Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mae Hong Son

Our senses still reeling from the riot of color and noise that is Bangkok, we said goodbye to Mr. Ving and our driver, Mr. Gong, and left the city for the northern part of Thailand, near the border with Myanmar (formerly Burma). We flew first to Chiang Mai, then boarded a smaller plane for Mae Hong Son. Our transportation for the second leg of the trip was this colorful NOKAIR twin-engine ATR 72 with its nose painted to resemble a beak. When we asked why, we were told that "Nok" means "bird," hence the unusual paint job. 

We skimmed the mountain tops and wondered at the smoke from many fires, some set very near the mountain tops. We were told some were associated with logging operations, while others were farmers burning their fields before planting spring crops.  

After an uneventful flight, we swooped down to land on a very short runway in Mae Hong Son. (Fortunately we didn't see just how short it was until later!) Mae Hong Son is a lovely small town, not at all "touristy" in our opinion. 

There is much Burmese influence in this part of Thailand. Not only is Mae Hong Son very close to the Thai border, but the northern region of Thailand has been occupied by the Burmese at several points in its history. The Burmese and Chinese influences in this part of Thailand make it very different from the cosmopolitan atmosphere in Bangkok. 

In the center of town is a lovely small lake and park, and alongside the lake two temples, Wat Jong Kham and Wat Jong Klang.


One is in the traditional Thai style, with tall golden spires. The other is built in the more simple Burmese style. We asked why the small town had two large temples built side-by-side. Apparently two individuals both wanted to sponsor a temple, and so they did.  Never mind that they are so close together that the monks almost trip over one another.  

Inside the temples the decorations are lovely, but lack the splendor of the grand temples in the big cities. The Buddha figures are simpler, as are the murals depicting Buddha's life. All, however, lovely in their own way.


In addition to the traditional Buddha figures, there is a strong influence from the Hindu religion. Just outside the two temples just described we found a shrine dedicated, in addition to Buddha and other deities, to the Lord Ganesha, and the Goddess Durga seated on a tiger.

Our guide for this portion of our trip is Cherngchai Sutabutr. When he met us, he asked us to please call him "Duke." We asked how he got that nickname, because he doesn't at all resemble John Wayne. He replied that 22 years ago, early in his career as a guide, a woman on the tour couldn't pronounce his name, and said that instead she was going to call him Duke. The name stuck.  We are fortunate that Duke grew up in this part of Thailand, and is extremely well-versed on the area and its people.
Duke and our driver, Dob, dropped us at our hotel, the lovely Imperial Mae Hong Son Tara Resort. Here is the view from our balcony, and a shot of the outdoor restaurant in the early morning mist.

Mae Hong Son sits in a teak forest, so lovely wood accents are everywhere. The hotel featured lovely hand-carved planters and railings, all made from teak. 

The hotel also had a group of resident geckos like this one. Since much of the hotel is open-air, the little critters are everywhere. They're apparently very efficient, though. We saw nary a mosquito while we were there.

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