I was not very sure if I should stay at Tak or Mae Sot the day before returning to Myanmar. Mae Sot and Myawaddy are the border towns of Thailand and Myanmar respectively. I finally decided on Tak to cut short the drive from Bangkok as well as to explore a historical town. The city is believed to even predate the Sukhothai era, which later served as the western frontier of the kingdom. Tak was once a strategic military region between Thailand and Burma and is said to have bene the first district emancipated from Burmese rule in 1584. Tak is now known for its bustling border markets – a trading gateway between the two nations - ethnic diversity, and natural beauty. Tak is almost entirely off the tourist map. Because of this tourists to the area can expect true Thai hospitality and flavour its culture without the consequences of mass tourism. The natural beauty of Tak includes dense jungles that are ideal for trekking and traditional hill tribes such as Karen, Lisu, Hmong, Yao and Lahu in their natural surroundings.
The 425 km drive to Tak did not pose any challenges, with the roads as good as any in Thailand. By now I have taken for granted the excellent road infrastructure in Thailand and unwavering discipline of the road users. I only stopped en route at a couple of fuel stations to tank up and fulfil biological requirements. At one of them I fell for the freshly cut mangoes on sale. It was not fully ripe and the taste was extraordinary. Once I finished it I rued that I had not bought another lot!
I reached the lovely Soho Boutique Hotel a bit after noon. The receptionist, a young girl, spoke excellent English, as opposed to the experience this far. I was allotted a corner room, spacious and aesthetically done up. In fact, the entire hotel had a boutique took without being garish and loud. Someone with an excellent sense of the being different had been in charge of the décor and get up, I presumed from what I saw from the entrance of the hotel to the room. Once the luggage was put in the room and a can of Chang was down the parched throat I set out in the hot sun to forage for lunch. It being a Sunday afternoon hardly any shop was open. I finally managed to worm into a small eatery that was presumably downing its shutters. But they served me fried rice with egg in quick time and it was delicious. On the way back to the hotel I picked up iced milk tea that turned out to be equally super. I have not had as much ice in my life as I have had during the travel in South East Asia. Ice making must be the most lucrative business in these parts of the world.
It was too hot to venture anywhere out due to the heat. I abandoned all hopes of exploring historical places, which was the reason for choosing to stay in Tak! I passed out almost immediately as I got back to the room. However, I woke up just as the intensity of the sun was going down. At the reception I was told that I had the time to cycle to weekend market and along the Ping River. I selected one of the cycles that the hotel provided free to its guests and took direction from the receptionist to get to the River. It was not too far from the hotel and I reached it in less than 10 minutes. I was using a cycle after many, many years and the thighs started rebelling almost immediately. But, I did not give in. the other discomfort was that the seat was low, apparently to accommodate the general build of people who visited the hotel.
The Ping River, along with the Nan River, is one of the two main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River. The two tributaries join at Nakhon Sawan, about 200 kms south of Tak, to start the journey of the Chao Phraya River. Two major dams are situated in the Ping Basin, which is one of the largest drainage basins of Chao Phraya. The Bangkok Bicentennial Bridge across the Ping River was built in 1982 to celebrate the occasion. The 400 meter suspension bridge has a wooden deck and traffic is not permitted across it. However, people living on either banks of the river use it to move their cycles across the river. The setting sun on the waters with the bridge in the background is an amazing spectacle. I sat there awhile drinking in the majesty of the sight.
The weekend night market was just getting set up at the time. I cycled back and forth beside the river a few times and then parked the cycle to buy local ice cream. The vendor with minimal stuff was doing brisk business. Homemade ice cream kept in a large steel tub was the basic ingredient. The toppings included rice, soya, corn, potato, jelly, pineapple, nuts, cereal, bread, chestnuts and beans. There were three different sizes too choose from and I chose the midsized one for 20 THB. Seven small scoops of the ice cream, nuts and milk were topped with the four I chose. It was heavenly; I have not eaten the like of this before. I made it last and last, slowly walking around the large playground, observing the goings on there. In one corner women had spread out mattresses for massage and children were playing in another part of the field on swings and slides. I came out of the enclosure to discover that it was designated ‘Happiness Center’! I was extremely happy to see that the local administration had factored in happiness of its residents as one of its prime objectives and provided for it. I celebrated by having another ice cream. Even the vendor was surprised, I could see, because he gave me a larger helping than the previous one!
I had read in one of the travel sites that the Tak massage has to be experienced. The receptionist seconded it and recommended one. The massage session was every bit traditional and extremely therapeutic. It was almost a public affair with a young lady and another who came in bent on a walking stick on cots on either side being given the treatment too. I slept through some of it; it was that soothing. It cost me just the equivalent of Rs. 500 for the two hour session. By the time the massage session was over all dining places had shut shop. Fortunately, a provision store was open from where I bought ready to eat Tam Yum noodle soup. Another chilled can of Chang beer and I was ready to savour the noodle soup after I got back to the room. Before I dozed off I went through in my mind the amazing days that I had spent in Thailand – it is truly the land of smiles.