Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
I was convinced to check out Soppong after doing some research around Pai and the surrounding area. It seemed that many travelers were not fans of Pai (too young, too Western, too much of a party scene) and were opting to visit Soppong instead. And so I decided to just book 2 nights in Pai and 3 nights in Soppong, hoping to get in some trekking while in Soppong as well as check out some of the caves nearby. While these treks and caves are accessible from Pai, they are a bit further away. Why not just go to Soppong and be a little bit closer? Go a bit off the beaten path perhaps?
It should have been clear from the start that this might not be what I was expecting. I took a minibus bound for Soppong (and Mae Hong Son) from Pai early one morning. There was only one bus each day. When we arrived in Soppong, I was the only one who got out. Hmmm.
The town was SMALL. There were a 7-11 and a pharmacy, but otherwise, there was not much there. Some restaurants/food stalls. A few guesthouses. Very few tourists.
I walked the 500 meters to my guesthouse, Little Eden, and got a bit more excited when I walked in. It was quiet and chill, this would be a nice place to just relax for a few days without big crowds of tourists around. I even got excited about the prospect of having a day with nothing to do where I could just read and write and lay in the hammock.
My original plan for going to Soppong was to do some trekking and see Tham Lod Cave. My guesthouse promised trekking opportunities easily booked there or I figured I could find something else to set up in town.
There were no trekking places in town. There was nothing.
After walking around some of the local villages (a bit of trekking on my own) and eating some delicious khao soi at one of the town’s food stalls, I returned to my guesthouse and asked about trekking. Sure, it could be booked. But they required a minimum of 2 people to book. Or I’d have to pay the 2 person price. So it seemed I was screwed on the booking unless someone else from the hotel also wanted to go trekking. On the plus side, there was a Danish family going to see the cave that afternoon and they had a van with a hired driver and would I like to join them?
So I was quickly adopted by a Danish family for a few hours that afternoon and able to visit the cave. Though it is close to Soppong (about 9km), I still would have had to arrange transport and pay for myself to go. By going with this family, I got a free ride and a cheaper admission cost (you have to get a guide and buy the entry for the boat which is the same price for 1-3 people so going with more people yields a discount). The cave itself was interesting but also it smelled terrible (bat poop). When the family asked if it was OK if we cut the visit short (since their young kids weren’t that into it), I was totally fine leaving. That smell….
I resigned myself to having a chill time in Soppong. I might be able to go trekking, maybe not. But at least I would get some relaxation time and it would be a nice break. And the next day, Thursday, I heard that a couple was coming that wanted to do a trek and maybe I could join them on Friday? Perfect!
Then there was the Lantern Festival (Loy Krathong). This is a festival all over Thailand and Soppong was having a celebration at the local temple on my 2nd night in Soppong. I followed the procession of cars and people to the temple alongside a few other people from my guesthouse. At least it was something to do.
There were food and entertainment – I decided to grab some noodles and some meatballs and wander around for a bit. The meatballs looked a bit suspect and I should have known to stop eating them after one bite….but all these locals were eating them and they were probably fine and so I just went for it.
As you can probably guess, this was a mistake. Within the next 20 minutes, I didn’t feel that great and decided to walk back alone to the guesthouse. It was dark, I was in a bad mood, it was all terrible. But within the next hour at the hotel, it got worse. I suddenly had the chills and couldn’t stop shaking while laying in my bed. Something was not right. Those meatballs were a mistake.
I put on more clothes and tried to stop shaking. My head was pounding. Finally, at some point, I fell asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt terrible. I could barely move. There was no way I would be going trekking today. All I wanted to do was stay in bed and pray that this pounding headache would go away. I had no appetite. And the stomach problems were starting.
So this is how I realized that I finally had that traveler’s illness that seems to plague most people in Southeast Asia. I had all sorts of drugs, but I was doing a terrible job of taking care of myself. I spent the entire day in bed trying to sleep away the illness and also not wanting to go anywhere. I left for a short walk to 7-11 to get some water and crackers (spoiler alert – there were no crackers so I settled for Pringles). I managed to eat 2 Pringles that day. I couldn’t stomach anything else.
After nearly one day in bed, I woke up the next day (Saturday) feeling much better. Not 100% (I still had a minimal appetite), but at least I would be able to travel – I had a bus to Mae Hong Son booked for 11:30 that morning. I showered. I packed. I was able to move around.
I couldn’t wait to get out of Soppong. I kicked myself for not booking the 10:30 bus. I got to the bus station super early just so I could be ready to jump on the bus immediately.
Have you ever had that feeling of wanting to get out of somewhere so quickly and yet it feels like you will never leave? That was me that morning. I waited so anxiously at the bus station fearing that the bus would never come. That I would be stuck in that dusty town forever.
But my bus did come. I did make it to Mae Hong Son. And within a few hours, it felt like things were finally turning around.
Note: I would recommend Soppong IF you are traveling around the Mae Hong Son loop on a motorbike. I met a few people doing this and it seemed like they were really enjoying exploring the area on their own. But if you are relying on taxis and buses to get around, it’s not really worth it.
Where to stay if you go (there are very few options!):
Soppong River Inn came highly recommended. They can organize treks for their guests and the food at their restaurant is supposed to be pretty tasty. Unfortunately, their cheaper rooms were not available while I was there.
Little Eden Guesthouse is where I stayed. Good for travelers on a budget with rooms under $20 per night, good breakfast, and a nice restaurant for dinner. This place looks like it could use a little TLC though, think it may have been a bit neglected recently.