Tag: Maetachang


Over the past 9 months, we’ve eaten some strange things.  It’s part of the adventure, and half the time we don’t even know what we’re really getting.  One thing we did take a pass on was bugs, beetles and scorpions.  We saw carts full of them in Bangkok, but our most memorable bug-eating experience happened as we were relaxing with Pui in Maetachang.

We’re hanging with Pui while he cooks some vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf on a little fire next to this sort of covered patio structure we’re chillin on.  A huge black beetle comes flying by, and to our surprise, Pui reaches out and grabs it mid-flight and holds it up to show us.

Look what I caught!!

Again to our surprise, he throws the beetle on the fire next to the vegetables, and it cooks for about 30 seconds.  We’re thinking, well, that’s kinda cruel, but if we lived out in the middle of nowhere, maybe we’d do that too.

Patiently waiting for the beetle to cook

Then, to our biggest surprise, he plucks the beetle off the fire, cracks it in half, and bites off the juicy torso of this beetle.  Yum.  WTF?!

Snack time!

A Local Connection Makes a World of Difference

Our visit to Nat’s village was one of the more unique and special experiences we’ve had to date. Many travelers wander their way into remote parts of Thailand, but few have close ties to someone from these rural areas. While our ties were 2 degrees of separation apart, those degrees were very small, and as a result, we experienced something that I believe few travelers encounter – a familial welcome.

A bit of background – Our very good friend Mark and his college buddy Matt lived in northern Thailand teaching English for 8 months back in 2005, right after they finished school. Matt lived in Maetachang, earning the trust of the local community and falling in love with a local girl named Nat. When Mark took off to head back stateside, Matt stuck around and ended up marrying Nat, and the two now live in Hawaii. Nat and Matt regularly visit Nat’s family in Maetachang, and they even built another wing on the family’s house, including a bedroom (that we stayed in) as well as a “modern” kitchen (meaning it has running water, a gas stove, and a refrigerator). Matt has also helped to pay for his nephew’s (Pong, our friend and quasi-translator) college education as well as the scooter he uses to ride back and forth between home and school in the nearby Chiang Rai. Needless to say, Nat’s family is grateful for how much their son-in-law has done for the family, and hosting his friends as they roll through northern Thailand is probably a welcome opportunity.

Pong and Chanon

A typical home in Maetachang. A whole family lives in 1 big room

Enjoying the slow pace of life in Maetachang

But, we didn’t know any of that. All we knew was that Matt married Nat, and Matt called the family and told them we were coming. We were both nervous about the whole scenario beforehand. We had put ourselves in challenging situations many times before – some of which turned out great, others that were painfully uncomfortable – but never before with quite so many unknowns: Not sure how rough/dirty it was going to be, not sure anyone would be there to pick us up from the bus stop, not sure what to expect from Nat’s family, not sure what we would do, not sure how much we were going to be able to communicate, not sure how long they expected us to stay, not sure how to arrange onward transport, etc. In some ways, it turned out to be the challenge that we anticipated – hard to communicate, uncertain of how to interact with our hosts, unsure of how to appropriately express our gratitude, etc. However, it was also easier too – the accommodation was significantly less rustic than we expected (after all Matt and Nat built it for their visits!), we had Pong there to help us communicate, the food was great, and we had Matt who communicated with them and paved the way for us (in many ways).

Life in Maetachang is very laid back (by Western standards), living comfortably with what feels like plenty of what you need, but not much more. A slow pace of life, to be sure. Nat’s family has a very interesting mix of modern amenities juxtaposed with some traditional ways of life. In this rural village, they enjoy 24-hour electricity, running water, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a TV with satellite reception (meaning they get 4 channels), and a gas lawn mower. But subsistence farming is everyone’s primary occupation, food is still cooked over an open fire (despite the fact they have a gas stove built by Matt!), and the whole family still sleeps in a single room in a traditional stilted home.

The old kitchen, which was used exclusively during our visit

Wood-burning stove - double burner!

Nami Jo chops up plant material that will eventually be used for making peat

Next up, I am put to work grinding the leaves

Once Pong left to go back to school (after our first day there), communicating became very difficult. It was a challenge even when Pong was there, as his English is not that good, but at least we could get the point across eventually with the help of his dictionary. Once he left, there wasn’t a lot that needed to be said, but we certainly missed his presence and his ability to convey our gratitude. But despite the communication challenges, there was an additional layer of unspoken comfort here – We didn’t feel too weird about showing up, eating their food, chillin on their deck, playing with their kids, and just taking it all in. The fact that we were friends (or rather, friends of friends) with their son-in-law somehow made it feel like we were truly welcome. It’s this kind of local connection that makes a world of difference when you’re on the road and far from home. Now, just gotta meet Matt and Nat…

Chillin with Pong

Village Life

After the urban metropolis of Bangkok and the happening university town of Chiang Mai, we were off to see the quiet side of Thailand. Thanks to our good friend Mark, who spent 8 months living in the region, we got to spend time in a rural village that does not see many Westerners (with one significant exception). You see, the connection goes beyond Mark – his travel buddy Matt stuck around after Mark returned, and ended up marrying Nat, a girl from this little village. So, after a series of emails with Matt, we were connected with Nat’s lovely Thai family that lives in the tiny, rural village of Maetachang.

A couple hours north of Chiang Mai by bus, we were the only passengers to be getting off at the sleepy town of Mae Suai, a short drive from the sleepier Maetachang. We didn’t travel with cell phones and were told the family didn’t speak any English, so we were hoping that the message had been relayed correctly and that someone would be there to meet us. However, there was no need for us to worry as we easily stood out and our host’s grandson, Pong, had no trouble finding us.

The truck ride from Mae Suai to Maetachang

The pretty rural Thai countryside

Pong became our friend and quasi-translator for the next two days. Though raised in the village where we were visiting, he currently attends university at the next big town up the road. He is the only one from his town attending university and he was nice enough to come home from school over the weekend to show us around. His English was very limited but as our Thai was non-existent, we were nothing but grateful and impressed. In fact, even if we did speak Thai, the family we stayed with spoke a local dialect so we still would have had difficulty communicating!

Our hosts were extremely generous and accommodating and though we certainly regretted not being able to ask more questions or properly express our thanks, I hope they were able to tell how much we appreciated them opening their home to us.

We were visiting during a quiet time as far as work in the surrounding rice fields were concerned but we no problem finding fun things to do.

Sarah plays frisbee with Pui

Ted jams with Pong

A guided tour through town and the surrounding hills

Ted gets a REAL Thai massage

Our iPod touch was the hit with the local kids

Pui harvests fresh fruit for us

And delicious is was!

We ate our meals together, gathered around a small table and sitting on low stools to enjoy some wonderfully flavorful soups and stews – always served with lots of rice. We got to explore Maetachang and nearby hills by foot, asking Pong a lot of questions about life in the village and about his time at university. When Pong had to return to school, his adorable young cousin, Pui, stepped in to serve as our guide. Pui was 9-years old and didn’t speak any English, yet he happily picked up where Pong had left off by walking us into the nearby hills and taking us to scenic spots along the river.

Dinner with Nat's family - Sarah, Baht Yee, and Pong

Pui leads us on a hike

Though a short but sweet peek into village life, we were very happy to have visited Maetachang and left wanting to learn more.

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