To Chiang Mai

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This morning we had breakfast at the hotel, put out the luggage and boarded our bus for the drive to Chiang Mai. The trip was incredibly beautiful, winding through the mountains, with more teak forests, farms, rice fields, flowers everywhere. We stopped for pie and coffee at a lovely resort on the river, than again at a dragonfruit farm. The dragonfruit grows on a plant that looks somewhat like a very large Christmas cactus, but they weren’t blooming this time of year. We then stopped for lunch at a truly beautiful new resort that had developed a magnificent botanical garden. Lunch was a bit boring, but the gardens were amazing, especially the palms. Mo and I spent every possible minute at this stopover walking and seeing as much as we could before we needed to board again for the rest of the trip.

It seemed like a bit of a long day, though, and we were glad to arrive at our hotel in Chiang Mai, the Empress. Chiang Mai is a mountain town as well, and somehow I imagined it to be cleaner and fresher, but once more the exhaust from all the deisel engines makes the air rough and my eyes burn constantly. In the distance, from our hotel room, we can see the Buddha at Doi Suthep. I know this is a beautiful city, but at the moment it just felt big and dirty, with lots of traffic and bustle. Especially after the beautiful trip through the mountains to get here.

This evening I tried to write to my daughter about our travels, but looking back at the email, I can see how tired I was, and a bit overwhelmed with so much input and so many images. Sometimes on these trips, with so much to see it is hard to find down time. Time to regroup and let things settle a bit. Something to keep in mind.

The Golden Triangle

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Again, words seem to falter, and only the photos remind me of all that I experienced on this day. Traveling through what is called “The Golden Triangle” (a corner of Thailand where the border is shared with Burma and Laos) was long and fascinating and left me with complex images in my mind.

Burma (Myanmar) is very different from Thailand, even just across the border in a small border town, that brought to mind images of Tijauna when I used to visit as a child. Poverty and squalor. We were allowed in the border village only, since the rest of Myanmar is basically off limits to westerners. We saw incredible poverty, truly a third world country here and we were the rich tourists gawking. It felt strange. The market was noisy and incredibly smelly with fish, and the waterways between houses ran with garbage and fresh sewage.

I actually tried to chew betel nut, more adventurous than most of the group, and it somehow reacts in your mouth and creates huge amounts of saliva. Ick. Not a good experience, but I’m glad I did it. There were women in dirt floored hovels, with old sewing machines making things and Ray introduced us to one of his friends. Here the young boys were all monks, but in Burma, they beg constantly, something not encouraged, as it is quite different from the genteel gifting to the monks in Thailand.

It’s amazing how different the people are even so close to each other. It was the same in Laos, a country I barely know anything about at all. My greatest treasure is a heavy dark stone from the Mae Khong River. I carry so many mental images from deep consciousness and stories of Viet Nam, Cambodia, and hearing these names on the news as a young girl. It was rather incredible to be riding on this river as we crossed the border into Laos.

We had lunch in some farm village after a rough ride in a farm truck over dirt roads. I loved it. The lunch was BBq chicken and pad thai and rice in banana leaves, and as usual, was beautifully arranged and presented. The countryside reminded me of movies I have seen of Viet Nam and other places, that were probably filmed right here in Thailand. We drove through mature teak forests and rice fields that were dried up for the season.

The air was not very clean either, since they were burning the rice straw all over this part of Thailand. I am beginning to miss clear air. Somehow this was a full, and somewhat challenging day, with mixed emotional responses to all that was around me. But it was also a day that I hold in my memory in a different way than some of the other parts of this trip, and I’m glad we took the extra time and money to include the Triangle in our tour.

Gliding down the Mae Khong River we saw a huge golden Buddha along the shoreline that dominated the entire skyline. Something about the huge size of the Buddhas adds to the mystery of the landscape. Maybe because a giant statue of Buddha isn’t something that you see often along a river in the US.

Home late to rest a bit beore our shared dinner at the Chinese restaurant in the hotel, another break from the local Thai food but certainly not memorable. This time, however, we drank beer.

The Hill Tribes

The days are running together, my travel journal is becoming more and more abbreviated. It seems that words are failing me, and for this day it really is worth the side trip to the Picassa album

Today we traveled into the mountains to visit to the hill tribes and villages, including the Yao, the Akha, and the Longneck Pad Gung. We had lunch in the high moutnains very close to China at Doi Mae Salong. Riding the vans through the mountains was wonderful. Many mixed feelings about the hill tribes in Thailand, since it seems that they are exploited considerably for the tourism trade, especially the longneck women. But the countryside was beautiful and the villages fascinating.

I bought a lovely silk shawl that was woven by a village woman, the real thing this time, and the people seemed very happy to have us in their village taking photos. It seemed a bit incongruent to me that a lovely woman with her neck rings weaving in her hut was decked out in very good western makeup.

The skies were lovely, lunch was another group family style meal of good Thai food which I love and Mo is getting seriously tired of eating.

Home late to dinner at the coffee shop on our own. for an American style meal. We ordered white wine and salads. Wine was 200 baht (about $20 us) for 2 small glasses. Beer is definitely the beverage of choice while in Thailand, and I have learned that although I am not a beer drinker, I truly love the Thai Singha beer.

Exploring Chiang Rai

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After breakfast this morning at the hotel buffet, we went for a walk across the river bridge north of the hotel . The early morning light was humid and misty and it didn’t seem too hot for a change. We are in the mountains now. It felt like we really were in something foreign and magical. We walked along the Koh River and picked up rocks and watched people in their yards and dogs here and there. It was good to get some exercise and have a chance to explore on our own as well.

Back to the hotel for the group tour of the town, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phrae Kaeo. The gardens there were so lush and lovely and the buildings much more simple that in Bangkok. We then went to the museum “Baan Ono Kam” with a beautiful private collection of Thai artifacts. The sculpture was wonderful, especially the elephants.

We asked to be dropped off in town, on our own again, and Mo and I explored some and had good beer and pizza for lunch. The town wasn’t too impressive, but easy to get around in. Back to the hotel by 2 to spend a couple of wonderful hours at the magnificent swimming pool. Palms, flowers, Thai skies. The water was surprisingly cold, but floating there looking up at the clouds surrounded with palm fronds and flowers was magical.

A short nap and then a bus trip to another resort for a Thai cooking lesson where we cooked pork soup (awful) and pad thai (great) and stir fry chicken. Dinner was another round of family style food with our co-travelers, that we are getting a bit tired of. Some of our travel mates are so piggish about passing the dishes, and there seems to be a bit of cliquiness going on, the down side of group travel. It isn’t really that troublesome for Mo and I since we are pretty independent, but I can imagine it might be a problem for some people. We enjoy our own company more than most anyway!

We went to the food market before dinner and the night market afterward. Enjoyed the night life that seems to really start up in the country after dark in the markets. More Thai “stuff” including a paper dragon for my granddaughter and a few other small knick knacks, but most of what is available in the night markets seems cheap and made for big consumption. Lots of fake Rollex watches, and cheap clothes, and here and there a bit of art that is nice, but in the midst of everything else it is a bit overwhelming. It is also incredibly crowded, with thick throngs of people milling about on the streets, and lots of noise as well. The night markets are supposed to be one of the fun things to do in Thailand, but we weren’t that impressed with them overall.

To Chiang Rai

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We called our dog sitter, Bobbie, to check on Abby and then went down for our last breakfast at the hotel, where we both decided to have American style omelets and bacon.

After breakfast I bought silk and cashmere pashiminas for my daughters for 20 each and a truly lovely beaded one for myself for 40 american. I later learned that these were not from Thailand at all, but were marketed by middle eastern merchants to unsuspecting naive tourists like myself. They were still lovely, though.

We then finished packing and got the bags out and identified and went walking downtown a last time for some coffee overlooking the street while we waitied for our airport transfer.

The Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi) is huge but doesn’t have enough bathrooms, at least according to Ray. Check-in was uneventful and while we waited for our flight our co-traveler Terry, a nurse from Southern California, entertained us with her massage stories. They are probably a bit too risque for this blog, but suffice it to say that when having a massage in Thailand, it is important to be VERY specific about the kind of massage you want, even if you are a woman.

The flight was beautiful and Thai Airways is gorgeous, with great service, and interesting, un-named food. We even had window seats for the one hour flight. We arrived at the Chiang Rai airport and were whisked off to our hotel on the Kok River. It’s a truly lovely hotel with a view of the hills to the west and a light down comfortor in a cotton duvet on a very comfy bed.

As we arrived on our bus, there was a group of Thai girls from a private school visiting as well at the hotel and they were a delight to watch, giggling and sweet in their very proper uniforms. We are looking forward to new adventures in a new town after a good night’s rest.