Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet, Lititz, Pennsylvania

It has been five years since I have been to the Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet in Lititz, PA. I am not sure why it has taken me this long to go back - other than perhaps the other buffets in this area that always come to mind first. This is a nice, small buffet that is just off the main tourist area in Lancaster County and one that like some other buffets in this area is located

To Pai, Mae Chaem, Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai and Home …

As I said, we came down the mountain in near zero visibility and though it was a relief to be able to see again, my hopes for clear skies and perfect conditions for taking pictures never materialized.  Still I like driving on cloudy days.  The soft muted light which dulls photos is strangely seductive for me when driving long distances.

At the bottom of the mountain we rejoined the 107, following it all the way to Mae Taeng where we turned right onto the 1095 heading toward Pai.  People complain about the many tight turns and rough conditions on the road to Pai, and sure there are accidents every year, but I can’t help but think there would be more if the road were in better shape.  People drive too fast as it is, so a better road surface would only encourage greater speed.  

It is probably a good idea to take a coffee break along the way and there is no shortage of places to stop.  Baan Pa Pae was the place we chose to stop at and it was a lovely place perched on the side of the road.  Looking out near the tops of the trees one got the feeling of being suspended high in the canopy and the wet misty conditions only made it more romantic.

For me the drive is perhaps the greatest attraction on these trips and destinations provide a direction to travel and places to rest up before continuing down the road.  Arriving in Pai we set about searching for a place to stay.  Enquiring at several places, we found some were full and others just a bit overpriced.  My wife, with the aid of her iPhone, kept looking until she found a really nice place right on the river and close enough to the walking street that we had no more need to drive that night.

We enjoyed walking up and down the street, eating, shopping, people watching and topped it off with a massage.  There was even a parade with everyone being invited to a local temple for a traditional Pai celebration of the end of Buddhist Lent.

In the morning, after breakfast, we continued on through Mae Hong Son where the road turned into the 108, headed for Khun Yuam.  We had intended on staying at the same place we stayed last time we were in Khun Yuam but when we drove up, the place looked deserted and not as inviting as before.  We made a quick, yet reluctant, decision to keep driving.

We turned off the 108 onto the 1263, hoping to find a place to stay on the way to Mae Chaem.  This road was the worst of our trip with many potholes, so our progress was slow.  There were roadside signs for a place to stay so we stopped to check it out, finding an Australian biker already there, drying out after a wet cold day on the bike.  I talked with him while my wife inspected the room and found it not to her liking.

Even in the dimming light, there was nothing for it but to continue on to Mae Chaem where we assumed there would be a better selection of rooms.  It was quite dark by the time we made it to Mae Chaem, which made finding a place to stay that much more difficult.  Stopping at a market to eat, we asked one of the vendors for suggestions.  She directed us to what she assured us was the best place in town.

Turns out she was right, but to my wife’s great disappointment, the four lovely bungalows were all taken and we had to look elsewhere.  Just down the road we found a place, not nearly as nice, but it would have to do.  We needed to get some rest before tackling the next section of road.

In the dark the night before, the 1263 had turned into the 1088 and now we were to take on the 1192/1009.  This is twenty kilometers of torturously steep, narrow and twisty road with blind switchbacks and signs warning you to honk your horn before proceeding around these bends.  I have done this road before and know the risks, so I settled in behind a local truck and followed him up the road, allowing him to run interference for me.

You come out just inside the main entrance to Doi Inthanon Park, half way up the mountain, on a road labeled 1284 and turn left to continue up a very nice road to the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand at 2565 meters above sea level.  I suppose it would be nice to visit the mountain on a perfectly clear day, have great views and take amazing photos but every time I have been on the mountain it has been cold and misty.

So this visit felt very familiar, though a little more wet than usual.  Still by being patient I did get a few pictures when the mist parted momentarily.  My wife got a lot more shots with her iPhone because I was too worried about getting my camera wet.  After taking in the sites we headed down the mountain and turned left onto the 108 for Chiang Mai.

Typically we go to Chiang Mai to visit a good friend when she flies up from Bangkok to visit her parents.  She not only spoils us with a lovely place to stay but she drives us around to interesting places we would never find on our own.  Without her we are a bit lost so thought we would find a hotel close to the weekend walking street.  Somehow I thought it was held on Saturday but I was off by one day so our conveniently located Hotel M on the corner ended up not being quite so convenient.

The room was quite small but we had a very good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast downstairs at the Coffee Club, on the corner of Rajadamnoen Road.  We were eager to check out the new shopping mall Pramenada on the outskirts of Chiang Mai but in spite of a great meal at Duke’s, we left disappointed with the shopping experience.  Before heading home the next day we had to make a stop at the old Airport Plaza Shopping Mall to look for things my wife couldn’t find at the Pramenada.

The drive home from Chiang Mai on the 118 was uneventful but pleasant and we got home just before dark.  It had been a wonderful trip and a great break from our routines but it was really great to be back home, to see Cookie and sleep in our own bed.

Baan Pa Pae for coffee on the way to Pai.

The Pai River next to our hotel.

Hotel in Pai.

View from our balcony.

Inside our room.

The road to Mae Chaem.

The road to Mae Chaem.

The highest point on Doi Inthanon.

A shot of the gardens on Doi Inthanon.

Classic shot of one pavilion taken from the other.

Closeup of the other pavilion. 

The Coffee Club.

Our room in Chiang Mai.

2013 Phuket Vegetarian Festival (Part 2)

So, as I was saying a few days ago in Part 1 of my Phuket vegetarian festival 2013 report... Due to a mix of rainy weather, tiredness (staying up until after 2am painting our living room 2 nights in a row) and general apathy, I was really not feeling any great excitement for the vegetarian festival this year. Hard to summon up the energy for an early morning at the shrine when it's drizzly and I had 4 hours sleep. So that changed on Friday 11th October when I was in Phuket Town for the big Jui Tui Shrine procession. I think it was all the firecrackers that woke me up! Now I was looking forward to an early morning at Kathu shrine on Saturday 12th October. Kathu is the area of Phuket where I live, between Phuket Town and Patong beach. It's a historical area and was the center of the tin mining industry in Phuket in the mid 19th century, maybe even the most important town in Phuket for a while before Phuket Town became important due to easy access to the sea via the wide Bang Yai canal (which is not wide any more!). The canal did reach as far as Kathu, but was smaller there, only navigable by small canoes. Kathu was where Chinese miners were camped sometime after 1825 when Chinese theater artists came to perform, got sick and cured themselves by sticking to a special vegetarian diet. And thus the festival was born.

Well, I wanted to be there earlier than 6am, but I am not a morning person! So, got there just after 6am. For Kathu, that's a bit late. The shrine was packed already, and many of the Ma Song were already pierced and ready to go. First guy I saw had candle piercings ...

Pierced by candles, Kathu shrine, 12th October 2013

Oh, and hooks through his ears too. Many other piercings were already done. Damn, I really do need to wake up 5am next year! They start early in Kathu, as the procession starts here and they walk all the way into town and back. From the shrine into town as far as Sapan Hin shrine is about 10km each way. On a hot sunny morning, do you want to walk 20km with this in your face?

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Pierced Face at Kathu shrine

Pierced face at the Phuket vegetarian festival 2013

(above) I was hoping for the eyes-rolled shot here .. and I hope that's not real ivory. Historical note - Phuket used to be a major port for the shipment of elephants to India. The province was full of wild elephants 200 years ago and the next province Phang Nga means "broken elephant tusk".

Getting pierced at Kathu shrine, Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013

(above) Getting pierced. Some of the Ma Song were still getting their faces done after 6am. This guy we see often around Kathu and we always stop for a chat. I see him every year with different piercings. Here he in 2012, and 2010. In real life, he's a local policeman .. see here.

And then, time for the main procession to begin. Groups of young men gather to carry the statues of the gods. Many of the pierced Ma Song have already left. Drums sound inside the shrine, and blessings are given to those who will carry the gods ...

Ma Song giving blessing

My friend Tim and I wondered who is actually in charge here.. no specific order seems to be given to start, but everyone knows their place. The noise, colour, faces and traditions of this festival never cease to amaze me. I am totally not sure if the Ma Song are for real. Are they possessed, in a trance, very good actors? The guy below I see every year. In normal life he looks like an average guy. On the day of the Kathu procession he appears from the shrine bent over like an old, old man.

Ma Song at Kathu shrine

The guy being held aloft seems to be the most important of the Ma Song in Kathu. He's carried through the streets, though I have seen him get off his perch a couple of times. He leads the procession of the gods out of the shrine.

Ma Song in Kathu Shrine, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

And then follows a crazy 25 minutes when I take about 200 photos as the emperor god statues are carried through Kathu village through a constant barrage of firecrackers either thrown or held out on bamboo poles by the local residents of Kathu. Next time, aside from waking up earlier... earplugs and a facemask. Essential.

Vegetarian Festival procession in Kathu village, Phuket, October 12th 2013

Firecrckers, firecrackers and firecrackers!

Firecrackers as gods are carried through the streets, Phuket vegetarian festival 2013

Phuket vegetarian festival 2013 street procession in Kathu village

It's madness! And now they head off through the old village of Kathu towards Phuket Town. On this day I decided not to follow them. Maybe next year I'll do a 20km walk with the procession. That should be an experience. I bought myself a set of white trousers and shirt this year intending to use them on the crazy last night of the festival in town, but never went. Might be ideal for a long walk on the day of next years Kathu shrine procession. The festival next year looks like it will be from September 23rd - October 3rd. There is so much going on during the processions, so much energy, that the quiet moments are sometimes overlooked. Last photo for 2013 ... in Kathu village, a female Ma Song stops to bless a small child.

Ma Song blessing a small boy in Kathu village, Phuket

If you can tell me what that young boy is thinking .. I might better understand this festival. Until next year.

Driving Mountain Roads in Northern Thailand …

Chiang Rai is a great staging point for exploring Northern Thailand.  The options for day trips are many and include places like Mae Salong, Doi Tung, Mae Sai, Chiang Saen, Chiang Khong, Pha Tang, Phu Chi Fa, Phu Sang Waterfall, Phayao, and many other interesting destinations in and around Chiang Rai.

Occasionally one feels the need to travel further afield, as we did this last week.  Taking advantage of my wife being on holiday from her university studies, we decided it had been too long since we had been to Pai and beyond.  So we arranged for family to watch the house and dogs, packed up the Fortuner and off we went.  We covered a total of 1167 torturous but beautiful kilometers and went from 365 meters at home to 2565 meters above sea level on top of Doi Inthanon.

First we headed to town and then off in the direction of Chiang Mai.  At Mae Suai we turned right onto the 109 headed for Fang.  Our first stop was to visit friends in Fang on the 107.  Visit complete, we continued on the 107 to our first destination, Doi Angkhang high in the mountains.

It is quite a steep and twisty climb up the mountain but that is exactly what I was looking for on this trip.  We arrived in time to search around for a place to stay.  Things had changed a lot since the last time I had been up there so we needed to checkout the options.  The cottages located inside the park were full and we didn’t feel like staying in budget accommodation, so fortunately we found a room at the Angkhang Nature Resort.

There were a surprising number of people with the same idea we had of missing the winter crowds, but we were fortunate enough to get a very nice room for 1600 baht.  Most of the visitors were Thai families but the second day a number of French tourists checked into our hotel.  When the temperature dropped to 10 at night we were glad to find the switch for the thermal pad built into the bed, and were soon all toasty and comfortable for the rest of the night.  We liked the place so much we extended our stay one more day.

We got up early the first morning, to try our luck at catching the sunrise from a popular mountain top viewing point.  The sunrise was not great but it was still and interesting experience with all the people milling around and my wife bought some small gifts from the girls selling handicrafts.

After a wonderful breakfast back at the hotel, we walked the three kilometer loop through the park exploring every display and side trail.  They were busy getting things ready for the winter rush, planting strawberries and flowers.  Still it was very lush and green after all the rain we have had this year.  The fruit trees were eerie looking stick figures, far bigger than I remember from my last visit.

Later in the day we drove to Ban Nor-Lae to look from the Thai military camp over into the Burmese encampment on the opposite hilltop.  Later we went to Ban Khop Dong which turns out to be a very appropriate name for the village, with their little shacks perch on the cliff edge above the basket like valley and their terraced farms.

After our second night at Angkhang Nature Resort, we got up early and hit the road for Pai.  Overnight the remnants of a tropical storm had settled over Thailand and we found ourselves shrouded in cloud and mist as we headed down with nearly zero visibility, at least until we were better than halfway down the mountain.

As it turned out the sun didn’t come out for the rest of our trip but somehow I enjoyed the misty forests and cool weather.  Even with limited photographic opportunities, I still came home with a couple hundred shots.  I was merciless and soon pared that down by half when I returned home.

In part two I will cover Pai and beyond but for now I want to share some photos from Doi Angkhang.
Angkhang Nature Resort

Our accommodation.

Enjoying the view from the balcony.
The sunrise scene.

Our view during breakfast.

Planting the terraces for the peak winter season.

Budget accommodation back on the hillside.

In the peach grove.

Vegetables in front and peach trees across the road.

Time for a lunch break.

More flowers.

Looking across into Burma.

Weaving scarves for sale.

I think you can guess which one I would choose.

Buying avocados.

Handicrafts for sale.

Khop Dong Village

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013 (Part 1)

Well, the 2013 Phuket Vegetarian Festival finished a few days ago, and I have been spending a few evenings sorting out photos. I was more or less unaware of this festival until about 2005. Guess I was living in a box. When this blog started in 2006, that's when my family and I started to explore Phuket and the surrounding area a lot more and get a lot more involved in the local culture. And over the last 7 years, the vegetarian festival in particular has fascinated me. I've been at shrines before 6am, attended many street processions, watched firewalking and bladed ladder climbing, and every year do my best to (maybe not 100%) stick to the vegan diet and rules of the festival. For a good introduction to the festival and links to many previous blog posts see The Amazing Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

I would normally try to attend at least 3 - 4 events during the festival, get up early several times to be at shrines to watch face piercing .. last year I was at Sapam, Sam Kong and Kathu shrines around 6am, but this year I had trouble to summon up the enthusiasm of previous years. Seen too much? Or maybe it was the weather - we had wet days from the 4th to the 8th October. I did wake up early one morning, but heard the rain and went back to sleep. Also my wife and I had spent a few days painting our house, and worked into the early hours of the morning to get it done - slept at 2am on the 3rd and 3am on the 4th, so the idea of 5:30am alarms was not appealing! But finally the weather changed, so I hit the town before 7am on October 11th to watch the street procession from Jui Tui shrine, probably the biggest procession and featuring many female Ma Song with piercings too. It was a lovely sunny morning in town. Took me a while to get into the photography mood, but I figured out of 400 photos there had to be some good ones!

Gory pierced face at the Jui Tui procession on October 11th 2013

Pierced Ma Song at the vegetarian festival procession on 11th October

Female Ma Song with pierced face, Jui Tui shrine procession 11th October 2013

I started off trying to photograph individual faces with a 70-300mm zoom lens, but the Jui Tui procession is so crowded, at times the pierced Ma Song and helpers were bunched tightly together and barely able to squeeze through the crowds along the narrow old-town roads, it was hard to get a picture. At times you just have to sit back and take in the spectacle instead of looking at things through a viewfinder! This close to the action, a wide angle lens is useful .. I followed the procession a little way onto Thalang Road and parked myself near the old herb shop.

Ma Song blessing a child

(above) It's not all face piercing! I wanted to try this year and get more pictures like this. A Ma Song tying a string to the wrist of a small child who is amazed at what's going on. The old traditions are passed on from generation to generation.

Ma Song blessing some of Phuket's older generation

(above) A Ma Song giving blessings to some of the older members of the Bumrungwong family who run the herb shop, Kopitiam restaurant and Wilai restaurant on Thalang Road. I can only begin to imagine the changes these folks have seen in Phuket.

Ma Song blessing a shrine on Thalang Road

(above) Houses and businesses along the procession route each day will place shrines outside covered in fruit, cups of tea, incense, candles .. Ma Song may stop at any shrine to bless the house, and may drink some tea or take some fruit which as far as I can tell, they then give to people in the crowd. Sometimes the Ma Song go into the house or shop behind the shrine also.

This procession from Jui Tui seems to be never ending! Certainly took well over an hour for the parade of Ma Song to pass by. No way you can photograph or even see all of them, as they often pass by several at a time and it was very busy - lots of people like me happy to see the sun and taking the chance to see a procession. I can see other people's photos of the same procession, and they have photos of different faces. And there are a lot of faces to see ...

Girl with face piercing, Jui Tui shrine procession

Female Ma Song in the Jui Tui shrine procession

Female Ma Song with face piercing in Phuket Town, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

When the majority of the Ma Song have passed by, the rear of the procession is the noisy part ... groups of young men carry statues of the emperor gods through the streets and are subject to a barrage of firecrackers, either thrown on the ground, or onto the statue or held above them on a bamboo pole. This is my favourite part of the procession and I enjoy getting close up! Maybe a bit too close - I think next time a face mask and earplugs are needed, though I can say this .. If I had any slight apathy this year it was blown away by the firecrackers!

Boom! Carrying the gods through a hail of firecrackers!

Jui Tui Shrine Procession - Gods and Firecrackers

By 8:30am I was hot, sweating and covered in pieces of firecracker! Could not stay any longer, I had to dash home, shower and go open the dive shop .. and wished I had not been so lazy for the first 5 days of the festival! OK, next year I will be up for it again ... This really IS worth waking up early for. The Jui Tui procession was on October 11th, and I planned to wake up even earlier on the 12th to visit Kathu Shrine, see some face piercing taking place and watch the procession leave Kathu village ... had planned to add all that onto the same blog post, but it will follow soon in a 2nd blog post about the 2013 Phuket vegetarian festival. :)