January 23, 2020

Tak, Thailand

Relishing the freedom and convenience of having our own rental car, we drove from Lampang to Tak, on our quest to get rural in Small Town, Thailand. Mr. Go found us the Ko Luang waterfall in the Mae Ping National Forest to visit.

It was a 2-hour round trip drive out of our way off Highway 1, zooming through switchbacks that were more trafficked than you might expect, and by larger vehicles than seems strictly safe.

It cost us 9 USD to enter the National Forest and there weren't many points of interest open at this time of year. But we found the waterfall and hiked some 500 meters to it.

There were a dozen Thai tourists there already and you had to (Maybe it was optional? Signs made it seem like a requirement) rent life jackets. Walking five steps down to the water took the temperature down 10 degrees cooler. I sat on the rocks in the middle of the river while Mr. Go and Babs swam.

Curious fish nibbled at my toes while my family swam over to the waterfall. We wandered down to a smaller waterfall 200 meters down, but it was too muddy to swim.

Refreshed, we hiked back up into the heat and drove the same windy road 1 hour back to the highway. We picked up a gas station dinner of vermicelli-in-a-cup on the way and hoped to arrive before dark, but the GPS pin on Airbnb was not correct, so we had to message our host and get clearer instructions.

Hot Tip: Don't trust the Airbnb GPS pin. Ask to clarify directions before you arrive, especially if you're driving yourself in a foreign country after dark.

The host greeted us warmly and had a couple of their home-grown young coconuts cut and chilled in the fridge for us. Her son, Mak, also 5, seemed very shy, but the next day, he and Babs played All Day Long. We sat on the farm and read, Kan showed us the different stuff they were growing. We were instructed to pick and eat whatever we wanted, so we tried some starfruit, picked a lime for lunch and Mak kept handing us sprigs of mint to eat.

We took a drive to the Hill Tribe market to pick up some groceries, then went to the Tesco, the big grocery store chain for some thinly sliced pork. Meals of rice and meat are so prevalent, I was constantly on the lookout for vegetables, so I fried up some bok choy in their detached kitchen and it was so relaxing to not have to go out in search of food.

Once it cooled off enough, we went for a walk in the evening. Mak was missing Babs, so his mom took him on a bike ride to find us along the road, then we all walked together.

They had to leave the next day for Bangkok, so we took their bikes out for a ride. The National Park nearby would cost too much to enter, and we'd done our waterfall already, so we just biked around.

We stopped to get a couple cold drinks and sat on the curb at the lady's little shop to drink them. When I showed the lady the picture below, she giggled behind her hand, and it added 5 years to my life.

On our wanderings through the rural neighborhood, we came across fields of cows. Not the same type of dairy or cattle in the U.S. These cows had a big hump on their back and gnarly horns. They also seemed super territorial. They watched us as we passed, pawing the ground and huffing.

There are chickens everywhere, either running around or chilling under dome-shaped woven baskets. Maybe they're for eating or maybe they're for fighting, we couldn't decide. There are dogs everywhere, too. Most are strays, but some have collars and homes they return to at night. I only had to chase one aggressive dog off and we were always very quick to pick Babs up if any dogs seemed cagey. We were told to bend down and pretend to pick up a rock, even if there were no rocks, and the dogs would scatter. We also primed Babs (who then taught Mak) to make herself big and say "NO," to any encroaching dogs.

In this neighborhood, we also stumbled upon a soup shack. We weren't hungry, per se, we'd just sat at a picnic table behind a lady's random roadside BBQ grill and had spicy sausage (Mr. Go's new favorite food-- it tastes like spicy fruit loops and I don't know why), but it had no signage and was packed with locals, so we stopped anyway.

We said the couple Thai words we knew and there was a lot of pointing and nodding. It was essentially rice noodles in broth with fish balls, bean sprouts and your choice of meat. All the tables were full, but some people waved at us and budged over so we could sit. Babs introduced herself and then had to smile between mouthfuls of food for a bunch of pictures everyone wanted to take of her.

Kan's dad, Poomchai, took care of us the last day. He gave us a bag of some weird grape-like fruit (it was longan). You have to peel the hard shell off to eat them and be careful of the pit inside, but they were super good.

One of the main attractions of a hotel/Airbnb is if they have a washing machine. We have a Scrubba bag to do our laundry in emergencies, but I tried to work it so every other stay had a machine. So we were very excited to do laundry at the farm.

Five minutes before I went to put our load in, the maid started using the washing machine. I asked her if, when her first load was finished, I could do ours before she put her next basket in. I think she believed I wanted her to do my load for me, and she totally would have with a smile and nod, but I just wanted her to show me how to use the contraption. Despite not speaking a word of the others' language, she then adopted Babs. For the rest of the afternoon they, as the Thai seem to love to do, swept fallen leaves off patios together.

Poomchai bought rice porridge (congee) for us for breakfast the next day. It came with a soft boiled egg (still in the shell) that I didn't know what to do with, so we just ate the porridge with grated ginger and spring onion.

At the end of our three night stay in Tak, we drove back to return the car in Lampang. Apparently we had driven outside of the agreement area and "damages" would be our "responsibility."

The nice car rental lady gave us a ride directly to the bus station, and we headed back up to Chiang Mai for a 1-night stopover before our next adventure, 5 hours north to the border town of Mae Sai.

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