I was right, come the morning the entire city is littered with the remains of paper lanterns. They’re in the river, on the street, in gardens, hanging off trees. Wonder if they have to deal with this after every celebration?
Anyway, time to leave the glorious home comforts of Mandala House and head off into rural Thailand. When the minibus arrives to pick me up, head off to random spots around the city to pick up my companions for the next few days. Including a French couple, a French solo girl, and a Japanese family (who were quite amused by my Kamen Rider keychain). Everyone spoke varying degrees of English, while I spoke atrociously little French and Japanese despite having studied both at some point.
It was about 3 hours drive to our starting point, stopping twice – first as a toilet and supply break, second to pick up lunch. Small little triangles made from banana leaf. We were handed these as we got off the bus along with a plastic spoon and told to hold on to them for the next half an hour till we stopped for lunch, and headed off.
Its far warmer here than it was in the city (and my minds still trying to process how that’s possible) and the sun is agonisingly bright. However the countryside we’re walking through is worth both those issues. We’re pretty hill up the hill when we begun, and most of the beginning trip is steep uphill through fields. There’s a collective sigh of relief when we hit the treeline and the sun and temperature drop to tolerable levels.
About 15 minutes later, we come across a small waterfall and rapids, and settle down for lunch – which is egg fried rice wrapped in leaf. This is a pretty fantastic way to pack food though, since once you’re done, you can just throw the packaging into the bush.
Once fed, we’re off again, mostly walking through forest but every now and then leaving the treeline to walk through a rice or corn field, or up a steep if-I-didn’t-see-footprints-I’d-swear-this-wasn’t-a-path incline. It takes just over an hour, but we eventually hit our next stop:
Clearly waterfalls are the sight of the day. This one is infinitely more impressive than the little one we saw earlier though, and was crashing over a cave, so you could go behind it and experience the chilled wet air of inside. Here we were staying for just under an hour, so we split time resting up, exploring as much of the cave as we dared, and going wading in the water. The young girl from the Japanese family ended up befriending one of the sellers who had set up a bottle and a slingshot (which was for sale of course) and spent time doing that. We were here long enough we could have swum if we so desired, but water was cold and my suit was at the bottom of my bag. Figured this one was best left to look at.
Unfortunately, it was here I did something spectacularly stupid. I had been wading and exploring and relaxing, and I was starting to get antsy and wanted to get going. There were also 2 path ways leaving from this waterfall – one that went alongside it, and one that went up the mountain. Since I wanted to get a better look at the waterfall, I didn’t want to take the chance that that wasn’t the route we were taking, and went up to explore. The waterfall was even more impressive from the top due to the sheer width of it, and I started jumping over the dry stones to get closer. I then spotted there were some dry stones near the very edge, and quite a few along the way. It would be pretty cool to be standing on the edge of a waterfall.
Unfortunately, to get to the dry stones, I would have to go over some wet ones, but I figured that wouldn’t be a problem – completely forgetting that these stones weren’t just wet, they had a constant current rushing over them, and were covered in that hideous green slime that all underwater rocks obtain. Three steps into my journey, my feet completely slip and I crash to the ground. In the river. Heading down a steep incline to a pretty impressive waterfall on slippy slimy rocks…
Between the lack of friction and the current (however low the water actually was), I cannot get a grip of anything, I’m sliding down this thing and can’t do anything to stop it. Thankfully, blissfully, when the large rock I was sliding down ended, there was a deep crack between it and the next stone, which my heel dug into and halted my progress.
Once my heart has stopped having a panic attack, I try to stand and get up – there’s a large dry stone jutting out not too far from me and I try to reach it. This takes multiple tries as although I have grip, I have to go over wet stones to get to safety, and my shoes keep slipping into the crack. My fingers on my right hand are also numb from trying to get me to stop. But finally I’m out, and stumble back down to the join the others…who are now packed up and ready to go.
Which means no time to change or even try to dry. The water had been extremely low where I’d fallen – the slime had done most of the work – but it did mean that my backside and the back of my legs were soaking wet and filthy. My watch, which I’m pretty sure is no longer waterproof after Mongolia looks suspicious, although my shoes are, by some miracle relatively dry. Hiking shoes are worth every penny.
And of course, the route we take is along the waterfall, so obtained muddy trousers for no reason.
It takes us about 2 hours (with a stop here and there) to reach our accommodation in Hoi Hoi Village. Although the tour had advertised it as a homestay, we weren’t actually staying with the family, but in what can best be described as their ‘guesthouse’. It was on stilts, and had one small private room with a futon-style bed (which I took over when we arrived to change my trousers), and the rest of it was one room – our bedroom. There were futon mattresses (only thinner) with sleeping bags and wool blankets on the floor, and heavy mosquito nets tied up above for later in the night.
The family itself rarely interacted with us. Gave us a few odd looks here and there, but otherwise stayed in the house and I felt reluctant to intrude. We did go exploring through the village, which is pretty large considering its location. Consists of 84 families, with anywhere from 3-7 family members, and has 2 Christian churches of different denominations, as well as a Buddhist temple. Many here still make a living creating jewellery and scarves for tourists, but there’s also a preschool and primary school – which astonished me by having free WiFi. I’m in the mountains, with no hot water, phone signal or locks on the door, but I can get Internet. Rural Thai has its priorities right I guess.
Outside our stilt house, there was a large table where we ended up having dinner. During which, we gained the company of 3 dingo-like dogs. The young Japanese girl was completely smitten – and this would continue with every animal we saw during the trip, and the dogs probably got more of her meal than she did. Weren’t in great shape though – one of the dogs had clearly been burned or something similar on its back at some point.
As the evening got cooler, and the candles came out, the 3 French guests started conversing in French, the Japanese family in Japanese, and the Thais in Thai. As such I really didn’t have a way to sidle into any conversation, and instead spent time staring up at the night sky (out in the wilds the sky is a thing of beauty – puts the paper lanterns to shame) before going to bed to make sure I get enough sleep for tomorrow.