Spotted On a T-Shirt

 

Two bowls

One chopstick

 

What does it mean?

Edited Christmas Day:

My interpretation was a bit different from Tony’s (comment below) – I was seeing it as a commentary on how we often provide others with only part of what they need for success.  For example, technology companies will donate computers to poor schools, but not provide the training for the teachers to be able to effectively use them. 

Abundance without the tools to benefit from it.

 

As the Khlong Flows…

DSCF4802 There’s lots of building going on in my neighborhood of Khrungthep.  From my balcony I can see six different condo complexes being built and there’s a seventh one that just started.  Behind my building (to the north) there is a new condo complex that was finished and just opened a few months ago. 

Condos are not the full extent of this building boom, as there are dozens of shops and smaller buildings nearby that are being renovated.  An example of this is the four-story building just on the way to the foot massage parlor that used to have some restaurants in the ground floor and various unspecified businesses upstairs.  About two months ago it all closed up and then a massive renovation began. 

The tarps have now been removed and the construction fence dismantled, and behind it is a uniquely colorful building called the Asoke Bazaar.  I’m unclear as to what, exactly, it will be.  Some sort of a place to buy things, but not sure if it will house smaller vendors or what.  Stay tuned for updates.  At the very least, it adds some color to the neighborhood.

Also, the 7-11 on our corner (not the one across the street on the opposite corner, nor the two others within three blocks of our home) has recently been remodeled.  The gutted it and re-did everything in the course of five days.  Pretty fast.  Next to the 7-11 there is a new copy store that has opened up.  A much-needed addition to the neighborhood.


 

One aspect of Thai buildings that is unique is the spirit house located on the property.  This is true for businesses, houses, and all sorts of properties.  While Thailand is a largely Buddhist nation (95+% by latest count) there is a strong animist streak and Thais generally take a “if you can’t be sure, no reason to take a chance that you’re wrong” view on religion.  The spirit houses can be traced to Brahmanist roots and generally contain an icon from Hinduism and are designed to house the spirit of the land that has been displaced by the building on it.

Tying into this is Buang Suang, the Brahmanist ceremonies that are done, in some cases annually and in others just when the time seems right, by individual businesses or entire buildings, to “feed the spirits”.  Tuesday morning I had the sliding glass doors open to enjoy the cool temperatures and for more than an hour I was hearing traditional Thai music being played, wafting in the morning breeze and into my living room, punctuated by a lengthy series of exploding firecrackers that commenced just as I had answered an incoming call on Skype.

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When I headed out to meet my tutor mid-morning I saw what the fuss was about: the entire entry way to the large office building across the street was filled with people standing around a stage.  Thai dancers were dancing and a small musical ensemble was playing.

DSCF4794 In the corner of the drive way next to a small coffee shop is the building’s spirit house.  Tables were set up with food for the spirits and white-gloved attendants would take the lit incense from people paying respect and place it in front of the spirit house for them. 

It was a very colorful morning and given the cool temperatures (overnight lows dipped to 21 C / 69 F) and pleasant breeze, I would have loved to stay and watch a while.  But I had Thai studies to attend to.

Right: Food laid out for the spirits.

 

There’s been a lot going on at the school in Bangkhonthiinai.  After bringing my family and friends there two weeks ago and causing quite an uproar, things have settled down a bit.  Settled down, but not quiet!

DSCF4687.JPG Last week Markus joined me for the day, his first trip to the school and his only available Wednesday this year.  In the afternoon, classes were concluded early so the students could prepare for the upcoming Field Day, a district-wide event in which students will compete in various track and field activities.  Field Day is being held this Friday but I cannot make it, unfortunately.

DSCF4692.JPG But we had practice!  First there was warming up and stretches.  Then Khruu Somchai with his megaphone (always) instructed the children in the proper way to pass the baton in a relay race as well as the finer points of sprinting.  Some listened attentively.  Some listened less than attentively.  Some didn’t listen.

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Then we got down to business and did some running.  The school doesn’t have a track.  It has some grassy areas interspersed with some concrete pads, one the size of a basketball court and the other the size for badminton or volleyball but without a net.  Needless to say, this made for an inconsistent running surface.

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Above: Relay practice for both the girls and boys.  Below left: Standing in line to prepare for marching.  Below right: Deserters since on the bank of the khlong and watch it all.

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Above: The pre-school class comes out to watch the big kids and then copies them, running their own races on the grass.  This group includes a few stragglers, the younger siblings of some of the pre-school children who are dropped off as a sort of day care for parts of the day.

After running came marching.  Just like a little uncoordinated army, the students marched in a row of pairs, tallest children to least tall, in time with the drummer to least in time.  Ajarn Yai shook her head and said, “They still need work.”


 

Wednesday this week was not a marching day, although I suspect the students have had more practice on marching in advance of this Friday’s big event.  Ken made a return appearance at the school and I was glad to have Tod back as well, after an absence last week.

When I picked Tod up at 6:30, I almost didn’t recognize his house.  There has been construction going on across from it for at least a year and there has been a large construction gate in front of it, a tarp curtain that keeps the noise and dust down.  The construction of the new apartment complex has finished and the gate was down.  Since it looked just like a normal neighborhood again and I didn’t have the reference point of the construction gate, I drove right by Tod’s house before realizing it.

It was really cold in Bangkhonthiinai.  When we arrived there was a breeze and it truly did feel a bit chilly.  The children were bundled up in jackets and sweaters and, for once, we didn’t turn any fans on in the classroom.

In the afternoon as the sun came out and provided some warmth, we went outside with the younger children and did some activities, practicing words like “truck,” “airplane,” “train,” and “car.”  Then when I said it was time to go back inside, the children pleaded to remain outside. 

“Okay,” I said in Thai,”but what will we do?”

“Draw pictures!” was the overwhelming response.

So we completely demolished a 270 baht box of sidewalk chalk, some 36 sticks, which is a bit pricey for an hour’s fun.  But everyone had a chance to get their creative talents on display and we practiced spelling the words.  And now the entire basketball court is a rainbow of dusty colors.

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Above: One of the smallest girls decides to draw the largest train, emulating one that I had already drawn as part of an earlier exercise.  Below: Planes, trains and automobiles.

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DSCF4809 Another trend that seemed popular with the older children on Wednesday was drawing on your body.  These pen tatoos were getting a bit out of hand (no pun intended) and I finally brought the principal in to admonish the children. 

Left: Here’s a picture of one of the most elaborate designs, on the back of the left hand of one of the smaller boys. 

Also popular was “L-O-V-E” written on the knuckles of one hand.  Strangely absent was the corresponding “H-A-T-E” that is usually on the opposite hand.  Drawings were on hands, arms, and legs.  And one neck.  What strange things children do.

 

That was two Wednesdays.  Next week there will be a celebration for the new year including having the monks come over and instruct the children.  Should be interesting.  One of these days we’re going to have to get focused on our studies again but why do that when we could be having fun?

 

They’re Gone

Monday morning about 4:30 I dropped my parents off at Suvarnabhumi, the last of our guests to head back to North America. 

Life feels so empty now… what to do with all the free time?  Kidding.  There’s still plenty to do, especially since there will be more guests arriving this weekend. 

Guests to Thailand fall into two categories (doesn’t everyone?): meal guests and guide guests. 

Meal Guests are people who have visited Khrungthep before or have lived here, and so are very familiar with where to go, how to get around, and what they want to do.  Otto and Han fall into this category, as do Peter and Paul (but, oddly, not Mary).  So they are meal guests because all we really have to do is arrange to meet them for meals.

Guide Guests are those visitors who are new to the city of angels.  They possibly have not traveled a lot, especially in Asia, and may or may not be very comfortable navigating an unfamiliar place.  They require more time as at the very least arrangements need to be made on their behalf.  The advantage is that it is very exciting to see how they experience the city from a first-timer’s perspective.

Both types of guests, of course, are very welcome.  We love to have visitors as it makes it feel almost like we didn’t leave the United States.  The Thai food is better, though.


 

Like their arrival and the loss of my hair, our guests’ departures happened gradually.  Lilian and her mother left the morning of the 7th, the same day that the rest of us headed up to Chiang Mai.  Jackson went to Chiang Mai with us but then left the morning of the 10th to go on to Hong Kong and Guangzhou.  The morning after our return from Chiang Mai, I drove Ken to the airport.  Then after a few days in town to wrap up shopping and sightseeing, Dick and Sandy headed home on Saturday morning, leaving only my parents in town.

Before Dick and Sandy left, we had drinks atop the Banyan Tree Hotel at Vertigo restaurant.  It was Sandy’s birthday on Saturday, so we surprised her two nights early with a cake.  Dick took some pictures – actually, the waiter and I both took pictures using Dick’s camera – that turned out nicely, so I’ll have to get those from him to post.  While the drinks are pricey, the view is spectacular.

DSCF4659.JPG We also went for authentic pad thai at Thip Sa Mai, an old-city institution that does nothing but pad thai.  I think I’ve written before that many local Thai friends readily complain about Thip Sa Mai, saying it is overpriced and not that good.  None are able to offer alternatives, though. 

Actually, Tod really likes Pad Thai Arii, which I took Tawn to Monday night.  It is tasty but they are pretty light on the tamarind sauce, making a more Issan-style version of the dish.  I prefer the tamarind version.  They also have a noodle-less version made with crispy fried wontons.  The shrimp they serve – two sizes – are really fresh, though.  Two large shrimp still fully shelled, resting on top of your plate of pad thai

Thip Sa Mai is a good destination to bring visitors, though, because it is outdoors and offers a good view of the fiery hot wok in which they turn out plate after plate of pad thai in omelet.  Plus it is only a short walk from the Metal Pagoda and Thanon Ratchadamnoen, which is nicely lit up this time of year for the King’s birthday and New Year’s. 

Above: Fire in the hole!  Another plate of pad thai is turned out every seven seconds.

 

Since my parents were traveling on airline passes (my father is a United retiree) it looked like the best opportunity for them to travel was Monday morning, so they decided to stay for the weekend.  Having pretty much exhausted sightseeing opportunities in the Big Mango, we decided to head for the beach for a few nights of relaxation.

Our destination was Cha-Am, a beach town about 200 km south of Khrungthep but about 35 km closer than the better-known Hua Hin.  Cha-Am is popular with Thais.  The beach is a gentle slope although not very wide and not the prettiest sand.  But the weather is dry, the seafood is good, and the accommodations are reasonably priced.

We stayed at the Gems Cha-Am hotel, a slightly faded place whose glory days are behind her.  It appeals mostly to Danish tourists and there was a good size group of them at breakfast each morning.  The price was right, though: 1200 baht a night for a sea-view room on the 11th storey.  The beach is just across the street, very convenient to us.

DSCF4789.JPG The weather was incredibly perfect: breezy with highs around 28 C (82 F) and lows in the evening down around 24 C (74 F).  Thais do beach-going differently than westerners: they rent groups of beach chairs around a small table that are covered by a forest of umbrellas, ensuring that no sunlight fall on them.  There are beach chairs with only a single umbrella available closer to the water: these were the province of already pink-skinned (and becoming pinker) Europeans. 

For 20 baht a person you could stake your claim on a chair for the entire day, with “come and go” privileges.  Vendors traipsed up and down the sand selling everything from fried calamari to cotton candy to decorative shell windchimes.  It was a pretty relaxing way to spend the day.  Above: We try a crispy crepe-like snack that is as light as meringue but slightly sweet.  The umbrellas are all closed because the sun has almost set behind us.

DSCF4757.JPG For lunch on Saturday we went to Platoo (named after a type of fish), a beach-side restaurant half way between Cha-Am and Hua Hin. 

The breeze was too strong – we were sitting on a beach-front table and almost were blown away, so we moved further back in the restaurant.  We ate a lot – too much – and had a large platter of grilled seafood.

The seafood was really fresh but I’ve decided that cockles really aren’t very interesting to me, grilled or otherwise.  The highlight was the curried platoo, small fish that are very tasty, in a sauce that was very, very hot.

DSCF4783.JPG It was a very relaxing weekend.  “Why don’t we do this more often?” I asked Tawn, “We only live about a two-hour drive from these beach areas and it would be so relaxing.”

Right: Relaxed Tawn.  Below: Tawn with a sundae at Swenson’s.

DSCF4791.JPG So reflecting on the visit of my guests, it was such a treat to have so many people in town.  I definitely need to do more advance work so that guests can do some more of their own self-guided tours.  Make some maps, instruction cards, etc.  This will give them more to do and ensure I have some more free time when they are here.

Give me a few weeks; I’ll get right on it!

 

 

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.