Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mae Salong - Oolong Tea & Fun

We feel better today after spending the night here in Mae Salong at the Shinsane Guesthouse and Bungalows. We are at the highest elevation that you can get to by paved road, here in Thailand.

This guesthouse has rooms starting at 50 THB ($1.65 US) and bunglows for 200-300 THB. We stayed in a bungalow with our own bathroom and hot water shower.

There is no need for air conditioning as it is cool here in the mountains. Matter of fact, we were cold last night and I put on a jacket to go to the morning market.

We got up at daylight. I would say sun rise but it is very cloudy/foggy this morning. You could not see the sun.

We walked to the morning market, had coffee and bought a few beaded braclets from the local hill tribe folks (Akha). Daeng also bought a half a kilogram of medium grade tea for the lady at the Ban Pa Meat Pa Thong Ko &Coffee Shop where we usually have morning coffee.

We also bought some braclets from the local girls as we walked back to our room.

After a little breakfast we checked out and traveled to one of the local tea factories. This area is now famous for their "Oolong tea".

We stopped on the south side of town at the Choke Chamroen Tea Co. LTD. As we got out of the car a lady, in the doorway under the sign, motioned for us to come this way. She led us into a little room and gave us clean flip-flops to put on our feet.

After changing our shoes we followed her into a hugh room with lots of workers and machines. She began explaining, in Thai, the sixteen (16) steps to making quality, premium tea. If you leave out any of the steps the tea becomes less of a quality tea.

It all starts with quality tea plants on the hill side. Every morning the tea pickers pick the tender leafs from the tea plants. They are then brought and layed out to dry for a day.

After the first day of drying, they are moved inside twice in a drying process. Then the tender tea leafs are put in a round machine that turns and heats the tea leafs.

After that process, the leafs are bundled and massaged in machines, removed, put back in round machine that act as sauns, rebundled, massages more until the tea leaves are ready for hand sorting and seperating from the stems.

Remember, this is Thailand and everything gets massaged, even the tea!

I don't think I have ever seen premium tea like this. The tea leaves are all bunched up and look like rasins. I learned later, in a tea brewing demonstration, when brewed correctly the tea leaves open up to their full size, just like when they were picked.

By the way, the ladies in the sorting picture are paid 130 THB a day (around $4.00 USD). Sorting the tea leaves is a very time consuming process, too.

After the hand sorting and stem removal, the tea is again warmed, then bagged, vacuum sealed and boxed for shipment.

I never knew the cost of tea could be so high. It was explained to me that this kind of premium tea will bring as much as 2000 THB ($66.00 USD) a kilogram on the wholesale market. Sometimes even more than a hundred US Dollars ($100.00) a kilogram. The package in Daeng's hand is 1/5 of a kilogram (200 grams).

And I thought coffee was high priced!

After our little tour of the tea factory we went to the tea tasting area. We were tought how to brew this kind of tea correctly. I had never seen it done this way:

1. Put tea in small tea pot, filling about 1/4 full with loose tea. Put almost boiling water into pot and let set for less than a minute. Pour water back out. This washes the tea leaves. You can throw that water away.
2. Put almost boiling water back into pot and wait about three to five (3-5) minutes, then pour brewed tea into cups.

This can be done with the same leaves for at least five times or until the taste of the tea is no longer strong enough for your taste.

We were told the rebrewed tea tastes better than the first brewed tea. It has something to do with the soaking of the tea leaves.

We drank two small cups of tea, one - Green Oolong Tea and one - Ginseng Oolong Tea. I was wired for over three hours from the caffeine (I think it was the caffeine.) in the tea.

We did buy 200 grams of both the Green Oolang Tea and the Ginseng Oolong Tea. The Ginseng Tea had a sweet taste to it.

We also bought a beaded braclet from a little boy outside the tea tasting area. He was a real cutie.

After we left the tea factory we took a little ride onto some of the less traveled roads. One of them dead ended into the Mae Salong Church Drug Rehabilition Center. Go figure since this area was, at one time, a high producing Opium area. This is part of the "Golden Triange" area.

Another road stopped at a Buddhists Temple. My GPS showed the road continuing on but we could not find a way around the temple. TIT! (This is Thailand!)

It is a beautiful little temple.

We desided we had done enough for the day and it would be nice to spend the night in our own bed. We were only about 50 kilometers from our home so we headed in that direction.

It was a fun trip.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ban AYO Trip - Tears & Anger

With water in my eyes, I am starting to write this story of our trip to Ban AYO. We have been there many times over the last few years and had gotten heavily involved in helping to get water to this area for a children's shelter.

If you would like to read those past stories you can click on each one of them here:
10-21-07 Terry's Trip Into Jungle-10/21/07 Note: If you have trouble opening this story it is also at in "stories" page.
June 8, 2008 Water for Kids in Ban AYO
November 5, 2008 Water for Children Ban AYO
March 27, 2009 Shelter for the Children Ban AYO
November 10, 2009 Trip to see New Children's Shelter Ban AYO

A while after November 10th we received a telephone call from Chom-nom's wife saying he was arrested for possession of drugs, "Yaba". Here is a simple explanation of "Yaba".

I wanted to know more. Daeng and I talked about going back to Ban AYO to find out more and what the real story was. Everyone thaty we mentioned going back to find out what happened told us: "NO, don't go!"
The basic reason was if he was arrested for drugs the area would be watched. Then a farang, non-Thai, comes into the area asking questions. That was not a good idea.

That was two years ago so a couple of days ago we rented a car, Toyota Vios, for the month. On top of the "To Do" trip list was make the trip to Ban AYO and find out what we could.

We left Mae Sai after a breakfast of fried chicken, sticky rice, Pa Tong Ko, fruit and coffee and headed straight to Ban AYO. When we got onto the Ban AYO road, that was dirt two years ago, we found it had been paved. Everything else looked the same.

We drove by the children's shelter driveway as it was all grown up with vegetation. We turned around and walked down the hill to find the jungle had enveloped it.

Nothing could be seen from the road.

The water tanks were missing, also.

I walked in as far as I could but the vegetation had sharp edges and we were only wearing t-shirts and short pants. I went in as far as I could go to get some pictures.
You can see by the pictures the jungle had taken the place over. In many parts you could only see the roof line.

What a shame. The disease of addiction wins, again. This disease abscesses the mind, compulses the body and destroys the human spirit. Everyone around the disease losses. Chom-nom lost, his mother, his children, his wife, the kids the shelter was for and the community. I got tears in my eyes standing beside one of the building in this now jungle.

We still don't know what the real story is. Did Chom-nom just piss off the wrong person so he was set up and arrested? Was he really dealing? The John Delorean case comes to mind.

We hiked back up the hill, got into the car and dove to Chom-nom's Mother's house. It was empty and no one around knew where she was.

We got back in the car and drove up the rod a short ways and Daeng said to stop by some "Akha" ladies so she could ask them.

Daeng got out of the car and talked for a few minutes. Once they realized she was a friend and also "Akha", one of the ladies started telling her that Chom-nom's Mother was living in the jungle as she could find food there.

She said that if Daeng went down the road behind her, crossed the field and over the water into the jungle on the other side she could find her.

Daeng set out to find her while I stayed with the car. After about an hour, I called Daeng using our cellular phones. They worked here now, also. Paved road and telephone service, I think they came together.

Daeng told me she could not find her and was coming back. It took about an hour for her to return, tired but back.

We figured that ice cream would be good at this point as a man selling home made ice cream showed up on his motorbike. Everyone loves ice cream.

We still don't know the real story but we were told that he went to jail for a lot longer than two years.

From the positive side, there is now water! The kids are all being taken care of at another place at the bottom of the hill. Most of all, I have learned a lot about the business of children's shelters.

I think I should continue with the book I want to write with a title of "Broken Cross".

I am still angry toward the disease of addiction!

We said thank you and traveled to Mae Salong to spend the night.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Golden Triangle

Daeng's friend Peg, that now lives in Japan, was home for a little holiday and to visit family. She was staying at her Mother's home about 20 Km from Mae Sai. Daeng wanted to visit her and I said I would ride along.

After coffee, we jumped on Daeng's motorbike and rode east from where she was staying. When we arrived, Peg was having a morning meal of pork, sticky rice, fish, bamboo and vegetables. We joined in and talked with her family.

After about two hours, I told Daeng I would take the motorbike for a little ride and let them talk more. I marked my GPS so I could find my way back and headed out. The center of the "Golden Triangle" is only about 20 Km away so I put the motorbike on the road in that direction.

The road was being repaired so it was a little dusty but made it to the Mekong River without any problems and very little traffic. By the way, some folks here spell this river as Mae Kong River as "Mae" means "Mother" in Thai.

As I came down the hill I could see this mighty river was very high but not overflowing the banks. I could see from the water marks is had gone down at least three meters (about 10 feet) from the height a week ago.

This area is named, as our President "Tricky Dickie" said, the "Golden Triangle" because Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos meet at this spot. Most folks think of this area as a larger area projecting 300 Km in all directions as it had the largest production of Opium in the world, at one time.

It is also marked on the river with a huge golden Buddha. If you click on the picture you can see how little the people look compared to Buddha.

I stopped by the "Hall of Opium" sign with a big smile as you can see in the picture.

Daeng called me to be sure I was okay. It's nice to be loved!

I headed back and met her. We hung out some more, then said "good-bye" and headed back together. We went back on a different road so there was not as much dust.

Home and a hot shower!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shopping for bedroom furniture

We had visited every furniture shop in our small town of Mae Sai without finding bedroom furniture that we liked. Daeng and I decided we would go south about 60 Km to Chiang Rai and see what we could find there.

Due to my knee surgery, about six weeks ago, we decided that Daeng would take her sister-in-law, Hlong, to Chiang Rai on her motorbike and I would take the bus. Hlong wanted to visit family there.

They left bout 7:00 AM and I had Kit, Daeng's nephew, dropped me off at the bus station around 11:00 AM. After we got gas in the bus, the 60 Km trip took about an hour and a half with stops. When I arrived I walked over to the Jansom Hotel and rented a room for us.

I called Daeng and she met me. We had a little lunch at the vegetarian place we like and started visiting furniture shops.

We visited about seven furniture stores. We saw some things we liked but nothing we were really crazy about. By six o'clock we were pretty tired so we called it quites, returned to hotel, showered and went to bed after a little food at the corner restaurant.

We got up around 7:00 AM and took the motorbike to Jan's Coffee shop by the bus station. We were happy to see her busy and in good spirits. We talked for a while and then went over to a huge furniture and electronics store that she recommended.

It was a big place and after spending several hours we found some bedroom furniture that we really liked. The only problem was there was one piece, a two door wardrobe, they had to order. We told them we would look at some more stores and come back if we wanted them to order it.

We went to three more shops and then came back to the big store. We gave them a deposit so they could order and deliver to Mae Sai in 18 days. We also bought a microwave oven which they delivered the next day.

We were beat after all the shopping so we called it a day and early to bed for the night.

The next morning we got up early and had toast and coffee at the hotel. Daeng put me on the bus and she headed home to Mae Sai on her motorbike.

I sat in the back of the bus with a little Thai boy and his Mother. At first, he was afraid of me as a farang (non-Thai) but after a while he started laughing at me and warmed up to me.

It started raining hard about half-way. Daeng called my on mobile phone to tell me she was going to hang out in a little town about half-way to Mae Sai.

When I got to Mae Sai bus station, Daeng's brother, Tun, picked me up with his motorbike in the poring rain. Yep, you guessed it, we both got soaked but it was a good trip.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Back to normal at home in Mae Sai

Well, we have been ,here in Mae Sai, for a few days and we're back to normal. Normal to us is the morning visit to the market for coffee and Pa Thong Ko (pronounced "Baht-to-go").

Something that is not normal is to see monks on horseback. We see them on the bus, in tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and on elephants but this is the first time I have seen a monk on a horse.

After coffee, in the Ban Pa Meat morning market, we have been doing a little exercise on the equipment beside the road one street over. Ban Pa Meat is the section of Mae Sai that we live in.

Just to show the percentage of Buddhists in this area, here is a picture of the morning market on October 12th which was a Buddhist holiday.

The morning market usually is full of folks shopping for produce and food for the home, but not that morning.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Trip to Home on the Myanmar (Burma) border

This trip was longer than most of our trips from California. We were a half hour longer in the air from Los Angeles to Taiwan, 14 1/2 hours for that leg, then 3 1/2 hours from Taipei to Bangkok. When we arrived in Bangkok, at almost 2:00 AM, we took a taxi for two more hours to Pattaya, on the coast.

We we got to the Sunshine Hotel on Soi 8 off Beach Road, we were told that they did not have a reservation for a double room with a terrace on the back of the new section. They did put us up in a stinky room in the old sections for the same price. Remember, it had now been 39 hours since we had been in a bed.

We showers, had something to eat and rested a couple of hours. We got up and took a baht bus (pickup truck with a rig on the back to carry people) down Beach Road and arranged for a room in Henry Apartment. We came back to the Sunshine hotel and checked out.

I did talk to the managed that we had made the reservation with from California. He told me it was our fault in making the reservation even thought Daeng and I both talked to him, me in English and Daeng in Thai. Thai's always have to save face.

I explained that, if I was the manager, I would have offered us the room free that night to make up for the mistake and got us to stay the other eight nights.

For us a nice room at Henry Apartments was exactly half the cost ($19.50 USD) of the Sunshine Hotel ($39.00 USD) so it worked out well. Our new room was right off Walking Street and just far enough away to be quiet.

We rested, eat and slept, for the next nine days. We did do a little walking to try and get some exercise. There is a lot to see in Pattaya as more than four million tourists a year visit this little fishing village. Well, a fishing village is what it used to be.

Here is a picture of folks from the tour buses taking boats to the near-by island.

We love the diversity in Pattaya. Here is a dog riding on a motorbike.

On October 6th we packed our bags took Air Asia for the hour and twenty minute flight to Chiang Rai. Daeng had arranged for a car to pick us up at the airport and take us the forty minute drive to our home in Mae Sai.

Everything was exactly as we left it. Daeng's sister-in-law, Hlong, had cleaned our master bedroom for us, as well. It was wonderful to be back in Mae Sai. We showered, unpacked and got a great nights sleep.

In the morning we were up early for coffee in the morning market. That is always fun!

Then a ride to see the little lady that camps out by the 7-11 store by the border. She always laughs at me although I know she can't understand a word I say.

The Mae Sai River was still pretty high. We're told the river was all the way to the bottom of the bridge last week. It has gone down at least 10 feet.

It's nice to be back!