Pineapple Farm, Phayao Lake, Dancing Shrimp and Mae Sai

Today is Tuesday, Feb 9, 2010 and we are heading from Lampang to Chiang Rai. We left the Wienglakor hotel at 7:30am after a decent buffet breakfast.  The quality of the buffet breakfasts have varied greatly (mostly on how hot the various items were and if there was a fresh omelet or noodle soup station, etc). But they all had all the coffee we could drink and something filling and usually tasty.  So I can’t complain.

While in (or near) Lampang, we visited a mulberry paper making factory and a ceramics factory. I don’t remember about either of these (maybe it was too early).  I do somewhat remember seeing how they beat the mulberry pulp to make the paper. As you can guess, I thought it was somewhat interesting but not one of the highlights of the trip 🙂 Actually, maybe we did this yesterday (I’m writing this after the fact). In any case, we did that sometime in there…

But the first thing I really remember for this day is the visit to Uncle Gao’s pineapple farm. Nok, our tour guide, showed us how they were a straw hat and carry the baskets to pick the pineapples. This is a picture of Nok, the Wonder Guide.  We met Uncle Gao (“uncle” because he is older) and he showed us how he cuts the pineapple up, whack, whack, whack!  We saw his house which I think you could safely call a shack, although really, it had pretty much all you would need.  There was electricity and a TV and a small refrigerator and a place to cook with burners. I didn’t see an oven.  He had graduation photos of his kids proudly displayed, along with a picture of the King (as found in most Thai houses). I think there was only an outdoors toilet but it was pretty nice since it was built with tourists in mind so it was probably the newest, most modern structure there. I didn’t see a shower but there was water so there was probably a shower or hose somewhere. Everything was decrepit and dusty/dirty. I heard some of the people say they didn’t believe Uncle Gao lived there, that it was just for show.  I couldn’t say. I believe he did, there were plenty of houses that looked like this along the way that people lived in.  But maybe not all the time, or any more.  I’ll bet at least that he used to live there. Anyway, it seemed livable to me.

Uncle Gao was a nice older man who lost his wife about 2 years ago. Nok said she was killed by being hit on the road I believe she said.  She said she saw Uncle Gao some time after that and he cried when she asked where his wife was.  It’s a sad story and he was all alone except for his dog (and her puppies).  He looked at Sean’s tattoos and showed Sean his tattoos. He had some on his chest that he said was to protect him from being shot. I forgot to ask why he would need protection from being shot. Maybe when he was younger he was in the army or something like that.  He told us about that using a gun shaped lighter and pantomiming it and we figured out what he meant and we all had a good time doing so.  Nok (the Wonder Guide) translated for us when we visited with people and that made it easy to talk to people we could not have on our own. Nok always introduced us and translated for all of us and facilitated conversation. That is not something you get very often, in my experience. Even if the guide spoke the language, they usually didn’t do much more than maybe tell us who the person was.  Nok seemed to personally know each person we met.

After we left Uncle Gao’s, we went to Phayao where there is a big reservoir/lake.  It was very beautiful with a large lake and hills in the background.  There was a pretty little stop with coffee, bathrooms and misc stuff with a pretty shrine and lily pond in front. There is another thing in Phayao that we didn’t see but sounds interesting. It is Wat Sikhom Kham. I could not find a lot of information about it, even searching the net, but what I read sounded intriguing: “Wat Sikhom Kham, on the shore of the lake, houses a revered 400-year-old Buddha image. But it is the startling statues of dinosaurs, devils and other images of hell – inspired by both Hollywood films and Buddhist legend – that attract many visitors.

That sounds very interesting to me, like the roadside attractions that I love to visit when on a road trip. I remember my parents and us girls going on road trips with our Mobile Travel Guide and stopping at all the interesting attractions they listed.  One time I saw an entire minature Jerusalem made out of concrete and broken bottles and jewelry and all sorts of “found items”. It was the work of a mad man or a saint (or both). But it was so worth seeing. It is called the Ave Maria Grotto and its Facebook page has lots of pictures. We had the best road trips!

But back to Phayao.  In Phayao we got to taste the infamous Dancing Shrimp. Several members of our tour had asked about it and sure enough, in Phayao, there it was. Nok, as usual, took us right over and bought enough for all of us to try.  So what is Dancing Shrimp?  It is tiny live shrimp stirred quickly into a seasoned salad, put into a wrap and eaten, while the shrimp are jumping around and trying to jump out of the bowl, the wrap, your mouth and everywhere else.  Nok fed each person a taste so they didn’t actually have to hold it 🙂 As you might have guessed from my previous posts, I did not try it.  But people said it was OK.  I think it was probably the novelty of it along with a decent tasting base that made it good. But it was the topic of discussion for many days and I was glad that people got to try it.

I also had some Thai red iced tea for the first time. People had said how great it was and they were right. It is a milky, sweet, tasty iced tea.  We also had peanut/sesame seed bars like peanut brittle and black sesame seed bars that we think were made with molasses. And some people bought some crunchy fried bamboo worms (that were called “Pringles” on the package).  I didn’t try any but people didn’t seem to think they were that good. Just mostly crunchy I guess.

Then we went to Mae Sai, Mae Sai is the northern-most city of Thailand. It is mainly a stepping stone for visits to Myanmar. You can walk under a big arch, across the bridge and you are in Myanmar (Burma). Other than that, it was mostly just a lot of little shopping stalls and food carts. It was good for a quick stop, potty break and a little shopping. It was at this point that I realized that we had not been inundated with shopping stops. Although we went to some specialized places to see how things were made (and visit their gift shop), I was not feeling shopping overload by any means. Actually, I was feeling a little shopping deprived and I crammed as much shopping as you can into a short (20-30 min?) stop.

Next stop was a delicious lunch at our hotel in Chiang Rai, the Phowadol resort.  I think I will stop this post here and resume with lunch in my next post.

Sawasdi Jao,

~Susan Mellott

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