Even though the interwebs are not working right now in the very sleepy town of Khun Yuam, where I have just arrived, I am writing down my reflections from my long bus trip up here in the hopes of being able to post them at some point soon. I took advantage of the gift of a notebook from one of the visits Aj. Leon and Gloria made to Bangkok to make some notes about my travels to go along with the writing ideas I normally scribble in my notebooks.
Along the trip from Chiang Mai to Khun Yuam (a trip that took almost eight hours by bus, thankfully neither I nor anyone else got motion sickness), I saw a lot of pictures of the current king along the road. There were a few pictures of the Queen as well, but many more of the King. Seeing so many pictures was a bit unnerving; it is noble to show respect for one’s leader, but to have so many pictures seems a bit too much like a cult of personality, and that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. It seems our present age likes to deal in iconographic and idolatrous images of rulers or important figures, religious, political, or cultural. I am more comfortable with the text than with the image, though.
I saw a lot of photos of decrepit old monks as well. The bus I was in had one such photo, I could not read the name of either the monk or the wat [temple] where he serves. Given the large amount of roaring lions and demonic dragon iconography in Buddhist temples I am not disposed to go wandering around a lot in Buddhist temples anyway, unless I had a specific mission, such as meeting a scholar there. One of the more puzzling pictures of a monk that I saw was fairly close to Chiang Mai, where a monk’s picture was on what looked like an advertisement for a condo. Perhaps the gimmick was that you got a lot of merit if you bought a condo from that particular project. In Europe they had a Reformation over matters like that.
About two hours or so into our trip we stopped at the town of Hod (also called Hot on the road signs; Thai signs are rather inconsistent about English transliteration, as I saw plenty of signs for “Res Stops” along my trip to Khun Yuam). Lunch at Hod was nice—knowing the difference between moo (pork) and gai (chicken) helped me avoid getting the wrong meat with veggies. Near Hod there was a hungry river that ate about half a dozen chunks out of the roadway we were traveling on, Highway 108. Not knowing the name of the river, I decided to name it according to the Thai monosyllabic convention: the Om Nom Nom River. The river looked like it could eat plenty more roadway as well—it was still swollen, rapid, muddy, and way overflowing its banks. In some stretches of road only hastily-placed dirt berms kept the river from meeting the road.
Speaking of the road, it was pretty dreadful close to Khun Yuam as well. As we approached Khun Yuam there were wet and what looked like very recent mudslides and rock slides that at times blocked off half of the roadway or covered the whole roadway in mud and red clay soil. At one point the bus we were traveling on had to cross along a very rickety looking temporary one-lane bridge over a creek/river because the main bridge appeared to be down to its concrete piles, needing to be rebuilt. That said, the bus wheezed at many points along the journey, burdened by a large amount of rice bags that had to be carried from Chaing Mai to Mae Sariang, a pleasant but very crowded market town that we reached after almost five hours of driving.
Along the route, much of it winding road through beautiful green mountains next to rapidly flowing creeks, fairly steep cliffs, and talus slopes from rock slides, reminding me of trips through the Appalachian country of West Virginia or Vermont. Like those areas there were a lot of wild animals about—I could not recognize all of the animals, one looked like a huge goat or a very small cow, and at one point we were slowed down by a herd of cattle crossing the road, and at several points along the way cattle were just grazing unfenced along the roadside, as were a large number of chickens. Apparently no one warned them I was coming (Apparently no one warned the hotel staff either—they were unaware of my presence until I arrived).
There were a few monks on the bus to Mae Hong Song, and it is always funny to see monks in crowded places. One monk was getting off at a small village called Bo Luang, and the monk was having a hard time not touching women (which is a big no-no for Buddhist monks). Another two monks were in a hurry to get off the bus rather impatiently (which I found somewhat ironic, since Buddhist monks are supposed to be learning how to avoid wrongful clinging to the material world, including its sense of time). While they were getting off the bus they used their cell phone, and it’s always funny for me to see a saffron-robed Buddhist monk using the cell phone.
Between Mae Sariang and Khun Yuam I got a phone call from Gloria about various matters (including unpleasant news about the cleaning crew), and I took that as an opportunity to learn a few words in Thai relating to my hotel, since no one on the bus spoke more than a handful of words in English (and since my knowledge of Thai is pretty meager as well). I learned the word rongraam (which means hotel) and also the phrase kwa mur, which means “right-hand side.” So now I know a few more words in Thai. Thankfully those words (along with the name of my hotel, the Mith Khun Yuam) were able to have me dropped off at the hotel rather than at the Khun Yuam bus station, which is about 3km away (a trip I was not looking forward to walking).
Not many farang [Westerners, or guavas, depending on context] travel in these parts. From the looks of the bus, not many people at all go all the way to Mae Hong Son. The bus trip started out with a crowded bus of more than 40 people, and from the looks of it there were less than 10 when I left at Khun Yuam. It was like the Donner party there in the mountains, traveling as day became night and the light of the full moon shone behind the clouds to the east. And now I suppose it would be good for me to find some food.
Note: The interwebs are now working, thankfully.