Thailand is a very special place for me. Is it the awesome people - Is it the amazing and spiritual temples - Is it the food - Is it the fantastic beaches - Is it the mountains - Is it the villages and cities....... YES IT IS!

A large majority of our sister company's (Tour & Travel Organizers Ltd) clients are sent to Thailand - sometimes in conjunction with travels to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar. 

Another mistake I made on the trip to Thailand was that I decided to use a backpack along with my checked 29 inch bag to carry my computer, cables for everything, meds, etc. - forgetting just how far you have to walk in the San Francisco, Hong Kong and Bangkok airports. I'm not as young as my mind tells me I am so the first thing I did the morning after I arrived in Chiang Mai was to go out and buy a carry-on with wheels!

The next day I was treated to an amazing Thai massage at Jirung Spa & Resort. It made me feel whole again after sitting on a plane for so many hours and carrying that darn backpack.

The following morning I did a hot air balloon ride by 'Balloon Adventure Thailand' which is the only government authorized balloon vendor. This was my first trip in a hot air balloon and it was exciting. Floating in the air with the only noise from the burning gas into the balloon, and seeing Chiang Mai below us - what can I say except WOW! When we returned to earth we were treated to the Ballooner's ritual. We received a certificate and had champagne poured lightly over our foreheads.

I had met two very nice travel agent ladies who were staying at the same hotel, Shangri La, and we pretty much hung out together during the conference. One was German and the other Swiss, but both have lived in Phuket, Thailand for over 20 years and spoke fluent Thai - unlike me! They were fun to be around, and sorry to have to say goodbye at the end although we will stay in touch via Link and Messenger.

The following morning I left on a tour set up by the TAT-LA representatives to Mae Hong Son and Pai via Bangkok Airways.

Upon arrival in Mae Hong Son I visited:

  • Wat (temple) Phra That Doi Kong Mu
  • Wat Chong Klam
  • Wat Chong Klang
  • Arts and crafts village

I then had a nice lunch at a local restaurant, and after lunch proceeded to visit Ban Rak Thai which was founded by Kuomintang Chinese Soldiers (interesting side note for me was back in 1970 I was involved with the Kuomintang in San Francisco while a student of Chinese Martial Arts under Sifu Kuo Lien Ying)

The village is famous for its breathtaking views and tea cultivation. Later we had dinner at a local restaurant, and spent the night at The Imperial Mae Hong Son Resort.

I then took a 3-4 hour drive to Pai which has an amazing amount of curves over a 30 mile stretch of mountain roads as well as beautiful mountain scenery.

On the way to Pai I visited the Ban Mae La Na Community where we did some forest trekking and appreciating nature.

The highlight of this part of the tour for me was the cave tour at Shan, and no folks you don't drive up to the front of the cave and go in............you park at the top of this mountain. Then you start down a very steep concrete pathway - so steep you are fighting to hold yourself back.

Once you reach the bottom of the mountain you are given a headlamp to wear, and then you proceed down a very slippery and rickety ladder into the cave. I'll confess I was having a hard time with balance inside the cave, and did not figure out it was the weight of my camera swinging on my neck that was causing the problem until it was time to turn back. I think you will see the beauty of the cave in the photos I took.

The trek back up the mountain was tough, and I have to thank one of the guides for his help especially just before the very top as my legs wanted to collapse. Breathing was good and heart rate was excellent - I just need to beef the leg muscles up more. I was not about to quit though.

I did a village tour to observe Shan's livelihood and local wisdom, such as handicraft and self-sufficient agricultural activities.  At the Wat I was able to ask and get a blessing from the monk at the Wat.

Upon arriving at Pai I visited the memorial bridge and then Wat Phra That Mae Yen to watch the sunset - incredible!

After another marvelous dinner I spent the night at The Quarter Pai.

The next morning - bright and early - I took a bike tour around the city. After being off a bike for a few years, and finding out the adage "its as easy as falling off a bike" I determined that falling off a bike is actually very easy! A few tries and I was off and running (cursing every hill just as I used to when I cycled daily), but it was really a lot of fun and has started me back cycling again here at home.

I went to the top of a hill and visited the very large white Buddha then drove to Chiang Mai to the airport to return to Bangkok.

I spent the night at the Centrepoint Hotel in Bangkok. This is definitely a 5 star hotel with large wonderful rooms. It has an interesting bidet toilet seat with warm water sprays!

I stayed on in Bangkok another week visiting friends and making special new ones. A very good friend, Yata, whom I had met last year is the owner of Sawasdee Tailor Shop where I had suits and shirts made (excellent quality and price). We stayed in touch over the year. In addition to the tailor shop, she now also has a small street-side cafe with evening live music called the Jha Ta Club. Almost every evening I spent with her and friends at the cafe for food and drink. During the daytime hours when she had time we would visit Wats, take a boat ride up the river and we also took her step mom out for her birthday.

Thai people are very friendly and caring which is why it is called "The Country of Smiles". The hotels are 4-5 star and 1/3 of typical European and American prices - and includes breakfast. Food is very inexpensive especially if you get the information from our sister company, Tour & Travel Organizers Ltd, if you book through them. Our ground handlers in every country always make all our clients happy.

Peter A Distefano

Editor In Chief

World Traveler News


A Few Trip Photos -