Rainy Ride in the Mountains of Northern Thailand

We rode for about seven hours, and five of those involved being rained on. You get used to reduced visibility and steep slopes with slick pavement, but it’s dangerous coming around hairpin turns every hundred yards, especially facing trucks who don’t stay on their side of the road. When we first started to climb out of Samoeng, on the back road to Pai, I noticed there were great gobs of animal shit on the highway. I assumed it was horses. Then I noticed a smell like the zoo. I guess it was elephant shit, though I saw no elephants during the ride. Seems like maybe someone had brought elephants through here a few hours earlier, as the shit had already been smeared by passing tires. They use them here as we used tractors and trucks.

In Iowa you have to be careful of hitting deer, here it’s elephants and water buffalo.




Motor scooter ride from Chiang Mai to Phrao

P1040225P1040228Took a motorscooter trip that I took once before two years ago. The scenery was fantastic, but I my picture-taking suffered from the same dilemma I faced when I visited Alaska. Majestic scenery doesn’t fit in camera frames. Cameras are good for close ups. But the air was fresh and every curve in the road held a new visual surprise.

I ended up getting into Phrao at noon and had lunch and a two hour massage before I hit the road again for Chiang Dao. There I found a little resort called “Chaing Dao Good View” which rented me the Hello Kitty room for fifteen dollars. Evening karaoke was mandatory. Everyone else sang songs in Thai and a ladyboy waiter sang in Chinese, but I sang Elvis, including a bathetic and lugubrious version of “My Way” in English, and they wouldn’t let me off stage for some time.

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A New Place to Swim Nearby






I found a reservoir that’s past the swimming pool I usually go to. It’s about six miles from town. Costs sixty cents to enter, you can buy lunch for less than two dollars including drink. There are little huts along the beach. The mountain in the background in Doi Sukhet. The reservoir is called Hueay Tueng Tao.

The water seems clean enough, and during the week the place is abandoned. Weekends, it’s full of Thai families, but few people swim. The only Thai I talked to about it said it has a reputation of being dangerous. I guess it would be if you couldn’t swim.

My swimming pool, an Olympic sized 50 meter pool at the 700 year stadium puts copper sulfate in the water to control algae. I began to notice that my white beard was developing a blue-green tint. Then I saw an old man at the pool one day and his white hair was strikingly blue-green. He said his hair cutter asked him if he dyed his hair. He replied “I don’t have to. The swimming pool already does a good job of it.”

So this natural body of water may be a delightful alternative, and is only a mile or two farther down the Canal road.

There is a road towards the mountain that becomes an entrance into the Doi Sukhet National Park. I tried taking my motor scooter up the mud road, but soon decided this was a really bad idea and came back down. Even a real off-road dirt bike would have a hard time of it.


I only rode about thirty miles, but it seemed like a lot longer. One the way to Somoeng, I turned off on a small road about the size of a driveway. It took me through several small hill tribe towns. They may have been Hmong. Unfortunately, they practice slash and burn agriculture, but there’s nothing that can be done about that, as they don’t have machinery or gasoline. Several acres were still smoking as I rode by.


I saw a sign saying “waterfall” one kilometer, so I ascended a dirt driveway until I came upon a swarm of parked motorbikes, and could hear the hooting and hollers of teenagers. Most Thais can’t swim, but these fifteen year old boys weren’t letting that stop them from hurling themselves into the deep pool. The girls sat on the shore and watched.The boys who weren’t swimming were furiously smoking cigarettes, something they obviously were not permitted at home. I found a pool deep enough for me to submerge myself. They all found me very funny. I don’t think they’d ever seen anyone as old as I at the waterfall.


Then I rejoined the main road after about forty exciting minutes of wondering if I was getting myself into a world of trouble, and found my way back home, stopping for a two hour Thai massage that cost $6.


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Then and Now



Chiang Mai reminds me of the Midwestern college towns I lived in back in the late sixties and seventies. Back then, I was a student living in a student ghetto.  Here I am a foreigner, a retired expat, living in a tourist ghetto with my peers.


Just as before, my days are filled with selfishness and seeking after pleasure.  My only responsibilities are to myself.  Back then I debated cutting class or bothering to go. Should I change my major?  Today I wonder where will eat.  Which of the many massage parlors will I grace with my presence today?   In the spring of 1970, student riots spread across our country, mostly in reaction to the Viet Nam War.  For some, it was merely an excuse to flaunt authority and get a first taste of tear gas. The president of the University of Missouri announced that groups of three or more people were not permitted on campus, and that a curfew would be enforced by campus police.


Two days ago, in the spring of 2014, the Thai military staged a coup d’etat, arrested all the political leaders of all parties, deployed soldiers to enforce a strict curfew, and declared groups of five or more to be subject to arrest. All television broadcasting ceased, save for the army channel, which featured a graphic reading “National Peace and Order Maintaining Council,” with patriotic music in the background.  This display was punctuated at unexpected intervals by a short clip of a Thai army general reading a pronouncement along the lines of “The constitution has been suspended,” or “all internet communication is being closely monitored.”


Back in our Midwestern college town we celebrated the fact that we could now forego attending class with the best excuse of all, there was no class.  Final exams were cancelled.  Some universities gave everyone a grade and course credit anyway, others declared the whole spring semester as washout.   Here in Thailand, the number of tourists dwindled steadily over the months of unrest, and has now hit a new low.  When I arrived at the airport in Bangkok two weeks ago, it was strangely empty.  Usually I have to wait up to an hour to get through immigration, but in this case, there was no one ahead of me in line. This is turning into the lowest low season ever, and businesses that cater to tourism are hurting mightily.


Except for the four dead in Ohio and a few academic buildings burned down, the student unrest of 1970 left little permanent damage. At least in this country, many of the changes ended up being beneficial. Confidence in government and authority took a nosedive, but that might not have been such a bad thing. Aside from a few hillbilly college presidents blaming outside agitators for the student riots, most Americans learned something beneficial from the experience.   I don’t know what’s going to happen here in Thailand. Will anybody learn anything new, or is this just a replay of the 18 other coups that have happened in recent memory?


In 1970 I carried a draft card and was required to display it on demand by any officer of the law.  On a spring break trip to Juarez, Mexico, we were stopped by the highway patrol of every state between Missouri and Texas and obliged to show our draft cards. Sometimes we were frisked and our car searched by police looking for marijuana. At that time, at least in Texas, a possible penalty for possession was death. Fortunately, we didn’t have any.   A few years later, I was happy to learn that Nixon was forced to resign mid-term, and the year I graduated from Iowa, the North Vietnamese finally won the war they had been fighting first with the French and then with America.


My graduate assistantship had been to program entertainment for the student coffeehouse on campus, but when I approved a Viet Nam Victory rally sponsored by a legitimate student group,  the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, my employers at the Student Union bowed to public outrage and fired me.   Here, nothing has happened to make me feel like I am really part of the problem or the solution. Foreigners here are simply walking wallets. These political troubles concern only Thais. The man who runs my guesthouse is apologetic and slightly embarrassed that the television and Internet no longer function, but there’s nothing either of us can do about it. It’s a fact of nature, like the intense heat we’re now enduring, or the monsoon rains that are sure to come any day now.

Know When to Fold ’em

Know When to Fold ’em.


There comes a time when you have to decide to step away from the table and cash in your remaining chips. It’s always a difficult choice to make, because there’s that nagging doubt that says if you’d just hung in there a little bit longer, the odds would have turned in your favor. Asking for advice from friends never gets you anywhere, because somebody always knows somebody who did it this or that way and it either turned our wonderfully or horribly.


Now that I’m on the other side of the retirement decision, looking back I say “I wonder what took me so long?” Countries like Thailand, where I now live, make their retirement visa policies available to anyone over the age of fifty! It’s like being eligible to join the AARP. Not a high hurdle.


Of course, as with preparing to do anything you haven’t done before, it can be a little bit scary. Packing for a trip to a distant clime, how many articles of clothing will you really need? Do they have washing machines over there? What about underpants? Will they have my size?


Fact is, there’s hardly obstacle than won’t fall away or simply disappear once it has been squarely faced. And if it’s not working where you are, chances are it still won’t be working in three years. So cut your losses. Those people at the bank aren’t your friends. They really don’t value your business. They don’t even know who you are. Yes, some of the things you bought, especially real estate, aren’t worth what you paid for them. Yes, you’re going to lose money selling or giving it back to the bank. Pull the band-aid off quickly and get it over with. Don’t keep lifting the band-aid up long enough to pull on a few hairs and then chicken out.


You can’t spend your way out of debt. The longer you hang on in an unprofitable situation, the more it will cost you.




Something hip and alternative in Thailand!

OK, so graffiti isn’t exactly a new concept, but underground artistic expression of any kind seems so rare in Thailand, that I was delighted to find a semi-demolished building tagged by some very adept artists. The building in question is near the campus of Chiang Mai University, and compared to the student works I’ve seen on display at the Chiang Mai University art museum, the street graffiti is full of life and promise. 

Thai People Work Long Hours

In some of my posts, I’ve complained about the feudal nature of Thai society, about the corruption, cronyism, and boorish behavior of many prominent Thais, but I don’t want to give the impression that I think Thais are lazy. They’re not. Most work long hours. I frequently benefit from their services and then somehow assume because I have pieces of paper in my pocket that they value, I deserve this special treatment. I don’t. My relative affluence is merely an accident of birth. Sure, I’ve had menial jobs, but I knew they were only temporary.