Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mae Sai - Typical Day? 03-31-2010

I woke up late, around 7:15 AM. Today started off pretty typical except we had no Internet connection through the wireless system. I dressed and walked downstairs to make sure everything was plugged in as sometimes the night person unplugs the router. Everything was plugged in so I guess the storm must have knocked something out.

I fixed a cup of coffee. Daeng woke up about 8:00 AM and we talked about going shopping at Lotus/Tesco to buy milk, sliced wholegrain bread, instant coffee, crunchy peanut butter, jelly, sliced ham and French’s mustard. All items that were hard to find in the local market.
We can get small bottles of milk and bread at the 7-11. Yes, there are four 7-11 in town and a couple of Food Marts. I don’t think Mae Sai has a Circle K but there are around Thailand.

About 10:00 AM Daeng’s sister-in-law, Hlong, called to say that everyone was going to Daeng’s sister’s place in Chiang Rai today as her son, Jack, was going to the Temple to be cleansed.

I had seen this process a few times here in Thailand but still don’t understand it completely. Basically, when a boy becomes of a certain age, somewhere around 10-14, he goes to the Buddhist Temple to be cleansed both inside and out; physically and spiritually.

He is shaved of all hair, washed all over and blessed. He will also spend three to thirty days with the monks. It is a big deal, not only for the boy, but for the parents as well. I’m told that what the boy does will help the parents go upstairs when they died.
It is also a BIG Buddhist Party. To read more about these celebrations and more pictures CLICK HERE!

Daeng said she wanted me to go with her so we packed a bag and hopped on her 100 CC Honda Wave motorbike and headed the 60 kilometer south. Everything went well to the halfway point. We didn’t ever get stopped at the checkpoints. Then, it started to rain hard.

Daeng pulled over under the roof of a bus waiting area and we hung out about 45 minutes until the rain stopped.

As fast as it started it stopped, even the sun came out. We hopped back on the motorbike and headed to Chiang Rai again. We stopped once to check the air in the tires but continued to the Orchid Guest House by the old bus station. We like it there as it is right in the center of the Night Bazaar.

Unfortunately, they only had rooms with twin beds so we drove down the street a little to an old hotel next to the gold clock circle. We all sleep alone before we die but I'm not ready, to sleep alone!

While we are on the subject of the gold clock tower it is beautiful. At night they play music and the clock tower changes colors to the music.

We checked into the hotel, took a shower and headed over to Daeng’s sister’s place to meet all the family and arrange to meet up with them at 7:00 AM tomorrow morning so we can get some pictures of her son having his hair cut off, etc.

We had some supper with the family and Daeng brought me back to the hotel as I’m beat. She was going back to party with the family as this is a big deal in the Buddhist religion.

She was also going to take her Mother to see Boonreang, her son, who is at school here in Chiang Rai. He goes to a boarding type school here. What “boarding type school” means is that he goes to a school and lives with his teacher. Since Daeng enrolled him in this school his grades have gone from failing last year to a 2.8 average this year.

Was this a Typical day in Mae Sai? I think not as we were only there for a few hours in the morning.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mae Sai – Typical Day? 03-30-2010

As I sit in candlelight typing, I am trying to answer the question: “What is a typical day in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai Thailand?” This is a question that several people have asked.

Mae Sai is a small, 25,000 to 30,000 people, border town on the Myanmar (Burma) border. The temperature is 10-15 degrees cooler than Bangkok as it is higher in elevation that most of Thailand.
Mae Sai is as far north as you can go in Thailand and is in the area known as the “Golden Triangle”. The three countries that come together to make this triangle are Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). At one time it was the largest producer of Opium in the world. It has slipped to number two as Afghanistan has the number one spot now.

The typical things we do here are very much like the things we do in California or any place we are at. We wake up, have normal body functions, shower, brush our teeth, get dressed and eat. I guess those parts of our lives here are typical.

Daeng and I try to walk a few miles every morning to get our exercise and keep the increasing arthritis pain in my lower joints to a minimum.

This morning I woke up about 4:10 AM and called my Mother in California. There is a 14 hour time difference. Thailand is 14 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Saving Time. I use my new notebook which is hooked up with the free wireless Internet connection here at the Yeesum Guest House where we live.

I then hook up our Magic Jack and we have telephone service to the USA and Canada. Mom was doing pretty good but was complaining about her joints hurting, too. It was around 4:00 PM on the 29th there.

After talking to Mom I answered some of our emails. This technology is amazing to me as I was born before broadcast television. Now, I can talk to folks on the other side of the world with no wires hooked to my communication device.

Daeng woke up a little after 6:00 AM. We had coffee and toast and talked about the day ahead of us as the electricity to all of this area will be off from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM today. This time down will allow them to replace some of the high voltage wires to increase the potential of the electrical grid in this area.

Sure enough at 8:00 AM the electricity went off so we went for a walk. Daeng and I turned right when we walked out of the guest house and traveled up the street along the river that seperates Thailand from Myanmar. When we got to the end of the street we walked up the hill past the little house that I like.

The house is unique because it is built into the side of the hill. Last week we called the owner to ask if he wanted to sell it. He told Daeng he would have to talk with his daughter who is presently living there. We haven’t heard back so the answer is probably no. We’ll call him again after Thai New Year celebration, called Songkran, is over.

We then walked down the hill and turned right so we could go the morning market to have breakfast. We had to walk around the huge construction site of the hotel and townhouse condominiums that the Piyaporn Family is building.

The building of this new hotel complex is driving the prices of property up as everyone thinks this complex will bring lots of business to the area. The prices of property are already double that of other areas, even Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand.

We had breakfast in the center of the morning market. I had fried pork and a cup of steamed rice with some “Akha” toppings that Daeng had bought from a lady as we were entering the market.

Daeng had fried vegetables, rice and this “Akha” specialty that was made with pork entails and fermented cabbage. It was very tasty but we would not recommend it to the weaker stomached folks.
We then walked up the main street to J@J Internet Cafe as I told the owner, Cola, I would make a call to the United States National Visa Center for him.

We stopped to buy an umbrella on the way as it looked like it would rain, again. It rained last night. That was a good thing because it cleared the smoke from the jungle fires and put them out.

As we got to J@J Internet it started raining again. Cola’s wife, Monn, said that Cola stayed home to do anything without electricity. We told Monn to tell Cola we would see him tomorrow.
Just about that time our Australian friend, Peter, called as he was in Mae Sai going to the bank. He met us under the bridge that leads across the little river to Myanmar. It was raining hard so we had coffee in the little open air café next to the bridge.

We talked about his rice land that he leases out and his apartments that he had built. He was in the process of putting bathrooms in two more of his apartment.

He was going to see another friend so we said good-bye and walked toward home. It was a good think I had bought the umbrella.

On the way home we bought a small water melon, a barbecued chicken and a “Som-Tom” papaya salad. We ate most of it when we got to our place.

I was pretty tired for some reason so I laid down for a little nap. Daeng went to visit here brother and sister-in law, Tun & Hlong.

My cellular phone woke me us at about 5:30 am. The lights were back on and it was Daeng telling me she was going with Hlong to visit someone and did not want me to worry. I told her to have fun and be careful.

I ate the rest of the barbecued chicken and watched some English television. At around 7:00 PM it started to hail and rain hard. The lights went out, too.

I called Daeng to make sure she was okay. She said it was raining very hard where she was, about 10 miles south of town, and not electricity.

This was a good test of my new ACER notebook that I bought in America. The six battery, battery pack lasts between 5-6 hours on a full charge. The keyboard is small for my fat fingers (86% keyboard) but if I am careful it works great. I want to thank Jay Scelsi for helping me pick this notebook. It works well in candlelight.

Was today a typical day in Mae Sai? I’ll try to blog each day and you can to the judge.
Daeng got home at around 9:30. She was pretty wet but safe and the lights came back on.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

King's Cup Elephant Polo Match 2010

We have been talking about going to the yearly elephant polo matches at the "Golden Triangle" on the Mekong River for the last few years.

Although there is a lot of smoke in the air we decided to go today with our friend Peter. We left Mae Sai around 7:30. The smoke was so thick we could hardly see the sun.

We traveled on our motorbike to the turn off of route 1290 from route 1 and met Peter at the Home Mart. Home Mart is a builder supply store like Home Depot or Lowes in America.

The sign said Chiang Saen is 37 kilometers.

Yes, that is the sun through the smoke.
We decided to stop and see the land that Daeng bought as an investment about five years ago. It is just about 500 meters north of route 1290 maybe 15 minutes out of Mae Sai.

The road was in poor condition and very dusty as they were changing this two lane road to a four lane highway.

We traveled to the "Big Buddha" at the "Golden Triangle" where we had breakfast.

After we ate we headed back across the road from the "Hall of Opium Museum" to the "Anantara Golden Triangle Resort".

The attendant at the gate told us to park our motorbikes over in the parking area as the Elephant Polo Patch was just a five minute walk.

As we came over the little knoll we could see the Elephant Polo Patch with the Mekong River in the back ground. The river was extremely low as this area of the world is in a drought.
We could hear the excited voice of the announcer as they were already started with the morning polo matches.

We found some nice comfortable canvas chairs, in the shaded covering and were offered cold bottles of water.

We could feel the excitement of the group as they cheered for the polo teams. Most of the audience were British, we think.

Peter, our friend, commented on the accents as he is from Australia.

They also had cheer leaders to cheer on the polo players and to help keep the audience interested.

Now, elephant polo is a little slow but fun to watch as these big animals run back and forth up and down the field with the polo players and Mahouts trying to hit this little ball, about the size of a softball and the polo mallets with handles over six foot long.

There were many teams that competed against each other. I was cheering for the "IBM Spice Girls" but they lost.

They were very good natured and were laughing during the photo shoot after their match.

Time for lunch!

And some Thai music and dancing during lunch.

These polo matches started about ten years ago by a couple of guys that were having a few drinks and thought it would be fun to play polo on elephants. That idea developed into a elephant polo circuit that plays in Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

To read more of the history and general rules just CLICK HERE.

Here is the complete schedule for the 2010 King's Cup Elephant Polo Matches.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day #2 Surprise Trip to Myanmar (Burma)

At 4:00 AM the ceiling light came on in the class room we were sleeping in. I got up and walked down the outside hallway to the end of the school to use the restroom. It was very quiet so I just walked back and crawled under the blankets. It was pretty cold, maybe 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

I woke up at daylight as everyone else was getting up, dressing, brushing teeth and just getting ready for the day. It was about 6:00 AM.
Daeng woke up and we walked down to the cooking area to see what was happening. It was pretty busy in the cooking area as feeding a couple hundred people is work.

We went into the kids sleeping area and everyone was up, had made their beds and put things in order.

Some music started from the stage area and the kids were all gathering at the stage.

We were impressed that this much activity was happening before 6:30 AM. Pastor Lota and the other young ministers in the group had the kids singing and dancing around.

At about 7:30 AM it was time to eat and eat they did. Everyone lined up with their round metal trays and orderly got lots of food, rice, noodles, vegetables and a pork stew.

Daeng really enjoys helping to feed people.

After we all ate it was time to have the closing program of the three day event.

The wind came up and blew a lot of dust around along with destroying the back drop of the stage area.

When I counted the people attending it was over 200 including the adults. That is a lot of folks!

Well, it's time to go home. Daeng was worried about my safety being smuggled back to Thailand so she arranged for Pastor Lota to go with me on another motorbike, just in case something should happen.

We packed up everything in Rev. Sunit's pick-up and Waen's pick-up and we said good-bye. Daeng went with Wean and told me she would see me on the other side.

Everyone waived at us.

Even the soldier at the Shan Army Checkpoint waived.

We did good until the third big hill and the motorbike I was riding on got a flat tire.

We talked it over and decided to send the driver and motorbike on alone to take care of the motorbike. Pastor Lota and I would walk the rest of the way together. The other motorbike driver would stay with us to be sure everything was okay and we didn't get lost on the trail.

It was kind of a good thing as we had a chance to do a little bonding on the way.

It was a nice walk, especially in the down hill parts. We walked through a tea plantations and tried the tea leaves. It was a sweet tasting tea leaf.

We came across an "AKHA" lady that was collecting vegetables out of the jungle.

In an another area we ran into some cows wallowing in the mud.

We stopped for a drink of water from a mountain spring. I think it was the best water I have tasted here in Asia. The rule here is the same as in Mexico as well as most countries in the world: "Don't drink the water!"

Toward the end of the walk we ran into some kids with home made go-carts. the go-carts were pretty cool as they were made with bamboo.

When we finally made it to the main road on the Thailand side everyone was glad to see us as they were very worried.

We made it back to Mae Sai, tired, dirty and glad to be home.

This trip will always be remembered.

Note: We have not used names, exact locations and pictures that we felt would harm anyone involved. If you would like more information or pictures of people involved please email us at

Friday, March 19, 2010

Surprise Trip into Myanmar (Burma)

We call this our "Surprise Trip into Burma" story. We had no idea we were going into Burma. Let us tell you why.

About 10 days ago, Pastor Lota called to tell us he was putting on a "Camp Out" for a few hundred kids that live up in the mountains. He proceeded to tell us that most of them are orphans and live at this school.

He ask if we could help with some money to provide food and expenses to put on this event. He also asked if we would like to go to the event. We asked questions like how many kids, how far away, how many days was the 'Camp Out", etc.? We never thought to ask : "What Country?"

We have been involved with Pastor Lota's projects with kids in the past. He is great with the children! I think the term in the USA is he's "jeggie" with them. He always has fun with his message and everyone else has fun, too.

Our belief is that if people, kids are people, don't have fun they won't stick around very long. We feel this is true for jobs, church, recovery programs and life in general.

Last Sunday, Daeng and I visited his church and after the service talked more. He told us that for the three day event he still needed about 15,000 THB. This was to feed the several hundred people for the three days and to provide printed material and support services for the "Camp Out".

Now, my idea of camping out is a hotel with room service closing at 2:00 AM but I wanted to see what he was involved in. We were told that if we just wanted to come for one night he could arrange for us to be picked up on Friday and return with them on Saturday.

We said: "Let's make it happen!". We electronically transferred the money into Pastor Lota's account and waited until Friday.

At about 8:30 Friday morning we got a call to let us know we would be picked up about 10:00 AM. We packed a backpack with things to survive for the next 36 hours camping out. You know, things like instant coffee, bathroom tissue, tooth brushes and a change of clothes.

I did take my CPAP (breathing machine that I use when I sleep) machine as we were told there was electricity. I did not bring my battery pack to Thailand this trip as over the last four years and nine trips I have never needed it, even at the Chang Mountain trip.

"Waen", the driver, picked us up in a nice Toyota pick-up truck right on Thai time. Thai time is aways "around" a given time. Don't complain, it's not personal, it's just the way it is. Daeng always reminds me that "It's not personal, just accept it."

We kidded him a little about the Thai fix for the acceleration problem in the Toyota. The Thai fix is turn off key and step on brake. We all laughed.

The smoke from the jungle fires was not bad so we could see the sun. We drove about 45 minutes and stopped for gas. We offered 500 THB (exchange rate is 33 THB to 1 USD) for gas but Wean said: "No, but thank you." as he paid the attendant. Yes, they pump the gas for you here and there are no "self service" gas stations.

While we were getting gas, Daeng went into the 7-11 and bought some bottled water and potato chips. Yes, there is a 7-11 on every block here in Thailand. If there isn't a 7-11 there is a Circle K or a Food Mart.

We traveled south on Thai route #1 for a few more miles and then turned west as if we were on the way to Ban AYO. Speaking of the Ban AYO project, we received a call from Chom-nom's wife that he was arrested for possession of Yaba. Yaba is a drug containing methamphetamine. That is all we know at this time but will find out more in the next couple of weeks.

We traveled farther up the road to Mae Salong but then turned onto route 1234. We kidded as I am working on my speaking Thai and ,like a child, I said the route numbers in Thai several times. They are "Neung, Saung, Sarn, Seeh". Of course they, Daeng and Wean, laughed at me.

About a half hour later we pulled over to the side of the road and Wean said he had to make a phone call as this was the last place a cellular phone would work. Daeng and I had some mountain rice and egg at this little place along the road.

We than drove up the road about fifteen minutes and stopped, again. I was told that this is as far as I could go in the pick-up. I was confused. Wean told Daeng, in Thai, that I could not go any farther with them and I would have to go with the man that was waiting for me on a motorbike.

I still did not understand what they were saying. Wean told Daeng that I could not go through the Thai Army Camp on the Myanmar (Burma) border. He explained that the motorbike driver was going to smuggle me, on the motorbike, up through a narrow motorbike trail across the Burma border.

Daeng would go with Waen along with our bags, through the Thai Army Camp into the Shan Rebel Army area where the school was located. He also told us that Pastor Lota had arranged everything. It sounded like an adventure to me. I have know Pastor Lota for four years, Daeng for many more years, and was also sure that Pastor Lota would not risk our safety.

I jumped on the motorbike and waved to Daeng and Wean as they drove away.
Well, the motorbike trip was an "E Ticket" ride. If you don't know what a "E Ticket" ride is just ask any old person that has been to Disneyland in the olden days. Disneyland sold booklets of ride tickets and an "E Ticket" was the best rides. Example: I think the Tea Cups was a "B Ticket" and Space Mountain was an "E Ticket".

I had to walk part way because the path was too steep for the little motorbike to make it up the hills with this old, fat man on the back. The trip on the motorbike took us about an hour. Some of the path was very narrow with steep drop offs on one side of the path. The streams we crossed were fun, too.
I was relieved to see this huge clearing with the Toyota pick-up sitting to the side of the clearing. There was also a large stage set up.

When we got down the hill to the clearing Daeng ask if I was okay and told me she was worried about me. She is such a caring person and a great wife.

We had tea and meet the leader of this area. We talked a great deal about the needs of the people. This is an area of refugees that is protected on one side but the Shan Rebel Army. On the other side is Thailand and the Thai Army.

It is high in the mountains, which is good because no mosquitoes, and pretty safe from the Myanmar (Burmese) Army. I think of it as a Burmese refugee Camp but still in Burma.

The biggest need is food and water as it is hard to grow much food in this mountainous area. Drought is also a problem.

The tea plantations near by do hire tea pickers but that pays only about 70 THB ($2.00 USD) a day. That means if they could work everyday, which they can't, they would make about the equivalent of............. You do the math!

The kids were playing soccer in the cleared field. It was very dusty but the kids did not seem to care. They were just having fun.

Then, about 3:00 PM came the next surprise. I was told that I need to hide out for the next few hours as some Thai soldiers were coming to play soccer with the kids. It was not for my safety but because if they saw me they would retaliate against the people in the village for having me there.

I did not want to cause any trouble for anyone so I ask what should I do? They told me that a guide would take us to the hospital area. That was about a 20 minute walk away. When everything was clear they would let us know.
It was a nice walk up the hill and through another village area to this little hospital area. The hospital has twenty (20) beds and at presently two patients.

We also met the man they call "Doc" and learned a lot from him as he speaks perfect English. He takes care of things at the hospital area.

We met a Shan Soldier that I would consider as being a hero. About four months ago he was on patrol with four other soldiers and come across a land mine. I am told that he did not want his fellow soldiers to be hurt. He removed the land mine, to dispose of it, and it went off in his hands.

He lost both hands, one eye and was pretty beat up by the land mine explosion. None of the other soldiers were hurt.
We were told that a Doctor from Canada came to the area and helped this soldier. We talked with the soldier who seemed to be in very good spirits under the circumstances.
The other patient was there due to stomach problems and had only been there for two days.

We both got very grateful!

We hung out by this little hospital area for a while and then took a walk up the hill to "Doc's" home. His wife had a baby a month ago and he was doing the cooking to help his wife.

Someone radioed, walkie-talkie style, that it was okay for us to walk back.

As we walked back we saw kids doing back flips down the side of the hill that had been cleared. Because of the steep slope and sandy soil the children had soft landings.

When we arrive back to the school area they had some food for us. We sat and eat as youngsters and adults started to gather by the stage area for some entertainment and worship.

The electricity for the lights, speakers and sound system was coming from an old gas generator.
Pastor Lota is a very good guitar player and was getting down on the strings.

A good time was had by all. I was pretty beat so we left the stage area to bed down in one of the school rooms.
We will sleep on mats with lots of blankets because up in the mountains it is cool at night.

They shut off the generator at 10:00 PM so I will sleep without my CPAP machine for the first time in maybe seven years. I will sleep on my side and try not to snore.

I'm sure Daeng will wake me if I snore as we are sleeping on the concrete floor with about 10 other folks at this "Camp Out".

Good night! Sleep tight! Don't let the bed bugs bite! Where white when you walk your bike. Keep your pants up, your legs crossed and come home from school in a group. (I raised four girls as a single parent.)

Tomorrow is another day!

Note: I have left many of the pictures and names of folks involved out of this story to protect them. If you would like more information, pictures or the exact location please email me at