All posts by Mike

Rice Festival @ Yafu Village

We were recently invited to Chiang Rai to celebrate the Rice Festival with a couple of the local hill-tribes and … WOW … what an incredible experience. We were only in the hills for a day but I’m still having difficulties gathering all of my thoughts. It was definitely one of those experiences that really puts life in perspective.

A panoramic view from our host’s balcony. The outhouse / shower is the small structure on the far right.




For anyone that may have the opportunity to experience a journey up the mountainside on a motorbike, it’s not for the faint of heart. We spent about 45 minutes to an hour on steep, unpaved roads that have been rutted and carved out by heavy rains. I made the mistake of not testing the brakes and suspension thoroughly on the motorbike prior to our journey and as you’ll see in the video, we had a minor spill coming down the following day.

We spoiled these two as much as we could.

Unless you were brought up on a farm it’s not too often that one gets to see pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, and even a Canadian Geese cohabiting in harmony, interacting, setting boundaries, even expressing affection with each other.

There’s no detachment from the food supply here. Several of the chickens and even one of the pigs that we saw foraging for food, just hours later provided several hearty meals during our stay and I gotta say that I had some of the best barbecued pork I’ve ever had. All of the vegetables were grown in the common areas of the village or surrounding hills and nothing went to waste. Anything we didn’t eat or use was quickly eaten by the dogs, cats, chickens and lastly the pigs. It was quite the experience to see the full circle of life. Here’s a little video of our food being prepared.

The only electrical power in the village was derived from small solar panels connected to each dwelling and the water was pumped from a local mountain spring. There was no door on the outhouse and for whatever reason the piglets seemed  to enjoy interrupting whoever was currently taking care of business at the time. There were no beds, we slept on the floor but I have to say, bamboo is incredibly forgiving and my back felt better after a night on the floor than it has on any of the “therapeutic” beds I’ve slept on in the last 10 years.

Most people from the west might consider these living conditions rather primitive yet what they lacked in the way of possessions they made up for with creativity, ingenuity and a genuine sense of community.



Care for Dogs

For the last 6 – 8 weeks we’ve been volunteering at a local dog rescue / shelter called Care for Dogs. Most of the 180 dogs here at the shelter are soi dogs that have been injured in some form, (usually accidental but often from neglect or outright abuse) including quite a few that have been rescued from the dog meat trade (yes the dog meat trade but that’s a different topic entirely).

Care for Dogs operates primarily from the blood, sweat and tears and the tireless efforts of a number of (mostly) volunteers dedicated to helping our four legged friends receive medical care AND find a new home. Care for Dogs is also committed to conducting a regular number of sterilizations each month to address the dog overpopulation issue here in Thailand.

If you come for a stay, you can expect to join us for a day of dog walking … so be sure to bring your walking shoes. Of course there are other ways you can help …. and yep that means cash. Providing food, shelter and medical care for 180 plus dogs is not cheap and Care for Dogs relies entirely on donations from people like you and I. Thailand is not exactly a thriving economic center and without the exposure to foreigners willing to donate to the shelter, I’m afraid that the center would not survive. We recently picked up a couple of leashes, collars and grooming supplies and it all cost about the same as they would in the US so even if someone wanted to send a “care package” in lieu of cash it would be put to good use.

If you are really feeling especially gratuitous you can sponsor a dog. Here’s just a few of the dogs we walk …

This is Fritz and Jones. Fritz is blind in both eyes but as you can see he’s a healthy boy. Unfortunately, he’s a bit too heavy to be carried out of the enclosure by most of the volunteers so he doesn’t get walked as much as he should. He’s a gentle boy who loves being brushed and cuddled with. Jones is a big boy too and he’s definitely the top dog in his little corner of the yard but his bark is much bigger than his bite.  Frankly, I think he’d spend all day licking the sweat off if I allowed him to.

This is Penny (left) and Tam (right). Tam and 3 of Penny’s offspring are segregated from the main yard because they don’t play well with other dogs. Penny has a cage all to herself because, well, her junk brings all the boys to the yard. Tam has become one of my wife’s favorites to walk and if we find ourselves in a position to foster / adopt, Tam will definitely come with us. Surprisingly (given her reputation), Penny has been a joy to walk, she doesn’t pull, listens quite well, and she even takes treats like a lady.

These 2 beautiful sisters were recently “found” wandering the parking lot at the local mall (coincidentally there was an adoption event going on the same day). This is the first I have seen of German Shepherds in Thailand so my guess is that they were brought in by foreigners, then ditched for whatever reason. Never the less, these 2 girls can’t be more than 2 or 3 years old and they are still quite playful. I don’t think that they have been walked on leash much and they tend to weave but I think that will be easy to overcome with a little persistence. We encountered a few soi dogs while we were walking the other day and they definitely got agitated but never got too aggressive. These 2 girls are not soi dogs and don’t belong in a shelter and I’d be heartbroken if they were broken up so I am hoping they find a good home together soon.
Rick the prick, Lulu the lap dog, and my bud Fritzi. Lulu is a very jealous dog but when she is getting attention she is all love. Rick is a social young male that loves attention but tends to bark at the other dogs when they get in the way of his human time.

Here’s just a few more that need YOUR SUPPORT.

To learn more, please visit the Care for Dogs website at and be sure to add them on Facebook.

Care for Dogs

loading map - please wait...

Care for Dogs 18.717037, 98.908242

Doi Inthanon

We finally made the ride up to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s tallest mountain at 2,535 m (just over 8,000′) . This was by far the longest ride we’ve done on the motorbike (as evidenced by the nasty sunburns we are both dealing with at the moment) at just over 2 hours in each direction (a bit more than 100km). We managed to stop and take a couple breaks on the way up to Doi Inthanon but weren’t so fortunate on the ride home (more on that in a minute). Admission for farangs is 300 THB per person and 20 THB for a motorbike, definitely one of the more expensive sites in Thailand but well worth it.

As we experienced on the way up to Doi Suthep, the temperatures start dropping as the elevation increases and Doi Inthanon is no exception. The weather at the top couldn’t have been more perfect in my opinion, although my head got a little toasty just from walking around the gardens. The temperature difference is so noticeable it felt like we were riding into an oven as we descended the mountain back in to the valley. We were also very fortunate that there was little traffic headed up or down the mountain (which seemed incredibly odd for a weekend).

I believe there’s 6 or 7 total waterfalls to see along the road up to Doi Inthanon and we had originally planned to see 1 or 2 on the way up and several on the way down but we had some mechanical issues with the rear brakes which distracted us from pretty much everything else at the time (not to mention the rain that was headed right toward us). Luckily we stopped at this waterfall on the way up and managed to take a few pictures and cool off in the mist.

It’s a short but steep and windy road down but our 125cc made it up without any issues. There’s also a café and restrooms for visitors.

We intended on stopping at a number of temples we saw along the side of the road on the way home, however that ominous rain cloud, that is visible in a few of the pictures, chased us home with our tail between our legs. Fortunately, we managed to stop at Wat Namtok Mae Klang just before getting to the first checkpoint headed into Doi Inthanon National Park (the last 3 pictures in this group are from a different temple that we stopped at briefly).

Just having fun with panoramic pictures.

This day trip was definitely a highlight for me and in spite of the crazy winds, rain and mechanical issues with our scooter, I’d do it all over again. It would have been nice to make a couple extra stops along the way home but I left my weather modification device in the US …… haha (kinda).

That awkward moment

I’ve probably had upwards of 50 or so massages since we arrived in Thailand and while I’ve had a few mediocre massages, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt awkward (not even when the ladyboy masseuse got caught checking out my package). Last night was the exception.

We got really spoiled at Pai Massage in Chiang Rai and we’ve been hoping to find a similar shop close to our new place. We’ve tried 3 or 4 different places since we’ve been back and finally had a pretty decent foot massage at a new shop a few kilometres down the road.

I tweaked my back playing badminton yesterday so I figured it was a great time to try an oil massage. I headed down late yesterday evening hoping for a relaxing massage before bed. Well, before I even got undressed the masseuse started calling me “sexy man” in her broken English. In and of itself I wouldn’t mind (who doesn’t enjoy a little flattery) but every time she said it, she followed it up with a loud slurping sound and would say something in Thai. It was perhaps the only time since we’ve arrived that I was glad I didn’t speak the language. Ever have one a nervous laughs? Last night was my time. Did I mention the massage was bad too? Fortunately, it’s not much of a loss when the massage was only $9.

3 down, 297 to go

It was a beautiful day and we haven’t done much exploring of the temples in Chiang Mai since we’ve been back …. no better time than the present.

It’s amazing that some of these buildings are still standing. I wish I could go way back in time a few hundred years to see what life was like in this area.

Wat Lok Molee

Wat Chiang Yuen

Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan

One of those funny little moments

My wife and I are both creatures of habit, when we find something we like we tend to stick with it and that has definitely been the case with food in Thailand. One thing that I really miss about Chiang Rai is our favorite spot for Khao Soi. Since we’ve arrived back in Chiang Mai we have been making it a point to try new spots. Unfortunately, we’ve tried 3 different spots for Khao Soi since we’ve been back (plus an old favorite) and none of them come close to satisfying our taste buds for this Northern Thai specialty. khao-soy

We ventured out this evening to try and find some Khao Soi at one of the small, local shops in the area. Since we can’t read the signs we look for pictures as we drive down the street. We pulled off to stop at one restaurant this evening and I said “kao soi” with an inquisitive look on my face, to the woman who greeted  us at the curb. She gave me an affirmative nod and we plotted our butts down on the small wooden stools in the ‘dining area’.

When the woman arrived to take our order, we said “kao soi” but the she kept asking if we wanted fried rice or something else. We finally agreed on Som Tom (mostly due to her persistence) which is a spicy papaya salad and left it at that since we were planning on a late dinner. They bring out 2 small cups of white rice followed up by our Som Tom shortly thereafter. We thought it odd that they brought out 2 cups of rice but we figured it was just something they did. We finished up the Som Tom, (mouths on fire)  and another 10 minutes goes by and still no Khao Soi. I figure either they don’t like farangs or perhaps there was something funny about our order. Sure enough, in Thai, the difference between rice and our favorite coconut curry dish is the duration in the pronunciation of “soi”. After a collective effort and quite a laugh in the restaurant, we realized that they didn’t offer Khao Soi at this particular restaurant.

We stopped at another restaurant a few doors down and struck out again, but they did have a yummy Khra Pao and the owner got a kick out of our Khao Soi story, so our adventure was not a total loss.

Just another day in Thailand.


Durian fruit … finally

Sooooooooo we finally decided to try a Durian fruit. Besides being quite expensive (approx. $10 USD for 4 servings) Durian’s are notorious for their odor. Apparently they can smell so bad they are banned in many hotels and other similar venues, like NO ADMITTANCE kinda stinky. Fortunately, we didn’t let it sit long enough for the odor to get bad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I am still a bit intrigued at how bad they can really get.

It’s definitely an unusual fruit, the texture was a bit like a soft banana crossed with a light mousse and the flavor was even more strange. There were hints of pineapple, apple, and banana and while it took a while to grow on me, I’m quite the fan now. And apparently, they are incredibly nutritious.

Goodbye Chiang Rai

Just 2 more nights to go then we are heading back to Chiang Mai.

There is a lot of love about Chiang Rai, it has the small city feeling that we had back home in Washington, there’s plenty of beautiful temples, outdoor activities and sights around the area to see but (and no offense to some of our new friends) Chiang Rai feels a bit like Leisure World. I think we’ve seen almost everything that Chiang Rai has to offer, in fact I think we covered almost everything in the first month or two that we were here. Perhaps we should have spread our explorations of the area out a little more but we wanted to see as much as we possibly could. I just didn’t think we’d run out of things to see so fast and unfortunately, we can’t fabricate an active social life out of “good intentions”. The bustling expat community and social activities in Chiang Mai are hard to beat.

The weather from November – February was just incredible, if I had to guess it’s among the best in the country, maybe the world during that time of the year. Mornings were in the mid 50’s with highs in the afternoon in the upper 80’s AND NO RAIN!!! After 50+ inches of rain in WA. the previous year with barely 8 hours of daylight in December, we felt like we were in heaven. Believe it or not we even wore jackets on a number of trips out at night on the motorbike.

Unfortunately, we were amazed (more like dismayed) at how bad the smoke was from the annual burning that began in late February. Many days it looked like the valley floor was blanketed in fog and to say it was gloomy is an understatement. We barely saw the sun for a couple of weeks. But, now that we’ve experienced our first smokey season, we’ll definitely take advantage of that time to travel next year. And, as the temps have started to rise, we’ve become acutely aware at how necessary a good air-con is and unfortunately, the living room in the house we are renting doesn’t have a/c. With floor to ceiling glass, it’s become unbearably hot during the day. All fun little lessons during our first year in Thailand.

For anyone that is interested, Chiang Rai definitely offers a more authentic Thai experience than some of the other popular cities in Thailand. English is not nearly as prevalent here (not that I expect people to speak English) and we’ve picked up far more Thai expressions than we did in Chiang Mai but I’ve gone days without speaking a full sentence in English. I’ve even started using ‘kop’ with my wife purely out of habit. I will say, there’s a certain solitude to not speaking the native language, and I’ve learned to adapt by using gestures, and non-verbal forms of communicating and when it just doesn’t go right, I smile and say thank you. It’s humbling (liberating kinda) to learn how unimportant you really are when you realize that bitching and complaining about things is fruitless BECAUSE no one understands you anyway.

We also discovered the best massage place, check out my notes about Pai Massage on our Local Favorites page. We said goodbye after one last good foot massage this afternoon. We enjoyed them so much, I think we’ve had 2 massages a week since we arrived ( 30 – 40 in total probably). Our quality of life has definitely improved in Thailand, no doubt about it.

Lastly, we’ve missed the food variety that Chiang Mai offers. We love Thai food, don’t get me wrong, but being from the west (and quite spoiled) we prefer a little more variety than Chiang Rai has to offer. We tried Mexican one night and when we ordered the nachos, the woman brought out microwaved Nacho Cheese Doritos and I believe it was Pace Picante Salsa. Jamie and I got a good chuckle out of it no less but you can’t do that to a guy that grew up in Southern California. I don’t know what the Thai’s think of OR would think of legitimate Mexican food, but it might be a great opportunity for someone looking for a small business to setup (there’s tons of fresh chicken, hot chiles grow incredibly well here, there’s plenty of corn for fresh tortillas, avocados to top em off, setup a small cart down by the school and voila). It’s possible to get a decent burger and even a pizza but like most farang food, they just aren’t the same caliber that you can find in Chiang Mai.

We are unfortunately having a bit of an issue with our landlord but I’m going to wait and see how our departure goes before I blog about that part of our Chiang Rai experience. The whole situation may have spurred a new business idea anyway, so stay tuned.

Songkran 2015

So now that we’re a few days past Songkran, I figured it was time to put pen to paper (euphamistically speaking of course) about our first New Year holiday in Thailand. The first thing worth noting is that the Thai’s celebrate several New Years Holidays during the year (World, Thai, Chinese and often individual tribes have a new year celebration of their own).

I’ll dispense with the not so fun part about Songkran: over the course of the 7-day holiday there were 364 deaths, 3,559 injuries, 3,373 accidents with 39% of the accidents attributed to drunk driving. With a little over 80% of the accidents involving motorbikes, it’s not terribly difficult to understand why there are so many (unfortunate) deaths. I sure appreciated being in a smaller town though, I’m sure Chiang Rai had it’s share of accidents but we didn’t see any ourselves. It was fairly clear as the week progressed that alcohol consumption and it’s prevalence in and around motor vehicles was on the rise, so we made it a point not to be on the road much more than was necessary.

One thing that I really appreciate about the Thai culture is that many businesses were closed for several days, the last few days of the 7 day holiday period, the whole town seemed to be shut down … we couldn’t even get a massage. Often, the businesses that were open, the employees were stationed outside their shops armed with water guns, buckets, or trash cans full of water waiting for willling, and sometimes unwilling, participants to pass by. We saw trucks with 8 – 10 people (from age 6 – 60) packed in the back, and if they weren’t all armed with super soakers, there was sure to be a 50 gallon drum of water (ice cold often) in the back. And there was no safe haven, we live on the outskirts of town and figured the “action” would all be in town …. NOPE …. the locals that run the small ma & pa shops, or live along the road, all had their buckets at the ready. They often had cones out in the road and would walk out into the lane to get our attention and slow us down ….. just to have buckets of water poured over our heads. It was all very good spirited though, I never felt like anyone was being “aggressive” about wetting us. However, we actually made it a point not to go out one day after a few days of getting absolutely drenched on the road no matter what path we took to or around town. We were able to “wave off” a few dryness saboteurs one afternoon but so many of the businesses were closed it wasn’t worth the effort.

Can you imagine what the news headlines would read after a holiday like this in the States? “Dozens dead as gun shots ensue from giant water fight in Los Angeles” … OR … “Over 7-day period, cops kill 10 citizens carrying life-like water guns because they “feared” for their dryness” … OR … “OC woman sues child 8, for making her spray-on-tan run”. But here’s the thing, the water tossing and wetting is a symbolic blessing. I suppose that in a country where 95% of the population is buddhist, the symbolism of the whole event is not lost on very many. Even the people that were trying to avoid getting wet, but did, were good spirited about it. But I will say, I targeted dry, unsuspecting foreigners as often as possible. Talk about a return to childhood, I don’t think I took a break at all one afternoon I was having so much fun.

For anyone that is thinking about visiting Thailand, Songkran is definitely one of those holidays that is unique to this region of the planet and would be worth the time. If your time is limited and you want to do a lot of other “tourist” related activities while here, it would be smart to allocate some time before or after the Songkran holiday for those activities.

The main street, standing room only.