I’ve been waiting to visit the Mae Hong Son province for years.  I’ve planned a half dozen trips to the province, all of which have been canceled for one reason or the other.  This time I was determined to go.  A perfect storm of circumstances colluded to make this happen.  A friend was in Pai and promised to show me around, I hadn’t been on the road in months and I really needed some personal ‘road time’, and for the first time in 6-7 months I had the free time.  I loaded up the truck with a week’s worth of clothes an and gear and headed out.  I made Chiang Mai the first day and enjoyed a nice stay at the Empress Hotel.  After a great western breakfast I headed out of Chiang Mai on road 1095 bound for Pai.

 

I was told the drive into Pai would only take 2-3 hours.  This day it was raining hard and lightning strikes were happening all around me.  The going was much slower than anticipated.  Even though there weren’t many vehicles on the road, I still passed wreck after wreck.  Most where the cars had just went off the road, but some where the cars rolled down mountainsides.  There was very little drainage and the road was especially slippery.  I slowed way down and crept along knowing my 2-3 hour trip would take me most of the day.  My new goal was to arrive before dark.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/640th  55mm  ISO 200

 

I was told the drive into Pai would only take 2-3 hours.  This day it was raining hard and lightning strikes were happening all around me.  The going was much slower than anticipated.  Even though there weren’t many vehicles on the road, I still passed wreck after wreck.  Most where the cars had just went off the road, but some where the cars rolled down mountainsides.  There was very little drainage and the road was especially slippery.  I slowed way down and crept along knowing my 2-3 hour trip would take me most of the day.  My new goal was to arrive before dark.

 

Even with the bad weather every other bend in the road treated me to a scene of beauty, or at least something unusual.  The further along I got, the higher in elevation I climbed, and the more powerful the rain forest became.  With the rain pouring down and lightning striking nearby tree tops I rounded a bend and was greeted with this view of the temple.  I rolled the car to the stop and weighed the discomfort of becoming soaked and then sitting in the air conditioned cab for the next few hours, or not making the capture.  I was only outside the truck for 2-3 minutes but it was enough for me and my gear to get totally soaked.  I always travel with a stack of towels in the backseat, and I put them to good use on the gear first and me second.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/200th  70mm  ISO 200

 

Even with the bad weather every other bend in the road treated me to a scene of beauty, or at least something unusual.  The further along I got, the higher in elevation I climbed, and the more powerful the rain forest became.  With the rain pouring down and lightning striking nearby tree tops I rounded a bend and was greeted with this view of the temple.  I rolled the car to the stop and weighed the discomfort of becoming soaked and then sitting in the air conditioned cab for the next few hours, or not making the capture.  I was only outside the truck for 2-3 minutes but it was enough for me and my gear to get totally soaked.  I always travel with a stack of towels in the backseat, and I put them to good use on the gear first and me second.

 

A few hours of beautiful forest later I started to approach the first major immigration control checkpoint and the small town that supported it.  The rain had dwindled to a soft drizzle and the vendors were out in force selling their wares.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/50th  70mm  ISO 200

 

A few hours of beautiful forest later I started to approach the first major immigration control checkpoint and the small town that supported it.  The rain had dwindled to a soft drizzle and the vendors were out in force selling their wares.

 

Your average road was full of slippery leaves, moss, and of course rain.  Trees over hanged the road making for a really beautiful drive.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/40th  24mm  ISO 200

 

Your average road was full of slippery leaves, moss, and of course rain.  Trees over hanged the road making for a really beautiful drive.

 

A bit further on, another town, another string of roadside vendors.  Anyone who travels in Thailand quickly notices there might be 1001 small stands, but they’re all selling the same 10-20 items.  Oddly enough they’re all the same price!  I suppose they depend on the good Buddha to prompt someone to stop and buy.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/50th  70mm  ISO 200

 

A bit further on, another town, another string of roadside vendors.  Anyone who travels in Thailand quickly notices there might be 1001 small stands, but they’re all selling the same 10-20 items.  Oddly enough they’re all the same price!  I suppose they depend on the good Buddha to prompt someone to stop and buy.

 

Notice the ‘mist’ rolling in over the hills?  This is a solid sheet of water just a few minutes from pouring on top of us.  This vendor was busy tying down her stand and securing what could be secured.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/250th  43mm  ISO 200

 

Notice the ‘mist’ rolling in over the hills?  This is a solid sheet of water just a few minutes from pouring on top of us.  This vendor was busy tying down her stand and securing what could be secured.

 

Notice the ‘mist’ rolling in over the hills?  This is a solid sheet of water just a few minutes from pouring on top of us.  This vendor was busy tying down her stand and securing what could be secured.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/15th  24mm ISO 200

 

You could be forgiven for thinking the entire road looks the same, and in many ways it does.  Yet the solitude and beauty blended together for a feeling not often felt in Thailand.

 

This vista was only 500 meters from the shot above.  I’m sure I missed a great many of these as most were filled with banks of mist and clouds and you just couldn’t see them.  But when the conditions allowed, you certainly were treated to a wonderful view.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8 1/500th  38mm  ISO 100

 

This vista was only 500 meters from the shot above.  I’m sure I missed a great many of these as most were filled with banks of mist and clouds and you just couldn’t see them.  But when the conditions allowed, you certainly were treated to a wonderful view.

 

30 minutes later the rain let up just enough for another fine view.  Gentle rolling hills amidst tall green forest covered mountains with huge banks of clouds rolling through at hundreds of kilometers an hour.  The views were highly dynamic to say the least.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8 1/400th  70mm  ISO 100

 

30 minutes later the rain let up just enough for another fine view.  Gentle rolling hills amidst tall green forest covered mountains with huge banks of clouds rolling through at hundreds of kilometers an hour.  The views were highly dynamic to say the least.

 

The Surprise!

On the way up from Chiang Mai I chatted on the phone with a friend catching up on this and that, and one of the subjects of discussion was my disappointment with the architecture of Thailand.  Face it, 99% of the rural “structures” are nothing more than crude shacks made of the same cheap building materials void of any sense of style and in many cases designed utility.  From the south to north, east to west, rural structures in Thailand have mostly been keenly disappointing to me.  Heck, even the ‘stylish’ city homes build by the rich certainly aren’t influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright are they?  It seems no matter how much money Thai’s have, they come up with the same sense of ugly. 

 

So imagine my surprise when rounding a bend in the hard driving rain when I see this unique structure literally built out of a solid rock faced cliff!  Granted, it’s no award winner, but it was certainly unique enough to prompt me from my car in the heavy rain to take some snaps.  And enough so that half of these (those with the blue sky) prompted me to stop on my return journey for some better quality images.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8 1/250th  24mm  ISO 100

 

So imagine my surprise when rounding a bend in the hard driving rain when I see this unique structure literally built out of a solid rock faced cliff!  Granted, it’s no award winner, but it was certainly unique enough to prompt me from my car in the heavy rain to take some snaps.  And enough so that half of these (those with the blue sky) prompted me to stop on my return journey for some better quality images.

 

If you look closely you’ll see this is a solid rock cliff with supports drilled into the rock, framing attached, and then regular walls and rooms built on the framing.  Oddly they didn’t hold the same style throughout the project which is typically Thai.  It looks like they woke up on Monday and decided they wanted a traditional look, then woke up on Thursday and decided they wanted a wild look, and a week later saw something survivor on television so they changed to that style too.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/80th  28mm  ISO 200

 

If you look closely you’ll see this is a solid rock cliff with supports drilled into the rock, framing attached, and then regular walls and rooms built on the framing.  Oddly they didn’t hold the same style throughout the project which is typically Thai.  It looks like they woke up on Monday and decided they wanted a traditional look, then woke up on Thursday and decided they wanted a wild look, and a week later saw something survivor on television so they changed to that style too.

 

Can you guess what this structure is?  It’s the public rest room.  Notice the word “toilet” on the front wall face?  This is a sort of guest house, coffee shop, theme park, wine tasting, whatever sort of place without a single customer or even a host to show me around.  I wandered around for 30-40 minutes and didn’t see a sole.  So no one could tell me why they needed a toilet off to the side of the property.  I suspect there’s no toilets in the rooms.  Which means if you need to go in the middle of the night, you’ve got quite a climb down some ladders and the such to use the toilet.  Save your empty pop bottles!

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F6.3 1/80th  48mm  ISO 200

 

Can you guess what this structure is?  It’s the public rest room.  Notice the word “toilet” on the front wall face?  This is a sort of guest house, coffee shop, theme park, wine tasting, whatever sort of place without a single customer or even a host to show me around.  I wandered around for 30-40 minutes and didn’t see a sole.  So no one could tell me why they needed a toilet off to the side of the property.  I suspect there’s no toilets in the rooms.  Which means if you need to go in the middle of the night, you’ve got quite a climb down some ladders and the such to use the toilet.  Save your empty pop bottles!

 

A fairly elaborate rain gutter system?  Water comes from a stream above the property, runs across the roof of the structure, and then falls down this man made waterfall.  It had tons of water when it was raining, no water on the way back when it wasn’t raining.  So a rain gutter system?

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/100th  38mm  ISO 200

 

A fairly elaborate rain gutter system?  Water comes from a stream above the property, runs across the roof of the structure, and then falls down this man made waterfall.  It had tons of water when it was raining, no water on the way back when it wasn’t raining.  So a rain gutter system?

 

It really is a unique idea, and very different from the standard Thai rural shacks or even the more stylish Burmese leaf roofed huts you often see in the area. Notice to the very right of the frame some supports on the rock face which haven’t yet been enclosed?

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F5.6 1/60th  24mm  ISO 200

 

It really is a unique idea, and very different from the standard Thai rural shacks or even the more stylish Burmese leaf roofed huts you often see in the area. Notice to the very right of the frame some supports on the rock face which haven’t yet been enclosed?

 

This is a new section being built so you can get a taste for their construction methods.  Metal framing secured to the rock face, and then poured cement outer walls for this section.  And the outside which frankly looks like a pile of bones.  Very strange.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8 1/200th  35mm  ISO 100

 

This is a new section being built so you can get a taste for their construction methods.  Metal framing secured to the rock face, and then poured cement outer walls for this section.  And the outside which frankly looks like a pile of bones.  Very strange.

 

Nothing says high-end resort like fake cement logs in haphazard piles.  This view looks more like the log mountain ride at Knotts Berry Farm than a guest house, but I suppose that’s what makes the place unique.   You just know there’s no building codes or inspectors on this project..

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8 1/320th  57mm  ISO 100

 

Nothing says high-end resort like fake cement logs in haphazard piles.  This view looks more like the log mountain ride at Knotts Berry Farm than a guest house, but I suppose that’s what makes the place unique.   You just know there’s no building codes or inspectors on this project..

 

This is a more clear shot taken on my return trip.  You walk up the steps to the lobby and coffee shop, not sure what the mess to the right of the building is all about, and still no one was there to answer any questions.  It was really odd, the doors were open and you could even smell the coffee, but no one was home.  I sat, read a magazine, waited, and after 30 minutes was back on the road again.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8 1/200th  34mm  ISO 100

 

This is a more clear shot taken on my return trip.  You walk up the steps to the lobby and coffee shop, not sure what the mess to the right of the building is all about, and still no one was there to answer any questions.  It was really odd, the doors were open and you could even smell the coffee, but no one was home.  I sat, read a magazine, waited, and after 30 minutes was back on the road again. 

This just goes to show you Thailand never ceases to surprise.. J   Really, I think this place has loads of potential and I really wanted to talk with the owners and learn more.  It’s obviously not finished, so perhaps I’ve been a bit harsh in poking fun at them.

Next week we’ll take a look at the city of Pai itself.   We still have the Lisou and  Chinese villages, and the rural landscapes of the area as well.  This was a trip well worth taking and I can’t wait to go back.