Trip report - mid November to early December
I have never written a trip report before but I always write reviews for all the hotels I stay at (both good and bad) because I feel only that gives a balanced view of what is available. My report should be read in the context of someone who is interested in photography, beautiful landscapes etc but also as someone who has travelled extensively in the Far East. Because of this I chose to only visit the "best" temples and had no desire for "staged" visits to local villages or elephant riding.
I hired Jermsak for a 4 day trip of Northern Thailand. I have no hesitation in recommending him. He was kind, thoughtful and very willing to please. He was always on time and tried hard to suggest sights that would be of interest. Because of my previous visits and interest in photography I didn't do the route he normally does with tourists and the decisions for the sightseeing were entirely mine and so he should not be "blamed" for the sights not being as exciting as I had hoped! On the first day we went to the White Temple/Wat Rong Khung which was a highlight of the entire trip. Photographers note that the sun sets behind the temple so it might be best seen in the early morning. That said, it was cloudy when I went the first time in the evening and the clouds gave some interesting lighting effects. We drove to Doi Tung to see the Queen Mother's Chalet and royal garden plantation. For anyone who has already visited Switzerland the chalet isn't particularly exciting (or authentic!) to look at. There is a little furniture (possibly from 1970s) inside & the layout/decoration is much as it was during her lifetime I think. The views from the chalet might have been impressive but it was a bit too cloudy when I was there. The main part of the gardens were impressively laid out but it was fairly similar to what you'd get in a botanical park in Europe (maybe the main draw for the Thais is the flowers they don't see in other parts where it is hotter?). Do have an iced coffee (I'm normally ultra cautious about having ice when travelling but I had no ill effects) and it was VERY tasty! Then we drove to the Burmese border which was interesting because there was a nice view over the hilltops in to Burma. A spiky bamboo fence separated the two countries and there was a trench too for defence. We drove down the border in "no-man's land" and visited a coffee plantation. I had never seen one before I was interested to see how the coffee trees were planted on the side of a steep hill in a haphazard jungly fashion (It must make picking the beans very difficult) - quite different to the symmetric lay out for tea bushes! On the way back Jermsak suggested we stop at a temple because there were lots of monkeys living nearby. Jermsak went off and bought a huge bucket of old bananas to give to the monkeys which enabled me to get some great shots of the macaques up close.
The next day we set off for the Angkang Nature Resort. It was quite a long drive through pretty scenery. Jermsak stopped off at a pineapple plantation which was interesting for me because I'd never seen one before. We also visited a Chinese Oolong tea plantation up in the hills. It was a very pretty spot with dramatic hills and amazing terracing for the tea bushes. We stopped off at a local market and I saw a couple of Akha tribespeople with their amazing headdresses. Jermsak also took me to a local Akha village which was nice because it didn't feel touristy at all and seemed quite unspoilt. The Angkang Nature Resort was to break the journey between that and Mae Hong Son so for that it served it's purpose but it was disappointing. The Royal Project had many flower beds unplanted so I didn't see the amazing vistas of flowers with huge mountains as a backdrop as I had planned! However there is a nice view point at the top of the mountain which is good in the early morning because you get a sea of cloud below the hills. The drive to Mae Hong Son is very scenic and because it's fairly touristy there are lots of nice coffee shops to stop at on the way! There's an amazing view point at one of the passes. When you get there you can get some nice photos of the temple reflected in the lake in Mae Hong Son and it's particularly nice at sunset. There is a food and tourist trinkets market on the lake shore in the evening. My hotel was some distance from the centre of town and I was a bit nervous, as a woman travelling alone, at the prospect of getting to the town centre after nightfall. Jermsak very kindly took me there in the evening so I didn't miss out. The next morning we were up at 5.30am because I had hoped to see the mist rising of the lake! My mistake, it only happens when it is cooler in January and February! But it was nice to see the monks parading through the town collecting alms. I stopped off at a local food market which was interesting. Check out the home made cigarette packets - beautifully made. Then we had the long drive to Chiang Mai. Jermsak had correctly planned to take me there via Doi Inthanon National Park. As it turned out I chose badly and decided to go another route south because I had planned to visit Doi Inthanon as a day trip from Chiang Mai. In the end I didn't which was a pity. But we did see some pretty villages and the hillsides covered in Thai sunflowers. I had imagined from the photos on line that there would be entire mountains covered in them. And whilst there was one small area with lots of them they weren't quite as widespread as I expected!