The National Office of Public Relations, is not so much a mouthful, but more of an eyeful and earful. The government owned Radio of Thailand, TV. Channel 11 and news agency network operates nationwide, and we are invited to be their guests of the Regional Office 3 on a tour of their operations here in Northern Thailand.
After a briefing and a tour of their radio station in Chiang Mai we head off for Mae Sariang, the second largest city in Mae Hong Sorn province, that mountainous and densely forested northwestern region of the country bordering Myanmar, and home to many of Thailand's hill tribes, comprising mainly Karen, but with several communities of Shan, Lisu, Hmong and Lahu settled around the Mae Hong Sorn's Pai valley. The first stop on our itinerary, the town of Mae Sariang is a main departure point for treks to the many hilltribe villages in the area.
Our journey began by heading south (from Airport Plaza) along the highway through Hang Dong, San Patong and Jom Thong. The Ping River valley falls away on the left and a huge Buddha image glittered from a distant hilltop. Hord is the next town on the route and is close to Mae Hong Sorn Province (but still within Chiang Mai Province) and a Hilltribe presence was apparent. Market stalls lined the street selling the usual wares plus, baskets of "roll-your-own" tobacco.
We arrived for lunch at the Intira restaurant, hosted by local radio station chief, Mr. Yanyong Somjit, a native of Phrae province who has been running the Mae Sariang station for the past four years. Boasting the latest in hi-tech relay equipment, this is the most listened to radio station in the area, producing a variety of news, entertainment, and community programs. The station broadcasts in the Karen language, and has a down-home feel to its output, with Disc Jockeys passing messages between students and their parents, announcing births, deaths, marriages, and details of local events of interest to the audience.
Mae Sariang is a pleasant, easygoing riverside town with a few restaurants, shops and two Shan-style temples; there is a Shan-style Museum and Exhibition Hall under construction which will house local artifacts and OTOP products when completed. It's a quiet, laid-back town with a couple of Burmese style temples that are worth a look. Not far to the west of Mae Sariang lies the Salaween National Park and the Myanmar (Burma) border at Mae Saam Laeb. Local tour guides will be happy to offer travel and trekking advice for the area. The distances from Mae Sariang to the Salaween National Park and Baan Mae Saam Laeb are about 17 and 46 kilometers respectively.
Salaween National Park is another popular attraction in the form of the "Big Teak Trail" where the giant teak tree at the start of the trail is so stout that it takes eight men linking hands to encircle its trunk. The area is rich in flora and fauna, and is best visited in the wet season when the waterfalls are in full flow and the wild flowers are blooming. Meanwhile, the village of Mae Sob Moei is a renowned attraction of picturesque scenes among visitors for its rafting or 45 minutes travelling by a long - tailed boat River. The village is situated within a deep valley facing Myanmar with white sandy beach on some parts of the bank from Baan Mae Saam Laeb to Baan Sob Moei, both are in Sob Moei district.
We headed north to the Mae La Noi district, and the famous Calcite Cave (Taam Gaew Gomon) located high in the hills to the east. On the road to the cave we visited Ajarn Narong and his wife, Mrs. Ampai at their two-storey teak home. Ajarn Narong was the principal at the local school until his retirement ten years ago, and both he and his wife are highly respected by their neighbors, mainly Karen and Shan (Thai Yai) people, who admire the couple's devotion to following the King's policy of sustainable living. Their farm breeds over ten species of fish, a variety of vegetables, and produces organic fertilizer, known as "Pooey Muck". A nearby village of Huay Hohm is known for the weaving of sheep hair, as part of the Queen's handicraft project.
After 5 kms driving, we arrived at the Gaew Gomon cave late in the afternoon to find national park guides welcoming us in both Thai and English. The calcite crystal cave, opened to the public by Queen Sirikit in 2001, is a vast mineral deposit of limestone, or calcium carbonate in its mineral form. The spectacular calcite crystals take on many forms; some in the shape of snowflakes, others shaped like mushrooms. It's believed the cave is between two and four million years old. There is a walkway leading to five chambers the visitor can explore to a depth of around 38 meters.
We met with the mayor of Mae La Noi's subdistrict, who explains that local produce ranges from garlic, and coffee beans to soybeans; the latter is sold as a roasted snack that has proved to be very popular. The district operates a highly-successful program encouraging local farmers to practice organic farming techniques, and another to school ladies of the district in the ancient art of Thai massage. The mayor, while delighted with these projects, is nevertheless concerned over the education of the districts schoolchildren. Currently they must travel sixty kilometers each day to reach the nearest school. Plans are currently being discussed with Chiang Mai's Nawamin School for the building of a school in the Mae La Noi district.
Leaving Mae La Noi, we were travelling north through Khun Yuam district during the twilight time. If we could speed another half day in the are of Khun Yuam, there would be attractions to enjoy : Toong Bua Tong, Doi Mae Oo Kor -- When winter comes, Tourists favor to come here and appreciate the beauty of the yellow Mexican Sunflower Weed Field covering an area of a mountain range especially during November-December tourists will be able to see Mexican Sunflowers in full bloom. The national park built a viewpoint for tourists to have the impression on the picturesque views especially in the morning and evening when the scene is fantastically more beautiful. Mae SurSin Waterfall -- A very fantastic waterfall originating from Mae Surin creek. The water flow from the 100 meters-high cliff. There's a viewpoint you can see the water from long distance. You can appreciate the beauty of the waterfall that flows to the lower floor through rocks and varied plants also the waterfall is appropriate for those who love an adventurous activity by walking from the upper to the lower floor.
Finally we reached the city of Mae Hong Sorn in time to have dinner at the Golden Teak Inn as guests of radio station Director, Mrs. Onsri Sriumporn. After an excellent repast we check into the Imperial Tara Hotel to luxuriate in hot showers and a good night's sleep.
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