Doi Suthep, Night Safari, and Doi Inthanon

DSCF4061.JPG It was a three day weekend in Thailand and Chiang Mai is as popular a holiday destination for Thais as for anyone else, so our trip on Saturday to see some of the local sights ensured we’d spend time with a lot of other visitors.

One of the nicest things about Chiang Mai – undoubtedly the reason why so many Thais were here for their long weekend – is the cooler weather.  Some of you will scoff when I say this, as the daytime highs are only a few degrees cooler than in Khrungthep, but the overnight temperatures drop off considerably – 15-16 C / 59-62 F.  It was nice to wake up in the morning, feel a bit of a chill, and realize that it wasn’t because of the air conditioner!

Sitting out on the lanai and eating breakfast, one could almost desire a sweater.  Until the hot coffee arrived, that is, after which the temperature was completely bearable.

Above: The crowds at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

DSCF4064.JPG Doi Suthep is a peak just 16 km northwest of the city featuring a splendid view of the greater Chiang Mai area as well as a 625-year old temple that is one of the most sacred temples in this part of Thailand.  The copper-plated stupa glistens brilliantly in the sun and is nicely framed by the clear blue skies.  We were not alone on this trip – thousands and thousands of Thais were along for the ride, too.

Along both sides of the main ordination hall are rows of large bells that you can ring, ostensibly for good luck.  The clamor and clanging of these bells – some of which have no tune at all – sets the atmosphere for the temple, a continual din that sits somewhere between serene and nerve-wracking! 

Right: the young son of one of the temple’s workers was playing around the area where people light candles and incense.  Bathed in afternoon sunlight, the boy was playing with some unused candles and incense, utterly disregarding the flow of hundreds of visitors to the temple.

At the base of the 306 steps to the wat sits a jade “factory” – they actually do some of the carving here – where we elected to watch an introductory video about jade and then to shop the showroom.  There were some beautiful pieces and Sandy purchased a pair of earrings that she felt were a reasonable price.  I’m always wary of these places because I know they know more than I do, so I’m at a pricing disadvantage.  Not that there’s much I’m in the market for, although my three-and-a-half year old niece sees the jade I wear and has told me several times that she wants a jade, too, but yellow color.  (That would be her favorite color.)

Other Doi Suthep pictures:

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Clockwise from upper left: Mom, Dad and I in front of the copper chedi; Dad ringing the bells for good fortune; the five-tiered umbrellas that surround the main chedi; two boys pose with a half-fish, half-dragon creature called a “Tuamom” in Thai.

After having done all the tourist souvenir shopping we could, we headed down the hill back into Chiang Mai and on to the second destination of the day, the Night Safari.  This is probably the right time to mention that we didn’t begin our day until about 1:00, so it was past sunset by the time we reached the Night Safari.

One of only three night safari parks in the world (according to the guide, the others being in Singapore and Guangzhou, China) this zoo is designed to operate only at the night time.  There is a self-guided walk through about 1.5 km of trails leading to all sorts of enclosures, most of which are well-designed and give the animals a lot of space to roam freely.  Then there are two tram tours which actually go through animal enclosures featuring many nocturnal creatures – one of the tours is based on the savannah and as you drive through, all these different types of deer, antelope, ostriches, etc. are walking along right next to the tram.

The enclosures are lit to simulate moonlight and the trams have extra low-intensity lights that they can project to help you see the animals.  All in all, it was a fun experience although I’m inclined to think that some of these nocturnal animals aren’t that much more active at night than they are during the day!

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There is also a large lake at the entrance to the park, which features a light and water show in the evenings.  From halfway along the self-guided walk, there was a good view of both the show as well as the fireworks display from the neighboring Flora Expo.


 

DSCF4203.JPG Sunday – Doi Inthanon

Just how tall is the highest point in Thailand?  Sunday was an all-day excursion to find out.  Unlike our previous days, which had been leisurely pick-ups around lunchtime, Sunday morning Arm picked us up at an awfully unbearable 8:30.  Which wasn’t so bad, really, but drama makes for good reading.

DSCF4164.JPG The drive to the Doi Inthanon National Park usually only takes about 90 minutes from Chiang Mai.  As I mentioned earlier, this was a holiday weekend and we were not the only people with the idea of going to see the highest spot in the Kingdom.  Shortly before entering the main gates, with 47 km to go to the summit, we encountered stopped traffic.  For about ten minutes, nobody moved.  Eventually, though, things cleared up a bit although traffic was heavy all the way up.

The top of Doi Inthanon is 2565.3341 meters (8416 feet) above sea level.  While not a Rocky Mountain by any stretch of the imagination, it is nonetheless a tall peak.  The upper slopes are often shrouded in clouds and it was very cool to watch how the vegetation changed as we wound our way up the mountain.  On the top we saw many flowers that would never survive the warmer climates at lower elevations.

DSCF4178.JPG Not surprisingly it was a bit of a mad house at the summit – everyone wanted their picture taken at the highest point itself, a very helpful “you are here” sign erected so you can prove to friends and loved ones alike that you, too, have been to the highest point in Thailand. 

It was so busy that you pretty much had to join in on larger groups’ pictures in order to get yours taken.  Dick and Sandy took theirs standing at the back of a very large tour group, towering over them like giants.

Left: Notice I’m not wearing a jacket, unlike so many Thais.

DSCF4179.JPG One of the funniest aspects of the whole thing was the “cold” weather.  Near the summit is a thermometer.  You’ll see that it was really cold – 10 C / 50 F – and the time was 12:00 noon.  But the real humor came in how the Thais were bundled up at the gift shop and concessions near the summit – you’d think we were in Tahoe! 

Children were wearing multiple layers, many people had hats on, scarves were wrapped around many necks, and almost no Thai was without at least a jacket.  See below pictures for more detail:

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It was so cold, the coffee shop even offered “hot shots” of tequila, gin or vodka for 60 baht to fortify your lattes!

 

IMG_3464.JPGFrom the summit, we headed back down a short distance to a pair of stupas built by the Royal Thai Air Force in honor of the King’s 60th birthday in 1989.  The stupas are on adjacent rises with grand staircases leading up to both from a central garden and plaza.  One stupa is dedicated to the King, the other to the Queen.  Inside each is a small hall with a contemporary Buddha statue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCF4208.JPG To get to the stupas we had to park in a remote lot and take the free song thaew shuttle.  This was a wild ride, DSCF4214.JPG with Ken, Arm, my father and I all standing on the back tail gate and hanging on for dear life as we went up and down some steep roads. 

Left: Looking down at Ken as he holds on to the thin rails on the back of the song thaew.

 

 

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Above: The stupa dedicated to the Queen, as seen from the King’s stupa.  Below left: Inside the King’s stupa, an austere interior; Right: Inside the Queen’s stupa, a more colorful interior.

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Left to right: Dick and Sandy; my father, mother and uncle Ken; me.

 

IMG_3500.JPG On the way down from Doi Inthanon we stopped at a weekend market that is operated by many of the hill tribespeople.  There are some 4,000 people who live in the national park, mostly of Karen and Hmong ancestry, people who have lived along the modern-day Thai-Myanmar border for centuries. 

IMG_3493.JPG At the market we tried some khao niaw dam ping – dark sticky rice that is pounded into a mochi-like consistency and then grilled in patties over a fire. 

It achieves a crispy exterior and a chewy, taffy-like interior that can be dipped in condensed milk.  Tasty.

Left: Posing Anthony Bourdain-style with the man who is turning out hundreds of these hamburger-looking treats in a day.

DSCF4299.JPG On our way out of the park we stopped at Vachirathorn Waterfall, one of the most spectacular in Thailand for the size and breadth of its drop.  There is a scenic outlook quite close to the fall, perpetually covered in spray.  The road curving down to this outlook cuts through layers of limestone and after many days without rain, the vibrant green plants along this stretch of jungle are coated in white limestone dust, looking like an exhibit long since forgotten at the back of a natural history museum.

At the falls there was this Thai couple traveling with their little lap dog who was bundled up in a little doggie coat.  They were taking turns taking each other’s picture so I offered to take a picture of the both of them.  Unfortunately, it was with their camera so I can’t show you the cute doggie coat.

 

 

 

 

Sunday evening we ended up having dinner at a riverside restaurant back in Chiang Mai called “Good View” which was horrendously disorganized and featured a house band that played at too loud a volume, even though we were sitting outside by the river, to allow for comfortable conversation.  Looking back at my Lonely Planet guide (which I left in Khrungthep) I see that they do warn about this.  Tod said later that the Gallery restaurant down the street offers a quieter atmosphere.


 

Monday – Off to Lampang

Our final full day in the North was spent heading to Lampang province, two provinces east of Chiang Mai and about a 90-minute drive.  The Bangkok Post travel section had recently done a review of the province and it looked like an interesting diversion from the usual tourist sites around Chiang Mai.

IMG_3587.JPG We started out very early to head to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.  Elephant shows and elephant rides are all-too-common a site in Thailand, particularly in the north, but the plight of the elephants in neither fully understood nor apreciated by most tourists.  This facility is unique in that it promotes the role of the Asian elephant both in a historical context (used by Thais as labor animals, especially in the harvesting of teak trees) and in a current, ecotourism context.  It also offers the only free elephant hospital in the Kingdom, providing free medical treatment to ill and injured elephants.  Right: Dad feeds an elephant.

DSCF4451.JPG There is a show that demonstrates the elephants’ skills, strength and agility – pretty impressive watching four elephants work together to stack a pile of 15 meter-long trees – and an opportunity to feed the elephants afterwards. 

One highlight was an hour-long elephant ride we took back into the canyon and jungle areas in the center.  The land is beautiful and several of the elephants are free to roam in that area.  It was a fun ride, although quite difficult to get pictures when both you and the people on the other elephants are swaying too and fro.

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After the elephant show we went into the main town of Lampang, much smaller than Chiang Mai and much quieter, too.  Lampang is known for its cermaics and the ubiquitous noodle bowls used throughout Thailand with the red rooster painted in the pattern is made in Lampang province.  Thus, the rooster motif features prominently throughout the town. 

DSCF4463.JPG For lunch we stopped and tried a northern specialty – khao soi – the curried rice noodles served with chicken.  The restaurant we went to was designed to cater to busloads of tourists (I regret that I didn’t insist to our guide that we should go to the restaurant the Post recommnded instead of the one his tourism professor had suggested) and the flavors were a bit watery, even though these were generally busloads of Thais. 

When the guide was settling the bill, the restaurant’s owner said to me, “very cheap” as if he had been confronted too many times by farang about the price of his noodles.

 

Lampang is also known for its horse-drawn carriages so we took a brief spin through town in these.  The drivers were outfitted in strangely Western (as in “Western United States cowboy”) gear that was more suited to Lubbock, Texas than Lampang, Thailand.

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DSCF4481.JPG We stopped at Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao, the temple where the Emerald Buddha was housed between 1436 and 1468, before it was moved to Ayuthaya and, eventually, the Grand Palace in Khrungthep.  The temple features some lovely Burmese style architecture, pictured below.

DSCF4478.JPG While there, a group of three young ladies who are studying tourism at a local techincal college asked to interview us.  They had a list of questions and their assignment was to meet foreigners and practice speaking English using these questions as a starting point.  They also had an audio recorder and took pictures so they could report back to their class.

After a quick visit to a disappointing local ceramics fair – more like a clearance sale on plates and teacups – we headed back to Chiang Mai.  For our last dinner there we had a very nice meal at a relaxing Thai and Indian restaurant called Whole Earth, which specializes in vegetarian food although also offers some nice meat dishes.  Actually, the fish tikka was one of the most moist and flavorful I’ve had.

 

Tuesday morning we had a mid-morning pick up for the airport.  We settled our bills, said good-bye to the friendly staff, and boarded a van.  Without a doubt, we all would have enjoyed just a few more days in Chiang Mai.

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Royal Flora Exposition

IMG_3286 On Friday afternoon our guide Arm picked us up at the hotel for lunch about 1:00.  I had requested that we go to a restaurant, Aroon Rai, that Tawn and I had tried before.  It is one of those open-air places and is located across the moat from the eastern side of the old city wall.  Their specialties are local Northern Thai dishes including a pork curry and khao soi, a curried rice noodle soup. 

The food was all tasty stuff and I think our guide was surprised, first that I had requested this restaurant and second that we all enjoyed the food.

DSCF3856 Afterwards we went off to the Royal Flora Exposition, held in Chiang Mai for three months to celebrate the 60th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s accession to the throne. 

If I understand correctly there is a flora exposition in Chiang Mai every year but for this year’s event it is significantly larger in scale than usual.

There are three main areas to the expo: a selection of gardens from thirty-three participating countries, representing their own style and cultures; a selection of corporate gardens, IMG_3307 mostly focusing on different aspects of the King’s works for the people; and a central royal pavilion which was constructed of teak in a traditional Lanna style.  The Lanna kingdom was the predecessor to the Kingdom of Siam in the northern parts of modern-day Thailand and Laos.  Right: The main walkway leading to the Royal Pavillion. 

Among the other features was a large orchid hall showing rare orchids, a walk-through garden of thousands of more common orchids, and displays of orchids that were in competition. 

While most of the exposition is in the open we enjoyed really pleasant weather with temperatures that weren’t too hot, thanks to a pretty cloudy afternoon that kept the sun off our shoulders.  Recommendations to visitors: if you’re in Thailand before the end of January, this is worth a trip but plan on going in the afternoon as it is generally a little less crowded and a bit more comfortable.

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Top: The Royal Pavilion as viewed from the west, near the Rubber Plantation; Left: Posing with my mother in front of the pavilion; Right: A Muslim woman poses for a photograph in the pavilion’s interior, which painted with murals from His Majesty’s life.  Bottom: Sandy with one of the demon statues outside the Royal Pavilion.

Here are some of the things we saw – click on pictures for a larger image:

DSCF3862 A “wishing tree” with bronze leaves fluttering in the breeze – make a wish, say a prayer, and ring the bell.  A group of monks – notice that their robes are darker than the Theravada Buddhist monks’ robes you usually see in Thailand – pose for pictures.

 

 

 

DSCF3890 A beautiful sculpture in the garden from Turkey including the following quote:

“Whatever you think of war, I am far, far from it.  Whatever you think of love, I am that, only that, all that.” (Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, Mystic Poet 1207-1273 CE)

 

 

DSCF3937-1 A competition entry in the Orchid Pavilion, featuring a Northern Thai-style lantern.

 

 

 

 

DSCF3888 I’m posing in the Japanese garden, which appears tranquil thanks to the cropping out of three dozen yellow-shirted Thais who were clamoring for their own photos just for my right.

 

 

 

 

DSCF3939-1 Another competition entry in the Orchid Pavilion, this one featuring garden gnomes that have a distinctly monk-like appearance.

 

 

DSCF3943-1 Keeping the monk theme going, the same monks from the wishing tree now appear in front of an Orchid competition entry.

 

 

 

DSCF3960 Keeping the “people with short hair” theme going, I post in front of yet another Orchid competition entry.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3314 Dick and my father looking at some of the orchids.

 

 

 

 

And this is how we felt after looking at all those flowers.  No one to carry us, though!

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In the evening there was a light and sound show around the Royal Pavilion.  Unfortunately we were seated quite far back in a main plaza area and even with video screens we were unable to see most of the details, nor understand them as they were all in Thai and echoey.

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Next entry: Our trip to Doi Suthep and the Night Safari… stay tuned.

On to Chiang Mai

IMG_3257 A butterfly on a white orchid in the guesthouse’s garden – photographed by Dick.

Thursday mid-day we flew up to Chiang Mai, taking One-Two-Go Airlines – the domestic arm of Orient Thai.  Traveling in the middle of the day is quite nice as there isn’t any pressure to wake up too early and rush to the airport.  And since the flight is only an hour long, we arrive at a reasonable time, too.

On the way into the airport I saw the Airbus A380, the world’s largest (and, yet, still not in service) passenger aircraft which was in town for several days as part of a proving run.  It really doesn’t look that impressive, especially when parked at the far end of the apron near the humongous THAI Airways hangar.  Physically, the plane has the same general footprint of the Boeing 747 with only slightly wider wings.  The big difference is that the entire aircraft has a double deck instead of the partial double deck in the 747.

In fact, from a distance and without anything around it for size comparison, I think the A380 has the same general shape as a 737!  (Opportunity for a.netters reading this blog to disagree.)

The flight up on One-Two-Go was fun.  Mom and Dad had wandered off before boarding and were not on the same bus out to the airplane as the rest of us.  As we were seated on the plane a second bus arrived, which they were not on.  We began to worry and I told a flight attendant that we were still short two people and he assured me that they had one more bus and wouldn’t be left behind.  Sure enough, a few minutes before departure a group of stragglers arrived including my parents.

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Left: During the safety demonstration, my mother dutifully followed along in the safety card.  Right: Sandy is a good traveler; Dick is not.

IMG_3248 Our tour guide, Arm, picked us up at the airport and transferred us to the hotel, Baan Kaew Guesthouse (left).  Ironically it is located directly across the road from the riverfront resort hotel, The Chedi, where Tod and Darrin stayed two weeks ago.  We went for the less expensive option, though, at only 700 baht a night. 

The guesthouse is really pretty, though, with nice gardens and veranda areas to sit and relax in the shade.  Chiang Mai is very nice this time of year.  Daytime highs are still warm, in the 32-35 C range (86-94 F) but with less humidity than Khrungthep.  The real difference is at night when temperatures drop down to about 20 C (65 F) which makes it really pleasant and maybe even a tad chilly!

We had several hours of down time in which to relax.  I’ve discovered, especially having older travelers, that it is okay not to have activities scheduled for every minute of the day.  Time to just relax is an important part of making the trip enjoyable.

About six o’clock Arm showed up and a few minutes later so did our evening’s transportation, a song taew.  These are little pickup trucks that operate as taxis, with a covered back and two rows (literally, song taew) of benches in the back.  This was a pretty wild way to ride!  Below: Outside and inside views of the song taew.

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IMG_3267 Our destination was the Sountaree Restaurant, a riverside location specializing in Northern Thai food.  It was founded by a woman who was a very famous singer about twenty years ago.  Live music is performed each night and often she sings. 

We were not fortunate enough to hear her but the music was nice nonetheless, an interesting mix of English-language songs that traced from the Gypsy Kings back to 1960s folk music, making my aunt particularly nostalgic. 

When they sang, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” it was… incongruous.

IMG_3275 Dinner was followed by a surprise birthday cake for Jackson, as it was his birthday that day.  He had been wandering around taking pictures when the cake arrived so we had to douse the candles and relight them when he came back.  I think the surprise worked.

I’ll write more in the next few days about Northern Thai food.  This is different from the Issan (Northeastern Thai) food that you may be familiar with – green papaya salad, etc.

After dinner we took the song taew back to the guesthouse.  On the way back we spotted this immaculate old Volkswagen Beetle, driven by a young man and the girl he was trying to impress.  When we came to a stop in the traffic, Dick took a picture and everyone gave the drive a big thumbs up.  He looked a little embarrassed.

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Jackson and I went out for massages; there are no shortage of massage parlours to choose from although Arm cautions that most of the masseurs are not licensed so you run the risk of injury when getting a Thai-style massage.  Despite this, the massage I received was quite good, sort of like doing yoga but having someone else do all the work for you.

IMG_3260 Arriving back at the guesthouse later in the evening, a group of geckoes were hanging around the light bulb on the ceiling, waiting for dinner to fly by.  (Sorry for the two puns.)

 

 


IMG_3354 Friday we went to the Flora Expo and ate dinner at a Spanish restaurant – more on that in the next entry.

 

Additional pictures from Monday and Tuesday

As I’ve been uploading pictures that Dick has taken (merging media sources!) I have a wider range to select from, so thought I’d share some additional pictures from Monday and Tuesday including more group shots:

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At Wat Saimit, the Temple of the Golden Buddha: Lilian, my father, Sandy, my mother, Dick, myself, Ken, and Susan, Lilian’s mother.

 

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The same group, minus me, at Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha

 

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Elsewhere at Wat Pho.  The building in the back with the blue tile roof is where the reclining Buddha statue is housed.

 

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At Wat Pho a novice monk takes a Pepsi break in the late morning and makes a phone call.

 

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Lilian and her mother at the Grand Palace

 

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Sandy and Dick pose in front of a hall at the Grand Palace used for state receptions and dinners.  Built during the reign of King Rama V, the first Thai king to visit Europe, you’ll notice that the building is modeled somewhat on Buckingham Palace but his advisors insisted that the building was “too European” and so he had it finished with a Thai-style roof line.

 

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Mom and Ken try ice cream, Thai-style: coconut flavor, small-size scoops, served in a soft bun with evaporated milk and hearts of palm fruit.

 

Wednesday

IMG_3091 As I mentioned, Wednesday I headed down to Bangkhonthii with a dozen people in tow, up from my usual one (or none) – a much anticipated event by the locals.  The director, Khruu Pitsamai, called me the night before to confirm that we were still coming and told me she was worried that the locals had prepared too much for us. 

The visit was a big deal in part because it represented an opportunity to thank me and Tod for our volunteering but also because it was an opportunity to present their community to foreigners – Bangkhonthii is a place you pass by on the way to the Damnoen Saduak floating market, not somewhere that foreigners usually stop in.  The more exposure the district gets the more economic benefits it might enjoy.

Right: a bulletin board showing pictures of our visits to the school from the first day Tod and I stopped by to volunteer.  Tod’s name is written in Thai in the area with the red border.

Tod and I had spent some time discussing how to best organize things and we ultimately divided the day into four parts:

First, as we started teaching we had all the children (about 46 of them) in one room and they each went around and introduced themselves.  The older children also shared their favourite fruit, animal, etc.

Then we broke into six separate activity groups and spent about fifteen minutes in each group.  The activity groups included two visitors and seven to eight children apiece.  The groups were as follows:

  • Sing a song – My mother and father taught the children “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider,” “Hokey-Pokey” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”  The last one was the favourite, especially with the younger children.
  • Read a book – Marc and Jackson had a selection of English-language books including “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss, that they read to the students and then asked questions and practiced repeating sentences.
  • Make a sentence – Sandy and Dick used seven sets of photos for the students to look through and practice making sentences about the pictures.  Some of the more advanced students also practiced making questions and then took turns answering them.
  • Giving directions – Tod and Darrin played a game where a child would be blindfolded and another child would give directions to get the first child from one chair to another.
  • Opposites – Ken and I reviewed pair words (hot/cold, good/bad, lazy/diligent) with the children and then each was given a word on an index card and had to pair up with the person holding the card with the opposite word.
  • Bingo – Lily, her mother, and Tawn led their groups in a game of bingo.  Self-explanatory.

Some pictures of the activities.  Click on them to enlarge.

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Clockwise from upper left: Sandy and students make sentences from pictures; Tawn and Lily’s mother play bingo; Ken and I do an activity about opposites; my mother and the students sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”; Tod and Darrin lead an activity about directions.


DSCF3648 The third part of the day following an elaborately-prepared lunch was a khlong (canal) tour of the Bangkhonthii Amphoe (district) in four boats provided by the head of the school board.  We stopped at his elaborate Thai-style khlong-side house – “compound” might be a more accurate word – and enjoyed beverages before heading back to the school.

Left: Four of the most studious students were invited to join us on the tour of the district.

 

 

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Above, left to right: A man and his grandson at a local khlong-side market; an ice-cream vendor along the khlong; Jackson (in blue), Khruu Somchai, Tod, Dariin, my mother and father riding in a long-tail board; a view up the khlong.

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Left: Lily, Khruu Pitsamai (the director of the school) and Lilian’s mom.  Right: Tod and Darrin at the school.

DSCF3758 Right: Three of my students, plus one sibling who attends another school, playing on a bridge in front of their house, alongside the khlong.  Since today was a special event, the children were given the second half of the day off school.  We scored high marks in their books because of this!

Finally, after all was said and done, we headed out for a nice riverside seafood dinner as the sun set over the Mae Khlong River.  It actually started raining just as dessert was served and on our way home we encountered some patches of torrential rain.

 

 

 

 


On the way back we saw a very frightening sight: a tanker truck on the other side of the highway had clipped another car and, it seemed, had torn through a section of guard rail.  It was engulfed in intense flames and in the rain, the burning fuel had spread into a slick, causing a section 40-50 meter section of road to have flames burning up to 10 meters high.  The heat was so intense we could feel it on the other side of the road even though a small khlong runs between the two sides.  And the smoke was so thick that we shut off the air conditioner and could barely see the car in front of us.  To top it off, this was one of those areas where we encountered torrential rain – very odd to see flames and smokes of an intensity matched by the rain!

All in all, the experience seems to have been a very good one for everyone, perhaps their most memorable part of the trip.

Thursday morning we headed up to Chiang Mai where we’ll spend five days.  I have some pictures for that but need to get back to the hotel for our 1:00 pick-up.  More tomorrow.

 

IMG_3004 Left: Even Ronald McDonald knows the correct way to greet people: with a wai.

 

Monday was indeed a full day.  As were Tuesday and Wednesday, which is why Thursday morning is the first opportunity I’ve had to update the blog!

Monday

My guests had a variety of previous experience with Bangkok, from a visit during the Vietnam War for R&R to a quick weekend trip with me from Hong Kong in 1999, from a week-long visit two years ago to no previous visits at all.  (I’ll let you figure out which person has had which experience.)

I asked Tam, who works as the concierge at the Intercontinental, if he could recommend a tour company to work with.  His original recommendation was a man who was in China all of last week and didn’t get back to my email, so I asked for a second recommendation.  This worked much better as a lady who goes by Khun Piggy set up a very thorough tour with an ambitious guide, Khun Nina.

When I say ambitious, I mean, “you’re going to get every last baht’s worth of tourguiding out of me!”

IMG_2795 Our tour included a stop at the Wat Traimit, the Temple of the Golden Buddha.  This unassuming wat dates back to the 13th Century and is located in the heart of Chinatown.  Its most commanding feature is a large Buddha statue dating back possibly to the late Sukhothai period (1238-1558 C.E.) that was originaly plaster and concrete – or so everyone thought. 

About forty years ago as the 3-meter tall (10 feet), 5.5 ton statue was being moved by a crane, it dropped, chipping the concrete exterior and exposing the gold inside, which is said to be solid.

Left: Sandy and me in front of the Golden Buddha.

Next door to the wat was a primary school that was holding their Father’s Day celebrations (the King’s Birthday, December 5th, is Father’s Day).  There were a group of young girls performing a traditional Thai dance for their fathers and other guests.

After Wat Traimit we continued into the old city and visited Wat Pho, which houses the Reclining Buddha.  This is a 46-meter long, 15-meter high statue that is one of the most impressive things to see in Khrungthep.  Most tourists see this, make a quick spin around the courtyards, and then are on to the next sight.  Khun Nina kept us there for about 90 minutes, exploring the rest of the wat in detail, including the very beautiful Phra Chinnarat Buddha done in Sukhothai style in the west chapel.  There is much more to see than I realized.  Also, she knew all the great picture angles.  She’d be walking then would suddenly stop, turn around, and say, “This is a nice view here” and sure enough, it would be a Kodak moment.

Outside Wat Pho there were several vendors including one that had a python that you could pose for pictures with for only 100 baht.  “Only” – it is actually a bit of a rip-off but it is fun to do nonetheless.  Here’s snake-charmer Sandy:

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By this point we probably could have stopped for lunch.  We were all ready to, at least.  But we continued on to the Grand Palace and spent nearly 90 minutes there, seeing the key sights and visiting one throne hall that I’ve never been to before.

IMG_2986 After lunch we drove across the river to the Royal Barge Museum.  It seems that most people get to this by boat, so the driver was unsure how we accesses the museum from the land.  We asked some people, walked through a lower-income neighborhood, and suddenly appeared at the back door to the museum!

The barges are beautiful.  The museum itself houses only the six main barges.  The fifty-some others are housed further down the khlong.  We watched a short video talking about the history and were able to wander around and see the barges from all angles.

Right: The prow of the barge Anantanagaraj with its elaborate naga figurehead.  The naga is a mythical serpent that appears with five, seven, or nine heads and shielded Buddha from the elements when he was meditating to reach enlightenment.  This barge is used to carry the monastic robes or floral offerings.

On the way back home we stopped at Wat Benchamabophit, the Marble Temple.  Made of white Carrara marble, this is a stunningly beautiful temple.  While we were there the main ordination hall was closed for an ordination ceremony.  We couldn’t go in but as we wandered around the courtyard we were able to watch novice monks who were waiting to be ordained for periods of 15, 30 and 100 days (six were actually going to be ordained for life!) as they visited with their families.  The novices were seated on plastic chairs and there family sat on the floor around them, hands folded in a respectful, prayer-like position as they talked to their sons and brothers.

So it was an insightful day but a long one.  Note to self: only schedule half-day tours from now on!


Tuesday

IMG_3009 After such a crazy day on Monday we decided to go low-key on Tuesday.  About eleven we went up to the wet market that is across the street from the Chatuchak weekend market.  This is a daily market where you can buy all of the fruits, veggies, perpared foods and meats. 

Mom stayed behind to relax.  The rest of us explored different fruits, sampling a variety of things including durian, rose apple, and longan. 

IMG_3007 We bought some Thai desserts, ate some bami (egg noodles) and red pork, and tried some lemongrass and sugar cane juice.  A little culinary tour!

Since Tuesday was the King’s Birthday and a national holiday, we decided to go into the old city to celebrate.  We had dinner at The Deck, a riverside restaurant with quite a view of Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn).  Afterwards we went to the area around the Grang Palace to joins thousands of other people to watch the fireworks.  Our view wasn’t as good as it could have been – we didn’t want to get in the midst of the hundreds of thousands of people on sanam luang – the parade grounds.

Additional pictures forthcoming.


Wednesday

Every week on Wednesday I go to Samut Songkhram province to teach English.  This week was no exception.  What was exceptional was the twelve additional people I had in tow.  I’ll write more about that and share more pictures in the next day or so!

 

 

Seven Plus One

After a very late arrival (2:30 am!) by Dick and Sandy and another trip to the airport on Sunday morning to pick up Lilian and her mother, I have a full load of guests.  An additional guest, Jackson, is staying at a different hotel further away after completing a one-week guided tour around Thailand and opting to stay on for another week.

DSCF3487 First, though, I just want to say that Tawn made me this really cute breakfast Sunday morning: Asparagus and boiled egg on fresh sourdough toast.  Cute, huh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Our first day in Khrungthep was spent in a fairly relaxing manner.  Since there were several late arrivals plus a bit of lingering jet lag, we started the morning late and met in the hotel lobby at 11:30.  From there a quick trip by subway and Skytrain to Siam Center, where Tawn had already met with my teacher, Khruu Kitiya.

Khruu Kitiya (“khruu” means teacher in Thai) had prepared a Thai lesson for us, so after eating a nice lunch of Thai food we spent about forty-five minutes learning key Thai phrases and numbers.

The restaurant staff was bemused.

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Left: Sandy (in stripes), my mother, Jackson’s head, the back of my father’s head, Dick (in blue), and Khruu Kitiya.  Right: Dick, Khruu Kitiya, Tawn, and Ken.  At the far right is Lily’s mother, Susan.

Afterwards we went up to the Chatuchak Weekend Market and did about two hours of browsing.  The key thing to buy: yellow “I love the King” polo shirts, which we’ll wear Wednesday when we go to school.  Actually, this week poses a dilema for us as we only have one shirt apiece but three occassions to wear it:

  • Monday is the day of the King’s birth, so people have been wearing yellow shirts on Mondays all year.
  • Tuesday the fifth is the King’s actually birthday this year, so it will be a national holiday and peple will wear yellow.
  • Wednesday we are going to teach in Bangkhonthiinai and the teachers all wear yellow shirts.

My suggestion is that we save the shirts for Wednesday.  What do you think?

After shopping and an hour or so resting back at the hotel we went for foot massages.  We called 5-Star Massage in advance and arranged to basically take the place over.  There were ten of us when all was said and done.  The picture didn’t turn out great, but it will give you an idea.  I’ll see if the pictures Dick or Lily took turned out better.

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Afterwards it was next door to our corner neighborhood restaurant for some authentic, day-to-day Thai food.

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What a busy first day with everyone in town.  Monday has dawned cool and sunny… that won’t last long, though, and we have a full day ahead of us.

 

 

Five Down, Two to Go

Aunt Sandy and Uncle Dick (you’ll remember the parties at their house in Newark, CA for Tawn’s graduation party as well as our bon voyage party when we left the Bay Area) arrived last night three hours late – 2:10 this morning, in fact.

Fortunately, I checked the flight status about 9:30 so had plenty of advance warning and actually went to bed for about two-and-a-half hours before getting up to go to the airport.

At the airport, I had to laugh when I looked at the huge arrivals board: Dick and Sandy’s flight was the first one listed in the upper left hand corner and Lilian’s and her mother’s flight, scheduled to arrive Sunday morning at 9:40, was the last one listed in the lower right-hand corner, three columns down.  “That’s all the time I have,” I thought to myself, “three columns’ worth.”


Mom and Dad’s first day in Bangkok was low-key.  About ten we picked them and Uncle Ken up and then drove to Tony’s Fashion House, where Tawn is having a few suits made and I’m having some shirts made.  It was time for a fitting and as I expected, the staff of Tony’s was salivating over some fresh foreigners who might like to have some clothing made!

DSCF3478 Afterwards, we drove to Som Phong restaurant, an outdoor place specialising in seafood, and had a really nice and tremendously inexpensive seafood meal.  Whole grilled prawns (huge!), a whole fish baked in salt, shrimp cakes, stir-fried morning glory, paw mok (crab mousse), and crab fried rice… plus sticky rice and mango… all this for only 2,200 baht – about US$60.  A steal.

 

 

 

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In the afternoon, Tawn went for a haircut and I walked our guests over for massages.  Those went over very well!

The evening was very low-key, dinner at our house with Tam, Markus and Pune joining us.  The menu was simple: cheese and crackers for appetizers, a large green salad with a choice of additions and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, and loaves of fresh sourdough bread.  For dessert: chocolate and coffee pound cakes.  Prosecco and Pinot Grigio was served, too.

 


The other afternoon while I was waiting for my shoes to be repaired I had a latte at Starbucks and read the paper.  Next to me, a couple was meeting with their architect, who was reviewing plans for a remodel of their condo.  There was a wistful moment as I watched him, remembering how much I enjoyed studying architecture in high school (even won an award at the County Fair) and wondering what would have happened had I pursued that career.

The good news is that the basic skills I learned then are still with me and have proven useful from time to time.

 

Three Down, Four to Go

Friday evening my parents made it.  This time connections through San Francisco and Tokyo Narita were smooth and there were no weather delays anywhere.  Yeah.  This evening (Saturday) I’ll go back to the airport a third time to pick up my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Dick.  Then tomorrow morning I’ll pick up Lilian and her mother.

DSCF3472 Yesterday was a pretty low-key.  About ten, Ken and I headed from his hotel and took the canal taxi down Khlong Saen Saeb, alighting at Tha Hua Chang (Elephant Head Pier, thus named because it is at the bridge that has four elephant heads on each of its four decorative posts) and walked to the Jim Thompson House

This is in some ways a very touristy thing to do and in others, a really nice look at Thai-style architecture.  They continue to make some improvements to the facilities and have a special exhibition on called “Lost in the City” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jim Thompson’s birth.

Thompson was the American entrepeneur who, after World War II, settled in Thailand and recognized an opportunity to take the dying craft of Thai silk-making and transform it into a world-class brand. 

In 1967, Thompson was visiting the Cameron Highlights in Malaysia and disappeared while on an afternoon walk in the jungle.  Nobody knows what happened to him.  Interestingly, his horoscope based on the day and time of his birth warned that his 61st year – 1967 – would be a bad one for him.

Above: Uncle Ken in the gardens at the Jim Thompson House.