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.

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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!!!!

 

A Christmas Story (and New Years too)

Christmas Day

Not sure how Christmas was already a month ago, but here I am! Somewhat early on in teaching we found out we had to work on Christmas Day. This was a pretty big bummer to me as I had heard from other teachers on our program that they had the day or even the whole week off from work. I guess this is one of things that comes with being pretty far North away from any major city. A few weeks before Christmas our principal asked me and the two other foreign teachers at my school (they’re from the Philippines) if we could plan Christmas games, dances and activities for Christmas afternoon. When she first asked this I was kind of confused, what does that even mean? That isn’t how we celebrate Christmas at home! Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I already knew I would be pretty homesick, so to be honest I was not really into the idea of playing “Christmas games” all afternoon. While there can be a disconnect at home between the religious holiday of Christmas and the traditions we use to celebrate it, the disconnect is about ten-fold here. We’re in a largely Buddhist country, yet they want to celebrate this Christian holiday?? While it is weird and definitely confused me, I just decided to embrace it and roll along with it. The week before Christmas, Teacher Sweet, Teacher Jo and I sat down to try to plan out the afternoon. We decided we would do caroling of some sort, play freeze dance with Christmas songs, and play a “banana eating game” (run by Teacher Jo) that they play in the Philippines. We also had to choreograph a dance, so we chose to do it to Feliz Navidad. Easy, fun, upbeat.

Fast forward to Christmas Day…Teacher Jo could not make it to school because of visa issues in Chiang Mai, and half of our 6 dancers were home sick. No more banana game. Also, Teacher Jo was also meant to M.C the whole afternoon with one of the Thai teachers (Teacher Wi) translating for her. So naturally, that morning they told me I would be MCing the whole shindig, complete with a Christmas “blessing/story” and all. Feeling a tad overwhelmed, I just took a deep breath and tried to laugh it off knowing that it would be a huge relief once it was all over. Since our dancers were absent, Sweet and I also decided we would have to substitute in the dance for them. While I do love to get down on a dance floor, dancing in front of my 300+ students and all of the teachers in school is absolutely not my idea of fun. But for your viewing pleasure, here’s a quick clip…

After the dance, I finished up MCing, and to my surprise I had a bit more fun than I expected. It was still completely ridiculous but I did enjoy myself a bit. They also had one of the teachers dress up like Santa Claus and throw little toys and trinkets to the kids and they went absolutely bonkers. All in all, it was okay.

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Me and my homeroom cuties

Emma and I decided that in an effort to have a little bit more of a special dinner, after the gym (never thought I’d be working out on Christmas), we would get dinner at this restaurant/club-like place in our town called December 17. I would say this experience was akin to that of the family in A Christmas Story when they go to the Chinese restaurant for Christmas Dinner. When we walked in, the waitresses were all dressed in short, scandalous Santa costumes and we quickly learned that almost no one spoke English. In the beginning they were playing some slow Christmas music over the stereo but it quickly changed to straight up sad music which was killing me on the inside. They ended up forgetting my meal, and then when it finally came they forgot to bring rice with the curry. Oyyyyyy. When we finally went to pay, they had charged us for peanuts, ice for the beer, our meals, extra for the rice and some random other charges. I tried explaining that they had forgotten my meal but it was pretty pointless and then they just kept apologizing for the peanuts which was really the least of our problems. Looking back on it, it was pretty comical but at the time I was definitely just wanting to be home eating Grandma’s Christmas shrimp, yummy vegetables and baked brie. The blaring stereos, Christmas costumes and strobe lights were a little much for me.

The rest of the week went by pretty quickly, and on Friday we had a New Years celebration at school. Everyone in the school brought in a small gift that cost around 50 baht, and each gift got numbered and put into the auditorium. At the end of the day, each class went up and one by one picked a number. The oldest students would then retrieve the gifts and everyone would have a fun surprise to open up! I bought a small box of chocolate and some Pocky and my gift was a box of chocolate covered wafers (which I’m keeping in my desk for when my students are extra good). After school was over, we did the same with all of the teachers, but the budget was 250 Baht each. We did the same thing where we numbered the gifts and then picked a number. I was hoping to get one of these giant pillows since my bed is huge and pretty boring, and luckily I got a huge spiderman pillow!! It’s pretty intense but has been really sweet to have. I’ll be sad to part ways with it when I move out of my apartment. Also, just picture me riding home on my small bike with this huge pillow stuffed half in my basket and half falling out (lol).

On Saturday afternoon, we got the direct bus from our town to Chiang Mai to celebrate New Years!! Our bus ride was a little longer than usual due to lots of traffic in Chiang Mai but nevertheless we got there safe and sound. On the bus, I watched Everest and I rate it 10/10. Might’ve shed a few tears but a great story and beautiful film. Once we got there, we had the rest of the day to chill so we walked around and explored some temples that we hadn’t seen yet. One of the coolest parts about Chiang Mai is that within the old city, there are beautiful, old temples everywhere. Any direction you walk, you’ll come across a different temple. The old city is also totally walkable, which is super nice after a long bus ride. That night for dinner, we met up with Garrett and Katrina, a couple from our town, for dinner at “Miguels”. A restaurant recommended to us by some friends and from our  trusty pal, Trip Advisor. It was soooooo yummy. I honestly miss Mexican food more than any other food (I think). Will definitely be making the trip to Burlington for El Gato and seeking out some new Mexican spots in New York if anyone wants to join!

New Years Eve

The next day we wanted to do something outdoors and fun so we decided to try to head to Doi Inthanon, one of the national parks in Chiang Mai, and also the tallest spot in Thailand. We had to ask around a fair amount, and ended up paying a little bit of a steep price, but were able to get a songthaew to take us there and back for the day. It was pretty far outside the city, but worth it to get some fresh air and be able to hike something! When we got there, we had to hire a local guide to take us through the trail for 200 baht. Paying these guides helps them to support their families, local business and to protect the nature in the park. Our guides name was Yong Yeung and although he spoke no English, we exchanged smiles and I was able to ask him his name and tell him how beautiful the park was.

Quick lesson:

Khun chu arai kha? – What is your name?

Suay- Beautiful

The “hike” was pretty short but it was lovely to get outside and be able to feel away from a city and in nature for once. The trail we hiked was called the Mae Pan trail. It was super super foggy, but I found the fog to be amazing anyways. From the top, we could see the two temples at the top of the mountain, and afterwards we were able to grab a shuttle to see the temples themselves. The two chedis are on the main road to the summit of Doi Inthanon. One is called Naphamethinidon, meaning ‘by the strength of the land and air’, and the other is called Naphaphonphumisiri, meaning ‘being the strength of the air and the grace of the land’. These temples were built to honour the 60th birthday anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1987, and the 60th birthday anniversary of Queen Sirikit in 1992. They were really beautiful and it felt pretty special to be able to go here.

After we saw the chedis, we headed up to the tippy top to the famous sign that designates the highest point in Thailand. After a quick snapshot, we headed back to our songthaew to start the trip back to Chiang Mai. It’s always a treat getting to catch the sunset in a songthaew, and this was our last sunset of 2017.

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After we got back, we got ready to meet up with our friend Kirsten who was visiting for New Years and a few of her friends in her hostel. First we headed to our favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai, “The Cat House” (has absolutely nothing to do with cats thank goodness, sorry cat lovers). I had a delicious falafel plate and the best cocktails I’ve had in Thailand so far. Will definitely be going back here when I end in Chiang Mai. After, we met up with friends and had a few drinks and got ready to head out to see the lanterns close to midnight. Seeing the lanterns in Chiang Mai was probably one of the most magical things I have ever seen. It is straight off the cover of a Lonely Planet guidebook. It was truly stunning. We bought our own lantern from a lady on the side of the street and headed towards Tha Pae Gate. As we were walking, you could just see hundreds and hundreds of lanterns floating up into the sky. There were also lots of people struggling to light them, and quite a few crashed into trees, powerlines and the river. We were DETERMINED to succeed in lighting our lantern, but as we started, it proved to be more difficult than in looked. Out of nowhere came this somewhat aggressive American woman, as Emma calls her ‘lantern goddess’ and she got us all set and helped us get our lanterns going. She had us get all the way on the ground to allow the hot air to fill up the lantern and then as it filled up we stood up until it felt like the lantern was pulling and then we let it go. It was stressful, but so exciting, and we watched as our little lantern floated up into the sky at midnight full of our wishes for the upcoming year and surrounded by the millions of other wishes being sent into the air that night. It was really amazing and definitely falls into the top 3 moments I have had here in Thailand so far. So happy.

January 1st, 2018

We started the new year off on a beautiful note, by heading to a yoga class. We went to Freedom Yoga, a cute quiet yoga studio right outside the city but still walking distance from our guesthouse. Our class was filled with a lot of other foreigners, but our teacher was this amazing flexible and encouraging Thai woman. She was a beast!! Her body was bending in ways I did not know was possible, but most of our class seemed to be on the same page and giggled as she had us try some crazy poses. Her assists were amazing too. It was so nice to go to a real yoga class, another thing I am definitely missing here in Thailand. I left the studio feeling very content and happy with myself. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more self-aware and to be happy with myself and not let my brain wander a million different ways. I find myself worrying a lot and yoga really helps me to calm down and recenter myself (as well as do amazing things for my body). After yoga, we walked around a bit more, came across a few more temples, and found ourselves at “A Taste of Heaven”, a popular vegetarian spot. I had Khao Sow, a traditional northern Thai noodle dish that was delicious. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, getting pedicures and having yummy fruit smoothies from Khun Kae’s juice bar, a must-go in Chiang Mai. My new year started on a healthy, happy, relaxing note, and I can only hope that my beautiful New Years Eve/ first day of 2018 is a glimpse of what the upcoming year will hold for me.