine since I have driven on the opposite side of the road before, but I was absolutely not fine. After a few too many way too  close calls with parked cars, I pulled over and we parked our scooter on the curb and sat down contemplating what the hell we should do now. We were only really half a mile from the rental shop where we started but it seemed impossible to get back. We sat there for way too long, knowing full well we looked like absolute dweebs before thinking maybe we could walk the scooter to a side street and try to practice there. We walked this heavy scooter around the block to park it and continued to think about our options there. Some actual thoughts that went through my head were:

” Come on, you can definitely ride a scooter. Teenagers do it all the time! It really can’t be that hard. Don’t psych yourself out.”

“You probably shouldn’t get back on that scooter if you’re hoping to enjoy the next few months.”

“Go practice in that sketchy bumpy long driveway with stray cats!”

“100 baht is nothing! Just return it.”

Needless to say, we decided the last option was the safest and the best. But now we were stuck, how would we possibly get the scooter back to the shop. We definitely couldn’t ride it, it was pretty heavy to roll back, and we didn’t want to make the poor man from the store walk to come find it so he could drive it back. While we were sitting there trying to figure out our next move, this nice Thai couple came over to ask us in broken English if our bike was broken. With the help of google translate, and a few cell phones, we explained that the bike was fine, but rather we rented one not knowing how to drive it, and were now scared to get back on. After a few minutes of back and forths, the wife took my helmet and hopped on our bike to drive it back to the shop, while the husband had us hop in his truck to give us a ride there. In our moment of need, this lovely Thai couple came to our rescue and I hate to think what would have happened without them. The man at the shop didn’t quite know what to think, but we let him keep our money for any inconvenience and confusion we caused him. After thanking the couple and returning the bike, we were on our way to find a new mode of transportation to take us on our adventure.

Just around the corner, we found a small older man sitting in his tuk tuk and proposed our plan for the day to him: The White Temple and Khun Korn Waterfall. He somewhat reluctantly agreed, we hopped in, and we were on our way. The sky was a bit overcast and our tuk tuk was definitely emitting some questionable fumes but about 20 minutes later we arrived at the White Temple.

The White Temple: While you would assume this beautiful structure is a Temple from it’s name, it is actually an art exhibit still being finished! Wat Rong Khun was installed in 1997 by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed and owns the property. The artist purchased the property and began to renovate the original Wat Rong Khun using his own money as an offering to Buddha and Buddhism. The exhibit is not expected to be finished until 2070! He intends for the site to be a center for meditation and for learning about Buddhist teachings. The whole site is one big extended metaphor, from the bridge to the temple which symbolizes the cycle of rebirth to the “gate of heaven” and so on. There is also a beautiful large golden building on the property that we could not quite figure out..turns out it was the bathroom!! All of the structures on the property were beautiful and very different from any other temple I have seen. Here’s a link if you would like to read more:

After exploring the temple and checking out the artists’ collection (work done with wide variety of mediums, it was very impressive), we headed back to our tuk tuk to send it up the mountain to the entrance to Khun Korn Waterfall.

Khun Korn Waterfall: We arrived at the entrance to the falls at about 4 PM. There was a short walk up to the path, and then an entrance to the hike that leads you to the falls. We had read the hike was just about a mile each way, give or take a little, so we weren’t too worried about the terrain. As we entered we noticed a sign that said we should be out by 4:30 PM but at that point we were going to do whatever it took to see that waterfall. The hike in was fine, definitely muddy and warm, but it was absolutely beautiful. It felt like we were trekking through the rainforest (which looking back on it, we really were). It always boggles my mind how quick you can go from feeling like you are in a city to feeling completely in the middle of nowhere here! We hiked on and soon could hear the sound of the magnificent falls and knew we were getting close. When we finally reached the falls, it was breathtaking. I’ve seen a few waterfalls here and there, but nothing compared to this powerful and ginormous force! We had read that you could swim under them to take a “shower” but honestly it seemed like it would quite literally take your breath away! We ventured closer and we did, we began to get soaked! Without even going into the water, we looked like we had fully submerged. It was absolutely stunning and worth every penny, frustration and stubbed toe of the day. We took some pictures and admired the falls and again we were off to head back to our tuk tuk and the guest house to end our day.

We got back to the guest house around 6:30 and as I was getting ready for dinner I heard Emma shriek. She ran out of the bathroom but could not quite iterate what had happened other than something had fallen out of her bathing suit. I was expected there to be a rat or a cockroach, but as I peeked around the side of the door, I spotted a fat, black, slimy leech, slithering around our tile bathroom. Absolutely disgusted by what I saw and worried that it was just attached to my friend, I quickly turned to google (what else) to figure out what this creature was. Turns out, during the wet season in the rainforest, these land leeches come out and wait for some prey to come by and then latch on. When they are full, they just fall off and go back to their lives. Unfortunately for Emma, this sucker had been on her since we left the waterfall and had caused some damage to her skin. A few changed bandaids later and she was okay, the leech was down the toilet, and the wound slowly, very slowly, began to heal. Still feeling shook weeks later and I will spare you the photo I took before I flushed it!

On Sunday, we had some time before we had to catch the bus back to Chiang Kham so we übered (is this a real verb?) to this mall called Central Plaza. We had heard from some people on our program that Central Plaza had a “Tops Market” which carries some Western foods and brands from home. The mall itself was completely and utterly overwhelming, talk about culture shock. It was full of bright lights, loud vendors, luxury stores and tons of Christmas decorations! Yes, Christmas decorations…this was totally overwhelming to us being that in a largely  Buddhist country they have tons of lights and decorations out. Slightly confusing to my emotions since Christmas will be celebrated very differently here (aka I do not have Christmas Day off) but anyways….I was able to get some chocolate and tortilla chips and salsa so that kept me happy for the next few weeks!

Our weekend away in Chiang Rai was nothing short of exhilarating and eventful. I really enjoyed getting to check out this city and am looking forward to exploring more in the future (other than just passing through on busses all the time). We had a lot of fun, learned a few lessons, and most definitely enjoyed eating different food for a few days. Up next: Phayao City and Phuket!