It took 16 plus hours to get to A to B to C to D to…Mae Hong Son. As I mentioned before, this wasn’t going to be your average lie-on-the-beach-drinking-margaritas holiday, it was a ‘working’ holiday. My husband had a job interview with the UN. To get to this interview, we needed to travel, pretty much, the entire world to attend it. His future depended on it, and he was pretty certain he’d got the job placement anyway – this was just a meeting to confirm it, and talk about the details. Furthermore, he had been invited to World Refugee Day, which is why we had to drop everything and book tickets for this exact time. So, why I am boring you with these details?
…Read on and you’ll see!
We spent the first day-and-a-half travelling. With travelling comes waiting, waiting and more FREAKEN waiting. I’m not the most patient person, and I find it really hard to sit still for long periods of time. So, this was particularly hard for me! Rather than sit twiddling my thumbs, I came prepared with a bag full of Fifty shades…WHAT? I packed the trilogy of Fifty shades – Fifty Shades of Grey – if you’re wondering, and no! Not of the tea variety…
These books are pretty much mild porn…
Let’s just say, this trilogy kept me fully engaged. By the end of the trip, all three books had been read, and I was ready to get out the bondage gear!
Sorry, I’m side-tracking, back to my vacation… So we took a 3-hour coach ride (the most uncomfortable journey of my life!) to Heathrow, then we boarded a plane, which took us to India.
Next, we boarded a plane to Bangkok. We then climbed into a taxi, and had an ever so speedy tour. Although, my eyes were slightly distracted by the amount of ‘no farting’ stickers he had plastered all over his taxi.
I mean, surely one, perhaps two, would have been completely adequate, but 30 plus sticker is over-doing it! Maybe he has a phobia of farting? I can empathise. There’s nothing worse than someone stinking out an already baking hot car with their vulgar gasses! The eyes begin to water, the gagging sensation arises in the back of the throat….
“Pull over, I think I’m going to hurl!”
Farting aside, the Thai cab drivers were ruthless. If they had somewhere to be, they’d get you there as quick as they could, no matter how many cars they had to pull out in front of, no matter how many passengers they almost run down! Finally, we arrived at Chaing Mai, where my husband kindly reminds me we are about to board the 12 seat plane. I was ever-so-slightly nervous! Okay, Okay…underneath my ‘cool-as-a-cucumber’ exterior, I was shaking in my
Before we boarded the what looked like a toy plane, we were handed a little packed lunch, complete with a cake…‘Hmm, like this is going to help!’
The miniature plane, although turbulent at times, was AMAZING… Here are some pics of my window view!
No! Not that window…
And this is my husband…
Yes! The one with the briefcase!
As the plane came to a halt, we found ourselves in Mae Hong Son. We were early so we had to, you’ve guessed it… wait some more!
In the meantime…
A very friendly man from the hotel (Let’s call him, George!) collected us from the airport…well actually… his mother did! She spoke no English, but George spoke very good English, and gave us a warm Thailand welcome! I was pleasantly surprised by the hotel. When my husband said we’d be ‘slumming it’ I had something else in mind… A mud hut, a shack, a tent… But no! The hotel was clean, the staff were friendly, and there were even tea-making facilities.
My husband thinks I’m high maintenance, but he’s got me all wrong!
And with our powdered milk – It’s certainly not Earl – tasting tea, we made ourselves comfortable on our hotel bed, and I’m pretty sure we fell fast asleep. Our powdered-milk flavoured tea, untouched and stone cold. No tears lost!
The next day, we were well and truly jet-lagged. However, we didn’t let this put a halt to our holidaying spirit, on went our flip-flops, and we headed out on a tour of Mae Hong Son. Mae Hong Son (The City of Three Mists) is nestled in a deep valley hemmed in by the high mountain ranges of the Shan Hills <- Yeah, I just copied this from Wikipedia! It’s a small city with a beautifully rustic feel. I soon grew to love the real vintage vibes. Even the phones were ‘So 10 years ago’. My husband bought a brick of a mobile phone, so he could make cheaper calls whilst he was in Thailand. Well, this is what he told me, I think he just wanted to play snake…
Do you remember this bad boy!?
As he said farewell to his candy crushing obsession, he said hello to his new friend, snake! Quite possibly the best game in mobile gaming history…
In the afternoon, we approached the UN buildings in preparation for my husband’s all almighty ‘talk’. The UN establishment didn’t really look the way I had envisaged. It was more ‘gated shack’ than the dazzling, high-security building I had pictured. We climbed the stairs to the office, and a friendly voice called “Come on in”. Let’s just say, the interview didn’t go to plan! In fact, the interview didn’t really happen at all…
Husband: SAY WHAT?!
And to add insult to injury…
I watched my husband’s face drop. The disappointment was clear for all to see. He was crushed! Understandably, I think anyone in their right mind would be destroyed by this news…if they had travelled the FREAKEN world to attend!!! Not only had my husband been rejected, but he was also denied to be a part of something he is truly passionate about – World Refugee Day! But why? It was partially due to the political coop. The other the reason…
…Because Angelina Jolie was making an appearance. Turning this smaller event into the event of the decade! Consequently, increasing security 95 % and preventing my husband and me, from being able to participate.
My husband: ‘I’m never watching a Jolie film again!’
To comfort the blow, Mr
I’m a massive Cock Killjoy piled us off onto his work colleagues. ‘These guys will show you around!’ and that was the last we heard from the creep him! We were then introduced to a guy called Antoine, who drove us to the temple, so we could have a look at the city from above.
The views were beautiful…
Here we are!
We then joined another UN colleague – let’s call her Suki – and we all had a wonderful Thai meal together. The food was to die for, the company…DIRE! Whilst they all talked about things ‘I had no idea about’ I nodded, made encouraging ‘hums’ and stifled my yawns. 4 hours, 4 FREAKEN hours of all things ‘humanitarian’. By the end of the night….
Husband: ‘Wake up, Amanda. It’s rude to sleep in the company of my…well, I was going to say future colleagues…OH! forget it, rest your tired head!’
With one woeful husband in arm, I decided to drag him off to do something fun. Antonio (<- It has more of a kick to it, doesn’t it?) had recommended a tour guide, and I must say, the kid did good! We got the best tour guide in Mae Mong Son! And so we embarked on our adventure-packed day. We met our tour guide at his shack, who then drove us to the hilltops, where our elephant await.
You see a lot of people talking of ‘elephant riding’ on their bucket lists, and what not! It was never an ambition of mine, but when I saw it was part of the excursion we had chosen, I felt pretty excited. My excitement soon turned to remorse, as I came face-to-face with a rather miserable looking elephant, shackles around his feet and neck.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like elephant riding anymore! In fact, I wanted to unshackle him, and let him run free! The Elephant keeper said “I’m sorry, but you can’t take my elephant!”.
Naively, I had envisaged ‘elephant riding’ like a scene out of some Disney movie. Riding bareback into the sunset, with some Elton John number playing in the background. One happy elephant swinging its trunk and eating peanuts along the way. In contrast, we had a sad looking elephant, shackled at the feet and blinded in one eye. The elephant rider (is this what you would call such a person?) had a sharp object in his hand. He would use this to poke the elephant in the head if he stopped for too long. Surprisingly, the elephant seemed content, ploughing through the wild forests, stopping for a bite to eat along the way. At the end of the trail, he was rewarded with mangoes, which he thoroughly enjoyed. This didn’t stop the regret building inside of me. I was left feeling like a terrible person. I vowed never to ride an elephant again – Disney or no Disney!
Feeding the elephant mangoes…
After a rather unsatisfactory elephant ride, we took a boat down the river and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
Check out the views…
One with the tour guide…
On our way to the Mong Tribe Village…
We traveled to the highest of hills to visit the Mong Hill Tribe. I had this preconceived idea that witnessing the existence of these people would have some monumental effect on me. I thought it might change my perception on life itself. I had this expectation I would be confronted with sadness and despair. I was wrong. Instead, I was greeted with happy, smiling faces. As I walked through this tight-knit community, in what might be perceived as ‘nothingness’ by the westerner, these people had everything – happiness, pride, a thriving community and huge support network.
The Mong Tribe, whom originate from China, didn’t have any of the ‘so-called’ luxuries we surround ourselves with on a day-to-day basis. However, they were happy, truly happy. They made money by selling their handmade products and ventured out of their village on motorbikes they’d saved up to buy. Their houses were nothing more than mud, wood and tin built shacks, but as I stepped inside, they felt surprisingly homely.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone should have to live this way. In the ideal world, we should all have running water and a warm place to sleep. Sadly, this was reality. These people did an exceptional job making the best of what they had. The village itself wasn’t what some might perceive as ‘ideal’, but it was pretty amazing considering their circumstance.
The Mong tribe children ran around barefoot and in rags! This didn’t seem to matter, these children were content. Our tour guide handed out chocolate pennies. Cheekily, some of the children asked for two. This reinforced even more so, these children were no different to my kids back at home. In fact, I found the simplicity of their lives enviable. These people had each other, and this was enough. They didn’t have the option to ‘fill in the voids’ as we do, with technology and materialism. The children gained great enjoyment from a wooden go-cart and playing with their chickens.
A boy and his chicken!
There was a fully functioning school for the children to attend, just like any other child would. It was evident these children had dreams, too. My preconceived idea of hopelessness were somewhat shattered. All I had to do was open my eyes! I didn’t feel sad for these people, I had no reason to. As a community, they weren’t just surviving, they were thriving!
At the end of our visit, we stopped by one of the Mong Tribe’s home. We asked if we could buy a cute pair of trousers (as worn by the children in the pictures!) for our youngest son. Unfortunately, our request got lost in translation as the Mong Tribe people dragged out a pair of man-sized trousers. My husband didn’t have the heart to tell them he didn’t want the ‘adult sized’ ones. After all, they were so happy, one of the tribe even dragged his accordion out to play (an alternative to the happy dance, perhaps?) whilst my husband tried on his new trousers! After they rinsed my husband of cash (Turns out the trousers were quite expensive!) we said our farewells and traveled onto another village.
The next village we visited impressed me furthermore. The White Karen Tribe lived a few miles from the Mong Tribe, and yet their villages couldn’t be more different. The structure of their houses mirrored those on Grand Designs, each one unique. I was amazed by their natural ability to construct such complex homes. Their lives were simple. They didn’t have electricity, running water or any of the other ‘fundamentals’ we take for granted, and yet this didn’t seem to faze them. Life had always been this way, and who were we to judge them on what they didn’t have. If anything, I was in awe of their simple existence.
Is that a brick in your pocket? …Why yes, it is!
My husband ‘putting his back in to it! Grounding rice.
I walked away questioning whether I should have felt sad? Should I have felt sorry for these people? Whenever we hear the word ‘refugee’, or see people of the 3rd world in the media, naturally we feel sad, or even guilty. In reality, I didn’t feel any of these things, in fact, I felt quite the opposite.
On our 4th day, we decided to go on our very own adventure…via motorbike! When it comes to motorbikes, the reality is never quite as great as the expectation. Prior motorbike ride, I had an image of us, punked out in leather, speeding down the highway with the wind in our hair.
In reality, this image couldn’t be further from the truth. Yea, sure enough, the wind was blowing my hair…into my face! Hairy mouths aside, there is the chaffing…oh my! The chaffing is the worst. And not forgetting the bugs flying into my mouth. Along with the clashing and the clunking of helmets, as my husband drives over, what seems to be every porthole in the road!
So, the motorbike wasn’t all it cracked up to be, however, it was a lot of fun. We had to make several pit stops along the way;
1; because it felt like my arse was being ‘one’ with the seat.
And 2; because my husband couldn’t do U-turns. Instead we had to hop off, as he manually (by this, I mean lifting it up with his bare hands!) re-position it into its rightful place. My husband also thought it was hilarious to make little jokes as we went. Like…
Husband: “The lady did tell me where the break is, but I forgot!”
Me: “Oh fuck!”…
Husband: “Have you got your seatbelt on?”
Me: “There’s a seatbelt?”
Despite my husband’s lack of motorbike skills, we managed to find the road to the long neck village. We pulled over and had a quick, but very serious, discussion on whether it was safe to walk down to the village on our own.
Me: Is there a possibility they could eat us?
Husband: It’s unlikely!
We decided to ‘risk it for a biscuit’ and set off down the lonesome mud tracks. After 5 minutes of walking, we came to a river. The long necks had spotted us from the other side and sent some of the tribe to get us.
On the other side, we were stunned once again by the remarkable village they had built for themselves. We admired some seriously fine craftsmanship. A school, houses, shops, boats. They even had a satellite dish! (Although, I’m sure they didn’t hand-craft this one!)
The Long Neck’s School
We visited the long necks themselves…
And met some of their adorable children…
We set off on the boat once again. My husband gave the little boy a few dollars. You would have thought he’d won the lottery, the way he reacted. He was so happy! It made us feel all ‘gooey’ inside…
Okay, he’s acting all cool…but he was excited, really EXCITED!
Come evening, we decided to walk up to the temple on the very top of the hill – big mistake! Not only was it a reminder of just how unfit I am, I also gained more mosquito bites to my collection of many. Naturally, I just wanted to itch them all. In fact, the more my husband said ‘The more you itch, the more likely you will spread infection’ the more I wanted to take to that itch like a scrubbing brush to a mud-infested pig!
On our way back, we discovered we were locked in. This meant I had to be ‘bumped up’ onto the high wall via my husband (See picture below!)
As we jumped off the wall and into a bush, some monks walked by, looking rather startled. I was half expecting this sort of scene to unfold…
That evening we enjoyed our last meal in Hae Mong Son. It was a beautiful evening, and there was a romance in the air. Scrap that…I meant disappointment in the air. Although, there was no hiding my husband’s disenchantment, I couldn’t help put compare him to Little Miss Sunshine’s – Richard Hoover!
For those of you who haven’t seen the film. The dad spends the majority of the 101 minutes, rambling on about his ‘9 stage model’ -and his future business partner Mr Stan Grossman – as if his life and livelihood depended on it. Halfway through the film, and after several failed attempts of communicating with his potential ‘future business partner’…
Hoover takes it upon his self to find Stan Grossman. Unfortunately, the VW camper has seen better days, and won’t start up, so he borrows a small motorbike from some street kids, complete with a rather unflattering helmet, and heads for a social event Stan is at. I expected to see my husband stand up off his chair, tell me ‘before we eat, I’ve got something to take care of’, and hop onto a motorbike! …but rather, he sulked quietly in his chair. I didn’t quite know what he was thinking! Or what he was plotting for that matter!
Me: “In life, we experience these fall-backs. It’s what makes us stronger”
Husband: “Oh, screw it…I’m going to find me a motorbike!”…
As we tucked into our Thai cuisine, I spotted a lizard crawling inside the lantern. I poked the lantern to watch it crawl. It scurried away rapidly. Unsure where it had disappeared, my husband used this as the perfect time to play a prank on me.
“There’s a lizard on your arm!” He called out.
I stood up abruptly and started jerking my arms, back and forth, trying to shake off this non-existent lizard. Screeching and squirming as onlookers glared at me with concern.
Yeah! A bit like this…
Husband “only joking!”
The next day we got a Tuk-Tuk to the airport, and prepared ourselves for the 12 seat plane experience once again. We were really looking forward to it, until the Wild Thornberries rocked up *cough* I’m sorry, I meant the UN team. Talk about awkward turtles!
Luckily the loud engine noise drowned out the sound of their continuous bragging about WRD, that’s World Refugee Day, for those of you who didn’t know! 5 minutes into our flight, my husband fell asleep. The excited was obviously too much!
Bad feeling in the air, we decided to get breakfast. This only ended in an argument. I must have said something ‘out of term’, or politically incorrect. This, along with the residue of rejection, the following 8-hour sulk was somewhat inevitable. You heard me correctly, an 8-hour sulk! You see, my husband and I don’t argue. We sulk. Our tour of Chiang Mai wasn’t a pleasant one. When my husband has the hump, he power walks. When he power walks three yards in front of me, I’ll get my ‘slow mo’ on, walking specifically slow, to piss him off. Power walk + slow mo = an ever growing distance between us!
5 hours into our sulk, we decided to sit on a bench and rest…in complete silence. I sat on one side of the bench, he sat on the other. It was a battle of who could cave in first. Suddenly, a lanky British guy with skin like leather, and the skin tone of a coffee bean, stumbled over to us. “Are you married?” He asked, a hesitance in his voice. “Yes!” my husband said, unconvincingly. Turns out Freddie the fraudster liked to talk. He also spun out some sob story about how he lost his passport and had been living rough for the past 6 months. “I just need some money for a taxi” he exclaimed. The cynic I am, I knew he was full of… My husband is a complete sucker for a sob story, and gave him the entire taxi fare. On a brighter note, he introduced us to his friend Fabio free hugs.
And a rather sullen looking soldier…
After some free hugs and soldier love, we ended our feud and ate some cake! Cake solves everything, right?!
No…we still had some ‘sulk’ inside us, and so the feud went on.
When we got back to the airport, I had to take myself off to the ladies room to have a little cry. I missed my children so much! Everywhere I turned I saw children’s faces. Furthermore, I’d had a miserable day. The holiday had been such a roller-coaster of emotions, and we were only halfway through. But heck! What more could go wrong? I had a husband who wasn’t talking to me, more mosquito bites than a leopard has spots, and I was beginning to resemble that of a LOBSTER…
But heck! At least I had my book!
To be continued….
To find out what happens next, check out Amanda Does Thailand Part Two…