The serenity of Mae Salong

Backpacking Mae Salong

The ascent was gruelling, even more so considering it was five o’clock in the morning. My legs were punished with the crippling load of my fatigue and beads of sweat formed at my brow, trickling down my face like restless drops on a pane of glass. Spurred on by the sight of the rising sun, I continued upwards to the temple, climbing hundreds of stairs until I reached the top.

Resting on the stone wall that surrounded the temple, I gazed out over the haze of hills layered in the distance, sitting in peace, watching the sun rise as it transformed the sky into an array of purple shades. I could have sat for longer but my belly grumbled with resistance, leading me back down the steps and into the morning market.

Backpacking Mae Salong

Two Buddhist monks stood at the end of the street accepting gifts from local residents, responding with prayers of blessing; farmer’s wives chatted between themselves as they sat over their produce for the day, awaiting their next customer; and motorbikes buzzed through the market strapped with fresh fruit and vegetables, weaving through the crowd as more market go-ers shuffled through the stalls.

With no families to feed, I took refuge at an indoor food stand and mingled with the locals – an ethnic mix of Chinese and Thai. It was there where I ate Chinese doughnuts for the first time, prepared and fried before my eyes, and served with a glass of hot, sweetened soy milk, an unhealthy, yet delicious start to my morning.

Backpacking Mae Salong

My home for the week was Mae Salong, a small, quiet town that sat high up in the hills of Chiang Rai Province, an hour’s journey from the city. I was accommodated just in front of the morning market; it was that close, I could’ve literally climbed out of my bedroom window to be amongst it all. At one hundred baht per night, it was one of the cheapest places I’d stayed, quite surprising giving its location.

Even though my adventurous spirit took me on many journeys around the town, I remember quite distinctly an overwhelming feeling of contentment like I could’ve easily sat in one place all day without feeling the need to explore. It was my favourite place in Thailand and luckily for me it was still lacking the influx of tourists as seen in its neighbouring towns, mainly due to its remote location.

Backpacking Mae Salong

The Chinese inhabitants influenced the look and feel of the place, bringing a rather striking contrast to that of a typical Thai town with lots of Chinese decorations and little shops selling tea leaves from the surrounding fields. It was the place I’d been looking for; somewhere that closely resembled the type of town I’d wanted to visit, inspired quite amusingly by an old game I used to play called Shenmue.

Trouble on the road…

There wasn’t much light left in the sky when I decided it was time to head back. I’d been out for the day on the motorbike, travelling 60km or so to Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park, sucked in by its offering of hot springs. My body was still warm from the many hours I’d spent bathing and I was hungry for my daily dosage of noodles as I kick-started the motorbike and commenced my journey home.

As darkness set in I battled onwards through swarms of insects that flew into my eyes, blinding me for most of the way. With minimal vision, I approached the final leg of the journey, a long ascent up a steep, winding hill with no road lights and few passing vehicles. Half way up, the bike started to choke and I was forced to drop down to first gear where it jerked like crazy before eventually cutting out. My bike had suffered a heart attack.

I pulled the bike up on its stand and sat on the road barrier, gazing into the sky in a thoughtless dream. As I sat enjoying the tranquil sound of hissing crickets, I became aware of a buzz which grew louder by the second; something was making its way down the hill. My knight in shining armour – can I say that? – turned out to be a young boy on a rather fancy looking motorbike. After practically rolling back down the hill behind him I was led to a garage which surprisingly was still open, which in Thailand can constitute as a group of Thai guys drinking heavily outside.

Drunk or not, they soon had me on my way after swapping the spark plug and waking the nearby neighbours up with some extremely loud revving. In fear of breaking down again I made my second attempt at the ascent a slow one, until I reached the last hill where I opened it up and celebrated by standing up on the foot pedals and cheering into the night like a crazed lunatic.

Backpacking Mae Salong

I always believe things like this happen to test me. If I’ve learnt one thing over my lifetime, it’s to take what I can from a bad situation, to learn from my mistakes, and to take full responsibility for my actions. So next time I’ll be more careful in choosing my motorbike, and try not to be swayed by the little granny basket on the front.

Well guys, that’s all from me. Catch me next time for more adventures where I’ll be delving into darkness to discover one of Thailand’s biggest underground caves, accompanied by new friend, the crazy German gem dealer.

Until next time, peace and love,

Jonathan

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2 Responses

  1. gail luske says:

    what a delightful read, jonathan. the people and places come into vivid life i’m sitting on my daughter’s couch here in san rafael, but for a few moments i was miles away….lovely! but now i’m heading out to join the family in a no-rules game of softball! love you, gail

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